Shades of Gray

By C. Leuch <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: February 2002

Summary: In this Elseworlds story Lois, a private investigator, is haunted by past memories. Her meeting with Clark will change their lives forever. They both learn that sometimes things aren't black or white but a shade of gray.

This is an elseworld tale that came about after I asked the question, "What if…?" The characters are not mine, but the story is. WARNING: this story also contains a WHAM and alludes to some violence.

Thanks to Missy, Adam, and Shayne for BR-ing and offering support at various points along the line. Feedback is always welcome. Hope you enjoy!


Sunlight filtered in through the heavily tinted windows of the office, rare streams of light that only appeared in late morning as the sun cleared the building across the street, before it continued overhead and masked the office in shadow once again. Even though those rays appeared for only a few hours a day, they were the one thing that had made this particular office, above all others that had been available in the vast concrete jungle that was Metropolis, attractive. The sunlight was a symbol, a sign from above that even the bleakest of lives could have some brightness in them, and that was comforting somehow.

The brunette woman who called that office her own leaned back in the large leather chair she sat in, letting the rays send light across her face. Her life was the kind that had seen far too little sunshine, mired more in shadows and darkness than anything else. A distant, bleak pain, a pain that had been present almost as long as she could remember, penetrated her whole being, and not even the invigorating rays of the sun could drive that away. That pain had consumed her, driven her, led her. In and of itself it was almost soothing, a reminder of what she had in her life at one point, a memory of the happy times. But those happy times had only made the aftermath that much more bleak.

The warmth of the sun allowed her to relax momentarily, and the memories, good and bad, before and after, began to course through her mind. A part of her wanted to cry, but the tears had dried up long before. The past was gone in any case, and there was no use dwelling on it. All she had now was the present, and the future that stretched out in front of her. The future held so many opportunities, so many chances to make things right with the world, to atone for the past…

The ringing of the phone on her desk drew her out of her trance. Her eyes popped open and darted across the cluttered surface of her desk before finally finding the phone. Her hand quickly reached out and picked up the receiver before the phone had a chance to ring again.

"Lane here," she said curtly. The number of the direct line to her office was known only to a few people, most of whom she had no wish to speak to at the moment.

"Lois," came her sister's wary voice over the line. Lois knew right away what a call from Lucy meant, and immediately she felt her brows knit together as a look of concern came over her face.

"Another one?" Lois asked, knowing the answer before it even came.

A sigh was audible from her sister. "She just got in here, and she's in pretty bad shape. You should probably come down," Lucy said, the long-suffering tone in her voice not lost on her sister.

Lois's eyes once again focused on the desk in front of her, this time landing on the large pile of notes that sat in a position of prominence at the center. "I have something to take care of first, but then I'll come down," she replied, hanging up the phone after hearing the grunt of approval from her sister. Wasting no time, she reached under the desk and pulled out a briefcase, unceremoniously shoving the papers into it. She stood up, her petite form projected onto the floor in shadow, the angle of the sun's rays distorting her outline. The symbolism was ironic, but it was not something to be dwelt upon at the moment. Without another thought, she strode quickly across and out of the office.


To the untrained eye, the newsroom of the Daily Planet was a chaotic place. From the time the sun went up until long after it went down again, people could be seen bustling about — reporters en route to the next big scoop, visitors with tales of woe that they hoped would make the pages of the next edition, janitors, copy boys, all moving in random paths throughout the newsroom. Those who weren't moving around sat at desks of their own, slumped over a keyboard, typing furiously. By and large the desks that dotted the floor of the room were left unoccupied, but large cluttered piles of paper that they all invariably contained spoke of stories in progress, projects to be returned to in due time. A certain energy fueled it all, a driving force that seemed to emanate from the corner office belonging to Perry White. From time to time the editor would stick his head out of the office door and bark orders, sending the newsroom into a renewed frenzy of activity.

Not everyone in the newsroom that morning was hard at work, however. One young man, his hair a little too long, his suit a size too large, leaned back in his chair, a distant smile on his face as he observed the morning activity. It was only his second full day of work at the Planet, and he still couldn't shake a sense of giddiness at the thought that he was really working at the newspaper that set the standard for every other one in the world. The vibrancy of the big city had brought him to Metropolis, and a reputation for fairness had brought him to the Planet. He didn't want to question his good fortune, but at the same time he couldn't help but feel that at any second he would wake up and find that it was all a dream. At least he could enjoy it while he still had the opportunity, he thought as he took a sip from his coffee mug, his eyes wandering around the office.

Observation had always been a keen talent of his. It wasn't that he was an introspective person, necessarily. It was just a habit he had picked up all those years ago, when he began to realize that he wasn't like everyone else. Afraid to expose himself to others, he had simply faded into the background, watching, observing. Eventually, his natural sociability would get the best of him, and he would let his guard down. Invariably he would do something that a normal person had no business doing, and he would have to move on before others linked the incredible feat to him. But now he was in Metropolis, in the job of his dreams, and he wasn't going to move on from here. There was just something about Metropolis that felt different from the other places he had been, something that compelled him to want to stay, no matter what may come.

A slap on his back brought him out of his stupor, and his head snapped around to get a look at who interrupted his thoughts.

"You aren't going to last very long here if you keep staring off into space, Kent."

"Hi, Ralph," Clark said, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. Of all the people he had met at the Planet the day before, Ralph had been the most obnoxious. He had immediately latched on to Clark, trying to buddy up to him while at the same time letting him know who was top banana in the newsroom. Clark had taken it all in stride, not questioning anything that was told to him, but his sensitive ears told him that Ralph, who Clark quickly figured out had only been employed at the Planet for a month, was full of hot air.

Ralph shoved a donut in Clark's face. "Here. I thought you might want this before you get started on your next assignment, because boy are you going to need it."

Caught off guard, Clark blinked a few times, trying to focus on the donut that was dangled a couple of inches in front of him. Hesitantly, he brought his hand up and took it, shooting a questioning glance at Ralph, who smiled and pointed toward the conference room.

"She's not my problem anymore. You can have her."

"Her? Who…?" Clark craned his neck to try and see into the room, but he couldn't. Ralph followed his gaze and chuckled.

"Your worst nightmare."

Clark allowed himself a wry smile. Unless she was some sort of government agent in a white lab coat, he seriously doubted that whoever this person was could come even close to being his worst nightmare. His curiosity had been piqued, though.

"But who is she?" he asked, fighting the sudden urge to pull down his glasses and x-ray into the room.

"Her nickname around here is 'Mad Dog Lane,' but don't let her hear you say that," Ralph started as he leaned against Clark's desk, his voice lower than it had been. "She's a private detective. Whenever one of her clients makes her mad, or even if they just want to air some dirty laundry, she comes over here and talks to us. It's usually good stuff, but she's the type that wants to look over your shoulder when you write something to make sure that it suits her. Can you image, a PI editing your copy?" Ralph snorted. "It's a Planet tradition to pass her on to the new guy, because none of the rest of us can stand her, so she's all yours, and she's waiting in the conference room. Have a blast."

Ralph gave Clark a quick pat on the shoulder before pushing himself away from the desk and making his way across the newsroom. Clark frowned. This woman — Mad Dog? — sounded eerily like someone he had known back in Smallville. She was not happy unless she had a hand in everything, and nobody told her what to do. It was her way or no way at all. Underneath the exterior, she had been a good person, though, and she had been one of the few close friends he had had through his adolescent years. For some reason that he couldn't comprehend, she saw something in him that nobody else had, something that compelled her to share her inner self with him in exchange. But he never told her his deepest thought and secrets, about the extraordinary things he could do. He had felt guilty at not being able to give her the same level of confidence that she had given him, and after a while they drifted apart.

Clark had to blink to bring himself back to reality. As brusque as Lana tended to be with people, nobody had ever referred to her as 'Mad Dog.' He had certainly met many people over the years that could qualify for that title, and by and large he had been able to handle them just fine, although it was never particularly pleasant.

He glanced at his editor's office, wondering what Perry's take on the woman was. Given the fact that half of what came out of Ralph's mouth so far had not been firmly grounded in truth, Clark wondered exactly what the situation was. He was hesitant to take an assignment based on nobody's word but Ralph's, but on the other hand, it wasn't as if he had anything better to do. A story was a story, even if it came with a potentially irritating source.

As he rose out of his chair, he remembered the doughnut that was still in his hand. He looked at it quizzically for a moment, turning it sideways before finally setting it beside his coffee cup on his desk. Maybe Ralph wasn't all bad, he thought as he made up his mind to indulge in the treat as soon as his interview was over. Grabbing a pen and legal pad, he made his way toward the conference room.

He took a deep breath, telling himself again that what Ralph had said about her was probably exaggerated, before pulling open the door to the conference room. A brunette woman stood on the other side of the room, staring intently out the window. She looked innocent enough, he thought as he cleared his throat, causing her flinch ever so slightly.

"Hi, my name is Clark Kent. I assume you're…Miss Lane?" He said, adding a note of confidence to his voice.

She stood up straighter and turned to face him. As soon as he caught sight of her, he felt the muscles in his jaw begin to go limp. Time seemed to slow down as he watched her shoulder-length hair swing and bob at the turn of her head. The woman that stood in front of him was the most striking person that he had ever seen, although if someone had asked him, he wouldn't have been able to tell them why. He had seen many people similar to her in his travels — similar build, similar hair, similar features. But there was something about her, maybe something in her eyes, that just made him feel like he had never felt before. Something about her made him want to drop everything and hold her tight, draw her close and never let her go…

"So you're the new guy around here, huh? I don't think I've seen you before. So what did you do to get stuck with me? I bet you stole some other reporter's story or something. Or maybe you're just too new to know what you got yourself into. How long have you been here, anyway?" She said rapidly as she made her way toward the conference table in the middle of the room.

Her words brought reality back to him quickly. He tried to respond to her, but no words came out of his mouth, and his mind drew a blank. He smiled at her for a moment while he let his thoughts gather, watching as she became suddenly flustered.

"This is my second day, you're right about that. And I'm sure I have no idea what I've gotten myself into," he said, the smile still firmly planted on his face. Something in the back of his mind tried to break through, a warning that perhaps the flirtatious tone that he had taken on was not exactly the best to be using with a source.

Her eyes grew wide and her cheeks flushed. She diverted her eyes away from him, bringing them to rest on the briefcase that was sitting in front of her on the table. Her hand came up to brush a strand of hair away from her face, and for a moment Clark felt like he was going to melt into a pile of mush on the floor right there.

She took a deep breath and looked at him again, her composure back. "I'm rarely wrong about things, Mr. Kent. My job is to look beyond the external, to find out the truth about people." She motioned to her briefcase. "And I'm going to hand you the biggest story of your fledgling career, that is if you would like to sit down and get some actual work done." With that, she sat down and opened the briefcase.

The engaging woman that he had seen just moments before had been replaced with the more serious one in front of him. The tone in her voice had been almost cold, and he could see why Ralph could think what he did about her. But those eyes, those deep, expressive, brown eyes still held the hint of something else. The conference room of the Daily Planet was no place to pursue any budding feelings, however, especially when they had met literally seconds earlier. Taking his cue from her, he dropped his teasing smile and approached the table, giving her his undivided attention.


As Lois exited the Daily Planet through its trademark revolving door, she welcomed the openness of the outside. Never had a room felt so close as that conference room had just moments before. It wasn't that it had been crowded, necessarily — it had just been her and that greenhorn reporter, alone in the fairly large space, the ceiling rising far above them. But even so, she had found it hard to catch her breath. Her heart still pounded hard in her chest, even as she tried to tell herself to calm down.

Before today, the Planet had always just been a place she went as part of her job, a job that she did better than probably anyone else in the city. She knew she was demanding, and she tended to be abrasive with the reporters that she gave stories to, usually through no fault of their own. There had been a time, before, that she had wanted nothing more than to be a reporter herself. The excitement of chasing down a lead, of peering into the dark shadows of men's souls and finding the truth that laid within, and then putting into print for the whole world to see held a great deal of excitement in her mind. But somewhere along the line, the idea of drawing any more attention to herself than was absolutely necessary became repellent. The plans she had laid, after, had demanded that she be inconspicuous, so she chose instead to be a private investigator. She still could find out those dark secrets, but her name would not be associated with them. A part of still had an affinity for the newspaper business, and that's what had compelled her to use the Daily Planet, the most respected of all newspapers, as the recipient of her exclusives. But she suspected that that same part of her held some resentment for reporters, and that was what caused her to treat them so badly. At least, up until now.

She was used to the revolving door of new reporters that the Planet threw at her, but today she had met someone new, and something happened. The earth could've shook, lightning could've come down from the sky and struck her, but she still wouldn't have been able to draw her eyes away from his. On the outside, he looked for all the world like a kid dressed up to play reporter. His entire demeanor oozed innocence, but when he spoke, his voice, with its teasing quality, was one of someone who was not an innocent at all. As she had given him her story, he had taken notes dutifully, and had asked just the right questions in just the right places, betraying a keen intelligence beneath his boyish good looks. She hadn't known what to make of her feelings toward him — she had never felt anything like it before — but she had her suspicions about what it might be, and it scared her. She had tried to hide her attraction toward him and retreat to the professional demeanor that she had always been able to fall behind in the past, no matter what her emotional state. But she knew it hadn't been entirely successful, and she could see the desire reflected in his expressive eyes.

The meeting had gone surprisingly smoothly, nonetheless. He had been as professional as she, and she just assumed that once they parted company, that would be the last time they saw each other. She would leave, he would write up the story, and the next time she arrived at the Planet, she would be passed along to the next new reporter. She tried to tell herself that that would be the best course, that her activities wouldn't allow her to get close to a man, but that didn't stop a part of her from being disappointed at the thought. But then, as she had her hand on the door of the conference room ready to leave, she heard him speak her name.

"Miss Lane," he had said, ever polite. She had closed her eyes, realizing that she had never actually told him her name. Somehow, having him call her 'Miss Lane' just didn't seem right.

"Lois. My name is Lois," she had said as she opened her eyes again and turned to face him.

"Lois," he had repeated softly, a stunning smile spreading across his face. She could feel his eyes boring into her, a thought that she knew should've made her uncomfortable, but which had instead made her feel…special somehow.

"I was wondering if you would like to go to lunch," he said, his face taking on a wistful quality. He seemed to become aware of himself after a moment, and his expression quickly flashed until he once again appeared to be the consummate professional. "To, ah, discuss the story," he finished.

"Yes," she heard herself say even before she had a chance to process his words. Would she like to go to lunch? Was he asking her on a date? Sure, he had amended his question to make it sound like a business proposition, but they both knew what it would be. She felt almost giddy at the thought, but then she remembered the phone call by her sister earlier that morning. "I mean, yes, I would," she started, pausing to catch her breath. Why did she feel so lightheaded when she looked at him? "But not today. I have some business to take care of."

His whole demeanor seemed to change with her words. His head dropped, and suddenly it was as if the linoleum on the floor was the most interesting thing in the world. His overly large sports coat slipped to the side, off his now slumped shoulders. Her eyes had grown large as she realized what her words must've sounded like to him.

"Tomorrow. Let's go tomorrow. Maybe by then you'll have an actual story written to discuss," she said, resorting to some mild teasing. That had restored his spirit. He nodded mutely in agreement, his smile once again present, as she told him the time and place before leaving. Even though she didn't look back at him once on her way out of the newsroom, she had known somehow that he was watching her, and it hadn't bothered her at all.

So, she thought as she looked up toward the open sky, it was a date. How long had it been since she had her last date, she wondered as she started walking toward her sister's office. It was probably college. She had turned away her fair share of men in the meantime, not interested in so much as the thought of dating. Her sister had teased her about it, but Lucy, more than anyone else, understood her reasoning for it. Lucy understood her motivations for almost everything in life; she had been her anchor.

Reluctantly, Lois's thoughts came back to the reasons why she was heading over to see her sister in the first place. As the smiling face of her friend at the Planet faded into the background, she felt her chest tighten up and a familiar heaviness return to her being. She stopped abruptly as the full force of her burden returned to her. The same feeling of pain that she had lived with for so long, the same pain that the rays of the sun or the melodic strains of even her favorite song hadn't been able to dispel for years had left, she realized. Dissolved in an instant by the devastating smile of Clark Kent, reporter.

She staggered toward the nearest building and leaned against the wall, contemplating what that revelation meant to her way of life, to her sister, to the plans they had made, after. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, clutching her hands to her chest, looking to her heart to guide her as it always had. The pain was what drove her every day. If that were to leave on a permanent basis, banished by her love for a man, what would be left for her? She had wanted to accomplish so much, but had barely even started along the path she had chosen. At the same time, however, the freedom that she had just felt during its absence had been incredible. She willed her mind to summon Clark's face, and as it did, the weight of the world begin to lift again. She felt several long abandoned facial muscles begin to pull her lips up into a smile as thought of their lunch date the next day surfaced. She didn't really know him at all, yet he had this effect on her for some reason that she couldn't comprehend.

His face rematerialized in her field of vision, but as she mentally reached out toward him, it was replaced with that of her father, and instantly the smile faded from her face. Her eyes popped open and she frowned as she saw that the sun had slid behind a dark cloud, casting the street into shadow. Irony reared its ugly head again, she thought as she stood up straight and started to walk toward the street. She raised her hand to hail a cab, no longer feeling energetic enough to walk toward her new destination.

The ride seemed interminably long, her mind thrown into a state of confusion. A million thoughts floated around in her head, warring with each other. Each was significant in some way, but none was able to fully capture her attention. On any other day, she would expertly turn her concentration on sorting out the thoughts, answering each in turn, and making sure that everything fit into her carefully plotted out future. Control, of her thoughts, of her actions, of everything, was her way of life, since, and it would have to remain so. But…what if she didn't want to control everything anymore? What if she just wanted to step aside and let her inhibitions go for once?

That thought got pushed to the back of her mind as the cab pulled up to an unassuming brownstone in the once fashionable Garden District. The townhouses that lined the street were all very similar in a way, but they had subtle differences, slight ornamentation and a stateliness to them that set them apart from those in other areas of the city. So many in the endless line of houses cried out for a little attention, just enough to wash away the grime accumulated in the century since their erection, and let some of the dignified beauty shine though. A few had received care, and they stood out like polished jewels among the rest.

Lois paid the cabbie and climbed out of the car, heading straight for the door of the nearest brownstone. It was a little shabbier than the rest, the paint peeling away from the window frames and the brick crumbling ever so slightly around the edges. The sign that hung over the door, though, was in pristine shape, its perfect blue lettering announcing to the world that the house belonged to the Lost and Found Agency.

Lois supposed that most who knew her would not consider her to be a compassionate person, and indeed, her actions tended to say just that. But the Lost and Found Agency had been her gift to the city. Financed largely with her own money, the agency helped those who had lost their families, giving them a place to stay if they needed it, a comforting ear to voice their problems to, and, most importantly, an ally in the search for truth. It was the type of place that she desperately wished had existed for her and her sister to go to, after. If she had had a place like this to come to, a shoulder to cry on and tell her that everything was going to be all right, maybe her life wouldn't have been consumed with the quest to bring down the man who had ruined the lives of her and her sister.

Of course, the agency also served as her primary source of information about the activities of that man. He had killed her parents, and she had known ever since the night they died that he would continue to kill those who got in his path. A part of her had hoped that wouldn't be true, but throughout the years she had found that it had been. She couldn't count anymore the number of families that had come through the door, families who no longer had a mother or father or child because of one man's quest for power. It broke her heart, but at the same time hardened her resolve, her desire to make sure that it didn't happen again.

Her sister Lucy manned the facility, even though there was no personal gain for her in doing so. Lois might have been the inwardly compassionate type, but Lucy had always been better with people. She also had a keen intellect, as well as the same well-developed sense of vengeance as her sister. For that she had put her education on hold, taken a variety of part time jobs that were well beneath her ability, and ran the agency. Lois didn't know what she could possibly do without her sister — she had been her rock, her confidant, her best friend and partner in all senses of the world. And now Lucy had found another kindred soul, their family wrenched away from them by the same man that had taken theirs, too.

Lois pulled open the door and entered the parlor of the mid-sized townhouse and stopped. A woman sat on the couch, her shoulder length blonde hair a tangled mess and her face red and tear-streaked, locked in the embrace of Lucy Lane. The familiar sound of long-practiced words of comfort reached Lois's ears, and she cleared her throat slightly to announce her presence. She had seen too many scenes like this, all eerily similar, but each equally powerful. It never failed to wrench her heart, seeing the tearful souls who came to her agency for refuge. A small part of her relived her own experience every time she saw someone new.

Swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat, she slowly made her way toward her sister and the blonde stranger, who hadn't even seemed to register her presence yet.

"Hi, my name is Lois Lane," Lois said gently as she sat down on the edge of the couch. She tried to meet the woman's eyes, and after a moment was able to.

"Angel Harris," the blond replied with a sniff as she released Lucy.

"My sister is a detective, and would like very much to help you find the person that did this," Lucy said, her hand lingering on Angel's shoulder. The shadow of anxiety that had clouded over Angel's face seemed to lift at the lingering touch, and she nodded. Lois didn't know how her sister could have such a positive effect on others. They came from the same place, but somehow had managed to be complete opposites in their relations with others.

"Tell me everything," Lois said, her compassionate expression genuine.

"Well," Angel started, as she brought a hand across her eyes to wipe away the remaining tears. "My husband Ron was a top scientist at Lexlabs. In fact, he had recently gotten the attention of Mr. Luthor himself, who had asked him to work on some sort of special project for him. Then Ron just disappeared."

It was a tale that Lois had heard over and over again. Change the profession, change the name, but the story was the same. It was her story, too, she thought grimly. A new task began to present itself to her as she sat back and listened to the remainder of the tale.


The Lexlabs biomedical engineering division was housed in a quiet office building in the Metropolis Riverfront Commercial District. It was an area of town that bustled with life during the normal business day, but as the sun went down, the workers retreated to their suburban homes and the once busy neighborhood became a virtual ghost town. Transients came and went under the cover of darkness, often choosing to make their beds in the well-kept alleys, unnoticed by even the most sophisticated security systems, which were much more interested in keeping the interiors safe. The sparking whiteness of the buildings, their interiors safe and pristine, contrasted with the dark gloom that existed around them.

A figure in black made its way through the empty streets, ducking in and out of the long shadows, ignored by local vagrants who didn't pay much attention to anyone who wasn't wearing a badge. The dark coat the figure wore had been carefully chosen for its generic qualities, but the way the tightened belt made it cling to the figure's waist gave away a very feminine form. An oversized black hood covered the figure's head, drooping down and obscuring her features from even the closest observer.

The woman in black made her way to the Lexlabs building and slipped into the side alley, mentally reviewing the building's security schematics. Upon reaching an access door, her gloved hand drew an instrument out of her coat and waved it at the keypad immediately next to the door. After a few short moments, a small green light blinked on the keypad display, and the door popped open without ceremony. The mysterious women disappeared into the building for several minutes before exiting again out into the night. She closed the door firmly behind her before heading back down the street, hopping from shadow to shadow.

As her form drew further away, the Lexlabs building exploded in a large ball of fire. The blaze engulfed the structure, casting an orange light on the neighborhood, its flames licking the dark sky in hypnotic rhythm. Only a minute passed before another figure in black, this one unquestionably masculine, swooped down from the sky. A quick exhale of cooled air squelched the flames, and the man shot back up into the heavens, his figure masked against the dark sky. Those who had assembled around the burning building, the dregs of society who were all but invisible to the average citizen of Metropolis, mumbled in shock as they tried to comprehend what had just happened. Some spoke of an angel who came from the sky, others told of a miracle. Their mumbled words did not escape the ears of the woman in black, who drew back her hood in surprise as she directed her gaze toward the now charred remains of the once proud office. Angel or not, thought the woman, whose shoulder length brunette hair now poked out from around the edges of the hood, her job had been accomplished. Drawing her hood back up around her head, she let herself smile for the second time that day as she walked down the street, away from the former lab, toward home.


Clark closed his eyes and shot further and further up into the sky, feeling the air begin to become cooler and thinner around him as he climbed even higher. He made himself stop after a few moments, knowing that he was far enough above the earth to be safe from his demons. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes, and was surprised to see how small Metropolis looked beneath him. It wasn't the first time that he had viewed it from this particular vantage point, but having lived there for a few days, his view of it changed somehow. The lights stretched out along the numerous roads that crisscrossed the city looked like a great, shining spider web silhouetted against the dark surroundings. The beauty of the sight was almost overwhelming, just as much so now as it had been the first time that he had seen it. But he knew now that beneath it all were stories, faces, lives, all intertwined in a glorious soap opera. Floating in the air above it, observing the spectacle that was Metropolis, made him feel calm, almost at peace.

Clark held up his left hand and watched it tremble slightly. Well, maybe it hadn't calmed him as much as he had thought. He closed his eyes again and tried to gather his thoughts. He had been on his way to his parents' house for dinner when he heard the explosion. He wasn't very familiar with the city yet, but a quick scan of the area where the explosion had occurred told him that it was a significant commercial area. If the fire were to get out of hand, millions of dollars in equipment and goods could've gone up in smoke, leaving thousands of people without jobs. It wasn't exactly a life or death situation, at least not yet, but he couldn't just let the fire burn when he had the ability to stop it.

He hadn't bothered to think of the consequences of his actions before making his move, and hadn't even looked to see if there would be any possible onlookers around. He had just assumed the area was deserted, and had flown down to put out the fire. It was as the flames were finally being squelched that he had heard the excited murmurs. Dirty faces were illuminated by the dying embers, many more than he would've ever expected to be there, all looking at him with an unrestrained sense of curiosity. In his panic he had fled. The exhilaration of being able to use his abilities to help had quickly been replaced with the raw fear of discovery. What if those people told others about his existence? He had never actually used his powers in front of others before, but now…

The thought made Clark's eyes pop open, and he immediately saw that his hand was shaking even more violently that before. He sighed and lowered it to his side. The idea that one careless action on his part could end his private life as he knew it tended to have that effect. Maybe what he needed at that moment was to go home and have a good, home cooked supper, and enjoy his anonymity while he still could.

With that, he shot across the sky, heading westward toward the golden plains of Kansas. The miles passed by in the darkness below him, interrupted by the occasional glare from a town. As he continued over the Midwestern states, regular dots of lights from small farmsteads spread out in his vision, but he found that he wasn't really paying attention to the hypnotic pattern they created. Inexplicably, the face of Lois Lane, private detective, had worked its way into his field of vision. The brief time that he had spent with her had been a taste of heaven, and more than once during the course of the interview he had to tell himself not to get lost in her voice. Only time would tell whether their acquaintance would turn into a relationship, but unfortunately his time was now running short. Images of the Daily Planet, his place of employment for only two days, yet the one place that he had wanted to spend the remainder of his career at, also worked their way into his consciousness. He had told himself just that morning that he wouldn't run. Of course, that was before he had put out a fire in front of witnesses. But, he thought as he balled his hands into fists, he didn't want to run. He didn't want to leave the job he loved and the woman that he felt a strong kinship toward. There HAD to be a way to stay.

Maybe his parents would be able to help him think of a plan, he thought as he spotted their farm on the horizon. Applying a burst of speed, he quickly made his way there and landed in the yard beside the house.

The pleasant aromas of freshly cooked food were the first things to greet him as he opened the door. There was something about walking into the warmth of his mother's kitchen and the meal that invariably awaited him there that had always comforted him. Home was a place of safety for him, the place where he could find the only two people in the world with whom he could truly talk to about anything. No matter what events happened in his life, they always let him know that everything was going to be okay, and gave him that bit of support and confidence that allowed him to go back out and face the world again.

He would need that boost of confidence now more than ever, he though grimly. He let the screen door close behind him with a slight thud, and immediately he heard his mother's voice call out his name.

"Hey, Mom. I'll be right in," he said as he leaned down to take off his shoes. When he stood up again, she was standing in the kitchen doorway, looking anxiously at him. Despite his sour mood, he felt a smile creep across his face.

"Welcome home, honey," she said as she opened her arms slightly. He strode across the kitchen and embraced her, finally feeling his anxiety begin to ease.

"Supper smells great," he said as he pulled away from her.

"It's more than I get these days," Clark heard his father grumble from the living room. With one arm still around his mother, Clark craned his neck to get a better view into the room.

"Hi, Dad," Clark said, a small smile beginning to play across his face. The more things changed, he mused, the more they stayed the same. Many was an evening during his childhood that he would come home to a scene similar to this. The fact that he could step back into the same world and the same experiences, even after so many years of being out on his own, made it almost seem as if he never left.

Jonathan's gruff tone disappeared as a small grin appeared on his face. "Hi son," he replied. "Good to see you again."

"So how is Metropolis?" his mother asked as she ushered him toward the kitchen table. Clark felt his smile falter as the thoughts of his experience that night began to return. Was there an easy way to broach the subject, he wondered? He wanted so badly to tell them what had happened, but at the same time, he wanted to take sanctuary in the pure normalcy of being there, at home. And, he knew, a part of him hoped that if he ignored it long enough, it would just go away.

"What's bothering you, honey?" his mom asked as he sank into the chair. He saw his father shoot a questioning glance as he entered the kitchen and make his way over to the table. Clark looked up at her, momentarily surprised at the ease with which she seemed to read his thoughts. But the shock faded as he realized that he had never been able to hide anything from her. She could read him like a book, they both could. It was part of what made them such a close-knit family.

Clark sighed and looked back and forth between his parents. The smell of the meal lingered in the background, and his stomach longed to dig in. But he knew that nothing would happen until he let them know about the fire. "Something happened tonight," he started. Lowering his gaze to his empty plate, he continued. "On my way home I saw a fire in a commercial district in Metropolis. I couldn't just let it go, so I put it out. I wasn't thinking, I didn't look… People saw me."

He could see his parents' mouths draw into straight lines. Every time it was something similar — a fire put out, a tourist saved, a natural disaster averted. He just couldn't help himself. He knew it was hard on them, his constant running, but he didn't know what else to do. No matter what the circumstances, though, they would always offer their unconditional support, even if they didn't necessarily agree with what he was doing. It used to be that his father would offer dire warnings of laboratories and military men coming for him after pulling one of his "stunts", but Clark hadn't heard those in several years. It was unnecessary; he knew the consequences. He sometimes wondered if his parents didn't partially blame themselves for the constant upheavals, for his apparent paranoia about being caught. He could see it in their taut expressions, even now, and he tried to offer a reassuring smile to them.

"I don't want to move this time," Clark said, eliciting somewhat startled expressions from each of them. "I don't know what it is about Metropolis, but…" he sighed and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and fixing his parents with an intent gaze.

"I can't explain it, but somehow I feel like my destiny is there," he said quietly. He dropped his eyes again as he let all the emotions he had felt during the flight over course through him. "I just can't go. There has to be a way to stay, just this once."

After a moment, he felt his mother's hand touch his arm, and he looked at her. Her expression was soft, and she gave him a small grin as their eyes met. "We'll think of something," she said as she gave his arm a slight squeeze. Clark shifted his gaze to his father, and he could see him give a small nod.

Clark smiled and finally allowed himself to relax. His problem wasn't solved yet, but with the support of his parents, he was sure to find a way, somehow. With that, his mother set the food on the table, and they began to eat. The topic of conversation shifted to the more mundane, and all traces of their earlier conversation seemed to disappear.

As supper finished up, Clark helped his mother with the dishes before wandering outside. His dad was sitting in the large swing on the porch, staring upward. Clark sat down next to him and followed his gaze, drinking in the sight of the stars shining in the endless sky, a reminder of how insignificant they ultimately were compared to the immensity of the universe.

"I forget how beautiful the night sky is out here," Clark said, his voice somewhat wistful. Every corner of the earth offered a unique view of the heavens. Each was spectacular in its own right, but in the end, there was something about the sight of the stars from the farm where he grew up, where he had learned about the constellations, where he had learned about his heritage, that moved him. "In Metropolis, the only stars you can see are riding around in limos."

Jonathan let out a small grunt. "You're the one who wanted the rat race," he said.

Clark smiled at the comment. It was just the type of statement that he would expect from his father. Jonathan Kent was born and raised in the country, and only a true force of nature would ever cause him to leave the land that he loved so much. He just didn't belong in the city. The gentle pace at which life in the country moved suited him in every way. Clark could understand that, but had always felt that he himself was destined to move on to something bigger and better. He loved waking up to nothing but the sound of the wind blowing through the brush outside, and he loved going to sleep under the clear blanket of stars. There was nothing in the world like standing in the serenity of a field of sweet-smelling wheat, gazing up at the clouds as they floated in the sky, left alone to your thoughts. It was calming, comforting, but it just wasn't what Clark needed. He needed the vibrancy of city. An infinite number of lives experienced an infinite number of events, and each held a story to be told. They all moved him and inspired him in their own way, and he had never felt so alive as he had in his two short days in Metropolis.

"I did. I do." Clark paused for a moment and looked over at his father. "I want to finally settle there, but…" he sighed as his father sent a curious glance his way. Running his hand through his hair, Clark turned back toward the sky and continued. "Being able to put out that fire tonight was exhilarating. To think that I was able to save those businesses, possibly to save the lives of those people…it's the best feeling in the world, helping people like that."

Clark pushed with his feet and the swing began to rock back and forth ever so slightly. "I wonder sometimes why I was given the abilities that I have. I used to think that it was a curse, and lord knows that my life has been chaotic because of them. But there's so much beauty in the world, and I've seen a lot of things that nobody else on Earth has ever seen. There are so many things that I could never have done without my abilities, but even so, I doubted their purpose, until tonight. I can help out, Dad. I can use what I have to make the world a better place. I want to do that, but I don't want to lose myself and my privacy because of that."

Frustration welled up inside him as he began to subconsciously pick at the peeling paint on the swing. His father remained oddly silent for a few moments, and Clark finally turned toward him. Jonathan was looking into the sky, a curious expression on his face.

"Dad?" Clark asked. His father wasn't generally an introspective person, but when he did take the time to sit back and devise a plan, it was usually brilliant. Clark felt a glimmer of hope well up inside himself as he waited for his father to answer.

"Remember those stories I used to read to you when you were a boy? They were from old comic books that I had collected when I was a young man. Stories of men who would fight crime, superheroes, some of whom even had powers, much like yours. They put on fantastic disguises to hide their real identities from the world."

"I remember," Clark said slowly, old memories of brightly colored books seeping into his mind.

Jonathan continued, a corner of his mouth curving upward and his voice far off. "They would go on some of the best adventures, fighting criminals and saving lives. I used to wonder what it would be like to do what they did. But then I grew up, and saw the stories for the fiction that they were." Jonathan took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter, turning his focus to Clark.

"Even so, I wonder if something like that might just work for you."

Clark let himself consider the possibility for a moment. It would certainly allow him to do everything that he wanted to do, but his father was right. He would basing his existence on comic book stories, for goodness sakes. "I don't know, Dad. People aren't going to be gullible enough to not see past the costume."

Jonathan's eyes twinkled, and he gave Clark a smile before continuing. "I think you'd be surprised," he said. "All it would take would be a little acting. You did a few plays in high school, as I recall."

Clark nodded. He had indeed, although he was no actor. For one, he was a terrible liar, and he knew it. Putting on a disguise, pretending to be someone he truly wasn't…that was a lie if he ever heard one. He just didn't know if he could pull it off.

"Besides, who would believe that someone who can do what you can do would be walking among us, living a normal life?" Jonathan continued to smile at Clark, and as the possibilities began to become clearer, Clark began to smile himself. A secret identity…it was very tempting. It would allow him to do what he was capable of, so long as nobody found out.

Clark leaned back and silence descended upon them as they rocked back and forth for a few minutes. As a hundred thoughts shot though his head, a single shooting star streaked across the sky above them. The heavenly sign seemed to sweep all his fears away.

"I think you're right." Clark looked over his shoulder into the kitchen. As much as he wanted to do what his dad was suggesting, he needed his mother's help. "I don't want to rush into anything, though. Give me a day to think this over. I can come back tomorrow night, that is if Mom is willing to help make something up for me."

Jonathan patted Clark on the knee before bringing the swing to a stop. "That's something you can ask her yourself. But let me tell you, if it means two fresh cooked dinners in a row, then I'm all for it."

Clark chuckled and stood up alongside his father. "Thanks for helping me, Dad."

"It was my pleasure. Come on, let's go get some dessert."

The two entered the house, each eyeing the apple pie that sat on the stove. Clark didn't need a day to think, not really. He was very excited at the prospect of taking on another identity, especially if it meant that he could use his powers freely. The night that had started out so bleakly was coming together nicely. And tomorrow could only get better. After all, he did have a lunch date with Lois Lane.


Lois sat at the table of an outdoor caf‚, her hands subconsciously fiddling with the business card of Clark Kent. Around her, couples chatted together, oblivious to the rest of the world. She could see the adoration in their eyes when they looked at each other, and a part of her longed to see someone give her that look, if only once. But, she reminded herself, such desires were selfish at best, especially for someone in her position. There were greater things in the world than love, and the path that her life had taken destined her to be alone.

She wondered why she had even bothered to come. As she had a chance to fall back into her old routine the previous day, she had felt a renewed sense of purpose. The feelings that had been dredged up upon meeting with Clark Kent seemed so far away, that she wondered if she had even experienced them at all. She probably would've dismissed them outright if it were not for the flutter that her heart felt upon even thinking his name. Even so, she knew academically that they couldn't get involved. The missions she embarked on upon the darkness of night were known only by her sister, and in a deep recess of her mind, she feared what would happen if anyone else found out about them. They would be frowned upon by anyone with any sense of values, someone like Clark. He wouldn't want to be involved with anyone like her, not someone as innocent as he was. She couldn't stand the thought that if they somehow got together, she would end up corrupting him. Or even worse, they would form a commitment to each other, then he would find out about her activities and reject her. She had known loss in her life, but she didn't think that she could handle another one. When she gave her heart to someone, she wanted it to be a guaranteed relationship for life. So today's lunch would be business, purely platonic, and she would let him know not to expect anything more from her. Yes, she thought as she looked as his card again, if circumstances had been different, then maybe… But she couldn't change what had happened to her all those years ago.

Her eyes were diverted to the day's edition of the Daily Planet, which lay on the red and white checkered tablecloth in front of her. "Messenger Disaster," the bold headline screamed. The horrific picture of the aftermath of the space shuttle fire accompanied the article, which covered the whole front page. On its own, what happened to the shuttle was a tragedy, but a small article buried in the society pages gave the story a deeper, more ominous dimension. While the shuttle sat burning at Cape Canaveral, Lex Luthor hosted a charity ball, attended by the crŠme of Metropolis society, and announced his plans for "Space Station Luthor." His vision was framed as a generous offer to help EPRAD in its time of need, but Lois knew what his true motivations were. The timing was just too coincidental.

The shuttle disaster also had ties to the death of Ron Harris, husband to that poor woman who had come to the Lost and Found Agency the day before. His occupation as a scientist at Lexlabs had immediately raised a red flag in her mind. Rummaging through his office the previous night, she had found research notes about different drugs, drugs that were nearly impossible to manufacture on Earth, but in the vacuum of space, without the presence of gravity, they could be made quite easily. Those research notes, along with correspondence between Mr. Harris and his superiors, had been carefully tucked inside her jacket, evidence that would be used in her crusade. Then she had blasted the lab to smithereens. She should feel guilty about arson, she knew — it was a crime, after all. When the dawn broke, there would be a hundred or so people without jobs, scientific knowledge gained through careful testing would be lost to the world, and possibly millions of dollars in specialized equipment would have been destroyed. But it was all worth it if it meant the possibility that even one life would be spared from the hand of Lex Luthor.

The motivation for the murder of Ron Harris had been immediately evident to Lois upon examination of the evidence. There would be large amounts of money to be made if the drugs they were testing were to go into production on the space station. Most of the memos seemed to indicate that the whole notion was meant to be theoretical, and that the testing was purely in the name of science. But Mr. Harris had openly questioned his superiors about what Luthor's motives were in continuing the testing. Challenges like that were likely what got him killed, especially judging from the dates on the memos that she had seen. One thing that Lois had found over and over again was that one didn't threaten Luthor and live. She couldn't prove that any threats were made, of course, but Mrs. Harris's description of her husband's personality had seemed very familiar to her. It was much like the personality of her father, a man who hadn't been smart enough to keep silent with questions of his own.

The information that had been taken away from Lexlabs had been filed with all the rest that she had gathered throughout the years. Like so many other cases she investigated, the evidence was circumstantial. She had so much circumstantial evidence against him, it was hard not to see him for the monster that he was, but circumstantial evidence wouldn't get him convicted of his crimes. His day would come soon, she knew. Some day he would slip up, forget to cover some of his tracks, and then he would finally be brought to justice. Until then, she would continue to follow his every step, continue to collect evidence, and continue to make it difficult for him to do business in Metropolis.

As her mind drifted back to her latest bit of handiwork, a frown began to appear on her face. An article in the metro section of the paper mentioned the fire, but it was overshadowed by the reports of a flying angel who had come to the rescue. If she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, she wouldn't have believed such an outlandish tale. There were no photographs, no evidence that he had been there at all except for the sketchy eyewitness reports from the vagrants who had seen him, and a smoking pile of ashes that signaled where a fire had once raged. Those that doubted the story of the flying miracle man were hard pressed to find any other explanation for how the fire could've been stopped. The fire marshal was looking into the case, of course, but he was quoted as saying that he had never seen anything like it in all his days. It was like some sort of miracle.

As the thought faded from her mind, Lois looked up from the paper, and saw that Clark had finally arrived at the restaurant. He was talking with the hostess at the entrance, and obviously hadn't seen her yet. For a moment she forgot to breathe while she took in his form. The feelings that had been so easily forgotten the day before came back in full force, and she found that her focus of attention was narrowing, zeroing in on him and him alone. As she looked his way, the hostess pointed toward her table, and Clark's gaze found her. For a moment their eyes locked, and she felt a connection like nothing that she had ever felt in her life. They stared at each other, drowned in the sight of each other, the rest of the world far away. Then she blinked, and the connection was instantly broken. As he finally started walking toward her, the warning that had been so prominent earlier began to come back to her. Reasons why they couldn't be together, reasons why they had no future. But, as she looked upon him again, those reasons seemed very far away. The only thing that seemed close to her at that moment was her awareness of him, and the lightness of spirit that she was suddenly feeling. As he approached the table, a ray of sun broke though the clouds, illuminating him while at the same time leaving the other areas of the outdoor caf‚ in shadow. In a life so filled with symbolism, Lois couldn't help but recognize the sign that was given to her. Maybe this lunch wouldn't be purely platonic. Maybe their future wasn't completely doomed. And maybe, even if it was, she could let herself enjoy this day.

"Hi," he said with a smile as he sat down across from her. She favored him with a grin of her own, wondering how it was that he affected her the way that he did.

"Hi," she replied, feeling her cheeks redden under his stunning grin. A silence fell over them for a moment while they simply looked at each other. A million different topics of conversation whirled around in Lois's head, but she couldn't bring herself to start any of them. She wondered what his interests were, what his thoughts and feelings were about people, politics, the state of the world in general. What was his favorite song, his favorite color, his favorite book? There were so many things that neither of them knew about each other, things that shaped perceptions and conversations. But how did one go about finding those things out without being direct?

It suddenly occurred to her that her lack of social interaction had left her woefully inadequate in situations such as this. She had never felt the need to date, and, truth be told, she never thought that she ever would. What did people say in situations such as this? Lois felt herself beginning to panic as Clark's dark brown eyes remained glued on her, his expression becoming more concerned. Maybe her earlier resolutions about getting close to this man had been for nothing — how could they ever be in a relationship if they couldn't even talk to each other?

"Lois, are you all right?" Clark spoke suddenly, jarring her out of her thoughts. Feeling an ache in her hand, she looked down and saw that she was clutching the upper corner of her copy of the Daily Planet so hard that her knuckles had turned white. She quickly released her grip and tried to calm her racing heart.

"Umm, yeah I'm fine," she said, giving Clark a small smile. "I'm just…well, I, ah, don't go out to lunch with strangers very often."

Clark nodded slightly and gave her a reassuring look. "Yeah, I guess I don't, either." His lopsided, somewhat shy smile reassured Lois, and suddenly she didn't feel quite so nervous anymore. She recalled the first time she had seen him yesterday, and how boyish he had seemed to her. As she watched, he fidgeted slightly, and that boyishness seemed to reappear. It was a trait that she found very charming, although she couldn't for the life of her figure out why. In many ways he was her polar opposite. She had been hardened by life in many respects after the death her parents, having to work to support herself and her sister. They never had a permanent home, or anyone to love except for each other. Clark, on the other hand, looked almost as if he had come straight from a more innocent time, when men opened doors for women, pulled out their chairs in restaurants, and stood as they entered the room. She could practically see his mother doting on him, sewing his clothes, straightening his ties. But she thought she could sense that his life hadn't been without its trails, too. Maybe it was a look in his eyes, a gesture, the way he seemed to look at other people. It was another one of those things that she wanted to find out about him.

She suspected that there was still a part of herself, buried deep inside, that was a lot like him. If her past had been different, they might have been a lot more alike. That smile of his shed lights on parts of herself that she hadn't even known existed, and it felt good, she realized. In finding out about him, in just being with him, she was finding out more about herself.

"So, how did you like the article?" he asked as he sat up taller in his chair. His eyebrows were raised in expectation, and Lois found herself smiling. She had almost forgotten about the information she had given him the day before, and the story it had led to in the edition that was sitting in front of her. She had worked with literally dozens of reporters at the Planet throughout the years, and although she had given them all equally powerful information, the way that had translated to copy had varied greatly between them. Each had a different style, a different way of approaching the subject, all of which contributed to the impact of their writing. Most of the reporters that wrote up her work left her wondering how they had managed to make their living in their profession. Cases that Lois had found interesting and compelling, often left her with a bad taste in her mouth after the article was published. It was for that reason that she had begun looking over their shoulders, letting herself edit what they wrote. But for some reason she hadn't bothered with Clark.

As it came to be, she hadn't needed to. The story that he had written was wonderful. He had obviously done some research of his own to add to her information. He hadn't taken sides, even though her notes had been very one-sided, and the article that he had written turned out to be very balanced and informative, written so well that it almost seemed poetic. He had a definite way with words, and she was pleased to say the least.

"It was good," Lois said, and although her comment was less than gushing, it elicited a pleasant smile from Clark.

"Really? I guess I expected you to be a little harder on me," Clark said sheepishly. Either he was extremely modest, or he didn't know his own talent, Lois figured. She could see him as the modest type — it fit in with his boyish charms.

"Well, you have talent, I could tell just by the way you interviewed me," Lois said in her most supportive tone. "I can't say as much about some of the people I worked with there."

His grin was stunning. Lois wasn't the type to pay compliments normally, but seeing the effect that it had on him made her wonder if it wasn't something that she should do more regularly. "It's just a shame that my first story for the Daily Planet had to be on the same day as that space shuttle disaster. My article was shoved way in the back," he said, his smile falling away.

Lois nodded and opened her copy of the paper. "Yes, right below the story about the lab fire," she said, almost choking out the last words as she realized what she was saying. She hadn't meant to mention the fire, at least not now. The last thing she wanted was to get mired in some conversation about how awful arson was, or what a shame it was that the business had been burned. It would be hard for her to hide her feelings about the situation, to filer everything so as not to give away her involvement. He had a way of breaking down her barriers, of making her feel things that she had no business feeling.

As she kept her gaze on the paper, waiting for his response, an uncomfortable silence developed between them. She looked up and could see a wide-eyed, panicked expression had come over his face as he stared down at the article. He seemed to feel her eyes on him, and after a moment he shifted his gaze to her, an obviously forced smile forming on his lips.

"Uh, yeah, that lab fire. That was sure something, wasn't it?" he said, equally forced enthusiasm in his voice. His eyes implored her to change the subject, and Lois couldn't help but wonder what was wrong. Maybe he was scooped out of the story by another reporter. Maybe he had some sort of family member or close friend lose a job in that fire. Whatever the reason was, Lois felt more than happy to oblige his silent request.

"Yes, very unusual. But that fire article, well, it wasn't nearly as good as yours was. Of course, you got your information from the best source in town, so I guess that's no surprise," Lois said, surprised at the somewhat teasing air that she had taken on. Clark seemed to appreciate it, though. Again his manner changed at the drop of a hat.

He brought his elbows onto the table and rested his chin on his palms. A twinkle formed in his eyes as he regarded her for a second. "You know, I heard that you were tough to deal with. I didn't expect such high praise from someone Ralph referred to as 'Mad Dog'."

Lois felt a momentary flash of anger before she steadied her emotions. That he would even tell her such a thing was usual in and of itself, given what that twerp Ralph must have told him. "I can assure you that at least half of what comes out of his mouth is exaggerated," Lois said, trying her best to keep her annoyance from showing.

"Yeah, I know," Clark said, a reassuring smile on his lips. "It's really too bad that the only information that I have about you came from him. Tell me, who is Lois Lane, Private Investigator, really?"

She regarded him for a second. "I thought this lunch was going to be business," she said, trying to make her words as stern as she could. A part of her did want it to be just business, but she just couldn't ignore the strange attraction that she had to him.

Apparently something in her voice gave away that she was less than serious. A part of her was growing to really like that half smile he gave when he was teasing someone. "Well, it has been, hasn't it? If you want, you can tell me all about your investigative business. It doesn't matter to me, I just want to know more about you."

Behind his light manner, she could sense a certain seriousness to his words. He really was interested in her, who she was, what made her tick. Lois was caught off guard by that thought for a second, and she blinked a few times as the gravity of that set in. Nobody had ever cared enough to want to know about her. It was a frightening prospect, but as she looked at him, she decided that maybe she did want him to know about her life, or at least the part that she didn't mind making public.

"Only if you tell me about yourself, too. You might have half-baked information from Ralph, but that still gives you an advantage. All I know about you is that you're a good writer who likes to ask strange women to lunch."

Lois watched as his nose wrinkled slightly with amusement, and she found her smile again. "It's a deal," Clark said, as he leaned back in his chair. His eyes were focused on nothing but her, the intenseness of his gaze boring into her as she began her story.

"It was late November, 1978, and the winter had already began to make its presence felt, when Sam and Ellen Lane made their way through the back alleys of Metropolis's Garden District…"


Clark wandered back toward the Daily Planet, his attention focused far away from the bustle of people on the sidewalk around him. Thoughts and emotions were warring within him, all focused on the beautiful creature that was Lois Lane. He had gone to lunch with her, hoping that he could somehow get to know her better, and ended up getting more than he had bargained for. The story of her childhood, of the events that had driven her to become a detective, was hauntingly chilling. She had felt such pain in her life, yet somehow, she hadn't let it make her cynical. She had even opened a shelter for those who had lost their families, like she had. The moniker of "Mad Dog" was the last thing that he would've ever thought of for her. There should be more people in the world like Lois Lane.

He had told her his life story, too, or at least the parts that he let the rest of the world know. He didn't tell her about his heritage, or about the special things he could do. Maybe he would in time, who knew. All he did know is that he had a good time, and it seemed to him that she had, too. Neither of them mentioned another lunch, but she had given him one of her business cards, one that had both her home and business numbers on it. That's not something that someone who had no interest in ever seeing him again would do.

His life, although it had been full, had something missing from it. He had seen exotic places that so many people only dreamed about, lived in cultures that few knew even existed, and done things that no human could do. He had learned enough to last him a lifetime, yet he didn't really have anyone to share it with, aside from his parents. When the time came and he found the person who was right for him, then he would let her know everything about himself, what he had done and seen and been. The only problem was that he hadn't even remotely found anyone who he felt that connection with, at least, not until Lois had come along. Up until a few hours earlier, he wasn't sure how he felt about her, either, except that she made something inside him take notice. But after lunch… He was feeling things now that he had never felt before. He didn't know if it was love, per se, but something about her just felt right.

One of his talents was the ability to interpret emotions, to channel them through himself to tell a story. With every story, he felt what the victim was feeling, but he never let those emotions overrule his objectivity. He would draw on them as he told his tale, letting them fall away as he finished his story, letting them become distant shadows in his memory. As Lois spoke, he absorbed her emotions, too, but unlike all his previous experiences, her pain moved him, touched his heart, and made him want to pull her close to him and ease all her suffering. As far as Lois was concerned, he knew he had no objectivity, and he knew that the effect her story had on him wouldn't be leaving him. Maybe someday he would be lucky enough to be allowed to hold her in his arms, and to be the one that would make her pain go away once and for all. He vowed to call her that night to make an appointment to see her again.

He brought his attention back to the world around him as he entered the Daily Planet building. As he walked through the famous revolving door and into the lobby, a shabbily dress man ran toward him, his eyes frantic.

"You must help me," the man said as he reached up and grabbed the lapels on Clark's jacket. Clark looked around, seeing the usual bustle of people in the lobby, many of whom seemed to have taken an interest in the disturbance the man was causing. Of all the people at the Planet at the moment, he couldn't help but wonder why he had been singled out. Whatever the reason, the man seemed terrified of something.

Clark put his hands gently on the man's shoulders in a gesture of comfort. "Help you with what?" Clark asked, making eye contact with the man. This seemed to have a further calming effect on him. Clark felt his grip loosen on his jacket, and some of the wildness of the man's demeanor seemed to disappear, although Clark could still sense his urgency.

"The Messenger. If it's allowed to be re-launched, it WILL explode again, you must believe me," the man said.

The Messenger story, the big headline of the day, was in the laps of the best and brightest senior reporters at the Planet. Unfortunately, that didn't mean him, at least not yet. "Sir, if you want I can take you upstairs and talk to a few of the reporters who are handling this case," Clark started, but the violent head shaking of the man stopped him.

"No, they wouldn't listen. None of them would listen. But I'm telling you, for all those people who will be on board. Please," he said. The tone in his voice softened, and he took a shuddering breath. The concern on his face was evident. Whatever his story, he seemed to truly believe what he was saying, and he seemed truly concerned for the passengers. Clark liked to think that he was a good judge of character, and nothing about this man raised any alarm bells in his mind.

Clark looked around the lobby, and noticed the small coffee stand and the unoccupied tables that surrounded it. "Why don't you come over here and tell me about it," he said, gently leading the man toward a table. The man smiled, a look of relief coming across his face.

As they sat down, the man related his story to Clark. His name was Samuel Platt, and he had been an engineer for EPRAD until recently. He claimed to have been fired in a conspiracy, a cover-up that extended all the way to the upper levels of the organization. According to Platt, what had caused the explosion the previous night was a problem with engine coolants, a problem which he had outlined in a report to management, but which they had openly disregarded. That was right before his firing, right before the trip to the office of his supervisor, a Dr. Toni Baines, who had started interrogating him.

"The interrogation started out innocently enough, but as I sat there, answering her questions, I suddenly felt queasy and the room began to spin. They had drugged me, probably spiked my coffee. I don't remember a whole lot between then and the next morning, but I do seem to recall a dark room, and people asking me things, things about what I knew and who I told it to. When I did come to my senses, I found myself in an alley, and a cop was standing over me.

"I was arrested and charged with drug possession. They found a bag of heroin on me, although I had never so much as seen that vile substance before then. Baines and her people planted it on me when I was drugged, I'm sure. It ruined my career, and it ruined my family life. Nobody believes what I'm saying is the truth, but it IS Mr. Kent, I swear it."

Clark took a good look at the man, and then closed his eyes. The story was fantastic, and seemed too contrived to be true. Drugging employees and setting them up on narcotics charges to get them out of the way, those were things that only happened on bad TV shows, weren't they? But as he opened his eyes once more, he could see the intelligence in the man's eyes. He might be dressed like a bum, but during his tale, Clark could sense a keen intellect, a real knowledge of what went on at EPRAD. Although he knew it defied any and all logic, Clark found that he actually believed Platt's story.

Clark sighed. "Do you have any proof?" he asked. Although he thought that Platt was telling the truth, nobody else would believe the tale without proof of some sort. Even a copy of the report he sent to Baines would be helpful, especially if coupled with actual evidence from the destroyed ship.

Platt's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes, I do. But I need to get it together. If you could come by tonight, I can give it to you," he said. They agreed on a time and location, and Platt left. Clark watched him as he walked out of the building, all traces of the frantic man he had seen earlier gone, replaced with someone who was calm, poised, even friendly. As Platt disappeared into the crowd, Clark finally made his way up to the newsroom.

After stepping off the elevator, he headed straight to the desk of Edwardo Friaz, the man in charge of the Planet investigation of the Messenger disaster. Friaz seemed to be lost in concentration, reading one of a number of reports that sat in manila folders on his desk. As Clark approached, he reluctantly tore is gaze away from the report, a somewhat annoyed expression on his face.

"What is it…Kent, right?" he asked.

"I just ran into a man in the lobby who claimed to know the reason that the shuttle blew up…" Clark started, only to be interrupted by Friaz.

"Crazy balding man, looks like he's been sleeping in a cardboard box for a while?" he asked. The description might be a tad overly dramatic, but it was Platt, all right. Clark only nodded, and Friaz drew is lips into a slight frown, finally setting the report he had been reading on his desk. "He tried to sell that story up here, but none of us were buying it."

"But maybe he knows something. He said he used to work for EPRAD," Clark said, before he noticed Friaz shaking his head, a long suffering look on his face.

"Listen kid," he said, his voice patronizing. Clark sensed the lecture that was to come, concerning the tidbit of newsroom canon that he had apparently broken. "Since coming into work today, I've gotten at least twenty calls or visits from kooks like him who claim to have insider information on some conspiracy involving the Messenger. After you're around here for a while, you'll see that we just don't have time to investigate all of their wild claims. Most of them are just whack jobs looking for attention, nothing more."

With that, Friaz gave a dismissive hand gesture and returned his attention to his file, ignoring Clark as if he had never been there at all. He probably had a point, Clark thought. There was no way that they would even want to devote the time and effort to investigating all of the wild stories that people off the street brought into the newsroom, but he just knew that this one was genuine. It was at least worth a cursory look, especially if it meant the lives of the future passengers.

His mind made up, Clark sat down in front of his computer, mentally outlining how he would investigate Platt's story. He would worry about what the Chief had to say about that later.


Lois had work to do, not the least of which was to continue her investigation into Lex Luthor, and how he tied into the Messenger disaster. But at the moment, her mind was on anything but her caseload. She had just finished her meeting with the man of her dreams.

As much as she had devoted her life to her work, a part deep inside her had dedicated itself to torturing her dreams with fantasies that would make Harlequin romance writers blush. In her dream world, her parents were still alive, Lex Luthor was securely locked away in some maximum- security prison, his name reviled by the masses, and she was worshiped and adored by the quintessential perfect man. In her dreams she always felt normal, safe, and loved, feelings that had finally followed her into the waking world once she had seen the obvious desire for her that had burned in Clark Kent's eyes. He was an intelligent, compassionate man, who always regarded her with a smile and a friendly word and who, despite the dire warnings given to him by his coworkers, had seen fit to give her a chance. In many respects, he mirrored her fantasy men; in many more, he exceeded them. She could sense that beneath his ill- filling suit was a marvelously sculpted body, his flowing muscles filling out his dress shirt in places, giving away strong arms that she longed to have wrapped around her…

Lois coughed and tried to banish that thought. Thinking about him was doing nothing to help her objectivity. Maybe it was time to tell Lucy about him, and to ask her advice about what should be done. She knew she could count on Lucy to be her rock, and to remind her of what was important in her life, in both their lives. She had a feeling of how the conversation would go, but she didn't necessarily disapprove of that anymore. Lucy had been trying to push her toward dating again, and Lois had to admit that in this case, it might not be such a bad idea. But she wouldn't make any decisions until after they talked.

She climbed the steps to the Lost and Found brownstone, her mind still pleasantly wrapped in thoughts of Clark. Walking in, she saw that the waiting area was empty. In a city as large as Metropolis, families lost loved ones every day, yet so few knew about her agency and her desire to help them in any way she could. In a good week, they would get a few stragglers in their door, but so many more slipped through the cracks, lost in an indifferent system. She had taken out small ads in weekly publications, and word of mouth had helped greatly, but that just wasn't enough. Her inheritance from her parents funded the whole operation, but sometimes, when coming home to an empty house, it just didn't feel like enough. In the past, that feeling of near failure had only added to her great emptiness, but today it only served as a reminder of work that needed to be done, of a word that needed to be spread throughout Metropolis. Today she couldn't feel that depression, because she had much more pleasant things on her mind.

"Lucy?" she called as walked through the foyer.

"I'm in here," came the muffled call from the kitchen. Lois made her way through the house, and as she reached the entryway, she caught sight of Lucy making a sandwich.

"Hey," Lois said, her voice chipper.

Lucy gave her a strange look that puzzled Lois for a moment, until she realized that she almost never sounded chipper. Brooding, yes. Serious, yes. But chipper? Lois tried to think of the last time that she had even felt joy, and she found that she couldn't remember. "I thought you had a big case to work on today, what with the Messenger explosion and Luthor's proposal," Lucy said after a moment, her expression now more amused than puzzled.

"I have all afternoon and evening to that," Lois replied, trying unsuccessfully to take the smile out of her voice.

"What is this? Are those your teeth? Do I see a smile? Who are you and what have you done with my sister?"

Lois giggled, drawing a pleased smile out of Lucy. "It's really me, and I need to talk to you about something," Lois said, her voice softening. She gestured to the table and they both sat down, Lucy popping a potato chip into her mouth as she did so.

"Well?" Lucy asked as she gave Lois her undivided attention.

All of a sudden Lois felt somewhat nervous. This was unexplored territory for her. "I, uh, well…" She gave a quick nervous smile and took a deep breath. "I need some advice…on a man. See, I met somebody…"

"Dear lord, someone get me to a bookie. I'm putting all my money on the Cubs and I'm buying a lotto ticket because I think Hell just froze over," Lucy said as she dropped her sandwich.

Lois snorted. "Thanks for your vote of confidence," she said, her cheeks beginning to burn.

"No, Lois this is WONDERFUL," Lucy positively beamed as she scooted forward in her chair and put her hand on Lois's arm. "All those years, you wouldn't so much as look at a man. He must be someone special. What's his name? What's he do? Does he have a brother?"

Lois let out a small laugh. She and her sister had always been business partners, and they treated each other with love and respect and understanding, as any family members would, but she had never really felt like she had connect with Lucy as a "girl friend." It probably had to do with the dating thing, and Lois's total disregard for many of the traditionally girlish things, such as fashion and gossip and anything pink. Maybe it was time to change that.

"His name is Clark, he writes for a newspaper, and no, he doesn't have a brother. But that's not what I wanted to ask you about."

Lucy looked puzzled. "What is it, then?"

"It's… I don't know if I should. Go out with him, that is."

Lucy tilted her head and put on her most supportive expression. "Oh Lois, why not? It's been so long. If you've finally found someone that makes you, the impenetrable fortress of perpetual singleness, want to start dating, then I say you grab hold of him with both hands and don't let go."

Lois smiled at her sister's optimism. "Yeah, I know, I probably should. But you know the reason why I didn't want a man in my life in the first place."

Lucy sighed and looked down, shaking your head. Silence developed between the two of them for a minute, then Lucy finally brought her face up again, and Lois was shocked to see how serious she appeared. "I know that for years you've felt that it's your duty to make things right by Mom and Dad. You want the man who ordered their deaths brought down, and you'll go to any lengths necessary to do it. You want to make sure that nobody else had to suffer like we did. But don't you think that Mom and Dad would want you to be happy, too?

"You've devoted your whole life up to now to them. Isn't it about time to devote your life to yourself and your own happiness? If judgment day came today, I think you could honestly say that you did your best, maybe not by the most conventional or legal means, but you tried so hard. Live your life Lois. Go out on a date, if that's what you really want."

Lucy was so smart. Lois didn't need to voice the thoughts that had been running through her head, the doubts and reservations that she held. Lucy just knew. After so many years, it was probably inevitable, but it was comforting nonetheless. She didn't know what she'd do if she ever lost her sister, and she hoped she would never have to find out.

"Thank you," Lois said as she felt a tear run down her cheek. They sat and smiled at each other for a moment. "He doesn't know a lot about what I really do," Lois added as afterthought, subconsciously seeking her sister's approval on the subject.

She didn't need to ask, after all. "If he's the right one for you, then you'll find the right time to tell him, and hopefully he'll understand." Lucy smiles wickedly before continuing. "If he doesn't, you mind too much letting him know that I'm available? Anyone willing to give you a chance is all right in my book."

The serious mood between them had been broken. "Fat chance," Lois said as she stood up, laughter in her eyes. She felt so different than she ever had, almost light headed. For the first time that she could ever remember, she actually had something to smile about, a future that looked tangible and, yes, happy. Hopefully. But she would never know if she didn't take the steps, say the scary words. She wanted to go out with him, now she just had to tell him that.

Lois began to walk away from the table, gathering her briefcase as she did. "Hey, you want any lunch?" she heard Lucy ask. The smile on her face only grew.

"I already ate," she called over her shoulder. What a great lunch it had been, too. Now, if only she could set up another lunch date. With a spring suddenly appearing in her step, Lois left the brownstone and set off toward her office. It was time to get down to some actual work.


The EPRAD offices in Metropolis were not as impressive as Clark would've thought at first. For an agency that prided itself on thinking big, it was actually quite small. But he supposed that was to be expected, especially since the bulk of its operations were based in Florida. From the research that he had done that afternoon, Clark learned that this particular office had overseen the design and construction of only the rocket booster systems on the Messenger, leaving the other assorted parts — life support, computers, research-related systems — to other small offices in Washington, California, Texas, and Florida.

The head of the Metropolis office was Dr. Antoinette Baines, the same Dr. Baines that Platt had mentioned to him earlier in the day. According to employment records, Samuel Platt, DOCTOR Samuel Platt, had also worked at the office until a few months earlier, when he had been fired after being charged with felony drug possession. The information that Dr. Platt had given him was proving itself to be true so far, and Clark intended to find out if the technical details were true, as well. He had set up an interview with Dr. Baines, although he didn't honestly think that it would do any good. If she was indeed behind the explosion, she certainly wouldn't volunteer that information to some rookie reporter. But even though her information might be bogus, Clark could read her expressions, mannerisms, and heart rate, and hopefully find the truth that way.

Entering the building, he saw that it was as unassuming on the inside as it was on the outside. The furnishings were virtual clones of that in every other government office he'd ever been in. There were no large signs on the wall, no plaques or awards or anything else that even so much as told the function of the office aside from some small, white lettering on the door. Even the secretary was rather plain, although she was very friendly as she directed him to Dr. Baines's office.

Clark didn't know exactly what to expect of Dr. Baines. His imagination told him that a woman in her position, who had done the things that she had supposedly done, must surely be older, rather controlling, stiff and formal. As the doors to her office were opened and Clark got a look at her, he saw that she was anything but. In the sterile dullness of the office, she stood out like a jewel. Young, attractive, and quick with a smile, she was the complete opposite of every notion that he had held. But, he reminded himself, it was quite possible that she was behind the Messenger explosion. And besides, he thought as a smile spread across his face, she was nowhere near as attractive as a certain private investigator who he was enamored with. Lois was the kind of person who would no doubt sneer at this woman and her alleged deeds with contempt.

"Mr. Kent," she said, holding out her hand as he approached. Clark shook it and noticed that her heart rate increased markedly. He wondered if that was an indicator of anxiety, until he noticed her cheeks flush ever so slightly. She was attracted to him; maybe he could use that to his advantage.

"Dr. Baines. I'm pleased that you agreed to see me so quickly, especially considering how hectic it must be around here," Clark said, turning on all the charm that he possibly could.

Her smile broadened. "Yes, it's been very busy, but I also know that it's important to keep the public informed on what we're doing in the aftermath of this tragedy. I know a lot of people out there were very concerned about the future of the space program, and I hope that I can quell those fears."

Clark reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small notebook and pencil, writing down a few words as she spoke. "Well, what I want to do is start out with some background on you. What is it that you actually do here, Dr. Baines?"

She nodded and listed her duties, of which there were many. Most them he had discovered from his research earlier, but others he had never even guessed at. He dutifully took notes, although he knew full well that these queries were covers, set-ups for what he had come to discover. A few more standard questions were given, which received equally standard replies, before he finally dropped the hammer.

"Do you know a Dr. Samuel Platt?" he asked. For a moment, her smile faltered and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but she quickly regained her composure. If he hadn't been paying attention, he might've missed her reaction altogether, but as it was, it had been all too clear.

"Dr. Platt worked here for many years. He was an excellent scientist, but he had a drug problem that affected his job performance, and we had to let him go." A smug smile played faintly across her lips as she talked.

"Do you recall receiving a report from him concerning coolant systems on the Messenger?" Clark asked, finally arriving at the question he had been waiting to ask.

Her reaction was more marked this time, the cracks in her self-control growing larger as her eyes burned into him momentarily. "Coolants? No, Dr. Platt wouldn't have been involved in any areas that would've involved coolants. His work concerned other matters entirely."

Standing up, she continued. "Now, as you can see," she said as she gestured to the papers on her desk, "I have work to attend to. I wish you luck in writing you article, and if there's anything else you need, don't hesitate to call me," she said, turning on her charm.

Clark nodded and rose from his chair, recognizing that he wouldn't get any further with her. He had been right to assume that she wouldn't be very forthright, but she had made it all too clear that he was on to something. Smiling, he left the office and immediately slipped into the air at a speed faster than the human eye would follow. It only took a few short seconds before he saw her reach for the phone.

"Lex, it's me. I think we have a problem," she said. Clark didn't need to hear any more. Streaking across the sky, he headed for Smallville and his dinner engagement with his parents.


"Mom, what would you think if I told you that there was more going on with the Messenger explosion than a simple accident?" Clark asked as he reached for a roll. The Kent family was gathered around the dinner table for the second night in a row, although unlike the previous night, the atmosphere was light and relaxed. Something about the welcoming bowls of food on the table made Clark feel at ease and think more clearly, and right now he had the Messenger on his mind.

Martha gave Clark a startled look as she passed her husband a bowl of mashed potatoes. "What makes you say that?"

Jonathan also regarded his son with a curious glance, silently prompting Clark to tell his tale. "Well," Clark began, leaning back in his chair. "A man came to me with information about the explosion today. At first I thought he was crazy, but out of curiosity, I had his story checked out. The deeper I dug, the more facts I found to support his claim. I have an appointment to meet him tonight so he can give me a report which will hopefully shed some more light on the subject."

His parents looked at each other, and then back at Clark. "What kind of claim did he have?" Jonathan asked.

"Deliberate sabotage," Clark answered grimly. On the flight over, he had run some scenarios through his mind, but as far as he could tell, all signs pointed to just that. Why someone would want to do such a thing, to endanger the lives of everyone on that vessel, he just couldn't fathom. What was even more unfathomable in his mind was how such a thing could happen without somebody else finding out. Obviously Platt had, and his career had been ruined because of it. But Platt was only one man in a great chain of people who had worked on the Messenger. An engineering firm had to design the system, EPRAD had to approve that design and collect bids from contractors interested in building it. Surely one of those contractors would've noticed the problem — the types of companies who would build those systems for EPRAD had top-notch scientists in their employ, people who would be more than capable of catching such a glitch. But none of them had. Whatever the reason, Clark was becoming more convinced that what little he did know was only the tip of the iceberg of a story so complex that it probably involved bribery, deceit, and manipulation on a grand scale.

The look on Martha's face was one of sheer horror. "Sabotage? Clark, are you sure? Who would want to do such a thing?"

Only one name ran though his mind, causing a small chill to pass through his body. The name "Lex" was not exactly common; in fact, a search of the Planet's databases for that name turned up only one man. Lex Luthor was the third richest person on the face of the planet, someone highly respected for his philanthropic work and his generosity. He was a man of power, a man who had the whole world in his hands, who could make or break lives with the stroke of a pen if he so desired. With great power came great temptation to abuse it, Clark of all people should know that. While Luthor's reputation would tend to make Clark skeptical of his involvement in the affair, there was no denying Dr. Baines' phone call, or the fact that Luthor had taken the opportunity to sell his own space program to EPRAD in the wake of the Messenger disaster. Mr. Luthor had a lot at stake in this deal, no doubt. It made Clark curious to find out what other skeletons were hiding in the closet of Metropolis's richest man.

Blinking, Clark realized that he had been absorbed in thought for a few moments. "I don't know who would want to blow up the Messenger, at least not yet, but I intend to find out." He gave them both his most reassuring smile, and he knew that they expected him to live up to that promise. He just hoped he wouldn't let them down.

"While we're talking about stopping crime…" Clark started, looking expectantly at him mother. He had discussed the idea of a secret identity with her the night before, and she had immediately been supportive of it. She volunteered to design and put together his costume even before he got a chance to ask her to. Before he left she even took his measurements, promising to have something waiting for him to try on after supper.

Martha's face lit up immediately, and Clark looked over to see his father smiling. "Your mother has not left her room all day. There's enough bright colored fabric up there to blind a person. Hope you're ready for it."

"Oh Jonathan," Martha said, giving him a quick pat and a teasing smile. "I think you'll be pleased," she said, turning to Clark. "Your father even leant me some of those old comic books of his to give me some more ideas."

The memory of the bright, gaudy costumes contained in some of those books surfaced in Clark's mind. Of all the things to remember from those stories read to him so many years ago, that he should remember the costumes said something. He didn't know whether to be horrified or gratified. If his mother made the uniforms, though, they must be special, and she knew him well enough to know what he would like.

"I can't wait to see them, Mom," Clark said, and it was true. The rest of dinner went by without much ceremony, although Clark's mind remained on the task to come. When the time came for them to clean up, Jonathan volunteered to do the work in the kitchen, shooing Martha and Clark away so that they could get on with the costume fitting. They both protested that they weren't in that much of a hurry, but Jonathan knew how anxious his son was to get into uniform, and Clark silently thanked him for his generosity.

Entering his parents' room, he immediately saw that his dad hadn't been lying. Bright colored spandex covered every surface of the room; brilliant reds, blues, greens, and oranges blended with each other, cut into various patterns and shapes, all waiting for him to try on. Like a kid dragged into a department store for new school clothes, Clark tried on each garment in turn, parading himself in front of his mother each time, seeking her approval. He didn't really know what he had been expecting, but most of the costumes just didn't seem right. So many of them were more colorful copies of outfits worn by comic heroes of old, heroes that he didn't necessarily want to imitate. He wanted to make his own statement, be his own kind of hero, and he didn't really want to do it in the flashiest way possible. It was beginning to look like it might take more work to find his ideal costume when he finally tried on a blue outfit with red briefs and a red cape.

Entering his mother's room after putting it on, he saw her turn her wary face toward him. It had probably been harder on her seeing him try on the finished products and reject them, but she knew as well as he did that none of them had been the right one. As she saw him in the newest outfit, though, a smile began to form on her face. Clark made his way toward the mirror and caught his reflection, and he was surprised at what he saw.

Something about this one spoke to him. It was simple, uncomplicated, and used primary colors. It was distinguished in it's own way, yet…

"One thing's for sure — nobody's going to be looking at your face," his mother said, voicing the very thought that had been at the front of his mind.

"Mom!" he said, feeling his cheeks begin to burn. It was downright embarrassing having your mother looking at you in that way. Of course, he reminded himself, it he wore this outfit in public, there would be a lot more people to scrutinize him in just the same way.

"Do you really think that criminals will take someone seriously who wears his underwear on the outside of his clothes?" Clark asked, turning around to get a more complete view of the outfit. He heard his mother give a chuckle.

"It adds a little modesty to it, I think. Might as well leave something to the imagination," she replied, and he nodded. He would feel much more awkward without that extra bit of protection there, he was sure.

On a whim, he strode to the bathroom and ran his fingers under the water, then brushed them though his hair, the water slicking it down and pasting it to his head. Returning to the mirror, he examined his reflection closely. Without his glasses, with his hair down on his head in a style that he had never worn before, and with the tight outfit on, he almost didn't recognize himself. His dad was right, he thought as he finally let himself smile.

In the mirror, he saw his mom come up behind him and wrap her arms around his waist. She knew that they had found their costume, yet she was still looking at his reflection with an odd look on her face. "One more thing and this will be perfect," she said after a moment, then stepped toward the large trunk that sat at the foot of the bed. After rooting around, she looked up at him, a wide smile on her face.

"The blanket we found you in," she said, holding up a folded up swatch of blue cloth that looked like it had seen better days. She loosened her grip on it and the blanket unfolded, revealing a red and yellow "S" inside a pentagonal shape. She walked over to him and held the blanket against his chest, the blue of the fabric almost exactly matching that of his outfit. As he looked down and saw it there, he knew that his uniform was finally complete. The figure was a link to his heritage, to the side of himself that was not of this earth, the side of himself that he had kept hidden for so long, but that would be allowed to grow and prosper and be free because of the identity that he had created. The symbol was from the same place as he, a place that created people who could do all the things that he could do, and he wanted to honor that place for giving him life, and for landing him in the back yard of the best set of parents in the entire universe.

Nodding, he embraced his mother, who now had a solitary tear making its way down her cheek. "It's perfect, Mom. Thank you," he said softly. A hero was born.


As the sun set on Metropolis and the city and its many corners and alleyways were enveloped in darkness, Lois Lane made her way along the streets. Even since her parents' death, she had felt at one with the shadows, comfortable in the very same darkness that had frightened her so much as a small child. All children knew that only monsters lurked in the dark, but the death of her parents had taught her that even a monster had a face, and it looked strikingly similar to that of everyone else around her. She supposed now that she should've found that thought disturbing, but instead it had been a comfort for her. Maybe it had been the growing coldness inside her that had found solace in the dark, maybe it was the planned vengeance and the knowledge that she would likely become one of those monsters she had so feared. In any case, she had embraced it with her entire being, using it to every advantage that she could.

She tightened the belt to her coat and shrunk further inside the hood, trying her best to blend into the night. Monster might be too strong of a word for her, she reflected. There was only one person toward whom she bore any ill will. The hatred she had for Lex Luthor transcended anything that she could've ever thought possible, having had many years to boil and fester within her. She had long ago stopped fantasizing about vacations and family gatherings that would never happen because of him. With every new foster home she had been shuffled to, she cursed his name. With every crack of a belt across her back, with every beating suffered because of a foster parent's addiction to alcohol, with every cruel, hurtful word thrown at her, she grew to hate Luthor more. After time the plans for revenge had started forming, and she had bottled up her hurt and kept it buried within her, drawing on it to fuel her vendetta against the man that had stolen her life away.

The thought caused an involuntary shudder, and Lois drew the coat even more closely around her, shoving her hands in the pockets, immediately feeling the small homemade explosive contained within. It was funny how much a person's perception of morality could change, she mused as she continued down the street. She had always been a straight arrow as a child, pure and virtuous, though maybe a little headstrong. Pain could make people do strange things, but even so, she wouldn't have followed through with her carefully laid plans if she hadn't been a student of the ways of society. She made it a point to study the behavior of people, try to figure out what motivated them to do what they did. She watched the news religiously, read the newspaper and magazines, all hoping to come to some sort of understanding, to try and decide how it was that she was supposed to feel. It hadn't taken long to see that the laws that the nation regarded so highly were not, in fact, universal, that if their position in society was high enough, one could quite literally get away with murder. What had once been black and white in her mind had turned into shades of gray. There were no absolutes, there were no heroes, and there was no reason to believe that Luthor would ever be caught by anyone. She was allowed to be mad at him, and even more than that, she felt she was duty bound to use that to be the one who finally brought him down. If the police were unwilling to pursue him, then she was unwilling to have any respect for them or the laws they supposedly upheld.

To bring him down meant a long, arduous investigation. She had known all along that it would not be easy, that the evidence wouldn't be immediately forthcoming, but that hadn't bothered her too much. To exact her revenge in the meantime, she was willing to pick away at his businesses, to fight fire with fire, literally. Flames had the power to destroy thoroughly, to live and breathe and consume, to wreak its havoc and slip quietly away. The countless labs and offices she had torched throughout the years had probably been a drop in the large ocean that was his business empire, but all had been important to him at the time that she had liberated them, and she knew it. She estimated that he had lost years of research and millions of dollars to her vandalism, but how many years of her life had she lost due to his? She knew that he was actively trying to hunt her down, using every means at his disposal to stop her, but he had been unsuccessful so far. Darkness was her ally, allowing her to come and go unseen, allowing her to continue her destruction upon Luthor.

Her target tonight was the Metropolis office of EPRAD. It was the last place that she had expected to find herself when she had started surveillance of Luthor that night. She had watched his private entrance for hours, seeing various servants and workers come and go, before she had finally witnessed Dr. Antoinette Baines entering his residence. It was hard not to notice the woman who had plastered her face all over the television in the wake of the Messenger disaster, assuring the city that everything was going to be fine. But it obviously wasn't. Baines had no reason whatsoever to be entering the private abode of Luthor after business hours, not unless they were somehow in league with each other. The Space Station Luthor proposal would be of no concern of her particular office, at least not until Washington decided whether or not it was interested in pursuing it. But considering Luthor's possible connection to the explosion of the Messenger, her visit was very suspicious. As soon as she had seen Baines enter the building, Lois had made her way to the EPRAD office, curious as to what she might find. A hard connection between Baines and Luthor might just be the piece of evidence she needed to bring Luthor to justice once and for all.

Picking the lock to the building was almost too easy. Entering, she made a cursory check for cameras or infrared sensors, but was not too surprised when she didn't find any. Security on non-military government offices on the whole was pitiful, a full decade behind current technology. She made her way through the office quietly, slipping on her night vision goggles, going to great pains that nobody, be it a passing pedestrian or curious neighbor, might know that there was anyone in the building.

Dr. Baines's office was clearly marked and easily distinguished from the rest of the rooms. It had all the signs of someone who held a distinctive position: leather and dark colored wood decorated the office in a manner quite contrary to standard government policy. It was enough to make the average American taxpayer instinctively cover their wallets, appalled at the tax money that had been applied to such lavishness. Wood filing cabinets stood against the wall, and Lois picked the simple locks and started looking through them immediately. She then made her way around to the large cherry desk, pocketing possible evidence as she went.

It took a couple hours to rifle through all the cabinets and drawers. While some indication of shady practices showed up, there was no mention of Luthor in anything she saw. Her searches often turned up dry, and while it left her disappointed, Lois always left feeling more determined to get to the bottom of what was truly going on. Tonight was no exception. Some records had to exist of the interaction between Luthor and Baines, it was just a matter of finding them. As frustrated as she was, there would be no firestorm tonight, either. Lois was willing to bend the law to bring Luthor down, she was never willing to destroy the property of others. The building would be spared, but she needed to go to pains to ensure that nobody ever knew she had been there. Before leaving, Lois did a thorough check of the building, making sure that everything was left exactly as it was found.

She finally slipped back out into the night. Her footsteps echoed off the nearby buildings, but there was nobody there to hear them. The moon overhead cast faint shadows on the street, creating more bright spots that usual. Lois expertly dodged them, seeing out the darkness that, until so recently, had been the essence of her being, a part of her soul. She might have superficially shaken the shadows away, but she would always be one with the night, so long as Luthor continued to work his evil on the people of Metropolis and the world.


Clark closed his eyes and did a barrel roll in the skies high above New Troy, his cape fluttering vigorously in the wind behind him. It would definitely take some time to get used to that cape, but the incredible feeling of freedom that came with being able to openly use his powers was exhilarating. Nobody had seen his new persona yet, but that would soon change, he was sure. One cry for help was all he needed, and he would make his presence known to the world.

In the distance, a bell tower struck the quarter hour, and something jogged in Clark's memory. He was supposed to meet Samuel Platt in a few minutes, he remembered, bringing the flood of thoughts relating to the messenger disaster back to him. As much as he would love for the new hero to make his debut that night, the Messenger story had the potential to affect many lives, as well as the future of the space program itself.

Clark shot through the air, making his way out of the country toward the city. The murky waters of Hobbs Bay loomed darkly amongst the twinkling lights of the rest of Metropolis, swallowing up the surrounding area into its gloom. The warehouse district around the bay, once a major hub of commerce, was now crumbling due to neglect. The elegant liners that had once graced the docks were long gone, and so was the prosperity that they had brought. Today it was a dreary, crime-ridden place, home to the type of crime that his new persona would be dedicated to fighting. A man like Dr. Platt should have no business being in such a place, but considering everything he had gone through, it was probably the best he could do. Fortunately, there didn't seem to be much activity in the area tonight.

He landed in a dark, deserted alley and quickly changed back into his normal clothes. For the time being, he put his clothes on over the spandex suit, the darkness of the night making it very difficult for the bright blue of his spandex suit to be seen through his business shirt. He was, in general, a modest person, and normally even the thought of changing clothes in public would make his cheeks burn, even if he could do so fast enough to not be seen. Still, if he wanted to make being a superhero work, he had to find some way to shed some of his modesty. It would definitely take some effort, he thought as he exited the alley and made his way toward the door of the warehouse where he had agreed to meet Dr. Platt.

"Dr. Platt?" he called out as he pushed the rotting door open, his voice echoing around in the massive warehouse interior. His eyes didn't need to adjust to the darkness, and he could easily see the state of disrepair that the building was in. Bricks and mortar dust littered the floor, having fallen from the walls. The roof in the far corner of the building had caved in slightly, letting in a few rays of brilliant, silvery moonlight. It was a wonder the building was still standing at all, Clark thought as his eyes came around to the back wall of the warehouse. A short wall fenced off a section of the interior, small trinkets and some discarded trash making it evident that someone had been there fairly recently. A flickering light was coming from the other side of the wall.

"Dr. Platt?" he asked again as he lowered his glasses to take a look into the small room beyond the wall. The flickering, he quickly saw, was from sparks of raw electricity jumping from live wires. A man sat slumped over in a chair, his bare feet resting in a puddle of electrified water. His face was turned away, but his clothes were the same as Clark had remembered from earlier in the day.

Clark ran toward the door leading into the room. It looked as if a tornado had hit the small space — papers were strewn about, books were pulled haphazardly from their bookcases, and small tables and chairs had been overturned. In the center of it all was Dr. Platt, his face oddly peaceful among the chaos. Clark reached down to feel his pulse, but the electric lines draped into the bucket at Platt's feet made it plain that there was no need. A feeling of sadness came over Clark as the realization that he had probably, at least in part, contributed to Platt's death. If someone had been following Platt and had seen him meeting with a reporter, he probably would've wanted to do whatever possible to make sure that no meaningful information was exchanged.

Platt had been murdered, Clark was sure. Whoever it was had most likely been looking for the same report that Platt had wanted to give Clark, given the destruction of the room, but it didn't look like they had succeeded. Activating his x-ray vision once again, Clark scanned the area. Whoever had ransacked the area had been a professional, he noted as he looked around. There were no fingerprints on anything, not on the overturned furniture, not on the wires, nowhere. To someone walking in on the scene without any frame of reference on the situation, it could appear that Platt's death had been a suicide. There were no visible signs of abuse on his body that Clark could see from his careful scan, and there was nothing holding him to the chair. He was a known recluse, a drug abuser in everybody's eyes, and had certainly been known to act crazy at times — even those that did at least know of him would find suicide to be plausible. But Clark, above all people, knew that it couldn't be, that Platt had enough genuine regard for the people who would be traveling on the Messenger to want to live long enough to make things right.

Moving his eyes carefully around the room, Clark eventually found a small, cylindrical void under the concrete slab that contained a folder. The void opened up in the side of the concrete at the back wall of the warehouse, and could only be accessed by removing a loose brick in the wall and reaching down and around. Clark dropped to a knee and reached down to pull out the folder, feeling the paper inside protest as he did. Bringing the folder out into the flickering light and blowing off the thin layer of dust that covered it, Clark made note of the fraying edges of paper sticking out — it looked as if the rats had had a few snacks at the papers' expense. He didn't need to disturb them any more than he absolutely had to, he decided as he quickly read the folder's contents using his special abilities. Transfixed, he read them a second time. The original memo that Platt had written, the response, the subsequent termination letters, all were contained within, and all had been just as Platt said. Here in his hand was partial proof of the story. All he would need to do now was get the physical proof, and to do that, he would need to read up on his rocket science and take a quick trip to Florida.

The excitement Clark felt at the prospect of his first big scoop faded as he looked up and saw Platt's face, his eyes open and looking directly at Clark, seeming to convey a quiet note of acceptance. He had died for his convictions, but that he should end up helping to save the lives of others was enough, he seemed to say. At that moment Clark vowed to do whatever he could for those who would soon be making the trip on the Messenger, in Platt's memory. It was he, after all, who had brought Clark the information in the first place, on nothing more than a blind, chance meeting.

The folder of papers still clutched in his hand, Clark stood up again and reached into his coat pocket, retrieving the cellular phone he had purchased that very day. Dialing 911, he looked at Platt, giving him a small nod. He would not rest until the Messenger was safe again.


By 7 AM the Daily Planet newsroom was beginning to bustle with life. Clark looked up from his computer screen, making note of the increased activity for the first time. He looked at his watch and was surprised to see how much time had passed. It had seemed like mere minutes ago that he had finally left the police station after being questioned thoroughly about his involvement with Platt. He had immediately headed to the Planet to write up the story, a task which had taken him mere moments, especially since, with the sparseness of people in the newsroom in the very early morning hours, he had let himself write it at faster than human speed. That done, he had embarked on the researching cooling systems for rocket boosters. It was engrossing, even while being a very dry and technical subject, and he had soon found himself immersed in it. He was blessed with a photographic memory and just enough mechanical talent to make it all understandable, and images passed across his vision, clearly spelling out the words on the pages in front of him. One text followed another as the hours blurred together, until suddenly the night had been chased away completely, and the aromas of brewing coffee filled the newsroom.

As his mind separated itself from the books and adjusted to the world around him, he began to plan out his events of the day. It was a good thing that he didn't need much sleep — he didn't think that he could fit it into his schedule at the moment. He needed to fly down to Florida and examine the spacecraft, and try to prove to himself that the last piece of Platt's puzzle fit. That done, he would go to Perry with his story. That was somewhat of a risky prospect, considering how outlandish the tale sounded, but since the reporters actually assigned to the messenger story hadn't actually found anything better, Perry might be willing to let him give it a shot. At that point he would have to do some detective work, finding out what Lex was up to and what his connection was to Baines was. Maybe, just maybe, sometime while doing this, he would be able to enjoy the company of one Ms. Lois Lane for lunch.

The thought brought a smile to his face, and Clark absently put his hand to his chest. Immediately felt the tightness of the spandex under his shirt, and his smile quickly faded. He still had the costume on under his clothes. With all the people coming into the building, he thought as he pulled his jacket tighter around himself, and the bright sunlight beginning to pour into the large newsroom windows, it was only a matter of time before someone would notice the bright blue fabric under his white shirt. His heart began to race as he pondered the calamity that would bring. Ralph, especially, would be merciless, and soon the word would be all around the newsroom. His life as a crime fighter would be over before it even began. And, he realized, he was still wearing the same clothes as the day before. Clark had reputations for many things throughout the world, but slovenliness was not one of them. He needed to go back to his makeshift home and change, and with any luck, nobody would even notice he was gone.

His mind made up, Clark got up and quickly headed for the stairwell. As his hand reached out for the door, he heard a feminine voice call his name. Startled, he turned, and saw a woman standing in front of the elevator, pushing a wheelchair with a young girl in it. The woman seemed distressed, frantic even, and as he watched, she looked desperately around the newsroom, blindly calling his name again. His mission was momentarily forgotten as he went to comfort this woman who, for whatever reason, was looking for him.

"I'm Clark Kent," he said loud enough to catch her attention as he approached her. She turned to face him, and for the first time, he could see dried tears on her face.

"The article in the paper this morning says that you found my husband," she said as she reached out for his arm. He made no attempt to stop her, instead trying to be as comforting as he possibly could. He had a couple of smaller articles in the paper that morning, but only one had anything to do with finding anyone. The realization of who this was brought back the sadness that he had felt so acutely earlier.

"You're Mrs. Platt?" he asked, and she nodded.

"This is my daughter Amy," Mrs. Platt said, indicating the girl in the wheelchair. Clark knelt down so that he was at eye level with the girl, noting that she seemed amazingly calm. It could be that the reality of her father's death hadn't really sunk in, or it could be that she was holding her pain inside. In any case, Clark tried to smile as he regarded her.

"Hi Amy, my name is Clark. How are you?" he asked, his smile rewarded with a shy grin from her.

"Mom says that you're friend of my daddy. Is that true?" She was so innocent, he thought. The look in her eyes was so hopeful, almost as if she expected him to bring her father out for her now. He couldn't do that, but neither did he have the heart to tell her the awful truth.

"Yes, I was a friend of your father's. He's a good man," Clark answered, his voice soft yet strong for her. At her smile, he stood up and ushered Dr. Platt's wife to the small reception area near the elevators. She sat on the couch and Clark sat beside her, waiting for her to broach the subject that she had come to ask about.

After a few moments of staring at her lap, Mrs. Platt brought her eyes up and regarded Clark for a moment. "It had always been Samuel's dream to work for EPRAD. He confided in me once that his favorite childhood game had been playing the astronaut, I guess he never really let that go. He was very good at what he did, and he truly did enjoy his work. Then, suddenly, this Messenger project came along," Mrs. Platt said her voice soft. As she continued, a steeliness began to creep into her voice. "One day everything had been fine, and the next he's found in a dark alley and charged with drug possession. My husband never touched illegal drugs in his life, and the fact that anyone who knew would think that he had was absurd. But EPRAD used it as a reason to get rid of him. In the span of days, his career was gone, his reputation was gone, and strange things began to happen around our house — vandalism, phone calls in the middle of the night. Someone had managed to get into our finances, to charge things to our private account and drain us of all the money we had spent years saving. Samuel became paranoid and started looking over his shoulder all the time. Eventually he left, to spare us the suffering that we were being put through because of everything. That was a month ago."

She turned away, a ghost of a tear forming in he eye. "He told me what he suspected had happened. It broke my heart to hear his stories. We had held up such high expectations for the Messenger and its mission. The scientific achievements that the mission could bring would be beneficial to all mankind, to Amy." She tenderly looked at her daughter, bringing her voice to almost a whisper. "When I heard that you found him, I had to know. The police think it was suicide, but…" She stopped and found his eyes with her own.

Clark gave her a reassuring smile. "I don't think that it was. I think that he was murdered, because of what he knew and what he told me. He wanted nothing more than to save the Messenger, and I plan to use his information to do just that."

Mrs. Platt closed her eyes and sighed. "Thank you, Mr. Kent. I know it's what Samuel would've wanted." When she opened her eyes, she looked over at her daughter again. "I just hope that it's not too late."

Clark turned his gaze to Amy Platt and contemplated what this mission must've meant to their whole family. While he had always thought of the lives of the men and women actually flying on the ship, he had never even considered the scientific benefits that the mission would bring. Diseases that had been untreatable for the longest time could finally be cured, diseases like that which obviously afflicted this young girl. Suddenly, the urgency of his quest to save the Messenger grew, and he knew that the face of Amy Platt would continue to drive him to finish his investigation.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Kent," he heard Mrs. Platt say. She had stood up and had gone to Amy's wheelchair when a thought occurred to him.

"Do you have anyone to talk to about this?" he asked her as he stood.

She seemed surprised for a moment. "Samuel was the only family we had, but I'm sure we'll make due the way we always have," she said. She was a strong woman, that much was evident. Despite all that had been handed her, she had never lost faith in her husband and in the mission which had the potential to cure her daughter.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he fished out the business card that Lois had given him the day before. "I know someone who specializes in helping people in your situation. If you would like to talk to her, I would be happy to escort you there," he said, holding the card out to her.

Mrs. Platt took a long look at the card, seemingly in conflict over whether or not she should accept his offer. After a moment she looked up at him again and nodded. "Yes, I think I'd like that," she said, and the three of them headed toward the elevator.


The Lost and Found Agency was not quite as Clark had imagined it. He had envisioned an office in a commercial district somewhere, sterile, like most of the other places of that kind that he had been in or heard about. But what he had found was a very warm and welcoming brownstone in a well-established neighborhood, a place that had been well loved. Mrs. Platt and Amy had seemed comforted by the atmosphere, and by Lois's sister Lucy, who immediately ushered them into the parlor and treated them like family.

Lucy had seem mildly amused when Clark had introduced himself, and he wondered exactly how much Lois had told her about him. That Lois cared enough to tell her anything was a positive sign, he supposed. A part of him had hoped that Lois would be there that morning, and he had actually felt butterflies begin to stir in his stomach on the taxi ride over, but there was no sign of her at all. Without her there, he felt no need to stay; he felt almost as if he were intruding on an intimate moment between the Platts and Lucy. He decided that it would probably be best to get on with the errand he had been about to embark on earlier, and had started to turn toward the door when he saw someone walking down the main stairwell.

He almost forgot to breathe as he watched the figure descend the stairs. It was Lois, and she appeared to have recently gotten out of the shower. Beads of moisture shone lightly on her skin, and her damp hair hung down around her face, in some places clinging to her neck, making her look sensual in a way that he hadn't thought possible. Her clothes were casual, implying that this was not a morning for business. She continued down the stairs, her eyes focused downward, until she finally noticed that she was not alone. As soon as her eyes met Clark's, she stopped. He could sense something in her gaze, something that said that she had almost hoped he would be there, as crazy as that sounded. The thought brought a one-sided grin to his face, which was returned wordlessly by her. They stood, just looking at each other, for the longest time, before she finally took the initiative to speak.

"What brings you here?" she asked softly, mindful of the voices coming from the parlor, as she descended the remainder of the stairs.

Clark nodded toward the other room. "I met some people today that I thought might benefit from your agency, so I brought them here."

She seemed pleased by that, but her puzzled expression prompted him to continue. "It's a long story, really. Suffice to say, I've had a long night."

She looked down at his chest, and for a moment he felt his pulse begin to race at the prospect that she might see his costume. "I thought those were the clothes you wore yesterday," she said quelling his fears. "So do you want to tell me about it over some coffee?" she asked.

"I'd love to," he answered, feeling the skin below his eyes stretch as a broad grin formed on his face. Normally he wouldn't want to bore her with the details of his investigation. He supposed that it would probably be best if he kept his discoveries of the night before confidential until he was sure of their authenticity, but something about Lois made him want to tell her.

She headed toward the back of the brownstone, and Clark followed, eventually finding himself inside a kitchen. As Lois poured two cups of already brewed coffee, Clark had a seat at the table. It dawned on him that she was, in fact, a private investigator, and he might do well to ask her advice on how he should proceed. A part of him rebelled at the thought, selfishly wanting nothing more than to have this major scoop all to himself, to prove to his colleagues that he really was worthy of working at a paper like the Planet. Those thoughts were quickly squelched, though, as the emotional voice of Mrs. Platt reached his ears once again. What was truly important in this instance were the people who could be harmed if he let his ego get in the way of solving the mystery of who was trying to destroy the Messenger. Lois had much more investigating experience than he did, and he had to admit, the prospect of working with her sounded like it could be fun.

A steaming mug of coffee being placed on the table brought him out of his thoughts. Lois was now sitting across from him, looking at him expectantly.

"So tell me about your night," she said before taking a sip of her coffee.

Clark gave her a small smile and reached for the cup in front of him, formulating how he would proceed while taking a careful drink of the brew, being cautious to act as if it were hot. Setting his cup down again, he proceeded.

"Shortly after lunch today, I was met by a man who said he knew what happened to the Messenger. To make a long story short, he is now dead, probably murdered, and the story he told gains more and more credence the further I look into it. I spent all night talking to the police and researching…" Clark stopped as he noticed his companion staring past him, her eyes darting back and forth, obviously lost in thought. "Lois?" he asked, catching her attention once again.

Her gaze was very calculating, almost hard. "You know what happened to the Messenger? Who was behind it?" she asked. The intensity of her words and in her eyes made Clark pause, and he wondered why she had such an extreme interest in the subject. They had never really talked of the kind of cases that she took on, but he had assumed that they were similar to the one that she had shared with him at the Planet. Still, why would a private investigator have such strong concern over a case that was being investigated by the best scientists and reporters in the country? It just didn't make any sense. He was about to ask her, when he noticed those intense eyes boring into him, making him somewhat uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, he could tell that she found it important, and shouldn't that be reason enough?

Yes, supposed so, but…how much did he really know about her? Did he know enough to trust her with his big scoop? Did he know that she wasn't involved herself? He mentally shook himself at that thought. He had always been a fairly decent judge of character, and Lois just didn't seem like the type that would intentionally harm anyone. She hadn't necessarily proven to be worthy of his trust, either by actions or deeds toward him. At the same time, though, trust was a two way street, and somebody had to take that leap of faith. There wouldn't be any harm in telling her, he finally decided.

"Corrupt scientists at EPRAD. Dr. Antoinette Baines is the main culprit inside the government. She was aided by someone outside the agency named Lex…"

"Luthor," Lois said, making Clark stop. Although it was only two short syllables, Clark could easily hear the hatred for the man dripping in her voice. A shadow seemed to flit across her face, and for the first time, he thought he could see some sort of dark side to Lois. Her eyes narrowed, her lips curled up into a sneer, and the muscles around her jaw clenched up. The woman that sat in front of his didn't seem to resemble Lois anymore, and the effect was almost frightening. It only lasted momentarily, though, and before he could blink, the Lois he knew was back in front of him. He wondered briefly if it was all in his imagination, a figment of his sleep-deprived brain. When Lois spoke again, her voice seemed pleasant enough, although he noticed that she no longer had any trace of a pleasant smile on her face.

"Lex Luthor's name appears in connection to so much violent crime in this city, you'd be surprised. One of my ongoing investigations is on him, and I suspected his connection to the Messenger case. If you have any evidence that might implicate him, I would be willing to aid you in your investigation in exchange for it."

So that was it. He briefly wondered about the extent of her investigation of Luthor, but quickly dismissed it. The thought of working with her on the case was a pleasant one, no matter what her motivations were. It might be a nice chance to get to know her a little better. Clark smiled. "I would like that, yes. My evidence right now isn't the most firm, but I plan on doing something about that soon."

Lois still didn't return his smile. She was looking past him again, at a blank spot on the wall that only she could see. "Lois, are you all right?" he asked after a moment. Her eyes were drawn to his once again, and then she immediately looked toward the ground. In the brief moment that their eyes had met, he could feel a series of intense emotions warring inside of her. Without a second thought, he pulled his chair toward hers with one hand, reaching out to her with the other. He finally made contact with her cheek, relishing the cool, smooth feel of her perfect skin as he cupped his hand around her jaw.

"It's okay Clark, really," she said, not moving under his touch.

"No, I don't think it is. I'm sorry if I brought any of this on, I just thought that…"

Her head came up, and he could see pain on her face. It was the outward expression of the type of emotional pain that he had felt himself so many times. Surely someone with as much life inside as she held didn't deserve to have to feel that kind of hurt. He felt a strong sense of loathing for whoever it was that had caused her grief, be it Lex Luthor or anyone else. He was overcome with the sudden need to comfort it all away, to make her feel better.

While pondering what he could possibly do to ease her hurting, he felt his body respond, giving him his answer. He began to lean toward her, closing his eyes as his mouth neared hers, silently giving her the final choice as to whether or not she truly wanted what he was about to give her. In the matter of a second he felt her moist lips on his, gentle at first, then gradually more intense. All the pain she held was being transferred into a deep, intense, almost desperate kiss. He had wanted to be gentle and loving, yet she was devouring his mouth, causing him to respond in kind. Later, as he pulled apart, he noticed that at some point during their kiss they had become entwined, their arms wrapped around each other, their fingers buried deep in each other's hair. She appeared to be stunned, yet satisfied, a sentiment that he shared. Never in his life had he become lost in a kiss, had he let his carefully maintained exterior fall away when in the presence of a woman.

"Are you okay now?" he asked. It was intended as a serious question, but he could hear the slightly teasing note that he had inserted into the words. He wondered how she would respond to that, but he ended up not needing to worry.

"Yes, thank you," she said breathlessly. They drank in the sight of each other before breaking contact. His hands immediately flew up to his head, straightening up his now tousled hair. She did likewise, and it suddenly became somewhat awkward between them.

"I, uh, can meet you at Noon at the Mars Caf‚ downtown. We can compare notes then and see where it takes us," she said giving him a small grin.

Clark nodded. "Yeah, okay. I think I'm going to go get my research together. Let Mrs. Platt in the other room know that if she needs anything else…" Clark said quickly as he stood up and straightened out his clothes.

"Will do," Lois said, also standing. They smiled at each other for a moment before she escorted him back to the main door of the brownstone.

"See you at noon," he said as he left.

"See you," he heard her say as he walked away, still dazed. He needed to go home and analyze what had happened back there. It was something, that much he was certain of, and it was wonderful. Maybe by the time noon rolled around, he could figure out what. He couldn't afford to spend all his time pondering their moment together, however. He had a lot of work to do before noon, and, he noted as he looked down at his chest, he still needed to go home and change.

With a faraway smile on his face, he walked until he was well out of sight of the brownstone, at least, out of sight to the ordinary eyes. As he ducked into an alleyway, he stole a glance over his shoulder, using his enhanced vision to find Lois, still standing by the door, staring into the blankness of the door with a finger on her lips and an unreadable expression on her face. She was so beautiful, so strong yet vulnerable at the same time, just like he was.

Clark finally leapt up into the bright blue morning sky, moving quickly enough to avoid detection, bound for his apartment, a plan of action forming in his mind. Even as fast as he could move, it was not nearly long enough until lunch for all he needed to get done.


A series of thoughts coursed through Lois's mind as she stood in front of the door, staring unseeingly at a knot in the wood. All she saw were the smiling eyes of Clark Kent, the intelligence and regard that they held, all directed at her and her alone. How was it that he could break down her defenses, making her feel things that she had never dared to feel before, making her do things that she had only done in the fantasies of deep sleep?

She didn't know why he had trusted her enough to tell her about his scoop, and likewise, she didn't know why she told him that she was investigating Luthor in connection with the Messenger disaster. As far as he knew, she had no reason to be involved in that case at all. It was only inevitable that he would ask what her connection to it was, and when he did, she didn't know what she could possibly say. But there had been a longing inside of her, something that wanted nothing more than to spend more time with him, to work with him on this. It could only be beneficial to both of them, couldn't it?

Maybe it did make sense that they should work together, but she still couldn't understand how she had let her feelings get away from her in front of him. Just the mention of the name Lex had unleashed everything, opening herself up to a flood of emotions like she hadn't felt in a long time. Grief, sadness, determination, and loathing had all swirled around inside of her, for no apparent reason. The name Lex was said in her presence all the time, by the announcer on the TV news or in passing conversation, but it didn't generally elicit such a reaction. Yet in the presence of Clark Kent it had, and it had surprised her. But even more surprising than her reaction was his, his simple compassion for her, which she could see so plainly when he looked at her. Throughout the years she had seen others' pity, their sadness for her situation, but never had it felt as genuine as it had when it was offered by Clark. More than compassion, he had offered his comforting words, and his touch, and his lips. They had loomed so tantalizingly close, she just couldn't resist.

She had been kissed before, once or twice, and she had never found it to be a particularly enlightening experience. But his kiss had been almost hypnotic, and under its dizzying spell she had lost herself. It was almost as if she had felt safe for the first time inside the harbor of his embrace, and she had never wanted it to end. Once reality came back to her, though, the whole scene took on a surreal quality, and she almost couldn't believe that it had just happened. Then he left, but it wouldn't be for long. They had a lunch date, a WORKING lunch date, she reminded herself, in just a few hours. What would it be like between them then? Could they both keep their minds on business and not on each other long enough to get any work done?

The thought of work jarred her back to reality, and to the dark patch of wood in her vision. She could also clearly hear the anguished voice of Mrs. Platt, the woman that Clark had brought over, another victim of Lex Luthor's quest for power and money. The finger that had been resting on her lips, subconsciously tracing the path taken by Clark's lips on hers, now dropped to her side, and her hands balled into fists. When would it end? How many families would have to be broken up before he was finally satisfied? Even as she asked herself the questions, the same ones she had asked herself a thousand times before, she knew the answer. He would never be satisfied, and until she could stop him, she would continue to see victims just like Mrs. Platt.

Clark possibly held the key to stopping Luthor. Lois wondered how much she should tell him, what kind of evidence she should reveal. She turned around and made her way back up the stairs, bound for her den. All the sensitive information on Luthor was kept there, away from her downtown office, in a place that could only be accessed by her and her sister. She punched the combination into the lock on the door, entering the room and gazing at the filing cabinets that lined every wall. In those cabinets were documents that referred to Luthor in connection to theft, drugs, political conspiracies, and just about every other conceivable criminal situation. Some were obtained through legal means, most weren't. Any number of things could be chosen to show Clark to prove her case about Luthor, but she didn't want to incriminate herself. That left very little in the way of conclusive evidence.

Sighing, she slumped down into a large office chair that sat in front of the desk in the center of the room. After a moment, her hand slipped under the center drawer of the desk, gently pulling it open. Inside was a single yellowing piece of paper, the blurred words written upon it in her father's strong hand. She lightly picked it up, holding it at such an angle so that the faint light from the heavily covered windows turned it slightly translucent, making the many tear-shaped spots in the paper stand out that much more. The words on the paper had long ago been committed to memory, but it always made her feel stronger to read them herself.

"Dearest Lois and Lucy," it started, then, in her father's gentle yet direct way, proceeded to tell the long and sordid story of how he was involved with Lex Luthor. All the horrible things he mentioned seemed so fantastic. They were the types of things that would be enough to break a lesser man, but they hadn't broken him. He had integrity, and he had the strength of character not to let it effect his home life while it had all been happening. She had been so shocked the first time she had read those words, to see that the world as she had thought of it was not necessarily based on truth. She had anguished over what she could've possibly done to help him had she known, how she could've made it so that her parents were still alive.

"Now that I'm gone, all you need to know is that your mother and I both loved you with all of our hearts, and that our deaths were not in vain," the letter concluded. "No matter what the consequences are to you, it is important that you always do what is right for your fellow man, just like we have done. You need to be strong in our absence; we know you have it in you. Don't mourn for us, but rejoice in our memories and remember always the love between us.

"Love, Daddy," the signature was scrawled at the bottom, just like she had always remembered. Scenes of happier times threatened to bust through her mind, but all she could remember was what she felt when she had first sat down to read that letter. There was a feeling at the time that she was standing at the edge of a deep, dark precipice, about ready to be pushed out into the void. Behind her lay the security and love that came from her close-knit family, the comfort that she had taken for granted her entire life. Ahead were dark years, a dizzying number of foster homes, abuse. At first she had mourned for the life that she and Lucy had lost, but as time went by and she fell through that void that she had so feared, she had hardened to the toils of the outside world, setting her sights on a future in which she was determined to make the world a better place.

This letter was her driving force, the thing that kept her going on a nightly basis. She felt closer to her parents somehow when she was lighting the fires of justice, knowing that, ultimately, she was fighting against the man that had killed her father, doing what was right for her fellow man. The letter also served as her final link to the two people she had loved so much. The desk contained other letters written by them, sent to her at camp or from their exotic vacation locales. They were all special to her, but none so much as this one. It had the power to fuel her emotions, and for that reason, she could not let Clark see it, no matter how much it would help her case.

Some day, she thought as she gently placed the letter back into the drawer, maybe he would know about all this. Being with him just felt so right, and she felt that whatever it was between them was too special to be denied. But that didn't mean he would know about her darker side, her other, less public life. In the meantime, working with him would hopefully bring closure to it all, letting her finally be at peace for the first time that she could remember. Then she could think about the future in earnest, and hopefully she would see him there.


A sea of white covered the perfect finish of the oak table in Lois's dining room. The table was a family heirloom, passed on through her mother's family, and her parents had somehow made arrangements for it to be taken care of until Lois could finally take possession if it and put it in a house of her own. It was one of the very few tangible things that she had inherited, and it was therefore fitting that it should now hold the key to closure in their deaths.

The past two days had been some of the most intense in her life. Working with Clark had spurred Lois on, making her work harder than she would on her own. She could feel the end coming, and it made her that much more determined to gather all the evidence she could, to interview scientists and contractors and track down everyone who had been even remotely involved with the Messenger. Clark had been equally busy, using his connections as a reporter with the Planet to secure the cooperation of scientists at STAR labs. After showing them Platt's report, they had reenacted the launch and found that the report was correct. The cause of the explosion had been deliberate sabotage. The Daily Planet ran with the story, with Clark getting his first front page byline.

Lois looked up from the papers she was studying and saw her partner seated on the other side of the table, lost in his own examination of their evidence. A smile spread across her face as she remembered his reaction to seeing his name under the screaming front page headline. He had tried to be nonchalant about it, but when he showed her the paper, she could see him looking to her for approval. She had told him in her own low key way that the article was brilliant, and he gave her that stunning smile of his as a reward. That smile never failed to make her feel warm inside, and that was no exception, but it had surprised her to find that those feelings of affection had been overshadowed by an enormous sense of pride for him. It wasn't that she was a normally selfish person, but she had never been close to anyone other than Lucy since that fateful night so many years ago. They had been each other's only companions, studying together, helping each other in a true partnership. She was the only person Lois had ever felt anything even close to pride for, and she had just chalked that up toward sisterly love. That she could feel the same things toward this man who she had known for a few short days was amazing.

In any case, they didn't have time to bask in their accomplishments. The physical cause of the disaster might have been found, but just who was responsible for it was still not clear. They both knew where the path would eventually lead, but finding the links in the chain that led to Lex Luthor was never easy. The scientists at EPRAD by and large were willing to vouch for Dr. Platt, and many of them had been less than impressed with Dr. Baines. Some had come forward with stories of their own about suspicious behavior from her, about projects that seemed to disappear overnight, and most damning, about overheard private conversations from her office.

Hearsay from employees with bad feelings toward their boss hardly constituted solid evidence, but Lois had expected as much. That was why she had branched out, talking to other professional acquaintances of Baines. She and Clark agreed that for sabotage to happen, there had to be people involved outside of EPRAD. Engineers with professional licenses were easily scared into telling the truth, especially when faced with the possibility of being reported to the licensing board for ethical violations. By and large, the engineers agreed that they had thought that something strange was going on with the Messenger's coolant systems, but all had felt pressured to disregard their doubts. Most had also been encouraged to change their opinions in other ways, mostly through threats of violence. Interviewing them, Lois could see by just the looks in their faces that the threats had been real, but like so many other things, there was no physical evidence of them.

Interviewing the designers and builders of the shuttle had been two days of nonstop work, but they finally had time to put it all together, to get an idea of the big picture. Lois had to admit that Clark did good work. She also had to admit that, for all her feelings of finality, there was precious little to link Luthor to the crime. Baines was as good as convicted, especially after her bank and phone records had been examined, but the only mentions of Luthor were from overheard words here and there. Security cameras on the buildings around the Lexcorp Tower could easily show that the Baines had been coming and going at odd hours, but Luthor owned every last one of those buildings, and he wasn't going to willingly indict himself. Lois had already tried to make surveillance tapes of her own, but apparently Baines was no longer visiting Luthor. Lois had managed to bug the phones in Baines' office, but all that had gotten her were hours of tapes detailing the legitimate business transactions of EPRAD. She would've loved to investigate Baines's apartment, but the building was too heavily guarded, and too many people were around for it to be feasible.

"Well?" Lois finally asked, drawing her partner's attention away from his reading. She gestured at the stacks of paper and raised her eyebrows, awaiting his opinion. She hadn't read all of them yet, but Clark had already briefed her on the important parts.

Clark favored her with an encouraging grin. "Well, I think Baines is nailed," he said, placing the folder he was reading from back onto the table. "There is more than enough here for me to bring to Mr. White."

Lois nodded impatiently. "I'm sure you're right, but what about Luthor? All this work and we have barely a mention of his name. We need to do something about that."

Clark appeared thoughtful for a second. Nailing Baines with the destruction of the Messenger was a breakthrough in and of itself, and Lois knew that in the newspaper business, a scoop was a scoop. He had probably already written the article in his mind, and she didn't blame him for that. If she were in his shoes, she'd probably feel the same way. But there was a bigger issue here, and she needed for him to see that. To delay the investigation into Luthor until after publishing an article on Baines would be disastrous — their hand would be played, and Luthor would have more than enough time to cover his tracks.

"Maybe we should confront Dr. Baines," Clark said, snapping Lois out of her introspection. At her confused glance, he elaborated. "If she knows that she's about to take the fall, she might be willing to confess his involvement. It's at least a shot, don't you think?"

Lois nodded slowly. She had never been one to take the direct approach, preferring instead to do all her research covertly. People couldn't put on airs toward someone that they didn't know was there, and she liked that. But there was a first time for everything, she supposed, and if it meant getting to Luthor, then she was all for it.

They had gotten a few key pieces of evidence together before leaving, hoping to use it against Baines should she play innocent with them. They had then hailed a cab and traveled in quiet contemplation toward the EPRAD office and Dr. Antoinette Baines, who should still be at work, even given the late hour.

As the cab pulled up the office, Lois became aware of the increasing roar of a helicopter's engine. At first it had been a mere background noise, indistinguishable from the other sounds of the city, but as they had continued on, it became hard to ignore. Lois leaned closer to the door of the taxi and looked toward the sky, catching sight of the source of the noise coming in for a landing on the roof of the very building that she and Clark were about to visit.

"Clark!" she shouted, pointing out the window. There was only one possible explanation for the presence of that helicopter, and only one person who wielded enough influence to summon it there. The thought made Lois's blood boil.

Clark nodded once, mutely acknowledging that he, too, had observed helicopter, before leaning forward and talking to the driver, signaling that he should pull over immediately. As soon as the cab came to a stop, Lois was out the door, sprinting toward the building. She hadn't thought of how she would stop the helicopter from taking off again, nor had she even thought of how she would access the roof, although it had occurred to her that she probably wouldn't be able to break into the building as she might otherwise, especially not with Clark around. The only thought she held was that she was not about to let Baines get away, not after she and Clark had come so far prove her guilt. Lois knew that they could go to the police with their evidence against Baines, and that an arrest warrant would be put out her, but that wasn't enough. Baines had killed those people on the Messenger for no other reason than her own personal gain. Worse yet, she had fraternized with Luthor, and lord only knew what they had done together, although Lois had her suspicions. That made her Lois's enemy, and it also made her an important link to the man she had sought out for so long. All Baines had to do was utter those few small words, the ones that implicated Luthor in the scheme, and the closure that Lois had been searching for would finally be found. Then, she thought with a twinge, she could finally live the type of normal life that she had always dreamt of, and she could give all of herself to Clark.

Lois didn't waste her time trying the front door, knowing full well that it would be locked. Quickly running around the side of the building, her means of access to the roof was found, in the form of a fire escape. The ladder dangled a story from the ground, but a dumpster sitting underneath the structure would allow her get high enough to grab onto the ladder and pull herself up. Still in a full sprint, she leapt off the ground onto the dumpster, steadying herself a moment before leaping again, this time for the fire escape. As her hands met the rusted metal, she summoned all the strength inside of her and pulled herself up onto the lower platform. The adrenaline pumping through her body made it surprisingly easy, and it was only a matter of moments before she was running up the steps. The metal of the fire escape, long since oxidized, groaned under the force of her footfalls, swaying unsteadily with each step, but it held. She kept her pace and climbed, until she was able to see the blades off the helicopter cutting through the air above the roof. The rest of the helicopter materialized as she finally reached the top, just in time to see Baines being pulled into the cabin.

The fire that had fueled Lois in her journey to the roof began to burn hotter. Rage that she had almost forgotten about was beginning to break through, and she could feel her legs burning with effort as she ran toward the helicopter, which now almost seemed to burn red in her vision. The rush of the air around her in the wake of the spinning blades would be terrifying to most anyone, but she barely felt it. Her focus was solely on the cabin, and the blonde women whose eyes now met her own. The smugness in those eyes was hard to mistake, and it only made her rage grow. She would get into that cabin if was the last thing she did, even it meant holding on for dear life as the helicopter flew high above Metropolis. She put her hand out, and her fingers met the handle of the door.

The helicopter was lifting off, but she didn't care. Her grip began to tighten around the metal, and she felt a sense of gratification. She had made it; the final part of her journey was now literally in her grasp. Then, suddenly, in less time than it would take to blink, she found herself in a sitting position in a corner of the roof, far away from where she had just been.

She had to blink a few times as her mind tried to adjust to what had just happened. What HAD just happened, she wondered? Almost as soon as the thought had formed, she caught sight of someone who hadn't been on the roof a moment earlier. A man in blue and red stood next to the helicopter, almost exactly where she had just been. It was far away, but she could clearly see his how form fitting the costume was against his skin, the blue suit betraying an almost perfect male physique. He stood tall against the wind from the rotors, his red cape flapping and twisting behind him. Then, suddenly, she heard a loud blast, and the whole area around where he had been standing became engulfed in a fireball. It was the type of explosion that would make her proud normally, but this one was not of her making. She had to shield her eyes from the shrapnel in the air and the heat of the fire, but as soon as she could, she looked back toward where he had been, and was surprised to make out his form, still standing tall amongst the flames. He was pulling something out of the helicopter, and as she watched in wonder, he emerged from the fireball, his singed red cape the only sign that he had been touched by fire, carrying two darkened forms that could only be Baines and the pilot.

Gently, he laid them on the roof away from the burning helicopter, checking their pulses and shaking his head slightly. It was then that he looked at her, and Lois felt a jolt of electricity upon catching sight of his angelic face. His expression didn't change as his eyes locked into hers, and she couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking. His dark features seemed familiar to her somehow, but in a way that she couldn't quite put her finger on. They looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity before he finally broke the connection, then turned and approached the fire. His chest heaved with a huge intake of air, and he blew out the flames in one great breath. He then leapt into the air and rose, higher and higher above the roof, suspended apparently on nothing but the air itself. As she watched his colorful retreating form, large spots began to fill her vision, and the sky began to spin around her. It was only a moment before she finally lost herself to darkness, letting reality blissfully slip away from her.


Clark flew in a large, lazy circle around Metropolis, desperately trying to make sense of how he felt. Given the circumstances, he knew that he should be terrified, or excited, or guilty, but all he felt was a strange calm. For the first time in his life, he had voluntarily let someone see him use his special powers, and it felt…like the most normal thing in the world. It just felt right.

His current state of calmness was a very strange after effect of what had happened, he mused. He had become aware of the helicopter even before Lois pointed it out in the cab, and he was as anxious as she to confront Baines. But he certainly hadn't expected Lois to take off for it with the fury that she did. As she ran from the cab, she left him behind to pay the driver. He had only turned his back on her for a moment, but in that time, she had practically scaled the entire height of the building. Jogging after her, he had again wondered what her extreme determination stemmed from. If he didn't know any better, he could almost swear that she was obsessed with this case. He could see it in the way she studied the papers, in the tone she got in her voice when she interviewed witnesses on the phone, in the way the little setbacks seemed to upset her so deeply. She had given him subtle glimpses into a whole other side of her personality, but he wasn't going to let that scare him away. Looking up toward where she was, he was struck once again by her beauty, the kind that wasn't necessarily external, but which stemmed from somewhere deep inside of her.

It was then, as he watched her climb onto the roof, that he heard a sound that didn't seem quite right. If it hadn't been for his abilities, he wouldn't have been able to hear it at all. As it was, he had to strain to hear it above the roar of the helicopter. Lowering his glasses, he quickly scanned the roof of the building, taking a sharp intake of breath as he finally found the source of the sound. A bomb was mounted on the helicopter, its timer shielded in lead and audibly counting down to a detonation time. Worse yet, Lois was still running full bore toward it, oblivious to the danger that she was putting herself into. In a matter of seconds, that helicopter would explode, and there was no doubt in his mind that everyone on that roof would be killed.

His reaction had been automatic. It was only that morning that he had decided to wear the suit his mother made under his clothes, in the off chance that he might need to be of assistance to anyone. As his hand flew up to loosen his tie, he thanked the stars for his foresight. In the blink of the eye, he changed into his new guise, all thoughts of modesty long since forgotten. With one quick movement, he raced up to the roof of the building and gathered Lois into his arms, moving her across the large expanse of roof, away from danger. With her safely out of the way, he returned to the helicopter. Just what he intended to do next was not clear, and as he came to a stop in front of it, he had a brief moment of indecision. Dr. Baines and the pilot were still inside, but so was the bomb. Pulling the two of them out of harm's way would be the natural thing to do, but in the time it took to do that, the bomb might explode. The resulting ball of fire would be disastrous, engulfing the building in flames and sending shrapnel flying through the air. While he was confident that he could extinguish the resulting flames, he didn't want to take the chance. If he could remove the explosives, fly them up above the world where they couldn't be of any danger to anyone, then he could save possibly millions of dollars worth of property damage, and ensure that Baines, the pilot, and Lois were all safe.

It took him a mere fraction of a second to reach his conclusion, but as he reached for the bomb, he saw that it was too late. He could feel the rush of air being drawn in toward the impending fireball, and as his hand raced toward the explosive device, the flames burst around him. He was moving fast enough that time had slowed, and the fire seemed to spread slowly, dancing around him on the currents of air. The sight was hypnotic, like nothing he had ever seen before, and for a moment he found himself transfixed.

The sound of a woman's scream reached his ears, and a feeling of horror washed over him as time slammed back into its normal pace. He had intended to leave Baines and the pilot in the cab for the safety of everyone, but now, with hesitation, he had not only failed to prevent property damage, but he had harmed them as well. While it was true that he didn't necessarily care for Dr. Baines, he certainly would never dream of doing such a thing to her. Overwhelming guilt began to wash over him, and he felt the sudden desire to flee, to get away from it all, but he quickly pushed it away. While he was wallowing in his own guilt, two people were burning to death inside the helicopter, and every moment they remained there, their lives slipped away even further.

A new sense of urgency overcame him as he reached into the cabin. The smoke and flames engulfed everything, making it hard for him to see, even with his enhanced vision. The heat was enough to cause him discomfort — he could only wonder at how it must affect someone without his abilities. Upon seeing the bodies of Baines and the pilot, his question was immediately answered, the expressions of pure anguish on their faces making it clear. His hearing tried to locate their heartbeats, but he couldn't find them, not on top of the roar of the flames and the whine of the still rotating blades above them. He scooped the bodies up, one in each arm, and carried them away from the destruction, laying them gently on an unaffected part of the roof. As a matter of habit, he reached to feel for a pulse, and shook his head as he realized the futility of the gesture. Futility certainly was the name of the game lately, wasn't it? Since he had decided to take on this new persona of his, he'd seen three people die in front of him that he could've saved if he'd have been a little more aware. The guilt and grief welled up again as he wondered whether this was what the life of a hero entailed. Death, destruction, and victimization — all had happened while he was supposedly on the case.

The melancholy lingered for a moment, until he became aware of another presence on the roof. Turning his head, he found himself staring right into Lois's angelic face, and the negative thoughts about his new guise quickly fell away. He had saved a life — Lois's. Without him, she would surely have been just as dead as the two people at his feet. It was hard to imagine a flame as bright as that which burned inside of her extinguished, but it would've been, if not for him. She brought hope to families who had lost loved ones, she solved crimes with a brilliant mind and a sharp eye. Most of all, she brought him the most incredible sense of belonging that he had ever felt. When he was with her, the isolation that he had felt his entire life fell away, and there was nothing but happiness.

His heart grew soft as his eyes met hers. The volatility of emotion that had been present only a few moments earlier was replaced with complete calm. Jumbled feelings morphed into a single clarity, and a knowledge of how he truly felt about Lois, about life, about the path he was now embarking upon. Without her, he very well might've given up his attempt at heroism before he had ever really gotten a chance to start. But she gave him the sense of purpose that he needed, and the desire to want to make it all work. By saving her, he had saved himself. A smile threatened to cross his lips as he remained locked in her gaze, but he couldn't allow himself that, not in this guise. Remembering the blaze that burned behind him, he finally broke off the connection and stood, giving his whole attention to the fire. With one great breath, the fire was extinguished, and his new persona's job was officially done.

The sky beckoned, and he had answered its call, leaping into the air, secretly enjoying the fact that he was showing off to Lois. And so he found himself looping around the city once more. The wail of sirens in the distance announced that the police were on their way to the scene, and he supposed that he should return. Clark Kent was expected to be there, and he would have no way to account for his absence. Without any further hesitation, he headed back to EPRAD, and to Lois.


Lois was standing in the back yard of a very familiar house. It only took a quick glance around to verify that it was her childhood home in front of her, complete with all the small touches that had been personally applied by Sam and Ellen Lane. The day itself was absolutely gorgeous -the sun was shining bright overhead, the grass was an unnatural shade of green, and the sky was a deep, clear blue. In the air was the smell of grilled meat, although the aroma was like nothing she had ever smelled before. Looking back toward the house, she suddenly saw her father standing in front of a large open pit, facing toward the fire, the metal spatula in his hand reflecting the rays of the sun into her eyes.

"Daddy!" she cried as she ran toward him. She was at home and safe, and of course she saw him every day, but something deep inside of her felt overjoyed to see him all the same. She thought that maybe she could remember a piece of a faraway dream, one in which her parents had gone away and left her and Lucy alone in the cold world, but that was preposterous, wasn't it? Such a terrible thing could never happen to her, could it? Still, something almost felt sad when she looked at him, like it had been an eternity since she had seen his face.

"Lois?" he asked as he turned toward her, although his voice sounded nothing like she remembered. In fact, he sounded strangely like someone else she knew, but she couldn't quite put her finger on whom. As she struggled to match a face to the voice, she saw the world around her begin to fade away. Her hands reached out for her father, but as she touched his arm, he dematerialized, floating away on the breeze like a wisp of smoke. Sinking to the ground, she tried to cry out, but her breath just caught in her throat. Her daddy was gone all over again. The dreams had been true, she realized.

"Lois, can you hear me?" she heard again as she felt a light touch on her shoulder. Forcing her head up, she looked over her shoulder and saw a familiar face.

"Clark?" she rasped, the anguish she had felt rapidly falling away as she saw him give her a smile. Then he, too began to fade away, and she became aware of the fact that she was uncomfortable. What if this fading world she was in now was the dream?

"Yes, Lois, it's me. Are you all right?" he asked. She clung to his voice as a lifeline, pulling herself back to consciousness. Forcing her eyes open, she saw his face materialize in front of her. Somehow the sight of his brown eyes made everything seem just fine, even though she had the vague feeling that they weren't. She didn't want to think about whatever it was that had caused her to lose consciousness, she only wanted to look into that face. Bringing her hand up to his cheek, she felt the soft skin under her hand and was relieved. This world she was in now was most certainly real.

Her touch elicited something in him, and their eyes locked together yet again. The longing glance he gave her was unmistakable, and was more than matched by the strong feelings that began to surge within her. As his face began to near hers, she drank in the sight of his beautiful skin, of his soft, jet black hair, of the thick wisps black of smoke that swirled around beside his head…

Her eyes widened at the sight, and the floodgates opened. All her memories came back at once, filling her head with fantastic images that she would certainly never forget again. There was a man…who flew! And he had somehow extinguished with one breath the very flames that he had walked through unscathed. The recollection made her sit up with a start, narrowly avoiding hitting Clark's head with her own.

"Did you see him?" she asked frantically, the impending kiss all but forgotten. She didn't recall seeing Clark on the roof as the strange man flew off, but she had found it hard to pay attention to anything else. He was around somewhere at the time, though. Maybe he saw something that she hadn't, some way to explain how that man had been able to do what he did…

"Did I see who?" Clark asked. Lois tore her eyes away from the smoldering helicopter ruins and stared at him, incredulous. How could he not have seen the man? He had been almost impossible to miss in that blue and red get-up of his. A careful look at Clark's face, though, showed that he genuinely didn't know what she was talking about.

Lois held up her arm and pointed toward the wreckage. "That…he…walked through fire…there was an explosion and he wasn't hurt and he FLEW away and you mean to tell me that you didn't see ANY of this?" She couldn't tell if the frustration that was building inside of her came from the fact that she was the only living soul that seemed to have seen this man, or if it was the half smile that was forming on Clark's face in a bemused reaction to her ramble.

He shrugged innocently at her query, and she felt another long, probably incoherent string of words begin to form inside of her. But as she opened her mouth to let the tirade out, she heard someone clear him throat behind her. Startled, she turned toward the source of the sound.

Two police officers had just cleared the ladder and were standing on the roof, gawking at the two of them. "She's okay, but I don't think they are," Clark said to the officers before pointing to a portion of the roof closer to the helicopter.

Confused, she looked at Clark again. "I called the police when I heard the explosion," he said in response to her silent query. It was odd how he could sense what she was going to ask, but she was finding that it was happening more and more often. And, truth be told, she really didn't mind it that much. She just hoped that whatever mental link between them didn't reveal to him sides of her that she wasn't willing to let him see yet. At that, she thought briefly of her crusade against Luthor, and she suddenly realized the opportunity she had lost tonight. Baines had been right there on the other side of the door, so close that Lois could practically smell her fear, but it had all gone wrong. Now, if what she feared was true, she would have to start anew.

"Baines? Is she…" Lois blurted out, drawing Clark's attention away from the officers. The expression he wore when he looked at her said it all, and she closed her eyes in pain as she felt a familiar weight begin to bear down upon her soul once again.

"Dead? Yes," he said, but she didn't hear it. It felt as if all the air had been driven from her body, and she couldn't take a breath. The light at the end of the tunnel had been beckoning, and she had been more that willing to embrace it. She had allowed herself to have thoughts of the future, with Clark, with happiness. And with one great ball of fire, that future had fallen outside of her grasp yet again. And as much as she wanted to be with Clark, her fight against Lex Luthor took precedence, and that's just the way it would have to be.

She heard him say her name again, and as she opened her eyes, she saw the concern on his face. She hated the fact that she felt for him, if only because it wasn't fair to him. He deserved someone who could give him the love and attention he deserved, the types of things that she couldn't give him so long as Luthor was still out of reach of the law. She had tried, she had hoped against all hope that this would be the end, but it hadn't been, and life would go on for her the way it always had before. Alone. She just had to make him understand that.

She also had to get as far away from those police officers as possible without raising too much suspicion. They were currently examining the bodies Baines and the pilot, but Lois was sure that when they were done, they would want to talk to her. The last thing that she needed was to be questioned about an explosion in Metropolis. It would be hard enough trying to explain why she was on the roof in the first place, and why she had been saved when the others had died. She certainly couldn't tell them about her savior in blue, not if she wanted to have any credibility with them. They would certainly be skeptical of her story, and that might give them a reason to dig into her private dealings, possibly uncovering something that she preferred to remain hidden.

"Let's get out of here," she mumbled as she began to push herself up. Clark slipped his strong arm around her to help guide her movements. He was so considerate, and so strong. She had never met anyone as physically attractive as him, and when he was as near as he was now, his presence could be felt that much more powerfully. But she had to put those thoughts out of her mind if she were to get on with life.

Without another word, she walked to the fire escape and climbed down, Clark close behind. He silently followed her out the alley, to the waiting police vehicle and the small mob of people around it. One person she recognized from the local television news, although the woman didn't appear to have a camera crew anywhere nearby.

"What happened up there?" one of the mob shouted. Lois was not in the best of the moods, but as she continued past the reporters, something inside of her made her stop. The police wouldn't believe her story of the flying man, but history had told her that the press would believe just about anything. As much as she wanted to avoid talking to the cops, the fact that a camera was now trained on her meant that they could find her eventually and question her about what had happened. There was no harm in drumming up some speculation on her new hero now, though, especially if it meant the police leaving her alone in the future.

"There was a man. He saved me and he saved this neighborhood," she said. She could tell by the looks on their faces that it hadn't been exactly what they had expected to hear, but Lois didn't care. The other aspects of the story were fairly obvious to anyone who bothered to take a look toward the roof. Smoldering helicopters didn't come from just anywhere.

The woman from the TV station pushed her way closer to the front of the group and shoved a microphone in Lois's face. "Can you describe this man? What did he do to save you?" she asked.

Lois furrowed her brow, thinking of the best way to describe him. If she started spouting off about his speed or his ability to fly, it might push the envelope of what they were able to believe. Only one word seemed to accurately convey what happened without sounding too absurd. "What he did…it was superhuman," she replied before walking away from them.

"You heard it here first, folks. An eyewitness described some sort of Superman saving the day at the Metropolis offices of EPRAD…" the reporter said as she blended back into the crowd of furiously scribbling journalists. Throughout the whole exchange, Clark had remained oddly silent, and as Lois looked at him again, she could see an expression on his face that could only be described as contentedness. He quietly walked along behind her with his hands shoved into his pocket, oblivious to her or any other outside stimulus, until they reached the ambulance that had just pulled onto the scene.

She intended to let the paramedic examine her, but her progress was halted by Clark's hand on her arm. The feeling of hot electricity that seemed to course through his fingers was extremely pleasant, she thought with a frown. Her body's reaction to his every touch was making it hard for her to commit to what she needed to do. She tried to make her face as impassive as possible as she regarded him, but it was hard as her eyes found his once again.

"Lois, why don't we go out to dinner after this is all done," he asked softly in that hypnotic voice of his. Something in his dark brown eyes pleaded for her to accept, and she felt her head bobbing in agreement. She wondered what the occasion could possibly be, but, she thought with a wry smile, it was probably brought on by his deep concern for her feelings. In any case, it would be the perfect opportunity for her to finally let him go. She didn't think she could hold the course much longer, especially not when every time she looked up she saw those concerned eyes.

Unaware of the fate that awaited him, he smiled at her and gave her arm a squeeze before leaving her to the paramedics. It was going to be hard, but she would do it. Tonight, she would leave Clark once and for all to concentrate on Lex Luthor.


The restaurant he had chosen had come highly recommended from the friends that Clark had made at the Daily Planet. The atmosphere was casual enough that Lois wouldn't feel that it was a date, even though he supposed that's what it was. Tonight, he thought as he fingered the small box in his jacket pocket, would be a night to remember for both of them. Tonight he was going to take the next step.

Lois had seemed upset after the full brunt of what had happened on the roof of the EPRAD building had hit her, and that was only understandable. She had had a very traumatic night, and he supposed that being introduced to Metropolis's new Superman, as he had now been dubbed, in addition to seeing Baines pass away, had been painful. He knew how badly she had wanted to get to Luthor, and now she would have to keep trying.

Maybe it was because of the sadness in her eyes that he had decided tonight would be the right night. Something told him that she needed to know that he cared for her. Still, all the old insecurities from years of running told him to be cautious. He didn't even know that his feelings were returned, but that kiss they had shared a few days earlier could be taken as a good indicator that they were. Even a few weeks ago he would've waited a little longer, been a little more careful, but for some reason, it seemed that the adoption of this new persona of his instilled him with more confidence then he had ever felt.

He had returned Lois back to her brownstone after the police had finished interviewing her, giving her some time to freshen up before they went out. In the ensuing time, he had run some errands in anticipation of seeing her again. He had also taken a quick flight around the world. It was strange how when you were in love it colored your perception of everything around you. Tonight the world had seemed so beautiful, so alive, that he could barely stand it. The snow in the Andes had glittered a pure white color, its crystals refracting in the sun into a million tiny rainbows. The lush Central American rainforests teemed with life, their exotic plants and animals interacting with each other in a never ending game.

Yes, the world was a beautiful place, he thought, but nothing was so beautiful as the woman who sat in front of him. He had finally given up even trying to resist his feelings for her. There was no point, not when her every action stirred him to the core. It absolutely defied all logic, yet it was true nonetheless. He was in love.

Looking at Lois as she sat across from him, he wondered again how she felt toward him. Her smiles were friendly enough, but there was a sense of gloom around her this evening that he hadn't seen for a long time. When they had first met, he had sworn he could see a dark cloud around her, following her every movement, and putting a shadow behind her eyes. As time went by, it had faded away, but it was back again tonight. It had to be related to their investigation of the Messenger disaster, and more that likely revolved around her mysterious connection with Luthor. He wondered again what had happened to her to affect her in such a way, but he shook his head to clear the thought. There were better things to concentrate his energies on.

They engaged in pleasant conversation throughout the meal, and she let glimpses of her humor poke through her dark mood from time to time, only convincing him that what he was about to do was indeed right. Things he would say to her to broach the subject had been running through his mind since the moment he had decided to go through with it, yet so many of them sounded empty and corny. But, then again, wasn't love corny to begin with? He would have to make a fool of himself eventually, he decided, it was just a matter of when. The goofy smiles and longing glances he had sent her way were more than doing their part to make him seem the lovesick fool already, what was the harm in going a little further?

As their desserts came, he decided that it was time. Her fork sunk in to her double fudge cheesecake, and he reached into his jacket pocket and gently pulled out the small box.

"Lois," he said softly, relishing the way her name sounded. Lois. He had never known anyone with that name before he had met her, not in all the countries that he had traveled in. Perhaps that was because the fates had decided that it would be reserved for the one person in the whole world that he was meant to be with.

Her fork stopped its progress through the dessert as she looked up at him. There was a strange look in her eyes, and he realized too late that there had been a tinge in his voice. It was possible that she interpreted the emotion wrong, he thought as he gave her his most reassuring smile. "I wanted to ask you something," he continued as he dropped his eyes to the box in his lap.

Taking a deep breath, he brought the box into her line of sight, slowly setting it across from her. As he looked back up at her again, he saw a wide-eyed expression of shock on her face.

"Clark, no. I have to tell you something first…" she started but then stopped as he held up his finger. Whatever she had to say, it had to wait. He had started, and he wasn't about to stop now, not even if the earth opened up and swallowed him whole.

"Lois, working with you the past few days has been like a dream. I've been all over the world, met more people than I could ever possibly count, yet I had always felt alone. When I met you, though, something changed. For the first time in my life, I feel like I've connected with someone, with you. That's why I wanted to ask…" he gestured for her to open the box.

Lois had sat perfectly still as he spoke, her breath still held in anticipation of telling him whatever it was that she felt the need to say. At his gesture, she slowly let out the breath and reached up toward the box. Her hand was shaking ever so slightly as it took off the lid, and he saw a smile begin to form on her face as she saw what was inside.

She poked her finger inside the box and chuckled as she took out the gold chain. Dangling from the end was a worn gold ring, the deep scarlet stone on the end scratched from years of wear, yet the words 'Smallville High School' still readable on the side. "Lois Lane, will you go steady with me?" Clark asked, the smile on his lips reaching his voice, obviously lightening her mood.

Lois held the ring up and examined it closely for a moment closing her hand around it. The chain dangled from her fist as she looked down at the table for a moment, the smile fading from her face. She seemed to be lost in thought, and Clark began to feel anxious. He had been so certain before that she would accept, but now he wasn't so sure.

He could feel his own smile begin to falter as he awaited her answer, but at last she brought her head up and locked her eyes into his. "Clark Kent, I would be honored," she said, and then beamed at him as she slipped the chain around her neck. Her true smile was such a rare thing, he thought, and probably for a good reason. The light of her being that was emitted in that smile was brighter than that of a thousand suns, but he knew that he above all men could handle it. He wished that he could see it more often, and vowed that he would do everything within his power to make it so that he did.

"So, are you gonna eat that cheesecake, or can your new best boyfriend have a few bites?" he asked as he reached out and moved the vase at the center of the table to the side. Lois's grin grew wider and the black cloud that had been following her finally went away.

"If you wouldn't mind helping me out, I suppose it would save me some time on the treadmill later. And they DID give me two forks with this," she said, waving the extra utensil in front of him. The ring that now dangled from her neck bobbed with the movement, and Clark was content. A day that could've been a disaster had turned out for the best, and he couldn't be happier.


Lois closed the door behind her, something inside of her sad that the night was coming to an end. Her face was actually sore from smiling so much, but with Clark, there was no way she could stop herself. He always seemed to bring out the best in her, to tap into the real Lois and let her shine through. The incredible feeling of release that being with him gave her was beyond explanation, like she was drunk. She didn't want their time together to end, and now… Her hand reached up to her chest and closed around the gold class ring that he gave her. The gesture itself had been so charmingly old fashioned, and so unexpected.

Lois had kept her decision to break up with him close to her heart throughout the whole date, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. Then, when he had put that box in front of her, time seemed to stand still for a moment. He cared for her, she knew, and she had always just assumed that his feelings had been the same sort of puppy dog affection that she thought she had for him. But when she saw that box, all her assumptions about their relationship had gone right out the window. He honestly loved her, she could see it so clearly in his eyes and hear it in his voice as he asked her the question. How she hadn't noticed the depth of his emotion before was beyond her. The revelation of his love had been unsettling to her, but as she pondered his proposal, she began to realize that she had underestimated her own feelings for him. As she drew the chain out of the box, she felt her body fill with warmth, and she knew for certain that there would be no break up, that the force of their love was indeed greater than the evil force of Lex Luthor.

In the blink of an eye, all of her priorities had suddenly been turned upside down. Her life had been consumed with darkness, and she had never known a world of happiness, not after. She had always feared that happiness would displace the intense emotions that drove her, and she supposed that was the truth, at least to a certain extent. When she was with Clark, the world was a vibrant place. Her spirit soared, and she saw colors and beauty where before she had only seen shadow. And when he wasn't there, the promise that he held gave her the extra strength to do what she needed to do. He represented hope, the pot of gold that waited for her at the end of the rainbow, and that hope only made her mission stronger. But the ultimate ends that her mission brought, now, was not only closure from her past life, it was the promise of one to come, with Clark.

"Lois?" she heard from the other room, and she smiled again. Lucy certainly wouldn't believe this development. She walked across the brownstone, pondering the best way to break the news. As her sister finally came into view, though, all Lois could do was grin.

The light mood was infectious. "Do I even want to know why you look like the cat that ate the canary?" Lucy asked as she got up to greet her sister. Lois gestured to the chain around her neck, and Lucy squealed.

"He gave you his RING? Oh my goodness, that is incredibly sweet," she said after she caught her breath. She examined the necklace for a moment before looking at Lois, who had been silent the whole time. Lois just couldn't stop smiling, no matter how much she tried.

"You are truly lucky to have someone like him," Lucy said, and Lois nodded. Her smile faded a bit, however, as she pondered that statement. Luck had never brought her anything in life before she had found Clark, and she had assumed that was the way it was always going to be. But of all the things to have chance bring her, she knew that she couldn't ask for any better.

"I know I am," Lois replied softly, emotionally. Her head dropped as her mind slipped back to the years that she had spent alone with just Lucy. Lois half expected her sister to be resentful of the break in their united front that Clark represented — she knew that if their positions had been reversed, she certainly would be. But Lois knew above anyone else the incredible reserves of hope and sunny optimism that her sister held. It had always been Lucy's place to find the silver lining in every situation, and Lois supposed that was how she managed to get through all the unkind years. Up until now, Lucy had been her anchor, her hope for a better tomorrow, but now Clark held that distinction.

Taking a look back at her sister, Lois saw that Lucy was patiently smiling at her, offering her support as always. Even if Clark was Lois's new inspiration, that didn't meant that Lucy wouldn't still be there for friendly advice or encouragement. Perhaps they could have a more open relationship now, like sisters were supposed to have, like she saw a glimpse of a few days earlier. It would be strange, but the change would certainly be welcome.

"And to think, I was going to break up with him," Lois said with a dry chuckle, causing Lucy's eyebrows to rise in question. "Things didn't go well tonight," Lois elaborated as she found the couch and flopped down on it.

Lucy settled into the chair she had been in only moments earlier. "I can see it all now," she said, a hint of amusement in her voice. "Things didn't go the way you wanted, you felt that you had to devote more time to your search for Luthor, and you decided that Clark didn't need to be stuck in the middle of that. You had a noble idea of breaking up with him so that he didn't get hurt somehow, but…"

"But then he smiled at me, flashed those brown eyes, and asked me to go steady," Lois said, biting her lip to hold back the grin that threatened to spread across her face. All her morbid concerns seemed so silly in retrospect, but even so, she couldn't help but feel somewhat selfish for not being completely honest with him.

"He makes you happy. Don't mess that up," Lucy said, the amusement leaving her voice as she became serious. Lois only nodded once and settled back into the sofa turning her attention to the television. There was still ample opportunity for her to flush it all down the toilet, and it all hinged on how honest she was willing to be with him. She wanted to relish what she had now, though. Maybe, after the sunlight that he brought into her life began to fade, she would tell him, and maybe he would understand. But chances were good that he wouldn't, and that was a scary prospect. Lois closed her eyes and felt the weight of the ring against her chest, and relished the comfort and the happiness it brought her.

As she let herself relax, a tone sounded on the television, capturing her attention. On the screen, a newscaster sat at her desk, her index finger to her ear, listening to something for a moment before giving her attention to the audience.

"We're sorry to interrupt your program, but we bring you breaking news. Earlier tonight, an explosion and fire occurred at the Metropolis EPRAD offices, claiming the lives of Dr. Antoinette Baines, office director, and Rob Hendricks, the pilot of the helicopter that exploded. Although an unidentified eyewitness described a man who saved her life and put out the fire, authorities are skeptical of his existence. Now, however, it seems that there is ample evidence to support the fact that this so- called "Superman" is indeed real. We take you now to Dustin Stein, who is reporting live from the banks of Metropolis Harbor. Dustin?"

The scene shifted to a man who was standing in the relative darkness of the outdoors. Behind him were the murky waters of the harbor, the moon glinting off the wildly bobbing water, indicating more afoot at sea that a simple breeze. "Thank you, Rachel. I'm standing at the scene of an incredible accident that took place just minutes ago in the harbor. A cargo boat has collided with a large passenger vessel, and rescue crews have only now begun to approach the sight. What is truly amazing, however, is that most of the victims have already been pulled from the water."

The camera panned to some dazed, soggy people who were leaning up against a neighboring building. A few were being tended to by paramedics, but most of them were staring blankly at the sky.

"Excuse me, sir," the reporter said as he made his way toward one of the rescued men. "Can you explain what happened here tonight?"

The man's eyes seemed somewhat glazed over, even as he gave his attention to the reporter. "Well, there was an incredible scraping sound, then I was in the water, then, somehow, I was here."

"He flew," the man sitting next to the interviewee interrupted, gesturing wildly with his hands. "The man flew us all out of the water."

The reporter gave the second man a patronizing smile and discreetly gestured for the camera operator to turn away. Summoning all the false sympathy he could muster, the man opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly all the color drained from his face and his jaw went slack. The camera remained on the stunned reporter for a moment before quickly panning around, blurring the images in the screen. When the motion stopped, all of Metropolis could see what had only been hinted at earlier.

Across the waters of the bay, under the light of the nearly full moon, a ship was hovering in mid-air, the dark figure of a man in shadow underneath it. The boat floated toward land slowly, bobbing lazily on the air currents as naturally as it would on the water. It loomed larger and larger as it neared the camera, the crowd on the ground becoming deathly quiet in awe of the sight. Finally the craft was placed on land, and the man who had been carrying it stepped around the side and into the sickly orange glow of the sodium vapor lights overhead. He looked even more striking than Lois remembered, the wet from the water somehow making him seem that much more rugged. As the camera zoomed in on him, he straightened his back, took a long look out over the bay, and then jumped into the air, his red cape billowing behind him. The camera followed him as long as it could, then turned back to the reporter, who was still looking toward the sky in shock.

"As you can see," he rasped as he absently held the microphone to his mouth, "there is a new Super Man in Metropolis. Back to you Rachel."

"Thank you Dustin," the reporter in the studio said, trying to be as professional as possible, although her stunned expression still peeked through the facade. "We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming."

With that, the show that had been on before popped back up. Lois again regarded her sister, and saw that she was still staring in disbelief at the television. All of Metropolis probably wore the same expression, and Lois found herself empathizing with them. She remembered what it felt like only a few hours earlier, when she had first laid eyes on a man who flew. For a moment this afternoon she had thought she was crazy, and the nagging self-doubt had lingered even into her fabulous evening. But now, faced with the same evidence as the rest of Metropolis, she knew that she wasn't crazy at all. She couldn't help but feel sad at the fact that this man, who had previously only appeared to her, now let his secret be known to the rest of the world. It was silly, yes, but she couldn't help it.

Lois leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes. Her frame of reference to life had been changed unequivocally in one short day. She was now in a steady relationship with a man, who she had decided to date even though it meant forsaking part of her lifelong mission. So Lois Lane chose love over revenge, and there was a man who could fly. It was safe to say that things hadn't turned out how she had imagined, but that was what made life interesting sometimes. And it certainly looked like her life was getting a lot more interesting by the second.


Lois's fingers curled around Clark's hand as they walked down the street, the unnaturally warm autumn air causing briefly long for the chill that usually hung in the air this time of year, if only because it would give Clark a reason to wrap his arm around her. They had been together for several months now, yet every night they spent together was an adventure. Overhead, she could see the moon hanging in the sky, illuminating the dark streets to the point that the light of the overhead lamps wasn't really necessary. Even the stars could be spotted against the black sky, an unusual thing indeed for Metropolis.

It was amazing how enjoyable the sight of those stars could be, Lois thought. The sight of them brought back happy memories of a night not so long ago, when Clark had driven her out to the countryside, far from the glow that always seemed to envelop Metropolis. They laid down on the grass side by side, and he had pointed out constellations and stars one by one. The practiced ease with which he had named them all had made her question how he had come to know so much about the heavens, and after a wide-eyed moment of silence, he had explained that his father had taken him out into the open fields that surrounded his childhood home and imparted all his stellar knowledge. Under normal circumstances, Lois supposed that she should feel sad about missing out on experiencing such a thing with her own father, but she couldn't help but think that learning from Clark was almost better.

"What do you see?" he asked quietly, giving her hand a small squeeze, and Lois felt her thoughts brought back to the present. Diverting her eyes to his face, she could see that twinkle that was always present in his eyes when they were together, and she couldn't help but smile at him.

"I was just thinking how beautiful the sky is," she said. "I don't really get out of Metropolis enough to see the stars too often. I wish I could go out the country again, where there's not a living soul for miles, and stare up at them for hours."

Lois's reference to their night together had not gone unnoticed, she saw before she looked back toward the heavens. There were so many simple pleasures in life that she had never experienced before he had come into her life — a walk in the park arm in arm with a man, a shared milkshake at an old-fashioned soda shop, a night in the country beneath the stars… Something about him was so old-fashioned, so sweet and innocent, and he was imparting that innocence on her. She almost felt like she were reliving a part of her childhood that she had missed the first time around, this time with a happiness that had never been there before.

"I've spent plenty of the nights looking up there, staring off into the depths of space from places so dark and isolated that you could only imagine. I wish I could show you," he said, a faraway sadness creeping into his voice that she couldn't quite pinpoint. Every now and then he would get that tone in his voice, almost as if he wanted to say something to her, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Lois could understand completely — there were things about her childhood that she probably would never tell him, times that she had no desire to relive again. From all outward appearances, he had an idyllic childhood, but she was sure that it wasn't without its fair share of heartache. If he couldn't or wouldn't share that with her, then she wouldn't begrudge him that.

Grabbing his arm with her free hand, she cuddled closer to him, relishing in the feel of his body against hers. "You have shown me, and I'll never forget," she said, her voice light.

She could feel his lips gently brush her forehead. "Yeah," he said quietly, almost sadly, before slipping into silence. They walked together like that for a few moments, a slightly awkward silence coming between them.

"So," Lois finally said, hoping to cut the tension just a bit. "Did you like the movie?"

It was becoming a tradition that they go out on Friday nights to dinner and a movie. One week he would choose the movie and she would choose the restaurant, and the next week they would switch. It was an arrangement that usually left them both satisfied, although Lois had to admit that Clark tended to be better at choosing restaurants than she was. Sometimes, like tonight, he would take her to his apartment and then go out to get carryout from some mysterious place. Sometimes it was Italian, sometimes Indian or French. Tonight it had been Chinese, the best that Lois had ever had. She had tried to get him to tell her where he got it, but he had merely smiled and said it was from a little place that he knew of. So the movie choice had been hers, and in partial revenge for his coyness about the source of the food, she had brought him to see an art house movie that had been in Portuguese.

"Yeah, it was great," Clark said, the sadness that had been in his voice almost completely gone. "I thought the jokes in it lost quite a bit in translation, though."

Lois stopped, causing him to stumble as his arm remained in her grasp. He seemed startled at his companion's sudden halt, but that quickly gave way to amusement as Lois continued to look at him in disbelief.

"You speak Portuguese?!?" Lois finally asked. His face lit up in a smile as he nodded once. He tugged on her arm and began to move forward, and Lois found herself falling into step beside him.

"When you live in Portugal, it helps to know the language," he said, and Lois couldn't argue. He had alluded to the fact that he had lived in places all over the world, but he had never mentioned that before. And to think, she had never really left New Troy. He could probably keep her busy for days telling her stories of his adventures in lands afar, and she wished that she could hear them sometime. The fact the he hadn't mentioned it to her before drove home how much she still had to learn about him.

"What else don't I know about you, Clark Kent?" she asked, voicing her thought. Immediately she could feel his muscles tense and release again. It took a moment before he finally responded.

"You might be surprised," he said, a new edge present in his voice that she hadn't heard before. As she was going to ask him about that, he stopped dead in his tracks, and this time it was her turn to stumble. She looked back toward him and could see his head tilted to the side, a far off look in his eyes.

"Clark?" she asked, capturing his attention once again. He seemed taken off guard for a moment, almost as if his mind had slipped somewhere else. As his eyes locked with hers, though, she could see the note of apology in them, and she knew what was coming before he even had to say anything.

"I just remembered something," he started, but she held up her hand to stop him.

"What is it? A story? A missed appointment? A video that needs to be returned?" Lois asked, impatient, listing off some of the excuses that he had used in recent months. She released him and crossed her arms across her chest, staring daggers at him. He might look like the man she knew and loved, but Dr. Jeckyll had turned into Mr. Hyde once again. Clark was kind and considerate, loving and sweet and funny, but when he got that faraway look on his face, followed by a glance toward her filled with quiet apology, he seemed to lose all his inherent intelligence and poise. It was almost as if he couldn't hear how lame his excuses sounded, and he couldn't see the absurdity of the situations they alluded to. Who had a doctor's appointment at eleven o clock at night, anyway?

"I promised to meet a source," he said. Hastily looking at his watch, he nodded quickly. "I'm late, I have to go now. I'm sorry, really. I wish I could take you home, but…"

His eyes pleaded with her, and she sighed. She couldn't argue with those eyes, she never could. She leaned in toward him and gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Okay," she said as she pulled away, eliciting a tender smile from him. His hand came up to caress her cheek, and she closed her eyes at his soft touch. Then, suddenly, the hand was gone. As she opened her eyes again, she could see his retreating form running down the street, then ducking into an alley.

Alone again, she thought. At least he always abandoned her in fairly respectable neighborhoods. Did anyone else have problems like this, she wondered. Was it a case of cold feet on his part? Did men just run away whenever they felt that things were getting too serious? To Clark's credit, he always came back, but it was just strange how out of place this nasty habit of leaving at odd times seemed. As connected as their minds were, he never left any clue as to where he was going or what he was really doing when he left, and it bothered her. But she had kept her mouth closed, especially since she had the habit of doing the same type of thing to him. If she had a pre-arranged time to investigate Luthor or his associates, she would leave to take care of that, no matter what she and Clark were doing. She could see in his eyes that this hurt him, and for that she was sorry, but she just couldn't feel too apologetic about leaving to pursue such an important cause. Maybe what he was going to was equally important.

He hadn't answered her question, she realized. What else didn't she know about him? Apparently quite a bit. She wondered if he would ever tell her all his secrets, of if she would ever have the guts to tell him hers. They would have to eventually, if they were to ever grow into a truly close relationship. As much as she loved him, she didn't know if she could take this for very much longer.

Lois looked at her watch, making note of the hour. Now that he was gone, she supposed she could use the opportunity to do some work of her own. Taking one last glance up at the sky, she smiled at the sight of what appeared to be a shooting star streaking across the heavens. Maybe this night wouldn't be so bad after all.


The unusually warm autumn wind whipped around in the dark alleys of Metropolis, carrying debris on its currents from points far away. A single, large maple leaf floated around the corner of the Lextech industrial warehouse, spinning itself in a small cyclone before finally making contact with an individual dressed in black. The sensation that the contact brought was enough to jar her from her task, and she bent down to examine the leaf. Such distraction while working would've been frowned on by her earlier in her career, but things had changed. Now she stopped to enjoy the simple wonders of life, like the brittle, orange leaf that now lay at her feet. Twirling the stem in her fingers, she studied the veins of the leaf in the dim light, following them as they branched out infinitely, creating a symmetrical web that was beautiful in its simplicity. Such common parts of nature were rare in the concrete jungle that was Metropolis, and she wondered momentarily how it had come to be in this part of town, but she dismissed the thought as quickly as it had come. It was far better to observe and enjoy, things that she had only recently allowed herself to do.

Tossing the leaf back into the breeze, it occurred to her that her more relaxed personal attitude threatened her professional life as she knew it. She used to be so focused, but no longer found her work to be as interesting as she once did. Stepping away and letting herself smell the metaphorical roses should result in a sense of release, and in a way it did for her, but it also caused her anxiety on these nightly excursions. She found that she no longer wanted to hide in the shadows, that she no longer wanted to patiently hold back and wait for her nemesis to come into her circle. She sought out the sun, the finer things in life, and was growing further and further away from the pain that had been a staple of her existence for so long.

It was with a heavy heart that she broke into the building tonight. Evidence had surfaced the suggested a strong link between this warehouse and the sabotage of the Metropolis Nuclear Plant. Most of the clueless masses of the city had believed Luthor's claims that Superman was causing the heat surges in the city, but anyone with any respect for scientific theory had easily seen that the correlation was circumstantial at best. Her Clark had seen that immediately, and he had written a series of touching articles supporting the hero, but the fact remained that nobody could seem to find the source of the heat wave. But Lois had her suspicions, and that's what brought her here.

Lois had to admit that Luthor's attempts at getting rid of Superman were certainly clever. She could understand why he would want the omnipotent hero out of his grasp — in the months that Superman had been on the job, he had been pecking away at the corners of Luthor's empire. Superman represented a movement for good in Metropolis, a spirit of rejuvenation that the city had desperately needed. Thanks to him, crime was down for the first time in over twenty years, and the populace actually felt safe walking on the streets at night. For a man who thrived on scandal, who pulled the strings of the crime world like a great master of puppets, this represented a challenge, and Luthor was never one to back down from a challenge. Fortunately, neither was Superman, it appeared.

Personally, she had conflicting feelings about the hero. It was true that he saved her life, and for that she was grateful. He also didn't seem to be fooled by Luthor's public persona, she could tell just by looking at his face when the billionaire philanthropist was in his presence. The way that the corners of his mouth turned down ever so slightly, even when he was trying to smile at Luthor, and the way his eyes narrowed when he looked at him gave away Superman's contempt for the man that Lois had spent so much of her life pursuing. She would love to have a moment alone with the city's new hero, if only to tell him her tale, to get him on her team, and to get his help in bringing Luthor down. She also had to admit that he was the most strikingly handsome man that she had ever laid eyes on. But he was also the most virtuous person that she had ever met, and she had no doubt that he would take her immediately to the police if he knew the types of activities that she engaged in after hours.

Her fictional meeting with Superman was not a concern right now, though. Giving herself a mental shake, she got back to disarming the security system on the building. It only took a minute and she was in the door. The interior of the building was a vast, open space, with shelving stacked almost to the ceiling. Boxes sat on palates on those shelves, stretching out into infinity in front of her. Finding spare parts to a nuclear reactor in there would be nearly impossible if she didn't know where the inventory lists were kept.

The types of things held in the warehouse were incredible, she thought as she scanned the list a few moments later. Everything from store inventory to Luthor's personal artifacts were kept somewhere within these walls. Spotting the item she was looking for, she quickly made her way across the vast concrete floor and to a section of smaller boxes. She supposed that if she really wanted to take the time, she could find some pretty spectacular things in those boxes, but she was only interested in one thing. She located the correct box, and pocketed the small object it contained. It was amazing how one simple little piece of hardware could cause so much destruction, but after tonight it should no longer be a problem. It would be hard to explain to the police how she had obtained such an item without them being suspicious of her, but she didn't intend for them to ever know it was her who had given it to them. She supposed that she could write an anonymous letter leading them to the warehouse and the part it contained, but she was sure that by the time anyone acted on it, that Luthor would have covered his tracks. Even now she couldn't prove that he had personally ordered the part to be placed there; all she could do was remedy the situation that its removal had caused.

She took a look around the building, her eyes once again scanning the aisles and stacks of valuable merchandise, before taking a large explosive from out of her coat. She had been curtailing her arson of late, but the opportunity to bring this much destruction on her nemesis was just too good to pass up. She had no doubt that some very valuable items to him were kept somewhere among the boxes, and it caused a tremor of pleasure to think that she could bring him a sense of loss. Arming the bomb was no problem, and, with the timer set to allow time for an escape, she made her way out of the building.

She was two blocks away by the time the explosion hit. The concussion of the blast always brought a smile to her face, and this was no exception. There was something comforting about the crackle of the fire behind her, and the knowledge that with the flames came the destruction that she so craved against Lex Luthor. A new sound came tonight, though. As the orange flames licked the sky, a sound like thunder ripped across the sky, and the fire stopped. The scene was oddly like a night several months earlier, a night that Lois now realized was the true premier of the city's new Superman. She had been fortunate that night to get away without him recognizing her. In the ensuing time, he had left the few fires that she had set alone, and she had hoped that it would stay that way. All good luck had to come to end, as they always said, and it appeared that this was the night that hers did, she thought as she slunk into the shadow of a nearby building.

As she focused her attention away from the warehouse, she became aware of a presence on the street that hadn't been there before. She gasped as Superman stepped into the light of the streetlight in front of her, although in retrospect she figured that she shouldn't have been so surprised. Unlike the business district where he had put out her other fire, the warehouse district didn't house the vagrants. Apparently some areas of town were too seedy for even them, and the warehouse district, known more for its crime than anything else, was one of those places. So she was all alone, and caught red handed. She supposed that, faced with imminent capture, she should give herself up. But in front of her stood Superman, and the perfect opportunity to talk to him. She would have to try and get him to see things her way, but she had to be intelligent about it, and she had to keep her identity if at all possible.

A cold chill ran through her as she realized that, should she be brought in, Clark would find out about her arson the hard way. They had been going out for several months now, yet she still hadn't found a way to tell him. Every time she would try, she would lose her resolve as she gazed into his innocent eyes. Being told that she was in prison for arson would be a terrible blow to him. She knew how in love with her he was, and she knew the strength of his convictions, and she was afraid that she would come up short if he were forced to choose between the two. That only strengthened her conviction to get Superman to see the ultimate good of her intentions, and if possible to avoid being captured.

Gazing at him up close, seeing the tightness of the blue spandex of his outfit over his well-defined body, Lois felt her stomach lurch. It was far too easy to fall into the trap of getting tongue-tied when in his presence, and she suspected that she wasn't the first woman to feel butterflies when looking at him, but she needed to stamp down that desire if she were to get anything accomplished. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she shrunk further into her coat as she sought out the depths of the shadows around her. What could she say to catch his attention, she wondered. It would have to be something that he would find worthwhile to listen to, not mere idle chatter. And she thought she had the perfect subject matter.

"So you're the man that Lex Luthor finds so threatening. I'm surprised his tests didn't scare you off," she said, making her voice husky in an attempt to disguise it. A smile spread across her face as she saw his eyes momentarily go wide with shock. He quickly regained his stony composure, however, crossing his arms across his chest, but making no move to apprehend her.

"Lex Luthor is no concern of mine right now," he said in his most confident tone. Lois didn't know how, but underneath his deep, hero-like tone she could sense insecurity of some sort.

"Oh? Do you realize that was his warehouse that you just saved from being a total loss? In that building were his personal items, his business inventory, and probably millions of dollars in merchandise. Those were irreplaceable items of his that you just saved," she replied, feeling smug when she saw his eyes narrow. When he didn't immediately speak, she continued.

"You know the kind of monster that Lex Luthor is, I can see it. You know that he was behind the Messenger explosion a couple months ago. You know that he is causing the heat wave in Metropolis to try and drive you out of town. I bet you want to bring him down so badly that it hurts."

Superman was trying hard to keep his composure, to seem indifferent in the face of her soliloquy, but his fa‡ade was breaking down quickly. His weight shifted from foot to foot, and his jaw clenched. Yes, she was hitting the nail right on the head. It was nice to know that her judgment of character was still just as good as it had always been.

"I can help you get him," she continued, taking a small step forward, feeling bolder. "I've spent my life trying to find that one piece of evidence that will be his undoing, finding the chink in the armor that I know is there. I've dedicated myself to making him suffer for the suffering he has given to the people of this city. Help me, Superman. We can get him, together."

Superman's eyes were distant. He took a couple deep breaths, causing his massive chest to heave up and down, a sight that Lois found to be hypnotic. In his crossed arms, she could see his hands clench into fists, and she thought for a moment that she had succeeded. But that moment soon passed as he began to speak, a new confidence in his voice. "You're the person who's behind the string of unsolved arsons." It was a statement rather than a question, and Lois quickly saw that she was not dealing with someone who lacked for intelligence. "And no matter how right you think the ends are, arson is illegal. I pity the fact that you have devoted so much of your life to such misguided ends, and I will have to bring you in to the authorities."

Superman took a long stride in her direction, and Lois felt her shoulders slump over. She had been so close, but now it would be all over with. Her bottom lip began to tremble as she pondered what her life would be like in jail. But then, suddenly, Superman stopped in mid step, cocking his head to the side ever so slightly. Lois felt a strange sense of d‚j… vu as she watched him intently listening to something very far away for a few seconds, before turning back toward her.

"It looks like you're off the hook for now," he said, his voice impassive, before taking off into the air. Lois watched the fading blue streak shoot across the dark night sky before she slumped against the building next to her. That was close. Way too close, as a matter of fact. She supposed that she should be counting her blessings, but she couldn't help but feel disappointed that she hadn't gained the cooperation of Superman. Now he'd be on the lookout for her, and she'd have to be doubly careful. It occurred to her that it might be a good time to finally give up her life as an arsonist, but Luthor was still free. And she wouldn't give up this life until he was put away.

Steadying her nerves, she gathered her spirits and pushed off from the building. Home would never look so sweet, she thought. It was definitely time to seek out Luthor, to finally get her evidence together and actively pursue him. She wanted a more normal life, and she wanted her freedom. And it all began with alerting the police to a bit of evidence she found at a burned out warehouse.


Even from high up in the air, it was easy for Clark to locate his balcony. In the few months he had spent in Metropolis, it had come to feel like home, and he found that his simple apartment held some sort of magnetic draw on his consciousness. Tonight it beckoned especially strongly, and he was more than happy to see the balcony loom larger and larger in his field of vision.

It had been a very long night, to say the least. It had started out the way that so many had, with one of his impromptu dates with Lois. When they were together, they laughed and chatted, and he forgot his insecurities just long enough to enjoy her company. Her perspective on life was so different from his own, yet she seemed to have the same thought process as he did. They were the same yet different, and connected at some molecular level in a way that he found incredible. Being with her made him happy, yet he couldn't escape the feeling that there was something missing from their relationship. He knew quite well that those empty feelings could come from the fact that he still hadn't told her his biggest secret. She didn't know the things he could do, or the fact that he spent his nights flying over the city in a blue spandex suit. But it was almost as if she could sense that he wasn't telling her something, just like he could sense that she wasn't telling him something. It was only fair, he supposed. If he felt it necessary to have his secrets, then she must surely be allowed hers. Even so, those secrets were slowly driving a wedge between them, and it was only a matter of time before the strain on their relationship would become too much.

Their date ended as they always seemed to lately. He had heard a distress call from across the city, and so he made a quick excuse to leave. The excuses always sounded hollow, whether it was him making them or her, but they always accepted them from each other, then parted ways with a hasty kiss goodnight. The first emergency call had been a gruesome highway accident, and that had done nothing to improve his mood. Even using his speed to its utmost, it had taken an hour to clean up the vehicles and assorted auto parts strewn all over the roadway. Then came the call for a fire in the warehouse district.

In his guise as Superman, he had probably apprehended hundreds of criminals. There were times when the arrests were tough, times that he could see the hardship he was causing to families by arresting their loved ones, times that he could tell the criminal was unstable. But he had never let sympathy cloud his judgment, and the fact that wrong was wrong. Tonight had almost been the exception. The woman in black, whoever she was, had hit on his one weakness with singular cunning.

Clark knew the evil that was Lex Luthor, and it truly surprised him that more people didn't see it. Lois saw it — that was another one of the things he loved about her. She wasn't fooled by his exterior, like so many others were. Neither was the woman in black, apparently, and that fact made her dangerous. For all appearances, Luthor was a man who seemingly did a lot of good for the city, but he had been a persistent thorn in the side of Metropolis's newest hero from the very first night that he had appeared on the scene.

That first night held a special place in Clark's heart for many reasons. The scenes were so vivid inside his head, the sensations so real and unique. Although he knew that he was invulnerable to most stimuli, Clark had never felt the force of an explosion. Although he had saved lives, he had never saved one that was so precious to him as Lois was. And he had never allowed his slow reaction cause the death of anyone, either, as it had that night. Then, later, the attention of the press had been strange. He had spent his entire life running from just such attention, but when the cameras had finally turned on him in his new guise, it felt good to show off.

In the back of his mind the whole time, however, had been his investigation with Lois. Something had to be done, if only if it were a warning shot across Luthor's bow. Clark might not have had enough evidence to convict the man, but he couldn't allow Luthor to get away without giving him the knowledge that the city's newest hero was on to him. It might be foolish, but it was just something that Clark had to do.

Flying up to the top of the Lexcorp tower, Clark had landed softly on the railing, letting himself observe things for a moment before he made his presence known. The d‚cor of the office more than anything else seemed to sum up what Clark perceived Luthor's personality to be. The ostentatious d‚cor flaunted the money that had gone into furnishing the office, the decoration obviously done by some of the finest craftsmen available. Yet, blended in with the rich trappings were armaments, swords and guns, displayed in such a way that they seemed to want to blend in with everything else. But to Clark, those very things stood out just because they did not belong. They were made of cold, glinting steel, contrasting with the soft furs and fine fabrics that adorned the rest of the room. The overall affect was the addition of an element of danger to the office. It must be intimidating to those who conducted business there, adding a subconscious fear of what would happen should they cross their employer. The irony of the situation was, of course, that Luthor was as good as his word on that particular issue.

Clark had no doubt that Luthor had killed Baines. Although the cargo of the helicopter had been blown beyond all recognition, Clark had seen inside it enough prior to the explosion to make him to never doubt the billionaire's involvement. The callous disrespect for human life that Luthor seemed to possess angered a fundamental part of Clark's being, and his blood boiled when he thought of how many others Luthor had likely killed. It were men like this that had made Clark's new persona necessary in the first place, he mused. As much as Clark enjoyed the freedom of flying and the exhilaration of being able to use his talents, he would love even more to be able to live in a world where he didn't HAVE to use those powers.

His resolve strengthened by the affirmation of his ideology, Clark took a deep breath and jumped off the railing. Luthor turned his way at the sound, the look on his face suggesting that he almost expected to see him there. He started clapping as the patio door opened, plastering a fake smile on his face.

It was strange that Clark didn't really remember the conversation that followed. He knew that his butterflies had gone away quickly, fueled by the reaction that his speech was getting. The fiery look in Luthor's eyes as Clark had rattled off the evidence of his guilt was vindication enough. But then, as Clark finished, Luthor composed himself and quietly denied the charges. They stared each other down for a moment, looking deep into each other's souls, neither of them especially impressed with what they saw. Luthor brought the brandy glass in his hand up to his mouth, swirling the liquid around before taking a sip. Clark will never forget what he said next.

"As they say, let the games begin," Luthor said, effectively bringing an end to their meeting. True to form, a few days later the tests had begun. Clark began to doubt himself, even though he knew that was the reaction that Luthor was looking for. He probably would've considered hanging the spandex up for good if it weren't for the moral support he received from Lois. When he looked into her eyes, his problems seemed insignificant. She always had the right words to say to give him the confidence he needed, and this had been no exception. When he had confessed to her that he was unsure about his work, she had assured him, thinking that he was talking about his writing. Her sympathy would've rung hollow if not for the words she had used.

"You make a lot of difference in this city; I can see it already," she had said as she gently stroked his arm. "Your articles have saved people, and probably helped to improve the quality of life for many others. And you've helped me."

It was then that he remembered his first real rescue. Her. If it weren't for the suit and the cape and his decision to go public with his new persona, she would be dead. No matter how many lives that Luthor held over his head, it couldn't change the fact that Lois was living proof of the need for Superman. That was all the convincing he needed, and as he kissed her in thanks, all his doubts went away for good and his resolve strengthened. That would be the last time Lex Luthor would get to him.

The tests had ended as suddenly as they had begun, but for whatever reason, the press hadn't caught on to what they actually were. Even during the current heat spell, nobody had made the connection to the billionaire. That was why Clark was so surprised when the woman in black brought it up tonight. He had listened to her originally out of curiosity, but as she continued, he could feel himself getting angry. The words she used dredged up all his animosity toward Luthor, saying aloud what he had thought only he knew. As she made her offer, he found himself actually considering it for a moment. It was only a few seconds of contemplation on his part, but those were a few seconds longer than he had any right to.

It scared him think that he actually considered going along with what she said. If there was one thing that defined the personality of Clark Kent, it was his ever-present desire to do what was considered right. He supposed it had grown out of the loving support of his parents, and was strengthened by his emerging powers. Everyone got mad from time to time, but he above all others knew how dangerous giving into those feelings could be. He had the power to move mountains if he so desired — what would stop him from doing harm to the innocents of Metropolis if he lost his temper? His even temperament was all that kept that awesome power in check, but tonight it had cracked.

One little fire, he had told himself. One little fire to one little warehouse could do so much. Luthor wouldn't be ruined, but he would definitely suffer because of it. What was the harm? What was the harm in hooking up with that woman over an extended period of time if it meant that Lex Luthor wouldn't be endangering any more innocent people? It was so very tempting to let that seed of hatred he had toward Lex Luthor grow and prosper. But as he tried to justify going along with her, his mind finally came back to the fact that arson was wrong. He had been raised better than that, and the thought of what his father would say to him if he even knew that Clark was thinking about partnering with this madwoman was more than enough to stop him cold. Giving in to the hatred he felt inside, no matter how pleasurable it sounded, would be just as wrong as anything that Luthor had done to him. What the woman had suggested was illegal, what she had already done was illegal, and she needed to be arrested.

Clark had turned her down in no uncertain terms, using the cool professionalism that Superman was famous for. But the fact that he had hesitated before doing so bothered him still, even several hours later. He was angry with the woman for having the gall to try and persuade him, but he was even more angry with himself. Why had he even allowed himself to be persuaded? Was he going soft? It was very possible, given his frustration with Luthor's tests and at the state of his relationship with Lois. No matter what kind of fa‡ade that Clark put on while in uniform, Superman was still able to feel deeply, and that made him vulnerable.

Clark quickly spun into jeans and a t-shirt and walked into the living room, slumping down onto the couch. What if the day came when he and Lois finally broke up? Clark knew that his heart would be broken, that he would be in the depths of despair, and that he would probably take refuge from the pain in his life by donning the blue spandex and taking to the skies. Heaven forbid the criminal that should cross the lovesick Superhero. If the woman in black were to find him on that day, half the buildings in Metropolis owned by the third richest man in the world would end up being nothing but charcoal.

Maybe he was being a little bit melodramatic, Clark conceded. That tended to happen when he thought of the consequences of things, but he figured it was always better to be overly cautious. And caution would be what he needed from here on out. He would also need to be more vigilant when it came to protecting the city from those who wished to do it harm. He never liked letting criminals go free, but when given a choice of whether to apprehend someone guilty of what amounted to vandalism or saving countless lives at the scene of an accident, there was no comparison.

In retrospect, he didn't know why he hadn't bothered to x- ray into the darkness and get a good look at the face of the woman in black. Maybe it was the certainty that he would be taking her to the authorities, maybe it was pure arrogance on his part. Either way, when the call for help had come, he had had to let her go. As he had embarked on the rescue, his mind kept coming back to what the woman had said to him, and he found it harder and harder to concentrate on the task at hand. He had to fight to keep his wits about him until he was finally able to come home and process the whole situation.

His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. With a grunt, Clark forced himself off the couch. "Hello?" he said, trying to banish his dark thoughts and sound like his normal self. He hoped for a moment that Lois was on the other end of the line. Given what had happened to him since their shortened date, he would like nothing better than to talk with her about the mundane things they always discussed when together. Even with the problems between them, nobody could bring him out of a bad mood better than Lois.

Those thoughts were quickly dashed as he heard the voice that greeted him. "Kent, Henderson here," a deep male voice said, and Clark's heart sank. Bill Henderson was one of the few connections that Clark had managed to procure within the Metropolis Police Department. They had met on a case during Clark's first month on the job, and had quickly formed a friendship based on mutual respect. Most of their contact, however, was focused around work, and if Henderson was calling at this time of night, there was only one thing it could be.

"Hi, Bill. What's up?" Clark asked, determined not to let his disappointment show in his voice.

"I got a tip here that I thought you might want to hear about, seeing as have been writing about Superman more than anyone else at that paper."

Clark opened his mouth to defend himself, but stopped. He had deliberately tried to distance his Superman persona from Clark Kent, but that didn't stop him from writing the occasional article about his alter ego. As much as he had tried to vary who he talked to, it was apparent that he was perceived as being THE person who wrote about the hero. He would definitely have to do something about that in the next few weeks. But, at the moment, it might be to his benefit. If Henderson had a tip relating to Superman, Clark most certainly would prefer to hear it before it got published in the Daily Planet. "Go on," he said, suddenly anxious.

"We got this unmarked envelope delivered to the station tonight — apparently someone dropped it off at the front desk while the receptionist was away. Anyway, inside it details the causes for the recent heat wave, and gives the location of items that would serve as proof of their theory. I had my boys look into it, and the theory seems to be spot on."

"So what does it say about Superman?" Clark asked. He caught himself holding his breath in anticipation as he waited for the answer. Media frenzy had been worked up over the heat wave, and it had quickly become obvious to Clark that someone was trying to make it appear as if Superman were the cause of it. He knew, of course, that those claims were patently false. The times in which he publicly used his powers were only a fraction of his overall use of them. He used his gifts to do such mundane things as shave and cook and read every day, but that was hardly common knowledge. When he used them as Superman, though, he attracted reporters like flies, and the things he did inevitably made it on the local news every night. A careful study of the heat wave data showed that the temperature spiked when Superman used his powers, but it had been easy to see that there had been no spike when Clark used his powers discreetly, while not wearing the suit.

As much as Clark wanted to exonerate himself, he couldn't exactly present his proof to the public. In recent days, the citizens of Metropolis had grown parched, and had naturally become incensed, to the point that the mayor had ordered Superman not to use his powers at all. Even facing the risk of jail, Clark couldn't help himself. He had to help. The ultimatum had only come down today, and Clark had half expected to see officers waiting for him tonight, ready to take him away as he finished his rescue mission, but they hadn't come. Yet.

"Superman apparently has no part in this at all. Seems that the Lexcorp nuclear plant had been leaking radiation into the city aqueduct, superheating the whole town," Henderson answered. Clark couldn't help but smile at the fact that he could relax a little when he went out in public as Superman. But the fact that Lexcorp was openly involved in all this took that smile away almost before it had a chance to completely form. Luthor was becoming more bold in his ploy to get rid of Superman, to the point that he wasn't even trying to cover up his involvement anymore. It was disturbing to think that Luthor would sacrifice the water supply of the city to try and capture Clark's attention, but he supposed it could end up being a blessing in disguise. The paper trail to Luthor was becoming more and more concrete. Maybe, just maybe, the man could finally be put away.

"I'll be right down," Clark said, and then hung up the phone. This night hadn't been a total loss after all, he thought. Things could only look up from here, especially when he brought this new batch of evidence to Lois.


A wisp of smoke billowed into the air, swirling in the outtake of breath before fading away. The aroma it held was pungent, summoning the feeling of power, a feeling that Lex Luthor was all too familiar with. His whole essence of being exuded power, and he tried at every turn to make others see that. It was the little things he did and said, the veiled threats intermixed with compliments, the trophies of his conquests that adorned his office, all of it combined to give visitors a true sense of just who was in charge. He didn't become the third richest man in the world by resting on his laurels, he did it by kicking and biting and clawing his way to the top. And by vanquishing his enemies.

It could be said that business was a war, and to the victor of that war went the spoils. No war was won without going on the offensive, and in the process Luthor knew that he had stepped on some very large toes. But he had always been very careful to know intimately about those he was dealing with, and he had made sure to ally only with those that would increase his status. All others were disposable, especially those who would seek to do him harm. Throughout the years he had weeded out many undesirables, both within his company and without, to the point that nobody now would dare to defy him. At least, almost nobody would defy him.

The one large exception to this rule was a single arsonist, whose crimes had cost him progressively more time and money as the years had gone by. Their activities had been small at first, barely registering on his radar and certainly not meriting any attention on his part. But the minor vandalism and theft at his lesser subsidiaries had turned into full- scale arson, destroying whole buildings. Every couple months another of his businesses would go up in flames, and valuable resources would be lost. In the grand scheme of things, the losses were relatively minor. The employees could be moved, the research could be recreated, and the equipment could be replaced, but it was the principle of it that really got on his nerves. By not capturing this person long ago, they had become bolder and more visible, their activities eventually garnering a mention on the evening news. All of Metropolis could see the damage this person was repeatedly doing, and the name Lex Luthor lost its fear and stigma with every mention of this person's activities. The longer Lex let them continue, the more the public mocked him, and with each damning word, his enemies gained confidence. He could see the influence he had lost just by looking in the eyes of the people he met with, by seeing the way they conducted themselves while in his presence. This arsonist would no longer be allowed to hold this power over him, not if he had anything to say about it.

Of course, he supposed that the arsonist was only half of his current problem. The other half from all appearances seemed like some strange cartoon, some freak of nature that could only exist in fiction, but he was all too real, and he was a persistent thorn in Luthor's side. The Man of Steel had seemed innocent enough upon their first encounter. It was hard to believe that someone with such sickeningly pristine values could be so tough, but Superman was proving to be quite the challenge. He had already shown that he had the stomach to stand up in the face of Luthor's threats, and he had proven to have a cool head in the face of overwhelmingly negative public opinion. Superman was the type of adversary that Lex had always almost hoped would come along, the type that would prove to be a challenge, of not his equal. It would be interesting indeed to engage in a continuing battle of wits with this extraordinary man, to flex his mental muscles and finally make use of all the resources that he had at his command. It would probably take years of engagement with Superman before Lex could rid himself of that problem. The arsonist, though, could be dealt with in a much more immediate fashion.

It was apparent that the person setting the fires, whoever they were, had access to inside knowledge that only Lex and his close associates should possess. This person always seemed to hit him at the location that was most critical to him at the time of the attack. But how had they gotten the information, he wondered. To find his leak, Lex had concocted a story about some personal belongings, ones that were supposedly quite valuable to him, that were to be stored in one of his warehouses in a very low rent part of town. The story, in varying forms, had been leaked to a few of his inner circle, and the waiting had begun. The game was afoot, and Lex couldn't help but enjoy the feeling of imminent conquest that it gave him. The excitement of the hunt was one of man's basic pleasures, and even multi- billionaires were allowed to enjoy it.

Leaning back in his overstuffed leather chair, Lex took a long drag on his cigar, relishing the taste. As he let his breath out again, he heard a soft, distinctive knock on the door.

"Enter," he said, not bothering to put on his usual airs for his guest.

Nigel St. John had been Lex's personal assistant for almost a decade, and he had proven himself to be quite ruthless and cunning. Indeed, Nigel had many personality traits that Luthor admired, the types of traits that made him glad that Nigel was on his team. And the man did good work.

As Lex regarded his assistant, he couldn't help but notice the uncharacteristic smile that was present on his face. "You have good news for me, I take it?" Lex asked, momentarily curious.

Nigel didn't answer, instead placing a series of photographs on the desk in front of him employer. "What are these?" Lex asked, leaning in to take a look. He shot an amused look toward Nigel, who merely bowed his head toward the awaiting photographs. The pictures were rather fuzzy, but Lex could easily tell that they showed a woman, and a very striking one at that. Her features were delicate, although there was a look of hardness on her face that Lex couldn't help but appreciate. He ran his finger over her cheek and let it linger there, before sorting through the rest of the photographs.

"These are from the new security cameras you had installed at the warehouse," Nigel said as Lex looked through the pictures a second time.

Lex stopped suddenly and gave Nigel a startled look. "This beautiful creature is our firebug?" he asked.

"Indeed," Nigel responded, causing a smile to form on Lex's lips. Under any other circumstances, he might be tempted to pursue someone like this. If she was bold enough to enter his buildings like she did, then she was obviously a woman after his own black heart. But as it was, she represented a challenge to him, and as such had to be done away with.

"These seem to be fairly well defined," Lex said, setting the pictures back on the desk.

Without missing a beat, Nigel nodded his head once. "I already have my men on it. They're searching the databases to match a name to the face."

A smile crept across Lex's face as he leaned back in his chair once again. "Take care of her," he said, the waved his hand to dismiss his manservant. It truly was a shame that a beauty like hers had to be disposed of, but that was the cost of business. Nobody crossed Lex Luthor without paying the price, and she was about to find that out.


Lois entered her office and closed the door behind her, enjoying the orangish hue that the sun cast over the interior. It was cheery and bright, a perfect match to her mood, she thought as she placed the morning edition of the Daily Planet on her desk.

"Heat Wave Broken, Superman Exonerated," the headline screamed. That alone was enough to make Lois smile, but the byline had been what had truly made her sunny mood. That Clark should get the story was only right, considering how much he knew about the evil that was Lex Luthor. Indeed, the story hadn't been overly kind to Luthor, although the billionaire, in typical fashion, had denied any knowledge of the malfunction that had caused the heat wave to happen in the first place. Clark needed to be properly congratulated, Lois thought with a smile. Yes, there would definitely be a celebration tonight, and she would do everything in her power to make sure that he didn't run out on her this time.

Lois spent the next few minutes skimming the stories in the paper, making her usual mental notes about when Lex Luthor would be where. Although she didn't have any plans to pursue him this fine day, it was just habit to mentally track him. Hopefully it would be a habit that wouldn't be needed in the near future, especially if her evidence came together like she hoped it would. She could stand to spend a few more hours investigating the power plant debacle and tracing the path to her nemesis, but morning was the time that she worked for her paying clients, and plenty of work awaited her.

With a sigh, Lois began to tackle the mountain of paper that rested on her desk. The work was interesting, she supposed, and it paid the bills, but at least part of her mind would always be at work on the case that was the center of her existence, whether she liked it or not. She never let it interfere with the quality of the rest of her work, though. The minutes passed rapidly as she worked, the progress of time easily shown by the shifting shadows on the floor.

Just as the sun began to slip behind the skyscraper across the street, the phone in her office rang. Lois grabbed for the receiver quickly and tucked it between her ear and her shoulder while she continued to work.

"Yeah," she said, impatient. Her secretary knew better than to bother her while working, and her sister had no reason to call. As Lois waited for the response, she began to mentally formulate the speech she would give her interrupter, chastising them for needlessly interrupting her.

The only thing that greeted her, however, was what sounded like heavy breathing. "Hello?" Lois asked again, her anger building. Leave it to a crank caller to somehow find her number out of all those in Metropolis. "Who is this?" she demanded after a moment, not bothering to conceal the edge in her voice.

More heavy breathing came over the line in response. "Listen, I don't know who you think you are…" Lois started, before she heard someone speak her name on the other end. She could barely hear it over her own speaking, but the voice certainly didn't sound familiar.

"Excuse me?" she said, feeling her anger slip away. The voice might not have been familiar, but it did sound raspy, anguished, in pain. Her mind began to review who all had her office phone number, but she could only think of three names: her secretary, Lucy, and Clark. If anything were to happen to any of them…well, she didn't even want to think about how she'd feel.

"Lois," she heard again, and suddenly the voice was familiar. "Help…"

"Lucy?" Lois yelped over the phone, but she could hear the receiver being dropped. "Lucy!" she yelled, but she received no response. Bolting out of the chair, Lois slammed the phone into its cradle and quickly located her purse before making a beeline for the door. Her secretary looked confused as Lois ran down the hallway, but Lois knew she didn't have time to stop for anything. Lucy was in trouble, and she had to get home as soon as possible.

The cab ride home seemed interminably long, although the cabbie lived up to the reputation of cabbies everywhere, weaving in and out of traffic in a way that would normally cause Lois to fear for her life. Now she just wished he would go faster. Lucy could be dying on the floor of their brownstone right now, but there was absolutely nothing Lois could do until she got there. She hoped against hope that Lucy had the foresight to call 911 before calling Lois, but something deep inside Lois doubted that. She never wished she had a cellular phone more in her life, and she vowed that she would get one just as soon as she could.

Her mind kept rerunning the phone call, and she couldn't help but think of what it meant for her, for Lucy, and for the future that she had planned and re-planned. She also wondered why it had happened at all, and how, and whether it was the cosmos trying to punish her yet again. Lois had never been a religious person. Indeed, she had always felt abandoned by God. Surely a good and loving God wouldn't have taken her parents, wouldn't have let her and Lucy suffer as much as they had. Many a night had gone by during her childhood that she had silently cursed His name, but now she turned inward, closing her eyes and putting her hands together, summoning the strength to ask His help in this one thing. She knew that she hardly qualified for any help from above, especially after being less than virtuous her entire adult life, but she swore to whoever would listen that she would change. If Lucy turned out okay, she would never so much as think a dark thought again.

As she opened her eyes, she saw the brownstone looming in the distance. From all outward appearances, there didn't seem to be anything wrong. It could be encouraging, she supposed, but it also meant that Lucy hadn't phoned the paramedics. As soon as the cab came to a stop, Lois flung the fare and a generous tip at the driver and quickly got out. She was running as soon as her feet hit the pavement, and she didn't break stride as she entered through the unlocked door. In the foyer she made herself stop. There were probably a half dozen phones throughout the house, and Lucy could be at any one of them. She needed to be methodical, yet quick as she searched the house. Taking a large breath Lois took a long stride toward the closest possible room, then stopped. A large pool of red spread out across the hardwood floor, and it stretched around the corner, out of her line of sight. It was hard to estimate how much blood it was exactly, but it was certainly a lot. She had never seen so much in her life, and she had hoped that she never would. If there was blood, it could mean only one thing, she thought as she steadied herself. She tried to swallow, but she found that her throat had seized up. With a mental nudge, she made herself move forward, toward the sight that she knew was there, but she didn't want to see.

She had to reach out for the wall as she saw the whole scene for the first time. She opened her mouth to scream, but all that came out was a squeak. All at once she felt sick and weak, and the room started to spin around her. At the center of it all was her sister, bloodied and battered, lying on the floor beside the phone that she had used to summon Lois. Lois's eyes were intrinsically drawn to Lucy's face, and she was surprised how peaceful it looked. Her sister was always an angel, the pretty and virtuous one in the family. She was such a wonderful person, and she probably could've truly made something for herself. Lois couldn't bear to think of the nieces and nephews she would no longer have, of the heartfelt conversations that would've been, and of the smile that would no longer comfort the lost and lonely soles of Metropolis.

The distant chirp of the phone finally caught Lois's attention drawing her out of her funk. As her eyes were drawn toward it, her brain kicked in again, reminding her that it was entirely possible that her sister was still alive, and that if she was, she needed an ambulance pronto. Without further hesitation, she reached out for the receiver, gently nudging it out of her sister's hand. She dialed 911 and spoke calmly to the operator, trying to maintain the cool, public exterior that she always held. But as she hung up the phone and placed it gently back on the table, she felt her legs go weak.

Before she could blink, Lois was on her knees, kneeling beside her sister. The tears welled up in her eyes as she reached out toward Lucy, laying a shaky hand on her forehead and wiping away a stray lock of hair. Her skin felt so clammy, Lois thought. It was almost cool to the touch, a sure sign that Lucy was probably, well…Lois let out a sob as her mind finally let out the thought that she hadn't wanted to hear. Dead. Lucy was probably already dead.

Lois crumpled in on herself, not caring about the sticky wetness that was beginning to soak through her clothes. She didn't think it was possible to feel such hurt again, but it seemed she was wrong. The sobs turned into wails, and Lois held nothing back as she let her pain consume her. For a moment she tried to convince herself that she was in the middle of some horrible nightmare, that she would wake up any moment and everything would be okay, but the sensations she felt, the salty taste of her tears, the coolness of the blood soaking through her clothes, the smell…it was too real to be a dream.

As Lois cried, she placed her forehead on her sister's arm, trying to feel her for the last time, to feel that connection that they once had. She opened her eyes, the tears obscuring her vision, and asked herself when the last time was that she had told Lucy she loved her. That was the one thing she had always regretted about her parents' death, the fact that she never had a chance to tell them how much she truly loved them before they left her. Lois turned her head and looked up toward Lucy's face. "I love you sis, you know that," she said, although she was sure that the words were unintelligible through her sobs. Lucy just stared heavenward, calm, at peace. Lois sniffed and turned her head, trying to locate Lucy's hand so that she could hold it until the paramedics came.

Lois looked down the perfect, untouched arm, and for the first time noticed something strange. Lucy's hand wasn't empty. While she had reached out with her other hand for the phone, apparently Lucy had clutched something with this one. Curious, Lois lifted her head studied the object, a photograph. It was a medium sized black and white picture, and the image was rather grainy, but as Lois looked more closely at it, she could make out a shadowy female form. In fact, she thought as she pulled the picture away from Lucy, it looked a lot like her.

It felt suddenly as if someone had stolen all the heat away from the room. Lois felt her eyes go wide as she recognized herself, apparently in the warehouse from the night before. She had been her usual careful self when it came to handling the security system, but apparently Luthor had hidden a new series of cameras. He must've tried to match a name to a face, and it led him here…

The sadness and the tears, the incredible pain and anguish became very distant emotions, overtaken by an overwhelming sense of anger. Lex Luthor had come to kill her. The man who had taken her parents, who had caused her so much torment throughout the years, had now taken her sister as well. The fringes of her vision pulsed red as she let the hatred course through her. She closed her eyes to try and calm herself, but she could feel the anger swirling out of her grasp. Maybe the best thing to do would be to just embrace it once and for all, she thought. Let the anger take control and deal with the man who was the root of her problem. That notion had a certain amount of appeal, she had to admit. Let it go. Give in.

As she opened her eyes again, Lois felt herself finally let go, she let her mind embrace the dark thoughts that had overtaken it. The minutes and hours that followed were barely more than a blur. As if watching the world go by through frosted glass windows, she could vaguely tell that she had ridden in an ambulance, been looked over by a doctor horrified about all the blood on her, wandered away from the hospital toward her office. It didn't even register when she reached into her safe and pulled out the gun that was inside. It was only there for self protection, and she had never intended to ever use it for any other purposes, but today was different. She knew subconsciously why she had taken out the gun, and she knew where she was going to go next. But she really didn't care anymore. The anger was guiding her every moment, and she had no control. It would be done tonight, all of it.

If the Lois Lane that was now in charge of her mind had its say, Lex Luthor would die tonight. The Lois that sat behind the invisible mental divide, the compassionate Lois, the Lois who would never hurt anyone, found that she didn't really mind the prospect. But she knew she had no say anymore, so she closed herself off again, thinking thoughts of happier times. They had been few and far between, but they had been special nonetheless. Now they would be gone for good. And so would Luthor.


The feeling of a hand hitting his shoulder drew Clark's attention away from the article that he had been working on. He looked around to see who the source of the distraction was, and was surprised to see Perry White hovering over him. The gruff editor usually spent the large part of his day holed up in his office, pouring over articles or talking on the phone to the powers that be. When he entered the newsroom, it was generally to rally the troops, to put the fear of God in the reporters that worked under him. As Clark looked at him now, though, he didn't see the Perry that he knew and respected. The smile on his face was enough to render Clark speechless for a moment, and he found himself staring dumbly up at Mr. White, waiting for the smile to fade and a lecture to spew forth about the benefits of diligence and hard work.

What he got instead was a chuckle and a squeeze of his shoulder. "Son, I just came down to say that the story you did on the heat wave was a great piece of reporting."

"Thank you, Mr. White," Clark started, but stopped as Perry shook his head.

"Confound it, son, call me Perry."

Clark felt the tension drain out of his body as a smile finally found its way onto his face. "Okay…Perry."

"That's more like it," Perry said, and Clark could hear the teasing tone in his voice. He had heard whispers about this side of his boss, but he had never given them any credence before. Perry White, they had said, was nothing but a big teddy bear once you managed to get underneath that tough exterior. In years gone by, he had served as a father figure to the interns and wayward souls, but Clark had never seen that, before now.

"I was impressed, and it takes a lot to impress me. Since you started here at the Planet, you've bagged some pretty big scoops, and you've been very professional."

"Thank…" Clark started again, but Perry held up a finger.

"You don't have to thank me, you earned it. I think you've also earned the right to move up the ladder a little bit, to be assigned to some of our ongoing investigative efforts. One of those is on your pal Luthor."

At the mention of the name, the smile immediately fell from Clark's face. He knew the Planet had run some articles on Lex, and he knew they had a fairly good amount of research on the man, but he had no idea that there was an ongoing investigation. "You've been investigating Luthor?" he asked, curious as to what the story was behind the Planet's investigation. He had considered Lois to be fairly alone in her mistrust of the billionaire, at least until he came along to help with her investigation. But if the Planet was also following him, then it seemed that maybe Luthor had ruffled more feathers than Clark had previously thought.

Perry shrugged and looked around before hunching over. "I guess you could say that we aren't, at least not officially," he said, his voice nearly a whisper. "A man can't help but notice some of the strange things that happen when he's around. This has mostly been my baby, you understand, just because I can't trust that there isn't someone around here taking kickbacks from him." Perry straightened up and cleared his throat, straightening out his coat before reassuming his gruff editor fa‡ade.

"Anyway, Clark, I want you to represent the Planet at Lex Luthor's charity auction tonight," Perry said. "You can mingle, meet some of his associates, maybe get an interview with the richest man you'll probably ever see." Perry winked as he spoke, and Clark found himself blinking a few times as he stared up at his boss, trying to decipher the double meaning. From everything Perry had said, and even more from what he HADN'T said, Clark got the feeling that his own harshness toward Luthor hadn't gone unnoticed by Mr. White. He had earned his editor's trust, which in and of itself said a lot. What Perry was doing was giving Clark the opportunity to expand on what he already knew, this time on the clock, and ultimately to write about it in the Planet. Clark couldn't think of anything he'd like more.

Well, maybe he could think of something. Immediately the face of Lois Lane pooped into his head, and he found his smile returning. Usually on the night following a front page headline with his byline, they would celebrate, and tonight was one of those nights. If he said no to Perry's offer, a night of dinner and a movie, of pleasant cuddling and conversation, would be his. But if he said yes, he knew he would have Lois's blessing. After all, she more than anyone else knew that Lex Luthor had to be stopped. She would probably welcome any information he could get, matching it with tidbits from her own research, like she had always done before. Yes, it was the right thing to do, he was sure.

"I'd be honored, Chief," he said with a smile, earning one from Perry in return. The two exchanged knowing looks for a few long moments, then Perry nodded, removed his hand from Clark's shoulder, and returned to his office. Clark leaned back in his chair and bit his lip, lost in thought. There were so many ways that he could approach the meeting that night, so many things he could say or do. It was an intriguing challenge, and he found himself becoming anxious for the night to come.

First, however… He stole a glance at the phone, then picked it up, dialing the number that he knew so well. As the phone on the other end kept ringing, he began to frown. Lois usually picked it up promptly, so the delay must mean that she was off somewhere. Her being away from her office might not be entirely unusual, but coupled with the fact that it was the day of a big headline and she still hadn't made planes for celebration yet made the situation somewhat unusual. What had happened to her? Where had she disappeared to this time?

The phone rang a half dozen times before being answered. "Miss Lane's office," the voice on the other end said, and he immediately matched it to Lois's secretary.

"Is Lois in?" Clark asked, his brow knitted together in concern. He should know better than to worry about her. If nothing else, Lois was an independent woman, and she always bristled when she thought he was being overprotective of her. But caring for others was in his nature, and Lois was special to him in a way that nobody else had ever been. She really didn't mind his concern as much as he let on, he could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice when she would chide him for it. And as overprotective as he wanted to be, he always managed to practice restraint. He had never given in to the temptation to follow her at night, to make sure that she was safe. She would be just fine, he knew. She always was. And she would be now, too. But that didn't mean that he couldn't worry at least a little bit.

"No, she's not. She left pretty suddenly about an hour ago, and I haven't seen her since. I can tell her you called," the secretary said. She didn't sound overly concerned, but she was famous for being very levelheaded. In that respect, she was suited for being the secretary of someone who gets scores of angry phone calls from those on the wrong side of her research.

Clark bit his lip, pondering his course of action. He could try and find Lois, incurring her wrath and accusations of being a first class worrywart, or he could leave a message and wait. Given those choices, he supposed it was best to just let Lois contact him when she was ready. It wasn't as if what he had to say was too important, anyway.

"Thank you," Clark said, then hung up. Leaning back in his chair, he briefly wondered again what she was up to. Knowing Lois, she was probably in the middle of some heavy investigation. There was probably a certain amount of danger involved, as there always seemed to be with her work, but he was sure she was fine. No reason to worry at all, he thought as he got back to his work.


Lois walked unseeingly through the hallway of the hotel until she came to the door to the room she had rented for the night. She inserted the key card in the slot and quickly removed it, then yanked on the handle of the door and pushed it open. The d‚cor was opulent, to say the least, fit for a millionaire. She had probably spent way too much money on the room, but the thought hadn't occurred to her. All that she had thought of as she had stood at the hotel front desk was finding somewhere where she could see him. That was all that mattered tonight.

The schedule of Luthor's events that she had glanced at ever so briefly that morning had been repeating itself over and over in her head all day, the words turning into a reassuring back beat, soothing the part of her consciousness that still clung to reality. All other thoughts merely played behind the cacophony. Noon, the Metropolis Auto Show, Exhibit Hall. Two o'clock, Metropolis Businessman's Luncheon, Metropolis Yacht Club. Eight PM, charity auction to benefit the Luthor's children's charities, the Metropolis Diamond Hotel, upper conference room. Eight o' clock…

The golden rays of the sun streamed into the windows of the ornately decorated room, and Lois found herself gravitating toward them. As she approached them, she had to shield her eyes from the glare off the stainless steel of the sign on the elegant building across the street. She looked up toward the ceiling and saw the whitish outline of a "d", only one letter emitting the horrendous glare. One would think that the sign from the Metropolis Diamond Hotel itself was made of diamonds, but she knew it wasn't. Steeling herself against the onslaught of the light, she looked at the building across the street, her mind quickly showing her which set of windows belonged to the ballroom in question.

The room she was in provided a great line of sight, she decided. Just as the clerk had said it would. She could see the round tables set out in the room, maroon napkins set around it set out as little fans. Maroon, the color of blood.

Lois banished the thought as she sank down stiffly into one of the chairs. Rage was her only thought now, anger was her only emotion. As the sound of silence enveloped her, she let those thoughts and feelings thrive, drawing her strength from them. The weight of her purse, enhanced by the firearm within, pressed reassuringly into her lap. It was a long time until eight, but that wouldn't phase her. When Lex Luthor walked into the room across the street, she would be here waiting for him, ready to take the step that she should've taken a long time ago. Until then, she would wait.


Clark placed the phone back in its holster, wondering yet again where Lois had gone off to. He'd tried her office a couple more times throughout the day, and he left several messages on her answering machine at home, but he had yet to hear anything from her at all. The small kernel of worry he held for her earlier was beginning to grow, and he was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't just ditch the Luthor charity auction and try to find her. But he should have no real reason to worry, he told himself. If he still didn't hear from her tomorrow, maybe he should start searching for her. But until then, he had a job to do.

With a deep breath, Clark forced a smile onto his face. He walked over to the bathroom and glanced at his reflection in the mirror, trying to compare his appearance to what he knew Luthor was expecting. Surely the reporters that Luthor had met before had been very deferential, probably almost timid, awed by the legend that the billionaire represented. Clark knew that he could be none of those, especially knowing what he thought he did about the man. He had seen the calculated coolness in Luthor's eyes when confronted, and had easily been able to feel the evil radiating from him. Clark knew that he wouldn't be able to help but feel confident and bold when around Luthor, and that could be a problem. Luthor had no way of knowing that they had met before, albeit under different circumstances. And Clark had no intention of giving away that fact, either through what Luthor would find to be a overly contemptuous expression on Clark's face, or through knowledge that Clark had no right possessing. So he would have to make every effort to be the somewhat awed and naive reporter, as much as the thought pained him.

He had to admit that he at least looked the part. The tuxedo was a rental, one of the last ones the shop had. It didn't quite fit as well as it could — the shirt, which had to be large enough to fit over his broad shoulders, was a little baggy around the stomach. The pants had needed to be hemmed up a little, but that was no problem. Clark hadn't had time to trim his hair lately, either, so it hung over his ears, looking a little scruffy, especially by the standards of upper society. The final effect, though, was his smile. Through no fault of his own, something about the way he smiled just seemed to scream, "farmboy." Clark wouldn't have said he possessed such a quality before he moved to Metropolis, but the more he hung out with Lois, and the more she had teased him about that very thing, the more he had been able to see it for himself. He supposed that it was something that he would have to work on in the future, but for the time being, the, "aw shucks," quality of his grin would do quite nicely.

Clark straightened his tie and stood up straight, giving himself a last once-over before tuning off the light and exiting the bathroom. Tonight's transportation would be via the air, for the sake of convenience. Nobody there would even know who he was, so they shouldn't care how he had arrived, and that was definitely for the best. It also gave him the freedom to leave if an emergency came up. He tried not to leave work assignments if at all possible, especially not ones with the potential to be as important as this one could be, but if it meant saving lives, he would do it in a second. The suit, however, would have to be put in a safe place for the night.

He made his way to the front door and made sure it was locked before heading to the balcony and taking off into the cloudless night sky. It felt odd flying around while not in uniform, he thought. It was strange how easily he had stepped into his new persona, how quickly he had grown comfortable with the side of himself that he had tried so hard for so long to hide. With all the publicity that Superman had received of late, Clark had started guarding his privacy more closely, making sure to further separate the Superman side of himself from the Clark side. He never flew incognito anymore, there was no reason to. But tonight he couldn't exactly wear the suit, not under the thin white shirt that he had on as part of the tuxedo. He could stuff it in the jacket pocket, and he could wear the tights, he supposed. But the last thing he wanted was for it to become visible sometime during the evening, revealing everything to Luthor. No, the suit would stay in its hiding spot, and if an emergency were to come up, he supposed it would take another two or three seconds for him to reach it. That kind of delay could be huge, especially if it meant saving lives, but it was a risk he was willing to take in order to keep his identity safe.

Clark quietly landed in a dark alley near the Metropolis Diamond Hotel, scanning the area closely to make sure that he wasn't seen. Luckily, the weather was turning a little too cool for the vagrants to be spending their nights in the alleys anymore. He put a large smile on his face as he entered the hotel and made his way to the ballroom, fourteen stories up. He heard the steady chatter of voices as he approached the room, he could smell the liquor that was quite obviously present in large quantities. As he entered the room, he couldn't help but be impressed by the show of money that was being made. Women wore diamond necklaces that probably cost more money than he would ever see in his lifetime. The finest designers in the world were represented through the clothing designs. And the items that lined the back table were probably the most expensive items in the room.

Clark made the rounds, drawing on the social skills that he had cultivated during his travels in Europe. The stories he heard were interesting, the women he saw, beautiful. But he always kept one eye on Lex Luthor, tuning in his special hearing from time to time in hopes of hearing some tidbit of conversation that Luthor hadn't wanted anyone to hear. But as Luthor stepped up to the podium situated near the windows, he had to concede that he had not had much success.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Luthor starting, radiating charm. "I would like to welcome you to this special event…"

The words were meaningless, Clark thought as he slipped toward the back of the crowd. Nothing Luthor said at that podium would be sincere. It would be best to fade into the background and wait until later, when he could get a one on one interview with him. As Luthor continued on, Clark found himself staring past him, out the bank of windows, toward the hotel across the street. It was the Regent, the second swankiest hotel in town, following the one he was now standing in. He supposed that if he dropped his usual rules and took a peek inside, he would be able to see celebrities, the rich and famous, people who were known throughout the world. But he was far too modest to do that. All the same, he found himself gazing through the parted curtains of some of the rooms, taking in the opulence that was bordering on ostentatious.

It was then that he saw a flash of silver. It was just the barest glint against the dark of the exterior, but he knew what it was right away. His eyes quickly found the source, and he felt them go wide with shock. A gun was being pointed out one of the windows, aimed right at the back of Lex Luthor. Clark started inching his way toward the door, hoping desperately that his movement didn't catch the eye of the billionaire. Being caught sneaking out of the keynote address would certainly be a bad first impression to make. But right now, Clark supposed that was less important than keeping Luthor alive.

The irony of the situation hit Clark as he finally reached the door. He was here to cover Luthor, ultimately hoping to find some tidbit of information that would put him behind bars, and possibly even send him to the electric chair. Yet he was trying to save Luthor's life right now all the same. There was no mystery in that, he supposed. If Luthor was going to die, it was not going to be because of a failure of Clark to act, it would be as a consequence of his own actions. No matter what Clark felt about the man, there was no way that he could stand idly by and let him be murdered, not if he could do something about it. He exited the room and checked to make sure the halls were empty before shooting through the hotel at superspeed, making his way to the roof and up into the air. As he cleared the hotel, he checked to make sure that nothing had happened before risking a quick trip home to get the suit. It was a dangerous prospect, but he wasn't going to reveal himself to whoever it was with the gun. If he was going to stop the shooting, he was going to do it as the Superhero, and not as someone who had been in the ballroom across the street mere seconds earlier.

He rushed home and changed into the suit, hurrying as much as he dared. He was back at the Regent in under a second, speeding through the building until he reached the room that housed the person with the gun. With a blast of heat vision, he short circuited the electronic lock on the door and entered the room, letting the door gently click shut behind him. The interior of the room was dark, illuminated only by the light from the street below. The soft white glow from the windows cast misshapen rectangles on the walls, giving the whole room an eerie, distorted feel. Silhouetted in the light was the form of a woman, a gun protruding from her hand held steadily out the window, pointed across the street, right at the back of Luthor's head. Clark shifted his gaze toward her darkened form, trying to see who it was that could do such a thing. In his research, he had met a lot of Luthor's former associates, scorned lovers, or wronged employees. Many people in Metropolis held a grudge against Lex Luthor, but as he looked at the dark hair of the woman in front of him, none of them came to mind. Her brunette hair was actually a lot like Lois's. In fact, her outfit was very similar, too. He felt his heart beat faster as his eyes now turned to her neck, where he could see a glint of gold flashing in the sparse light. He followed it down to the front of her shirt, and the round lump underneath the fabric that represented to ring that he had given her that night that now seemed so long ago.

Clark went cold as he let himself fully comprehend the enormity of the situation. He knew Lois Lane, what her thoughts and feelings were, what her desires were, and what was inside her heart. Once or twice, he thought that he might have seen a flash of some deeper pain, some scar that ran deep into her soul, but the glimpses he got had been so fleeting that he had dismissed them without ceremony. When she was around him, even during the bad times, she almost always had a smile on her face, a teasing word for him, a happiness about her that fueled him as well. He could never believe that she was capable of harming anyone else — he didn't even know that she owned a gun. If this was indeed Lois, then something must surely be wrong. She had to be drugged, to be under the control of someone else. It was the only thing that made sense.

Clark slipped sideways into the shadows to ponder his next move. He took a quick glance down at the bright blue spandex and silently cursed the fact that he was here dressed as Superman. They had only met once when he was in this guise, and Lois had no reason to trust him, or to hear him out. Superman would represent a certain trip to the police station; his style of cold, detached justice and the end that it meant for her wouldn't be likely to put him in her good graces. He didn't want to be that person right now. He wanted to be Clark for her. He wanted to appeal to the side of her that held an infectious sense of humor, the side of her that he knew he was one of the very few to ever see. Whatever was wrong with her, whatever had driven her up here, he knew that they could conquer it together if they connected at that level. But it would have to be in the dark, at a distance, detached. Clark wasn't really here, after all, only Superman.

"Lois," he said softly, using his Clark voice. Her head turned, and he could see a chillingly haunted look on her face.

"Clark?" she asked softly. She searched the darkness where he stood, but he knew that her eyes would only be able to see the vague outline of a man. She stared past him as he began to speak again.

"What are you doing here, Lois?" he asked, trying not to let his voice waver. Confronted with the stranger that sat in front of him, he found it increasingly hard to keep his composure.

"He killed Lucy, Clark," she said, causing Clark to take a sharp intake of breath. He didn't know what was worse — the fact that her sister was dead, or the total lack of emotion in her voice as she told him. Her words were flat, dead, and so were her beautiful eyes. Her face maintained a haunting beauty that he was very familiar with, but the spark inside her was gone. He wanted so badly to go up to her and ease away the pain that he knew she must feel, but he couldn't, not so long as she held that gun in her hands.

"I'm so sorry," he said, the tremble finally breaking though. "But it's not worth killing him over." For a moment he wished that she could see the conviction on his face, and the compassion. But for now his words had to suffice.

Her face contorted into a mask of rage as her eyes bored into him. "Isn't it?" she shot at him, her voice harder than he had ever heard it. "He's taken from me everyone I've ever loved before. My mom, my dad, Lucy…" She shook her head as the sneer fell from her face, replaced by intense sadness. A single tear slid down her cheek as her lower lip trembled ever so slightly. Through the darkness she somehow managed to find his eyes, locking into them and forcing him to peer deep into the cold depths of her soul.

"He stole not just my family, but my happiness. Knowing that I could somehow take revenge on him made the pain dull somehow, but now it all seems so useless."

As she spoke, he could feel hurt and pain, the depths of which he had never conceived of before. Her eyes told him just what she had endured, and he felt himself begin to shiver in pure horror. He had known that her parents had been murdered, but she had never told him that she knew the culprit. He supposed that it explained her hatred for Luthor, but what exactly did she mean when she talked about revenge? As he studied her eyes, he began to see flames. Flames licking up to caress the bricks of a warehouse, flames devouring a wooden structure that once housed a lab, flames that burnt and destroyed and consumed. Flames that she had brought to Luthor.

"I had been wrong to think that anything so petty as what I had done would do anything to stop him. There's only one way to stop Lex Luthor, and that's by making sure that he won't be able to live to harm another human being again." The sad conviction that her words had held only moments earlier had worked its way out of her voice, replaced by the emotionless tones that he heard now. The fire that leapt and surged in her eyes died away, until they, too, seemed almost dead.

Clark stared at her, his mouth hanging open, the shock of her revelations causing his usually steady heart to beat rapidly in his chest. Lois was the one who had started those fires, the woman in black who he had confronted last night. He had known for a long time that she had been keeping a secret from him, but he had no idea that it would end up being so profound. Lois was an arsonist. Lois broke the law for her own personal gain. Lois, his Lois, his heart, was a criminal.

The shock dried up as the cold reality of the situation began to sink in. He was Superman, the symbol of truth and justice and all that was good, yet he had given his heart to a woman that, by all rights, should be locked away in jail right now. He shouldn't even be giving her the time of day, yet she had somehow slipped under his radar, fooling him into thinking that she was someone else. Someone virtuous. Someone worth having a relationship with. But he knew for certain now that the Lois he loved was fiction, and he felt his heart begin to shatter. The smiles that warmed his heart, the stories that she told in such a way that they seemed hilariously absurd, the looks of longing that she shared with him, all were false. He had trusted her more than anyone else in his life aside from his parents, and she had betrayed it.

Clark's posture stiffened as he felt all emotion fall away from him. The sadness he had felt vicariously for her was gone. The intense heartbreak that had threatened only moments earlier was only a distant memory, and he felt the core of his existence being hidden away from the world. When bad things happened, Clark had always internalized his emotions to a certain extent, but this was different. He had been so open with her, so comfortable with her, that the prospect of losing that made him shut away that much more of his soul. Now there was just Superman, cold and analytical. The symbol of justice. And justice was what would be done tonight. Maybe it was for the best that he had worn the suit tonight, he thought as he stepped into the light, all too mindful of what the action would mean to Lois. She had made her revelation, and now it was time to make his. The rational part of him told him it was only fair. There was a time when he would wonder what such a revelation would mean to her, what she would think of him if she knew his secret, but he no longer cared. It didn't matter, anyway. Their relationship was over.

"Lois," he said, his voice calm and authoritative. He clenched his jaw and placed his hands on his hips, striking the posed that Superman was famous for. As he gazed at her, he molded his face into an expression that left no doubt that there would be no escaping her fate this time.

She stared at him for a moment, her expression unchanged, before she narrowed her eyes and turned her head ever so slightly. She gazed at his face for what seemed like an eternity, then slowly shifted her attention to his chest. The realization of who and what he was set in slowly, revealing itself in her eyes, which widened as far as he thought they possibly could, before widening even further. Her shoulders hunched over and her chest heaved with heavy intake of breath before she let out a whimper, and the gun, once clenched so tightly in her hands, fell to the ground with a dull clatter.

"Clark…" she whispered, backing hastily toward the wall. The revelation seemed to have jarred her back into reality, chasing away all the bad thoughts that she had once held. In their stead came an irrational, almost child-like fear. In all the scenarios that he had run through in his mind, he had imagined her reaction to the fact that he was Superman to be severe, ranging from anger to hurt to shear disbelief. But never had he envisioned the raw fear that she was feeling. Lois was always such a brave woman, willing to take risks that nobody else was. He didn't think that she was even capable of feeling such fear, but he had been wrong. In revealing himself to her, he had steeled himself against all the expected responses. But the defenses he had erected, the wall that he had put around his compassionate qualities, hadn't been built to withstand the onslaught he was now receiving. Clark closed his eyes to shut the scene away, but that, too, failed to protect him as he heard her begin to sob. If there was one thing in the world he couldn't stand to hear, it was the sound of Lois crying.

He opened his eyes again, and what he saw made his mental barriers crumble for good. Lois had slid down the wall and drawn her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. Her sobs sounded almost desperate as she rocked back and forth, hiding her face from the world. Pity began to well up from inside of him, and he decided that maybe she had suffered enough for one night. He knew that she needed to be brought to the police, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, not now.

Clark crossed the room and stood over, his presence not even registering to her in her present state. He bent down and gently gathered her into his arms, the feel of her body against his causing a tinge of unwanted desire. As soon as she was secure, he took off through the open window, bound for her brownstone. He flew as fast as he dared, the scent of her almost more than he could bear. She made no move to even acknowledge the fact that she was flying in his arms, something that he supposed he was somewhat grateful for. One look from her would probably kill the remaining resolve that he held.

When he finally arrived at her brownstone, he set her gently on the couch in the pitch darkness, wondering momentarily whether it would be worth it to even bother to turn on the lights. In the dark, they were just two random people, unable to see the pain and confusion in each other. They wouldn't have to see the hurt on each others' faces, and they could almost pretend that everything was normal, even though he knew it was far from it. Nothing would ever be normal again.

Clark took a long look around the brownstone, knowing that it would probably be the last time that visited it. Memories of happier times flashed in front of his eyes as he slowly scanned the house, memories of Lois. With a sad smile, he walked back to the window and stepped up on the sill. As he willed himself up into the air, he heard his name being called from across the room. He was about to turn around when he stopped himself. Behind him were the ghosts of the past, the memories of a relationship that just could not be anymore. To turn around would be to embrace the past, to return to his relationship with Lois, to become a part of something that was completely opposed to everything that Superman stood for, and he couldn't do that.

He heard Lois say his name again, and he hung his head and closed his eyes, trying to hold back the surge in emotion. He should just leave, he knew, but something inside him stalled.

"Please don't go," Lois whispered, her voice sounding small and frightened. It took all the willpower Clark had to not go running back to her. No matter how much he tried to steel himself against it, there was no denying the fact that he did have feelings for her, even after knowing that he shouldn't. A love as deep as that he held for her couldn't just be dismissed, no matter how badly he wanted it to be. But the Man of Steel surely could summon the resolve to do what was right, and he needed to find that strength right now.

"I'm sorry," he rasped, the words painful to say. He wanted to give her a proper goodbye, but he didn't think that he could. Ultimately, there would be no way to end their relationship happily, painlessly. His eyes began to mist up as he finally forced himself out the window and into the air, away from Lois, away from the sobs that had started up again at his words. It was for the best, he kept telling himself. It would never work. They were too different. He could find somebody better. Somebody perfect. Someone that made him feel…like Lois always had.


The darkness of the room enveloped Lois like a cocoon, giving her a familiar embrace that had always made her feel better before. The couch that she still lay on was soft against her back, inviting her to fall into a sleep that she desperately needed. But as much as she tried to will herself to pass over into the land of dreams and fantasies, the place where she could forget about all that had happened, she couldn't. Hour after hour, she stared blankly at the ceiling, memories flashing before her eyes as her mind tried to digest the activities of the day.

The memories that she had to choose from were scattered, with most of them lost in a haze on semi-consciousness. She didn't know what exactly had happened, but one second she had been grieving over her sister, and the next she had been sitting in the dark, talking to Clark, a gun in her hand. Even though she hadn't been able to see him, she had known it was Clark, she had felt it. The gentle scent of his aftershave had hung in the air, and the soft tones of his voice were unmistakable. Through the darkness she had connected with his oddly unobstructed eyes, and she had been able to communicate things to him in a way that she had never been able to before. She had been aware of his horror upon seeing the pain she had felt, and later his pity at what Luthor had put her through. She hadn't planned to show him what she had done in retaliation, but she just couldn't stop the images from coming. As they had flashed across their mysterious connection, she had been surprised to feel him retreat from her, to harden up inside. He above all else should understand, and she had thought for certain that he would empathize with her. The fact that he hadn't had taken her off guard, until he stepped into the light.

Only then was her entire consciousness allowed out of its prison. For the longest time she couldn't understand what Superman had to do with all this, why he had appeared in front of her when it was supposed to be Clark that she was seeing. When it finally clicked that he was one and the same person, she felt the final embers of happiness die inside of her. All of the fears that she had held when they had first started dating had turned out to be true. Of course Clark couldn't be with her, because someone like Superman couldn't possibly be in a relationship with a criminal like her.

As she looked at his achingly beautiful face, she finally saw everything that she could never have, and that summoned up all the irrational fears that she had ever held. She had never particularly been afraid of the thought of being alone before; on the contrary, she usually had looked forward to it. But then Clark had come around, and suddenly she found that she would much rather be with him than be alone. When he wasn't there, she somehow felt incomplete. Even through everything that had happened with Luthor, she had counted on Clark to be there in the end, to comfort her, to be her future. Now she was sure that he wouldn't ever be there to share his time with her, and that thought horrified her.

For the second time that day, she found herself overwhelmed with emotions that she had thought were long dormant. The comfortable haze that she had spent most of the day in beckoned, and as she crumpled into a sobbing mass on the floor, she mentally shut herself away. In her inner sanctum, she could pretend that it had all been a dream, that her sister still lived, and that Clark would love her forever and always. She could remain blissfully unaware of the implications of his revelation, choosing instead to pretend that he was as normal as any other man on the street. As his arms wrapped around her, she imagined nights of passion that had never been, the ultimate expression of the love they had held for one another. Even while a small part of her mind told her that they were flying through the air, she ignored it. She ignored everything except for his strong embrace, the feel of his breath on her neck, and the softness of his suit against her cheeks. It had only been when she had felt the couch underneath her that she had allowed herself to come back to the cold reality, and to the sight of Clark's retreating form.

Lying alone in the room where her sister had died, Lois suddenly felt the loneliness that she had been trying to keep at bay take hold. The ghosts of the past were everywhere around her, and she didn't know if she would be able to take it if Clark left. She summoned all the energy she could to call his name, but he didn't immediately respond. Her body went cold with fear as she called out his name again, and as he hung his head, she knew that she had been right to be afraid. He couldn't love her anymore, he didn't love her anymore, and he was going to leave her utterly alone. As she begged him not to leave, her eyes wandered to the other side of the room, to the place where she knew a large crimson spot still remained, a sad reminder of the horror that had taken place a few short hours earlier. That spot would always be stained into the hardwood floors, haunting her, torturing her, and she desperately needed him to help her though it all. But he couldn't even look at her as he said he was sorry, and then he had left, and she had cried until she couldn't cry anymore.

She knew perfectly well that he was really saying goodbye, but she supposed that the words he had used were more appropriate. She was sorry, too, she thought as she shivered on the couch. She was sorry that she had kept pursuing her nighttime hobby, leading to the death of her own sister. She was sorry that she hadn't told him everything about herself earlier. She was sorry that she had even so much as thought about killing Lex Luthor. But what she found she couldn't be sorry about was Clark. She knew she should be bemoaning the fact that she had let herself get swept away by someone that she had known all along would not accept her arson hobby. Nobody should go into a relationship knowing that they would get their heart broken, but she had, and she didn't regret it, not for a second. She wouldn't trade the time that she had spent with Clark for the world, she thought as she reached up to grab the chain that hung around her neck. Clark or Superman, whoever he truly was, had given her a reason to be happy, even if it was for a few months. No, she wasn't sorry for that.

As the room began to lighten ever so slightly, Lois heard sirens far off in the distance. Sirens in Metropolis were certainly not unusual, but these kept growing in intensity, indicating a major emergency somewhere in the city. She had long ago learned to ignore such things, but this time she had to wonder. In times of emergency, the city's famous Superhero almost always showed up to help. He was probably out there right now, she thought, causing her to sit up in surprise. Yes, Superman would be there, and so would the media, most likely. Suddenly she was curious to see the hero in action, if only because she still had a hard time believing that he could be the man that she still loved so deeply.

Lois turned and stood up quickly, rushing to the television. As she turned it on, the phosphorescent glow filled the room, causing her to squint while her eyes adjusted. Flickering images filled the screen, images glowing orange and yellow, colors that were burned indelibly onto her soul. This fire, though, was bigger than anything that she had ever set. As she finally was able to adjust her eyes to the brightness of the room, she could see that a spectacular fire had engulfed one of the city's downtown skyscrapers. Fire trucks were lined up two and three deep in front of the building but they were largely ineffective against the flames that reached at least 30 stories above them. The announcer sounded frantic, and she could see that he wasn't the only one. Mobs of people ran by on the sidewalks, some injured, some healthy, all seemingly in shock. It was truly a terrible scene, but as she watched, the spirit of the crowd seemed to change. A gradual roar came over the crowd, and she could heard clapping as she finally saw Superman, Clark, land on the street next to the firefighters.

Lois dropped to her knees in front of the television, transfixed. It wasn't hard to dredge up the ghosts of her feelings towards Superman. She had always considered him to be handsome, strong, yet she hadn't been able to escape the vague feeling that he was dangerous to her. That was true in more ways than one, she knew now. Ultimately, he was dangerous because he held her heart, and he always would. As she watched, she tried to match those feelings of Superman with the image of Clark that she held, and she had a hard time trying to reconcile them. Clark always held a smile in his eyes, and he always tried to transfer some of that happiness on to her. He would tease her relentlessly, reminding her of nothing so much as a large, playful kid. It was strange how, even after all the time they had spent together and all the evils they had seen in the city, he still held on to his innocence and his unflappably positive attitude. Those were the qualities that made him so charming, and so refreshingly attractive to her. Superman held none of those qualities. His eyes almost never seemed to smile, and he certainly didn't seem innocent at all. He didn't joke, he didn't tease. He was the antithesis of everything Clark was, and Lois supposed that that fact went a long way to explaining why the disguise worked so well. How Clark could transform himself so completely was a mystery to her, but Lois had always known that he had the capability to be strong, courageous, and focused.

As she watched him talking to the firefighters on the television, she could see how fatigued he was. His shoulders were hunched over ever so slightly, and the neutral expression that Superman usually wore had given way to something more grim. She could tell that he was hurting just as much as she was, and that gave her some measure of comfort. He obviously still felt something for her, and that meant that there was still hope, no matter how small that was. She felt herself begin to smile through her tears as she pondered her strategies for capitalizing on that, but the smile fell away as she saw him take off into the air, only to return with an armload of soot-covered people.

As he took off into the air again, Lois felt her mouth going limp. Seeing the personality differences between Superman and Clark were one thing. The physical differences, though, were incredible. That was CLARK who was flying in the air. It was CLARK who could stop bullets, who could lift practically anything, who could burn things just by looking at then. All those things he could do, yet she had never had a clue. His touch was always so soft and light, his kisses firm, but not overly so. She had looked into his eyes countless times and had never seen that spark of red that Superman's eyes always held when he burned something. He looked and felt and sounded so much like an ordinary man, but he was so much more. What would it be like to live with someone who could do everything he could? Did he use his powers around the house, when nobody else was looking? Lois had been to his apartment on many occasions and hadn't seen anything unusual, but that didn't mean anything. He had been so adept at hiding himself that it was probably automatic, and that was part of the problem. Looking at him flying around, it just didn't seem possible that it was Clark under all that blue spandex.

On the television, Superman landed next to an ambulance, cradling a young girl who appeared to be seriously hurt. Lois locked her eyes onto his face, hoping to find that last piece of the puzzle, the one that would put Superman and Clark into one complete person, and as she watched, she was shocked to see that she had found it. She had found her reconciliation in the caring expression of the superhero as he attended to the girl. His eyebrows were knitted together and his mouth hung slightly open, the same expression of concern that Lois had seen on Clark's face a dozen times. Whenever she got too obsessive over Lex Luthor, he would favor her with just that expression, and the caring it held would invariably make her melt.

Lois felt tears begin to well up in her eyes as she reached up, running her fingers along the image of Clark's face on the screen. Even through all the troubles that they had had in their relationship, they had both loved each other in a way that was beyond reason or explanation. She had tried to fool herself into thinking that she could ignore that love, that she could somehow set Clark aside to focus on her professional aspirations and her vengeance on Luthor. But in a simple act he had set her straight, and there had been no turning back. Even now she still loved him, and there was no way that she was ever going to let him get away. If the events of the day had taught her anything, it was to focus on what was important, and right now, he was everything to her. She just had to make him see that.

Lois pulled her hand away from the TV, running it across her cheek before letting it rest again at her side. Patching things up with him wasn't going to be easy, and she would probably have to make some sacrifices, but in the end, if it meant a life with him, then it would be worth it. Later in the day, when the sun rose, she would confront him again. Until then, she needed to get some sleep. She turned off the television and went back to the couch, lying down on her side and curling into a ball. This time, as she closed her eyes, sleep came immediately, and she was finally able to enter the realm of dreams, where the happy endings were assured.


The sun was hanging high in the sky when Clark finally stumbled into his apartment. He gazed longingly at his bed, feeling the fatigue that came with a long, sleepless night, but he knew that he couldn't take the time to rest. As he caught his reflection in the mirror across the room, he had to cringe at what he saw. Every exposed surface of his body was covered with soot, and his eyes were rather red and sunken, although he couldn't say for certain if that was a by-product of physical fatigue or mental fatigue. Lord knows that he had had enough of each in the last 24 hours to last him a lifetime, and this day was still young.

Clark peeled off the Suit as he walked toward the bathroom, anxious to take a long, steamy shower. No matter what the circumstances, a nice, long soak in the water always managed to raise his spirits, and he would take every bit of help in that department that he could get. No matter where he turned, he was confronted with the images of Lois. Always Lois. Her sobs still echoed in his ears, silently tearing at his heart, making it almost impossible to think. At first he had tried to out fly the sound of her tears, but after several trips around the globe, he knew that it was a hopeless prospect. Then he thought that it might help to talk to someone, but it was the middle of the night, at least in Metropolis, so he had set out to points afar to find comfort. The penguins in the Antarctic were the best listeners, he supposed, but the one-sided conversations became dull after a while, so he had set out again. At about the time he had decided that the best course was to just keep busy, he had seen the red glow on the Metropolis skyline signaling a fire. For a moment he was terrified that Lois might be behind it, that maybe she had gone out on a rampage after he left, but it only took a quick glace toward her brownstone to see that that was not the case.

He said a silent thank you toward the heavens as he went to work, pulling people out of the inferno, dead and alive. He had spent hours working, rescuing, dousing the flames, until he was convinced that the local authorities could handle the situation. The whole time, the mental image of Lois was stuck in his head. For every woman who mourned a dead husband, she thought of Lois and her agency. For every child who had lost one or more of their parents, he thought of Lois and the pain that she had endured her entire life. For every tendril of fire that touched the structure, burning, destroying, he thought of Lois and all the fires that she had caused throughout the years. With every thought came the certainty that he had done the right thing in leaving her, and the anguish of knowing that their relationship was over. His feelings for her were at war with each other, and it was slowly tearing him apart. Lois Lane was a paradox, two people that couldn't possibly exist in the same body. He supposed that the same could be the same of him, but that wasn't the problem. He had a certain moral code to live up to, and so did whoever he chose to spend his life with, and she just didn't meet that. That was the end of the story.

Clark climbed into the shower and let the water course over him. He scrubbed at his body viciously, somehow hoping that the memories and feelings would simply wash away, flowing down the drain and leaving him in peace. It was never that simple, however, and the challenge of ridding his mind of Lois was proving to be too great of a task to handle. The best he could do was focus one by one on the things that he had to do, the mundane details of life, and just hope that she would work her way out of his system. As he stepped out of the shower, he forced himself to inventory the stories that he would have to write that day. He was mentally writing the words as he got and dressed, and by the time he arrived at work, he had actually found that he was distracted enough that the pain had abated somewhat. As he greeted his coworkers, his smile almost seemed to come naturally, a sure sign that things were steadily returning to normal.

Clark grabbed a cup of coffee at the machine and walked through the bullpen toward his desk. He was congratulating himself for creating such a thorough distraction from his problems, when he looked up, and saw her there. The coffee spilled from his mug as he stopped abruptly, staring wide- eyed at his desk, and the figure of Lois Lane that occupied his chair. In a fraction of a second, all the pain came back, and he found himself blinking furiously, hoping with all that was in him that she would turn out to be just a figure of his overtaxed imagination. As if seeing a motion picture, Clark watched through his vigorously blinking eyelids as Lois seemed to jerkily stand up and approach him, a look of determination set onto her face. The light scent of her seemed to hit him all at once, and he had to stifle a groan as he was inundated with all the feelings that it brought. He wanted nothing more than to retreat, to get as far away from her as possible, but as she laid her delicate, beautiful hand in his arm, and he could feel a bolt of electricity at her touch. Every muscle in his body seized up, and he found himself staring at her, unmoving, lost in her spell.

"We need to talk," she said as she kept walking in the general direction of the conference room. Her fingers lingered on his arm, applying gentle pressure as she continued on, willing him to move along with her. His mind screamed out at him to resist, but his body reacted to her at the purely physical level that it always had seemed to, and he found himself following her dumbly, lost in her spell. He was the strongest person on Earth, yet one touch from her could render him powerless. So he followed her, trying his hardest to be strong, but inwardly dreading the certain doom that awaited him beyond the conference room doors.


As Lois clutched her hand against Clark's arm, she was surprised at how calm she truly was. She had every reason to be nervous, considering the consequences of what she was about to do. One wrong word and she would probably never see him again. Even with the best of efforts, that might still be the case, but she had to try. For an hour she had waited for him, the butterflies in her stomach fluttering away, making her feel almost lightheaded. Little reminders of the Clark she knew were everywhere, from the neatly stacked notes written in his strong hand, to the pictures and knick knacks that littered the perimeter of the desk. Lois supposed most of the items could be considered rather generic, but to her, they were each a part of a whole, a picture of Clark that was more complex than could ever possibly be portrayed through just one or two objects. The exceptions to this, of course, were contained in two large picture frames next to his computer monitor.

The first photograph showed the smiling faces of Clark and his parents, set against the outdoors, at what looked like a farm. It wasn't hard to see the love they held, the naturalness of their smiles when they were around each other. Lois had never met them, but she had heard enough from Clark that she felt like she knew them intimately. The other picture, though, took her almost by surprise. It brought back memories of a night not too long ago, a night with Clark. There had been a carnival in town, and they had decided to go together, just for something different. Lois honestly didn't remember the rides they had gone on, though she knew that on every one of them, she had spent more time looking at Clark than enjoying the scenery. She remembered him trying to win her a stuffed animal, but falling victim to the notoriously shady carnival odds. But mostly she remembered the photo booth that had been there. They had sat down together inside, deposited the money, and then let the camera snap a few shots, before he suddenly ducked out of the booth. She had heard him laughing as he did, and her playful attempts to coax him back into the booth had been captured on film for eternity.

Lois looked at the string of shots, which had been placed in an oversized picture frame, and felt the sadness creep up on her again. The shots of her and Clark together were so beautiful, so simple. And the ones with her alone seemed absolutely stunning. She had never known what she looked like with a real smile on her face. All the mandatory school pictures that she held from those dark years showed a girl who couldn't manage anything other than a forced half-grin. Pictures taken in college showed a more confident side of herself, but she could always see how fake her smiles looked, how dead her eyes seemed. Even looking in the mirror every morning, she had never had an occasion to be truly happy. But in these pictures there was something about her that just seemed so joyful. Clark certainly saw it, and that was probably why the pictures were there to begin with. At the time those pictures had been taken, Lois had never even fathomed that that would be the pinnacle of their relationship, the happiest she would ever be. It was almost unbearable to think that she would never feel that joyful again, so she had shoved those thoughts aside. Wallowing in self-pity wouldn't win her any favors, and she needed to be strong. At least she had those memories to look back on, as a reminder that she had once experienced everything that life had to offer.

The soft tone announcing an arriving elevator had finally drawn her attention away from Clark's desk. She looked toward it, knowing somehow that Clark would be there, and he was. He didn't even look her way as he made his way through the newsroom, greeting coworkers with his own forced smile, gathering a cup of coffee on the way. Her heartbeat echoed loudly in her ears as she waiting for him to see her, and a thousand thoughts raced through her head. How would he react when he saw her there? WOULD he react when he saw her there? She could imagine any number of scenarios, most of them bad. Closer he came, oblivious to the situation that awaited him, until finally he looked up, and his eyes went wide with surprise. He began to blink in a way that was almost comically exaggerated while spilled coffee dripped from his hand. It was a strange sight to see Clark, a man who was almost always in full control of his actions, caught as off-guard as he obviously was. He continued to blink at her, and Lois found herself smiling at the sight. The more she thought of it, the more she realized that in her presence, Clark's self-control almost always seemed to be lacking. The same applied to her, too, she knew. It was part of that physical reaction they had to each other, part of whatever it was that linked them together so completely. The very fact that he still had that reaction meant that her trip wouldn't be in vain, that maybe there was more hope than she had thought. Her heart seemed much lighter than it had earlier as she stood up and led him toward the conference room, trying to capitalize on the situation.

Lois tried in vain to rehearse one more time the speech that she had spent so much of her mental faculties creating, frustrated by the fact that the words wouldn't come this time. What she said here, today, could possibly be the most important thing she had ever said to him, carrying the future of their entire relationship on its back. The impression that she had given him last night was probably worse than she imagined, and she could only cringe at the thought of what he saw when he looked at her. An arsonist, certainly. He probably also thought that everything she had ever done and said was based on a lie, but it hadn't been. Somehow she had to make him see that the person she was when she was around him was the real Lois, and their love had been genuine, so much so that it hurt. She would try her hardest to show him that, but if he didn't understand, then this could at least be the proper goodbye that he hadn't wanted to give her.

Lois closed the door behind them as they entered the room, letting the hand that had lingered on Clark's arm fall to her side. She kept her gaze directed at the floor, not having the nerve to look him in the eye. Maybe it was cowardly, but she didn't want to see his reaction, not until she'd said her peace. It was hard enough as it was, just being alone in the same room as him, feeling his presence so strongly and wanting nothing more than to rush into his arms, but knowing that he didn't want her there. The abstract patterns made by the dark colored flecks in the tile caught her attention, and she was momentarily transfixed. Her thoughts, which had begun to turn toward the irony of the situation and the fact that this room, where she would say her farewell, was the same one where they had first met, were harshly pushed aside. She had to empty her mind, find her center, if she were going to do this right. The silence in the room, which was growing uncomfortable, wasn't helping the situation. Her peripheral vision caught sight of his dark shoes, his toes tapping lightly inside, and she decided that she should just get it over with. She couldn't delay the inevitable any longer.

"I suppose you're wondering why I bothered to come here," she started, her eyes now gazing at the perfectly shined toes of his shoes. "And I can imagine that you think I'm here to beg and plead with you, to relate some sob story about why we should get back together and ride happily off into the sunset, but I'm not going to do that. I've made excuses my entire life, and it's time for that to end."

A tear began to form in her eye, but she impatiently wiped it away with the back of her hand as she took a deep intake of breath. She couldn't break down, she had to remain calm. "I don't blame you at all for leaving last night. If I were in your shoes, I would've done exactly the same thing. In fact, you had every reason to bring me in, you have every reason to do so right now. I spent years disregarding the rule of the law, all because of a silly revenge motive that I had. Well, the time comes when you have to make amends, and that's just what I plan to."

Lois closed her eyes and held her head up, turning her face toward the window. As she opened them again, she could see the sun shining brightly outside, its light seeming almost too cheery, considering the circumstances. "I came here to tell you that I'm going to be turning myself in. I already alerted my personal secretary that I would be gone for a while, and the Lost and Found Agency has been closed indefinitely. That represents everything I have left in life, but I'll gladly give it up, because it's the right thing to do."

Her hands reached up around her neck, finding the gold chain that had been there continuously since the moment it had been given to her. Slowly, she pulled it over her head, trying to delay the moment as long as she could. It felt strange not having the weight of the gold ring not pressing down reassuringly on her chest, but she knew she couldn't keep it. She gathered the chain in one hand and squeezed it tightly before thrusting it in the general direction of Clark, who still hadn't said a single word. "I want you to have this back," she said, finding that she was beginning to lose the inner battle for control of her emotions. "I don't deserve it."

At the gentle tug of the chain, she opened her hand and surrendered the necklace once and for all. Having finally done everything she had set out to do, she got up hastily and started toward the door. After one long stride though, she heard him say her name softly behind her, and she stopped. Slowly she turned, finally daring herself to look into his face. What she saw made her heart break. The necklace lay in Clark's hand, and he was staring at it so hard, she was surprised he hadn't burned a hole into it. The corners of his mouth were curved down into a frown, and his eyebrows were arched slightly, sadly.

"I love you Clark," Lois said softly. "I don't care that you're the Superhero that's adored by millions, I still love you, and I have since the day we met. I had hoped against hope that we'd always be together, but I messed up, and now I have to pay the consequences. I regret a lot of things in my life, but I'll never regret having been with you. You unlocked a part of me that I had forgotten even existed, and I'm grateful for that. Because of you, I can look up in the sky and smile at the sight of the sun. You brought light into my life." Lois smiled as she said the words, realizing for the first time as she said them how true they were. The bright light of the day had always been shunned before, if only because it showed her flaws so much more clearly. But her days of seeking out darkness and shadow were done now, and she found that she didn't miss them at all. After all, this was where Clark was.

"Take care, Clark," she said, her gaze lingering on his face, burning it into her memory, before she turned to leave. He didn't say anything as she opened the door, and she supposed that was for the best. She didn't really want any prolonged goodbyes, any gestures of affection that would make it that much harder to step into that police station and confess to her crimes. It was better this way. With a confident intake of breath, she straightened her posture as much as possible and made her way through the newsroom, away from Clark. She could feel his eyes on her as she approached the elevator, but she wouldn't look back. She had no reason to. Because for once she was sure about her future.


Clark couldn't take his eyes off of her. The slight swagger of her hips as she walked, the hypnotic bob of her hair, all of them cried out to him, drawing his attention as they had done a hundred times before. Somehow he could sense that she knew he was watching her, but she stayed strong, and ultimately walked out of the newsroom, out of his life. He became aware of the class ring in his hand, and as he looked at it once again, the finality of the whole situation finally hit him. She had just said her peace, put the exclamation point at the end of their relationship, just as he had tried to do the night before, but suddenly he found he didn't want that finality.

His fist balled up around the ring as he let the frustration well up inside of him. Damn her for coming here and saying that. He had broken it off with her last night and had no real qualms about it, because she had broken the law and lied to him. He had walked away, telling himself that it wasn't really Lois he had been in love with in the first place, and letting that fact offer some consolation to him. It wasn't okay for him to love someone who was a criminal, but having feelings for the fictional character of Lois Lane that he had known, the honest, wonderful woman, could be justified somehow. But now, after this one- sided talk, he just wasn't so sure of anything anymore. Maybe the Lois he loved wasn't entirely false. Maybe the Lois that was a criminal wasn't entirely bad. He supposed that her words could've been insincere, but something about the way she had acted had told him that she had been completely honest with him. And now she was headed toward the nearest police station, ready to turn herself in and face the consequences of her actions. It was enough to make Clark's heart swell with pride, something that he had absolutely no right feeling. His thinking had been clouded, his black and white world had been infused with grays, and he didn't know what he thought anymore.

Suddenly the walls of the room almost felt too close, as if they pressing in on him, suffocating him. What he needed was to get out into the wide-open blue skies and head toward the golden fields of Kansas. He had tried running from his problems the previous night, it was true, but this wouldn't be the same. His parents would be up by now, and they would be able to give him the type of advice that he truly needed. And some breakfast. Clark couldn't think of anything in the world he'd like more than that. Unfortunately, he thought as he took a quick look up at the clock on the wall, his boss might not be too receptive of him taking off in the middle of the morning, especially not after he found out how Clark had failed to get a full story on the Luthor charity auction from the night before. Maybe he could claim he was sick — heaven knew that he hadn't used any of the sick leave he had accrued. Or…maybe he could tell the Chief the truth.

With a sigh, Clark reached for the conference room door, tucking the ring and chain into his pants pockets as he did. The open feel of the newsroom was a welcome change from the closeness of the conference room, but Clark still felt his heart beating rapidly as he entered Perry's office.

"Morning, Chief," Clark said, giving Perry a small nod. Perry glanced up from the papers on the desk in front of him, giving Clark a small nod in return.

"Morning, Kent. How was Luthor's party?" Perry asked. His eyes sparked in anticipation, and Clark took in a deep breath, not really wanting to break the news to Perry. The Chief had been so interested in seeing what Clark could pry from Luthor, and Clark felt bad in disappointing him so badly. But he knew that he couldn't concentrate on writing any stories right now, not even to appease Perry. Things were just too garbled in his mind.

"Something came up, Chief, and I needed to leave," he said.

Perry cocked an eyebrow at him. "That bad, huh?"

Clark couldn't help but form a half smile as he caught Perry's inference. Of course someone as skeptical as Clark would have a hard time schmoozing with the crowd that Luthor favored, but Perry knew Clark better than that. "No, sir, Lois's sister was murdered last night."

Perry's expression instantly morphed into pity. "I'm sorry, son…"

"I need to take the rest of the day off," Clark said hastily, which drew vigorous nods from Perry.

"Get. And don't worry about the story. Tell Lois that I hope she's okay," Perry said, and it was Clark's turn to be taken aback. He hadn't realized that the Chief held out any favor for Lois, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe the sentiment of the rest of the newsroom didn't have any effect on Perry after all.

"Will do," Clark muttered as he quickly left the office, making a beeline for the stairwell. After making sure he was alone, he quickly changed into his spare suit and shot upwards. Once out of the building, the city quickly shrunk in his wake, and Clark finally felt free. And once he got home, he was sure that everything would be just fine.


Martha Kent lifted her eyebrows as she saw Clark scarf down yet another pancake. The first one had been eaten a full box of Bisquick earlier, yet, as Clark favored her with those puppy dog eyes of his, she got the distinct impression that he still wasn't full.

"I don't suppose you have any more of those?" he said with a boyish smile, confirming her suspicions. Something strange was going on, but Clark hadn't been especially talkative since arriving. To say that she had been surprised to see him that morning was an understatement. Clark never came for breakfast on weekday mornings, but Martha hadn't had the heart to ask him why he felt the need to do so now, not after seeing the incredibly miserable look on his face. After sharing an unusually emotional embrace with him, she had wordlessly whipped up some batter and started cooking, but that was almost an hour ago. He hadn't uttered a peep the whole time, until now.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Martha regarded her son. Many years ago, when Clark was just beginning to really develop his powers, he would get quiet, internalize his emotions, and turn to something that would make him forget about the world. It was almost as if he seemed too afraid to burden them the bizarre things that he had experienced. She certainly didn't blame him for being afraid then, but he had learned that she and Jonathan would love him no matter what, and that they wouldn't be scared away very easy. It had been a long time since he had regressed back to his old behavior, yet it seemed to have reared its ugly head once again. Whatever it was that Clark was keeping inside, it was something that he probably felt ashamed of, and Martha feared what it would end up being. But she knew that they could handle it, if only she could get him to open up.

"Sorry, sweetie, I'm fresh out," she said, watching the disappointment set into his face. Martha walked around to him and gave him a squeeze on the shoulder. "You DID have forty three of them."

"I love your pancakes," Clark said, a pout in his voice. He fiddled with his glass of buttermilk as he stared absently at his plate for a moment. "What about muffins?" he asked as he quickly turned his attention to the cupboard.

Martha chuckled and shook her head. Jonathan acted the same way when he wanted to avoid talking about something, but Clark seemed to be able to drag it on further, thanks to that super metabolism of his. But whether it three pancakes or forty three, they were hardly a substitute for a real heart to heart conversation. "Clark, what's wrong?" she asked. The muscles of his shoulders stiffened under her hand, and the muscles in his jaw jumped. "Whatever it is, you know you can tell me," she continued, using her most soothing voice.

Clark let out a sigh and turned to look at her face. In an instant, the bottled up stress and tension finally seemed to bubble out, morphing his expression into one of sadness so deep and profound, that Martha felt her heart break. "I know I can, Mom. I just…" Clark blinked and tore his eyes away from hers. He ran his hand through his hair and turned his attention toward the window. "I told myself that I'd come here and get some helpful advice, then I found myself just trying to make it all go away. Guess it didn't work, huh?"

"It never does. The body has a funny way of letting you know all about what it was you were trying to forget. It's always better to just talk about it, honey," Martha said as she made her way to the chair next to him. His voice sounded so strained, she could only imagine what must've happened to bring it on. As he turned his face away from the window, shadows fell across it, highlighting a darkness under his eyes that she had never noticed before. It hurt her to see him in such pain, to see the marks of whatever trauma he had experienced, but she couldn't help him unless he let her.

"Believe me, I've wanted nothing more than to do just that," he said giving her a weary smile. "But I can never think of a place to start. So much has happened in the last day, and I think sometimes I have to convince myself that it's real." The corners of his mouth turned down ever so slightly, and he closed his eyes, taking a deep, shuddering. "I wish it wasn't real, but every time I do anything in Metropolis, I can't help but see that it is."

They sat in silence for several moments before he finally spoke again. "Lois knows about me," he said, his words laced with profound sadness. He had told her on more than one occasion that his greatest wish was to let her know about his secret, but he had never been able to bring himself to do it. Martha could understand how hard it must be for him, how hard he'd worked over the last few months to distance himself from his other persona. Once he told Lois, there would be no turning back, the secret would always join them together. In an ideal world, that would be a good thing, but there was always and outside chance that she would react badly to the situation, and Martha suspected that's what happened last night.

She gave his hand a quick squeeze. "And how did she take it?" she asked gently, trying to reassure him. Clark always held a fear of rejection, and although he tried to keep it well hidden, she knew it was there. Ever since he had realized that he was different, all he had ever wanted was to be accepted, and for the most part he had been. But that acceptance only came because people didn't realize that he was any different than them. Sooner or later, the person who he chose to spend his life with would have to know, and Martha figured that that overwhelming fear of rejection had scared him away from women for a long time. As it turned out, that fear was probably well founded.

The look he held in his eyes told her that he knew exactly what her question meant, but it also told her that something far worse than rejection had happened, and Martha felt a shiver go down her spine. "She took it better than I could've ever expected. But sometimes I almost wish that I had scared her away."

"Oh, Clark, no," Martha gasped.

"Maybe not," Clark said quietly. "But it would make everything so much easier."

"Why, what happened?" Martha prodded, her mouth suddenly dry. A flash of some unidentifiable emotion crossed Clark's face before he turned away from her further.

"I wasn't the only one with a secret."


Clark held his breath and watched his mother for her reaction to his tale, wondering what her verdict would be. He knew that she had been apprehensive as he had started his tale, but all he could see now was motherly support coupled with concentration. It was a lot to digest, he knew, so they sat in silence for a few moments, her hand still resting on his. Finally she looked up at him, her eyebrows raised.

"What do I do?" he asked in response to her silent question. "I can't in good conscience be with her, not after what she's done. But I want to so badly it hurts. I feel like I don't know who she is anymore, or even who I am."

Martha regarded him for a moment, then squeezed his hand. "I think you know exactly who you are and what you stand for. That's the reason you're in this whole dilemma to begin with. Lois, on the other hand, is a completely different problem. Maybe the best thing to do would be to turn the tables. You've been together for several months, right?"

Clark narrowed his eyes, wondering what she was getting at. "Yes," he said slowly.

"In that time, you've both held things from each other. Now, you said that you suspected that she was hiding something, and I imagine the reverse was true as well, but even so, how did you act around her?"

Clark paused, his expression unchanging, although his mind was a blur. He looked toward her, trying to figure out what kind of answer she was seeking, but Martha was the picture of contemplation. In all the years he had come to her for advice, he had yet to beat her at her own game, although he supposed that wasn't the point. With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and gave the truth, at least as he saw it. "No different than I would around anyone else, I suppose."

Martha's mouth formed a thin line as a skeptical look came across her face. "Oh, I know that's not true. You loved her, you've said as much. I'm sure you don't going around kissing just anyone."

Clark couldn't help but smile. "Okay, no. But I didn't show her any more of my secret than I ever did to anyone else, at least, not until last night. Besides that, I was myself."

"So what would make her any different?" Martha asked, her eyebrows raised.

"Her secret was that she committed felonies in her spare time. I don't go around breaking the law," Clark responded, frustrated. He had had all night to think about that, and his stand on that issue was the one thing that he had always been sure of.

"Maybe not the laws of man, but the laws of physics, certainly," she said. The attempt at humor wasn't penetrating Clark's defenses on this matter, however, and he supposed that she could see that. Her smile faded as she continued. "My point is, both of your secret personas are a dichotomy, someone completely removed from who you really are. If you say that the persona you used around her was your true personality, how do you know the same wasn't true for her as well?"

He had asked himself this same question a thousand times. The answer rolled off his tongue, rehearsed over and over again in his head. "I don't. But how do I know the lawbreaking side isn't the real Lois either? Either way, it WAS Lois who did those horrible things, and because of that I just can't be with her." There was more to it than that, but he didn't feel the need to elaborate. She didn't need to know about the seeds of doubt Lois had implanted within him that night at the warehouse, and the momentary desire he had had to join her, to play with fire. The way she had played on his hatred of Luthor had almost caused him to do something that he was morally opposed to, and he couldn't forgive her for that. If they stayed together what would stop her from trying such a thing again? It wasn't that he didn't trust his morals to hold, he just was suddenly afraid of the way he felt for her. The question became, what would he do for love? When would that eclipse his morals? He didn't even want to comprehend such a thing. It was better to just leave her be.

Martha nodded sympathetically, but Clark could see a spark in her eyes. "Then let me ask you something else," she said, her voice hinting that she knew something that Clark didn't. She was going to impart some of her motherly wisdom on him, he was sure. "When does a criminal stop becoming a criminal?"

Clark blinked. "What?"

"At what point are they absolved of their crimes? When do you consider them to be rehabilitated?"

Clark felt his jaw go limp as he stared at his mother. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Rehabilitated? Yes, the basic premise of the criminal justice system was to do just that, and his basic code of morality always gave the benefit of the doubt to those who had served their debt to society. But Lois had done no such thing.

"Is an admission of guilt enough? A statement of remorse? Isn't that how they determine who will be paroled from prison?" Martha continued, and Clark found himself shaking his head in disbelief.

"That's assuming that they have done their time. The rule of law says that she needs to stand for her crimes," Clark said.

"And that's what she said she was going to do. Why else would she be turning herself in?" Martha set her jaw and stared into his eyes, challenging him. As he opened his mouth to offer his speculation, she spoke again, giving her final words on the subject. "How much does she need to do to show you she's sincere, Clark? Aside from the legal mumbo jumbo, what does she need to do to show you that the woman you thought you knew was the true Lois?"

The half-hearted protest that he had been about to say died on Clark's lips. The suffering on her face when she had approached him at the Planet had been real enough. Her eyes had spoken of remorse. Maybe she knew that what she had done was wrong. Did that mean she wouldn't do them again? Did that remorse automatically qualify her for forgiveness? The answer to those questions wasn't immediately forthcoming, but maybe what he needed to do was to actually talk to her about it. One thing that had been evident over the last day was their stunning lack of communication, and the pain it had caused to both of them. Deep down he still cared about her, enough to hold out hope that it could all be salvaged. But realistically, it probably wasn't possible. Trust was a hard thing to earn back, and she had totally destroyed all that he had held for her.

"Thanks, Mom," Clark said as he got up. He bent down to give her a quick peck on the cheek, then headed toward the door. Maybe he should try and find where she had turned herself in. Maybe he should take her aside and try to find the truth. And then maybe he could finally come to a final decision on what the fate of their seemingly doomed relationship would be.


Lois had watched probably thousands of movies throughout her life. The cinema had been a form of escape for her, and she had soaked the stories up. Dramas, comedies, westerns, action movies, all were given equal time. There was something comforting about being able to get lost in the fantasy world, one that was similar to the real world in so many ways, yet one in which good always seemed to triumph over evil. Things in the movie world always seemed to have a certain familiarity. After watching enough movies, Lois would've sworn that she knew what prison was like. She knew better than to expect the bumbling deputy to be sitting in the corner with his feet up the desk, but she certainly didn't expect what reality saw fit to hand her.

The cell that she now found herself was oddly bright and sterile, a far cry from the dingy, gray-barred cells she had been shown her entire life. It was truly an isolating and lonely place, perfect for getting some thinking done. Lois supposed that was the point of prison, after all, but that didn't mean that she had to like it. In fact, she had a headache from the sheer amount of thinking that she had done lately. But there was no escaping it in this place, so she let her thoughts wander yet again.

In a way, she almost wished for the movie version of her life. Girl lives awful life, girl meets boy, their love makes any remnants of her crappy old life fall away, they get married, move into a house and put up a white picket fence. That kind of thing had always sounded so dull to Lois, but when compared to prison and the prospect of several years in a room just like the one she was in, she'd take the picket fence any day. But Lois knew she had nobody to blame but herself for how her life had turned out. Nobody had forced her to set those fires. Nobody had compelled her to aim a gun at Luthor. You do the crime, you do the time, as they say. So here she was, like it or not.

Lois laid down on the bed and stared up at the concrete ceiling, placing her arm on her forehead to shield her eyes from the bright light. It might do good to summon some strong feeling of some sort, but as much as she tried, she found she couldn't, not anymore. It had been her turbulent emotions that had sent her into her funk after Lucy died, that had caused her to pick up that gun and almost do something too horrible to be believed. Lois had never believed in killing, yet the day before she had been perfectly willing to take a life. If it hadn't been for Clark, she would've actually gone through with it, a thought that almost made her want to tremble with revulsion. For that reason, it was probably just as well that all emotion had fled.

And as for Clark… Lois shook her head as she tried to make that thought go away. He had dominated her thoughts that day, from the moment she woke up that morning until she had been shoved into her cell. Who he was, what he had hidden from her and the ramifications that held for them, his smile, his laugh, his smell… He had given her his heart, and in response she had broken it. She never knew Clark to be vindictive, so she couldn't imagine him wishing her any ill will, even now, but she was sure that he was gone. He had seemed so tormented when she had left him, so alone. Just like she was now.

As Lois let out a sigh, the loud rattle of the door lock filled the room. Surprised, she sat up in time to see the door swing open, a uniformed guard standing on the other side. "You have a visitor, Lane," he said, and Lois blinked. A visitor? Who would come to see her? With Lucy dead and Clark gone, that left precious few people who cared enough to come see her.

Lois stood, and the guard approached her to put on a set of handcuffs. It was probably her lawyer, she thought as she was lead out into the hallway. She had phoned him and told him what she was going to do, and he had agreed to represent her, although it was in a different capacity than he was used to. In any case, she was confident that he would do his usual stellar job. As the door to the small interrogation room opened, Lois strode in confidently, glad to be able to get down to business, finally. She looked at the empty table, though, and frowned. There was no lawyer, no briefcase, only a couple of generic wooden chairs. Confused, she looked toward the corner of the room, and felt the breath leave her body. The guard closed and locked the door behind her, and she found herself alone in the room. With Clark.

He stood in the corner, propped up against the wall, wearing the same suit that she had seen him in earlier that day. His appearance was immaculate as always, but something seemed to be missing. As Lois forced herself to take a breath, she studied his face and finally saw it. The smile was gone. In all the times she had seen him, he had been animated, upbeat, happy. Even that morning he had feigned a smile, he had shown emotion. But as he gazed at her now, he seemed almost lost. Lois sat down in the nearest chair, not daring taking her eyes off him for fear that she would find him gone. After a long moment he pushed away from the wall and sat down in the chair opposite her.

"Hi Lois," he said softly, almost timidly. His eyes locked with hers momentarily, then quickly darted away. He seemed so unsure of himself, yet at the same time, his body language seemed to assert that he was there for a reason, that he had a purpose. Lois didn't know what to think about that, but she felt the sudden desire to jump up and hug him, never letting go. Even after everything that had happened, he represented something solid and sane and normal, her lifeline to the real world.

"Hi Clark. I didn't expect to see you around here anytime soon," she said, forcing herself to stay put. She started to put her hands up on the table, but the handcuffs weighed heavily on her wrists, a reminder of the circumstances for her being there. She wanted so badly to at least hold his hand, but something inside her protested the idea of him seeing her with those on. It just wasn't right, she though as she stilled herself, her hands still hidden safely under the table.

"Neither did I," he responded, a corner of his mouth turning up. His eyes locked onto a point on the table, and he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly before continuing. "But after doing some thinking, I just needed to know. Why did you do it Lois?" He looked up at her again, and there was a pleading look in his eyes that made her heart lurch. She swallowed past a lump in her throat and tried to think of where to begin.

"Do you remember what I told you about my parents' deaths?" She asked. At his gentle nod, she continued. "Well, before they died, my dad wrote me a letter. I didn't receive it until after the fact, but in it, he told me about his work, and about his suspicions about his employer, Lex Luthor. What was truly eerie was that it was written as a farewell. He knew he was going to die, but that didn't seem to frighten him. In any case, from that letter I knew who killed my parents, even if the police didn't seem to have any answers. I was young and alone, and facing a world that was a truly scary place. In a situation like that, a kid can either be afraid, or they can be strong. I didn't want to give in to fear, so I drew my strength from the conviction that I would find and destroy the man who had killed my family." Lois dropped her eyes and looked away from him, ashamed of that part of her past. "For a long time, it was just me and Lucy. We went from foster home to foster home, never staying anywhere for very long. I wasn't loved, I didn't want to be loved. All I could do was wait for the time I was old enough to do what I had to do."

A tear threatened to form in Lois's eye, but she squeezed her eyes shut and forced it to go away. She had to hold it together so she could let Clark know how it was for her, could make him understand. He had to understand. "My father once told me to 'do right by my fellow man.' In my mind, that meant bringing down Lex Luthor by any means possible. Well, almost any means. I'd never kill him or anyone else for that matter, at least not when I'm in my right mind, but that didn't mean I wasn't above bending the law for my own purposes."

"So what did you honestly think would come from this, after everything was said and done?" Clark asked. His voice was so gentle, so soothing. Lois was lucky…had been lucky to have him.

She shook her head once and looked up at him. "I never thought that far ahead," she said, the tears in her eyes stubbornly refusing to go away. "I think I had built up this scenario where I would be viewed as some kind of big hero, the savior of the city. Maybe I thought that my crimes would be forgiven, especially in light of the death and destruction that I would've saved." Lois let out a joyless chuckle and blinked a few times, clearing her vision. In front of her, his form turned crystal clear, and she could see him regarding her with his most concerned look, the same look she saw on the television the night before. "Getting Lex was my mission, and it was all- consuming. I had to stop to make a living, of course, but the memory of my parents' death drove me. It was always there, and it was comforting in a way. I never questioned my choice in life…until I met you."

"But you kept setting fires, even after we got together," Clark said, a note of frustration entering his voice. She didn't blame him at all for the feeling one bit.

"Not nearly as often as I used to," Lois countered, but that only seemed to frustrate him more.

"You let on that our lo… our relationship was a big life change for you, Lois, but I just can't see that. Why did you keep doing it?" Clark's gaze challenged her, and suddenly Lois felt a spark of something flare up inside of her.

"Getting Luthor WAS my life, Clark. As much as I felt for you, I wasn't just going to throw away everything I'd ever worked toward. More than once I told myself that I needed to cut 'us' off and get on with my life, but every time you managed to find your way into my heart. Change is not a sudden thing, but I DID change, Clark."

"So what about two nights ago?"

The consternation she had been feeling wilted away as she remembered that night at the warehouse. It had only been a matter of time before the subject would've been brought up by one of them, she just didn't want this to be that time. Her actions of that night were damning, to say the least, and she felt a special horror over the words she had said to him, the way she had treated him. But she had been there for a reason, and he was a large part of that. "Two nights ago I received a tip about some evidence that could be found in that warehouse, evidence that linked Lex Luthor to the heat wave in Metropolis. I got what I came for, and I did my usual thing when I left, though I admit it wasn't without some regret. I think you know what happened after that."

He went quiet for a moment, his eyes moving back and forth rapidly as if he was lost in thought. When he looked back up at her, there was a momentary expression of surprise on his face, before his features went neutral once again. "You don't know how close you came to convincing me to help you that night," he said, a darkness in his tone that she had never heard before. "It was only a momentary thought at best, but I hated the fact that you made me think it at all." His eyes reflected an inner shame, and Lois felt a sudden rush of guilt. All the things he could do, all the amazing powers he had at his disposal, required a remarkable degree of control, she was sure. His high moral standards were all that stood in the way between him and some real destruction, and he would've been justified in feeling something much stronger than shame for having those carefully constructed mental barriers breached, even if it was momentarily.

"Clark," she said, hating herself for ever planting the seeds of doubt in his mind. "I never wanted you to do anything bad, I just wanted your help, you have to believe that. I had seen how Superman disliked him; it was written all over your face whenever you were anywhere near him. Somewhere deep inside, I just wanted that extra help, whatever it would take to get Luthor put away once and for all so that I could leave that chapter of my life behind and be with you."

As Clark moved to say something in response, Lois raised her hands to cut him off. As they cleared the table, the loud thump of the chains against of the wood stopped his words cold. The handcuffs glinted in the light as she finally laid them on the table, and Lois felt her emotional floodgates truly begin to open. "I don't need for you to tell me how wrong it was of me to be there at all, I know already. You weren't the only one who saw me there, as it turned out. Lex Luthor was nice enough to leave me a memento of my visit to his warehouse with the body of my sister after he killed her. Right there, in black and white was a picture of me, although it was fuzzy enough that I can understand how he could think it was Lucy."

"Lois," Clark said softly, but she shook her head.

"My crusading got my sister murdered, I'm well aware of that. Do I think it was worth it? No. Do I feel regret every minute of every day? If you have to ask that, then you truly don't know me."

Lois sniffed and looked at him, holding her head high. She didn't need him to lecture her on anything, because she had already been taught a lesson. They stared at each other for a moment, and she waited for the inevitable words, but they never came. After a moment, he cocked his head to the side and appeared thoughtful. "Do I know you, Lois?" he asked, and she caught herself taken aback momentarily. But, when viewed from his perspective, she could easily see how he could have doubts about her.

"As much as I know you, I'm sure," she said, and to her surprise, she found a small smile form on his lips in response. As always, his grin was infectious, and she caught herself smiling back. It almost felt as though everything had come full circle, it almost felt comfortable to be with him again. But it only took a second to see that it wasn't. In so many ways, they were miles apart — she was a criminal and he was a symbol of goodness and decency. She could never wish for Clark to be anything less than he was, but for a moment she did. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

"Look, Clark," she said, steadying her emotions. "I know I hid things about myself from you, but there was never a moment of our time together that I was insincere. In a lot of ways, I suppose it was the first time that I was ever truly myself. What I told you this morning at the Planet was truth."

He got up and walked over toward her, never taking his eyes off of her face. As he stood over her, he reached down and pushed a strand of hair from her eyes, his finger lingering on her cheek for a long moment before he pulled it away. "We're both guilty of hiding things," he said, his expression sad, yet hopeful. "All the regret in the world won't make what either of us did go away. All we can do is to move on."

Lois felt her heart rate increase as he talked. Was he saying what she thought he was? He almost acted like he wanted to forgive her, but could she let him do that? On a purely selfish level she wanted nothing more. But he was Superman, a symbol, and she couldn't let him compromise that just to help her. For both their sakes, she needed to do her time. "Forgive, maybe. But forget?" she said as she looked at him skeptically.

"No, never forget," he said, one corner of him mouth curling up. Slowly he leaned down, laying a kiss on her forehead. Straightening up again, he looked at her, then moved toward the door. "Goodnight, Lois," he said as he rapped, summoning the guard.

The door opened promptly, and all Lois could do was watch in stunned silence as he left. His loudest statement had come without any words at all. He hadn't refuted her comment about forgiveness, indicating in her mind at least that he had done just that. He had forgiven her. Lois wanted to cry with happiness, but reality reared its ugly head yet again. The guard came in to escort her away, and she knew that all the forgiveness in the world couldn't change the past. What was done was done, and she was going to be here for quite some time.


The door closed behind Clark with a loud bang, its echo reverberating down the clean, white concrete block walls around him. There was no doubt that this was a prison, a place for criminals and lowlifes, but not for someone like Lois. It was amazing how his opinion of her could morph so rapidly in the course of a day, but after his latest talk, he just couldn't find it within himself to be mad at her anymore.

Nobody could argue that she had been a victim of circumstance. Terrible things had happened when she was young, and those things had changed her. Clark couldn't help but wonder what he'd have done in her place, if such a thing would've affected him in the same way. A life without love was a terrible thing, a lonely thing, and it was only natural to get angry with the person who had taken that love away. But did those circumstances justify what she had done? Of course not. But there was more to the story than what was on the outside.

Good and bad, right and wrong, none of these things were absolutes. There were degrees of severity within both of those spectra, and it could definitely be said that Lois fell some where in the middle of it all. Despite her habit of arson, she wasn't a bad person by any means. Her fires had destroyed property, but never injured anyone. As for the previous night, the attempted murder, well, that was a product of a Lois who had temporarily lost herself. One look in her eyes had been all he'd needed to know that. She had been dead inside, the spark that represented her spirit had been gone. He knew that Lois would never intentionally hurt another person, at least not when she was in her right mind. The whole time that he had been trying to convince himself of her guilt, he had conveniently forgotten about that knowledge, and about all the other parts to the complex personality that was Lois Lane. He didn't know how he could've been so blind to her better qualities, or so discriminatory toward her shortcomings, but something had happened in that room that had opened his eyes to everything.

Bringing up the subject of the warehouse fire had been an attempt by him to discredit her, to somehow show her that he knew she wasn't being truthful. But he had no idea that she had been there for him, even if she hadn't known it. He was convinced that Lois was the person who had gathered up the information about the heat wave and anonymously given it to Henderson. Lois had made it possible for Superman to stay in Metropolis; Lois had restored the public's faith in him. As this dawned on Clark, he suddenly remembered the Lost and Found Agency, Lois's gift to those in Metropolis who had lost loved ones. She gave to them out of her own pocket, in her own home. That alone should've told him everything he needed to know about who Lois Lane really was, but he hadn't let himself see it before that moment.

For all those years, it seemed that Lois had been trying to atone for her crimes by helping out other victims of Lex Luthor. Maybe it had been her way of making sure that nobody else felt the need to resort to arson, that nobody else would have to suffer like she did. Clark almost felt sorry for her, for having to engage in an activity that almost seemed like an addiction in a way. But feeling sorry for Lois wouldn't solve any of their problems, and he knew it. There was still the issue of how he felt, and what he would do about those feelings. As he had pondered those questions, Lois placed her handcuffed wrists on the table, bringing the issue into the light. She knew how he felt, and with a couple of simple sentences, she had gotten right to the heart of the matter. As he gazed at her stubbornly defiant fa‡ade, he could see all the hurt and pain lurking underneath the surface, one word away from being exposed for them both to see. It was almost as if she knew what he was looking for, what it would take for him to finally absolve her of her crimes, at least in his mind.

To say that Lois felt remorse for what she had done was an understatement. When she spoke of Lucy, her eyes seemed haunted, and her whole demeanor spoke of regret. Clark supposed that it could simply be sadness over losing her sister, but he could just feel that Lois knew she had brought this tragedy upon herself, and that there wasn't anything she wouldn't give to take it all back. She had learned her lesson the hard way, and Clark was sorry for that, but it was safe to say that Lois Lane was a different person now than she had been just two days earlier. She had been a strong and confident woman, and Clark understood now where that came from, but today she seemed small, almost frightened, but he didn't blame her. She had lost so much in her life, and seeing him couldn't have been easy. What she needed right now was someone to be there for her, someone to offer her the unconditional love that she had never received, Clark knew now that he wanted to be the one to do that.

It was a large leap of faith to make, a fact that he was acutely aware of, but he also knew that he loved Lois, and that nothing would ever change that. When they had first gotten together, he supposed that he had known that she wasn't exactly a straight shooter, but that was part of the attraction. There was just something about her, there always had been, that connected to him on a purely visceral level. It was the type of attraction that he had never felt before, even the few times in the past that he had thought he'd been in love, and he suspected he would never feel that way toward anyone else. Whatever it was that had drawn him to her back then hadn't gone away — if anything it had gotten stronger. They were so much alike in so many ways that it was almost frightening. And the Lois that he knew, the one that was like him, the kind and funny and vulnerable one that held his heart, didn't belong behind bars.

As Clark continued down the halls of the jail, he heard his mother's voice ringing in his ears. When was a criminal no longer a criminal? When were they absolved of their crimes? Clark couldn't answer before, but he knew now. A criminal was no longer a criminal when they were able to understand the impact their crimes had on others. No crime was without its consequence to society, and it seemed that Lois understood that now. It was too bad that Lucy had to die before Lois could realize the harm of what she'd been doing, but now that she did, he had no doubt that she would never set another fire again. He wondered briefly if she would've ever seen that if her sister hadn't been killed, but he quickly dismissed the thought. Dwelling on what could've been wasn't fair to either of them. All they had was what was, and what would be.

In a way, he supposed that he should almost be grateful to Lex Luthor, as awful as that sounded. Lex made her into the woman she was, made her want to be an investigator, and brought her into his world. They had partnered up to investigate Lex, and it was during that investigation that he had introduced Superman to the world. When times got tough, Lex made Lois understand what it was that she had, and what she stood to lose by remaining a criminal. Clark would be sure to thank him for everything, just as soon as he saw him behind bars.

The hallway continued to a steel door, which his escort opened and let Clark pass through. On the other side was the Spartan waiting room that Clark had sat in, gathering his thoughts, before being let in to see Lois. The reception room backed up to the precinct offices of the Metropolis Police Department, the very place that he wanted to be at that moment. While Clark was confident that Lois had arranged for a lawyer, he was suddenly curious to know what it would take to make Lois a free woman once again. Bill Henderson's desk was in that office, and Clark had no doubt that he could be of help in this matter.

Clark wound his way through the clutter of desks, making his way toward the corner of the office where Henderson sat. He'd been in this precinct on more than one occasion, both as Clark Kent and as Superman, and that nobody would think twice about seeing him there. Many of the officers were professional acquaintances, people who routinely lent their assistance to Planet reporters. Clark nodded at the ones he knew, offering a smile that, for the first time in what seemed like eons, was genuine. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee grew stronger as he neared Henderson's area, home of the second shifters who had only recently arrived at their desks for the day.

"Bill," Clark said as he approached the detective's desk. Henderson, who had been hunched over a stack of papers, straightened up and regarded his uninvited guest, an impatient frown forming on his face before recognizing Clark. He blinked once, surprised, before raising his hand in greeting.

"Clark, hey. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked. As Clark approached, Henderson's eyebrows raised ever so slightly, a crooked smile forming on his face as he held out his hand. "I read your article on what we discussed yesterday. You really cleared Superman. Say, you look like hell."

Clark shook the offered hand, a smile forming on his face. If Bill was nothing else, he was very blunt, something that Clark found admirable. With him, there was never any doubt about where you stood. "It's been a long day," Clark said, sitting in the chair next to the desk.

"No rest for the high powered journalists, huh?" Henderson asked as he leaned back in his own chair. He regarded Clark with a teasing smile as he took a sip of his coffee, and Clark couldn't help but smile back.

"Tell me about it," Clark responded, deciding not to advance the subject. Henderson was a good friend, but he was still a cop, skilled in rooting out the truth. On more than one occasion, he had felt almost as if Bill could see through the half-truths and cover stories Clark used to conceal his other identity. That was especially true when they were actually talking about Superman's activities, like they were yesterday. In any case, this meeting wasn't about Superman, it was about Lois.

"I'm here for a couple reasons," Clark continued, his demeanor serious once again. "First of all, what do you know about Lois Lane, the woman who turned herself in for arson tonight?"

Henderson raised his eyebrows, then shuffled through a few papers on his desk. "Funny you should ask about that," he said, his attention directed toward the stack of paper in his inbox. "A few of us were just talking about how odd that case was. These arsons were unsolved for years, then one day, out of the blue, this woman shows up and confesses. I suppose that saves us a lot of work."

After a moment the shuffle of paper stopped, and Henderson thrust a document in front of Clark. The sheet was a synopsis of activity for that day, and Lois's surrender took a rather large part of the page. The paragraph listed all the properties she had confessed to destroying, and the list was far more extensive than Clark had imagined. She had been busy throughout the years, but it looked like most of her activity had been when she was younger. This list was proof of what Lois had said, that she had been curtailing her activity of late. In a way Clark was relieved to see the truth in black and white. He looked up at Henderson again, suddenly more anxious than ever to find out what happened next.

"So your office is done with this case now?" Clark asked, drawing a strange look from Henderson. It was hard to act interested in the case without seeming overly so. If asked, he supposed that he would say that he wanted to know who to talk to for the most current information, but Henderson didn't say anything about it.

"It's been turned over to the DA's office now, a lawyer named Mayson Drake," Henderson said. Clark knew enough about the system to know what that entailed. She would be the one to decide how they wanted to prosecute Lois, and she would be the one to talk to in order to arrange anything.

Clark nodded in response and dug around in his jacket for a notepad. "The other reason I came by was because of a murder case handled yesterday. Lucy Lane, the sister of your arsonist, was found dead in her house," Clark said as he finally found what he was looking for.

"Yeah, homicide is on that one. Can't say as I know much about it," Henderson said, a certain understanding coming across his face. It would be natural for a perceptive journalist to write a story on just such an odd occurrence, and there was nothing saying that Clark wouldn't write a piece on it sometime on the future. But that hadn't been why he asked. As the realization had come to Clark that he needed to help Lois, a plan began to form, something that could possibly take care of Lois while putting Lex Luthor behind bars once and for all. But if the plan were to take hold, he needed for certain things to go right.

"Can I ask you to do me a favor?" Clark asked as he scribbled the name of the lawyer on his notepad and shoved it back where he found it. Henderson gave him a quizzical look and nodded once, urging Clark on. "I've been told that a photograph might've been found on the scene. I need to know what the status of that is and if any unusual prints have been found on it."

Bill cringed and leaned forward. "They won't be able to disclose details of evidence in an unsolved case," he said but Clark had figured as much.

"Well, tell them to look into it, then. I have a feeling that that may be an important piece of information." Clark raised his eyebrows and tried to mold his expression into one of innocent pleading, and after a moment Henderson nodded once and wrote something on a piece of paper.

"I'd like to know where you're going on this, but I have a feeling I'll be able to read all about it in a future edition of the Planet," he said. Clark smiled and patted him once on the shoulder.

"We'll see. It's a long shot," he replied, getting up. Henderson muttered something under his breath, causing Clark's smile to soften. Bill might put on airs of being a hard-nosed cop, but Clark new better. He was a good man to have as a friend, and if this all worked, Clark would be sure to thank him properly. For now though…

"Thanks for your help," Clark said, then made his way out of the office. With any luck, his query would help to get the ball rolling. With any luck, the prints on that photograph would provide the first tentative steps toward Lex Luthor, a man that Lois probably knew more about than anyone else. She could be a valuable asset to whoever is investigating the case, and hopefully… Well, Clark didn't want to be too optimistic. Still, it just might work.

With a smile on his face and a newfound spring in his step, Clark took off across the city on foot. The day was beautiful, the perfect match to his mood. It would only get better after he made his next stop.


Bill Henderson worked his way through the homicide department, weaving between desks in the general direction of Bob Lawrence, the detective handling the Lane murder. He didn't know what had motivated him to go out of his way for Clark, to stick his nose into areas that he had no business being in, and all for a reporter. Most of them were untrustworthy, usually more than willing to find the most erroneous part of any statement and contort it to fit their own agenda, but Bill supposed that's what made Clark special. Kent never misquoted, he never took things out of context, and he never published statements taken in confidence. If there was a poster child for everything that an ethical and fair reporter could be, it would be Clark Kent, and that was so much of the reason why Bill considered him a friend. It was also part of the reason that he had been caught off guard when Kent had asked for a favor. If his dealings with him had taught Henderson anything, it was that Kent was the type of person who could more than fend for himself, usually beating the cops to the chase when it came to solving crimes. The very fact that he needed Bill to do something for him meant that whatever he was on to had to be big. Henderson would be lying if he said he wasn't excited at the prospect of being involved in something as big as this had the potential of being. So he stuck his neck out, put his reputation at the station on the line, and tried to help his friend, the reporter.

As Henderson approached the desk, it was obvious to see that Lawrence was elsewhere. Figured. For a moment, he considered leaving a message, but something inside him told him to wait. It wasn't as if he had any large cases pending at the moment, anyway. If he were to return to his own desk, he would probably spend most of his time pondering the status of the case, anyway, so staying would take some of the anxiety out of it. Settling down into Lawrence's chair, Henderson leaned back and scanned the papers on the desk. It was amazing how much the desks of cops seemed to look alike, he thought. Files, papers, all arranged in different piles, seemed to be very common, and it was no different here. Casually, Henderson started scanning the names on the file tabs, pausing as he noticed the Lane case sitting on the top of the stack.

Without thinking, he reached his hand out, then abruptly stopped. Rooting through the files of another cop was not at all ethical but… He looked over his shoulder and for the first time noticed how empty the department was. There wasn't a homicide detective to be had anywhere in the precinct, leaving him conveniently alone. Bill's hand hung in mid-air for a few moments longer as he pondered the consequences of what he wanted to do. All he needed was a simple bit of information — why bother Lawrence with something so mundane? It might even be better for all involved if he just got the information and left, that way Lawrence wouldn't be burdened with the question of why it was needed in the first place. Yeah, that sounded plausible.

His mind made up, Henderson grabbed the folder and carefully opened it. The usual pages of notes were inside, along with pictures of the crime scene and transcripts of witness interviews and phone calls. It wasn't hard to locate the inventory of evidence, and the mention of a photograph found in the hand of the deceased. It had been sent to the crime lab for analysis, and apparently they hadn't phoned back with any results. An identification of any possible fingerprints on that photo would go a long way toward solving the case, and Henderson was sure that was what Clark was getting at. Curious, he picked up the phone and punched in the extension for the crime lab. The attendant picked up after a few rings.

"Yeah, this is Henderson," he said, his mind spinning. The results of the tests on evidence weren't exactly confidential, and other cops asked for test results on cases they weren't directly affiliated with all the time. "I'm working on something related to the Lane case, and I was wondering if you could tell me the results of tests on the photograph found at the scene," he said.

The lab tech at the other end didn't seem bothered by the fact that Henderson wasn't related to the case. "As I told Lawrence, we found three sets of prints on the picture, identified as Lois Lane, Lucy Lane, and Nigel St. John. The report was sent out a few hours ago."

"Okay, thanks," Henderson said, then hung up the phone. That last name was very familiar, although he couldn't quite figure out why. As he continued to rifle through the folder, he found a report stuffed in at the end from the crime lab, stating that they hadn't been able to ID any prints on the picture. Henderson looked at the phone, then looked back at the paper in the folder. That didn't make any sense at all. He supposed it would make sense if…well, he didn't want to think about that. But all the same, maybe he should do some digging. He needed to find out who this Nigel St. John was, and he needed to find out just what kinds of cases Bob Lawrence had been working on in the past.


Lois found herself rooted to the mattress in her barren cell, staring up toward the overly bright ceiling. She had been there since her visit from Clark, and she hadn't moved since. If someone had asked her how much time had passed, she wouldn't have been able to answer — it could've been an hour, it could've been a day. In any case, she hadn't felt the desire to sleep, and she couldn't say that she was especially upset about that. Normally the dream world was a place to retreat to, to escape from the harshness of reality into a world where things were better, where her every wish came true. But she didn't need that world right now. She might be in jail, but her biggest wish had already come true. Clark still cared for her, maybe even still loved her, and that was all she needed. With his love came the hope that, in the end, everything would turn out okay.

Academically, of course, she knew that the road to that ultimate happiness wouldn't be easy. Her track record was very damning, and that probably meant a lot of jail time, especially if she ended up in front of a judge that wasn't particularly sympathetic. And Clark, the man who she had only truly met for the first time the night before, would be on the outside without her. That was no way to build a relationship, and she wondered just how patient he'd be as the years wore on. But as much as those warnings rang in her, she pushed them aside, for the time being letting herself bask in the afterglow of Clark's conversation with her. There would be plenty of time to think about the cold, hard reality of everything later.

Footsteps echoed down the hallway outside her door, accompanied by the gentle jingling of keys. The guard passed by every few minutes on his patrol, but she could swear that she had heard him pass by only moments earlier. Even though time seemed to have lost all meaning for her, any disruption in the maddeningly regular prison schedule was cause for attention, and she found that her more pleasant thoughts were being chased away as she listened to the guard in the hallway. His steps slowed down as he reached her door, and after a moment, the door opened. Lois tilted her head toward him, squinting as she tried to focus her tired eyes.

"Time to go, Lane," he said as she pushed herself into a sitting position.

"Do I have another visitor?" she rasped, wondering exactly where it was she was supposed to be going to. For a moment she had felt a spark of hope, a feeling of excitement for any change of scenery, but then she began to think of what her options were. She knew that she was due to be arraigned that morning, so there was a good possibility that her lawyer would want to talk to her. Lucy's death was still considered an active case with the MPD, and although they had questioned her for hours on end the day before, it was still possible that they wanted to talk to her. She didn't know how they could possibly find more ways to cover the same ground that they had gone over for so many hours before, but knowing the police, she was sure that they'd find a way. Aside from that, there wasn't any other reason for her to leave, a thought she found mildly disappointing. Yes, it would be nice to get out for a while, but given the choice between lawyers, police, or being alone with her thoughts, she'd take the latter any day.

The guard stood by the door and waited for her to rise from the bed. Lois stood slowly, feeling slightly lightheaded and cramped up from lying in the same position for so long. Spots appeared in her vision as she reached her full height, and she had to duck her head and grab onto the bed to steady herself. As the blood rushed through her ears, she heard the guard speak. "Bond has been posted. You get to go home," she heard him say, and for a moment she swore she had heard him wrong. The lightheaded feeling was slowly replaced with a cautious spark of excitement, and as she raised her head again, she narrowed her eyes, trying to read his face. Surely he had to be joking. There was nobody out there who would be inclined to bail her out of prison — her family was dead, she had no friends, and Clark wouldn't do such a thing. Would he?

"Pardon me?" Lois asked, her voice now a mere croak. The guard's expression remained steely as he regarded her, and she was coming to the realization that this was not a joke.

"You made bail. Come on, I thought you'd be happy to be out of here," he said, approaching her. Lois made no move toward him, the shock fixing her into place. Her hands were clasping the bed so hard that she could feel the circulation cutting off, but she didn't care. For whatever reason, someone had bailed her out, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out why. Clark seemed to have made peace with her crimes, and with the current state of things, but he was Superman, fighter for truth, justice, and the American way. The operative word there was justice, and justice for her meant staying right where she was, serving her time, and he was certainly aware of that.

The guard grabbed her elbow, gently nudging her toward the door. Lois let go of the bed and let herself be moved, something deep inside of her aware of who was waiting for her down the hallway. A part of her felt suddenly giddy at the thought of seeing him again for real, not just as a vision in her thoughts. She longed to spend some quality time getting to know him for who he really was, but, she thought as her giddiness gave way to the same resigned misery that she had felt for the last day or so, she didn't know if she could let him take her out of here. Shame and anger had burned in his eyes when he had told her about the night at the warehouse, and the dark thoughts she had placed in his head. The decisions he made impacted the lives of so many people, and if he had been affected so profoundly by her before, who was to say it wouldn't happen again? She had already been the cause of so much of his agony, and she owed it to him, to the society that she had wronged, to the people whose lives he held in his hands, to do what was right. And what was right was staying here.

As she was led down the corridors, through the maze of hallways and brightly painted doors, shock came over Lois once again as she realized that, for the first time in her life, she was willing to do something that was completely unselfish for the good of others. The Lost and Found society, while generous, always had an ulterior motive. Widows and widowers of the victims of Lex Luthor held valuable information, and while they were only a small percentage of the people that the agency saw, they always gave her tidbits that helped her with her quest. With Clark, though, she didn't expect anything in return. Not information, not help, and certainly not bail money. She wanted nothing more than to be with him, but at the same time, she was willing to give that up for the benefit of everyone. Maybe she could make him see what it was he was doing by bailing her out, what kind of precedent it set, and just maybe she could talk him out of it.

The hallway turned, and she could see the metal door looming at the end of it, the one that lead to freedom. On the other side undoubtedly stood Clark, probably watching her at that very moment, a thought that made her stop dead in her tracks. The guard applied steady pressure to her arm, forcing her to move along, but she did not go willingly. Her feet drug heavily as she continued, her body aiding her sudden desire to delay seeing him for as long as possible. She needed to talk him out of this, to make him leave her here, but months of practical experience had taught her that as soon as she saw him, she'd lose her nerve. She'd fallen victim to that smile more than once, to that charm that always seemed to make her do exactly the opposite of what she had intended. For the most part, giving in to his charms had ended up being an enjoyable experience, a nice diversion from the gloom that her life had perpetually been cast in, but this was different. This was serious. This was a matter of morals, of ethics, and it was most certainly not pleasant.

The guard reached for his keys, and Lois felt her apprehension grow. How did you tell someone that you loved them too much to be with them? Just the sentence was a contradiction, she knew, but in this case it was the truth. Reality was a cold, hard thing, and it had this nasty habit of ruining even the best of intentions — she more than anyone knew all about that. And the reality of the situation was crystal clear, at least to her. As the key was inserted into the lock and gently tuned, Lois stood rigid, determined. She just had to tell him, to make him go. Briefly she pondered what she could do to scare him away, to make sure he never came back, but as soon as the thought came, it was shoved aside. She could never do anything to harm him, to deceive him, not anymore. It had only been a day since they had received the greatest gift that either of them could give, and that was the truth. And as horrible as that truth had been for both of them, for their relationship, she had been very relieved to have been able to get everything out in the open. In a way it was exciting, but, she thought as she took one last look around the sterile gloom on the jail, the truth was certainly less fun. But that was just how it was.

As the door swung open, Lois braced herself for the onslaught of emotion that would come with seeing him again. In an attempt to delay the inevitable, she squeezed her eyes shut tightly and took a deep breath, waiting for the scent of his aftershave to gently tickle her nose the way it always did. But there was no scent. There was no greeting, either, no happy cries of, "Lois!", no arms being thrown around her. Hesitantly, she opened one eye, and saw nothing but a waiting room. And her lawyer. Immediately her other eye opened, and she let out a sigh as she slumped over. She told herself that she was relieved, that being bailed out by her lawyer was better than being bailed out by Clark, but that didn't stop an immense feeling of hurt from building up in her.

Her lawyer looked at her quizzically, and Lois gave him a smile back, one that she had wanted to convey confidence and appreciation, but she knew that it was strained, she could feel it.

"Hello Lois," he said as the guard closed the heavy door behind her, leaving her alone in the room with him.

"Bob," she said as she made her way toward him. They shook hands quickly and then sat opposite each other in the threadbare Technicolor chairs that lined the room. Lois half expected to look over at the end table and see a Reader's Digest sitting on it from 1979. At least there was no shag carpet, she thought as she looked down at the plain, white, asbestos tiles. Yes sir, those prison folks sure did know how to make a reception room seem warm and inviting, she thought with a snort. Bob looked at her strangely, and she gave his another awkward smile, wondering distantly what had gotten into her. It only took a moment to answer that question, though. She had probably built up enough nervous energy in the walk from her cell to the door to last her a lifetime. All she needed was a stray thought, and she was sure she would either start laughing or break down in tears.

Bob coughed and looked down at his briefcase. "As you know, this morning was the hearing in which they formally charged you with 26 counts of felony arson and set your bail," he started, his tone the same professional one that Lois was used to. He looked back up at her again as he continued. "Immediately after the meeting, in the halls of the courthouse to be exact, I was contacted by a Mr. Kent, who wanted me to arrange for your release. He gave me cash to pay the bond, so here we are. I wanted to explain —"

"Where is he?" Lois interrupted. Normally she was never the type to break off someone when they were talking, but she just couldn't stop herself. She looked at him expectantly, and he shifted slightly under her gaze.

"He said he had something to take care of. In any case, we both agreed that it would be best if I came here to explain exactly what this entailed, and what will be expected of you when you're out," Bob said, and Lois nodded absently. As he rattled off legal terms and talked about police and parole officers, she found herself drifting, lost in thoughts about Clark. What would he need to take care of? Was that some sort of code that he used to indicate that he needed to do Super things? If she thought about it, some of the excuses that he had used when he left her had been very similar — he needed to work late, maybe, or he just remembered that he needed to do this or that. The excuses had left her hurt from time to time, confused more often than not, but she supposed that it was all part of the life of a superhero. Love was important, but saving lives took precedence. Of course, in a city like Metropolis, people died every day, probably at all hours of the day or night. There was no way he could save everyone and still have time to do anything — how did he discriminate when and where he should help and when it was better to take some time for himself, to ignore the cries for help and just relax? Was it possible to ignore something like that, she wondered. As the thought crossed her mind, she became aware that the room had become silent, and she made herself look at her lawyer who was now looking at her with anticipation.

"Huh?" Lois asked, drawing a thin frown from him in response.

"I said, can you agree to all this? If you break these rules, you can be sure that the police will throw you back in here without reservation."

Lois puckered her lips and stared at him for a moment. She almost wished now that she had paid attention to what he had been saying, but…the more she thought about it, the more she knew that Clark thoughts were a much more pleasant diversion. The dark recesses of her mind told her that maybe not knowing would be better, that maybe it would lead to her getting exactly what she wanted, namely to be put right back in here, but she pushed that thought aside. The last thing she needed right now was to get into more trouble with the law. "Yes, I can," she said finally, making a mental note to find out for herself what she needed to do.

Bob reached out his hand and Lois shook it. He gathered up his coat and briefcase and started toward the door, motioning for her to follow. She hesitated at first, wondering where it was they were going. She had been so intent on having Clark meet her that she hadn't thought about what she would do once she did get out. It had just been assumed that they would go somewhere to talk, and that she would wind up right back here after a couple hours. If she was expected to find her own way, she didn't know where she'd go or what she'd do.

They walked into the hall, and Lois found herself lost in thought once again. She followed Bob blindly, so intent on her introspection that she hadn't seen anyone around her. It hadn't even registered when a familiar, dark-haired man rounded the corner in front of her, offering her a smile that would normally cause her insides to turn to jelly. It was only as a hand was laid on her arm that she saw him. All the emotion she had built up earlier, all the conviction she had held, was nothing more than a distant memory, and even as she tried to remind herself what it was she had wanted to tell him, she threw her arms around him, enveloping him in an embrace that surely would've smothered any normal human being.


His timing couldn't have been better, Clark thought as he rounded the hallway corner. A quick peek with his vision had told him that Lois and her lawyer were in the hallway perpendicular to his, and a smile spread over his face as he tried to picture what Lois's reaction would be to seeing him. She had undoubtedly been told already that he was responsible for her release, and he imagined that she would be pleased about how everything had turned out. She probably had thought that she had seen the last of him, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He hoped to be around for quite some time.

Quickly he walked down the hallway, keeping Lois in his line of sight the whole time. She appeared to be preoccupied with something, but he didn't blame her. The whole world had been turned on its ear, and it probably took a lot to absorb this current change. Even as he turned the corner, she didn't seem to register his presence, strange for someone as observant as Lois usually was. He approached her cautiously, reaching out to touch her in such a way that she wouldn't be too startled. As it was, she jumped ever so slightly as his hand finally met her arm, her head whipping around and her eyes taking in his face. A million thoughts seem to pass over her face all at once as recognition came, finally settling on a naked expression of pure joy as she threw her arms around him enthusiastically. Her grip was tight, protective, almost like that of a drowning man holding on to a life preserver. He tried to hold her gently, but he found himself being swept up in the raw emotion of the moment, and his eyes began to moisten as he drew her closer, so close that he could feel her heartbeat through his chest. They shared a moment of quiet togetherness before they pulled apart and gazed into each others' faces, that familiar spark passing between them, just like it always had before. Her head tilted up fractionally, invitingly, and before he knew it they were lost in a kiss, one that seemed so profound and earth shattering that it was indescribable. In a way, he supposed, that it was profound, the first moment of affection they had shared since that night, the first real affirmation of a relationship that they had both taken for granted until then. Waves of pleasure rippled through his body as he tried not to think of what it was he almost lost, but after a moment she grew rigid in his grip, and her mouth pulled away from his.

"We can't do this," she said rather breathlessly. Clark just looked at her for a moment, confused.

"What, kiss? Of course we can! We've done it dozens of times before…" he replied, but as he spoke, he could see her expression steel, her jaw set, and a momentary sense of foreboding washed over him.

Lois started to squirm in his arms, and Clark had to release his grip. "No, we can't do THIS," she said, gesturing in the air around her. "I can't let you take me out of here."

He felt his eyebrows knit together as he tried to fathom what she meant. "Why not?"

Any remainders of their shared moment of passion seemed to disappear completely as she regarded him with the same type of expression that he supposed women had been giving men for millennia. It was the kind that told him that the answer to his question was patently obvious, at least to her, and probably any other person with half a brain. Her lips formed a thin line and she folded her arms across her chest, not saying a word. The spark that their eyes had shared before seemed very distant as they became locked in a staring match, although Clark couldn't for the life of him figure out why. After a long moment she let out an impatient breath and shook her head.

"Because in there is where I belong," she said. "Surely you can understand that. Everything you are, everything you stand for, is completely against everything I represent. I'm a criminal, Clark, and you're…you're…" She gestured toward his chest, making it obvious what it was she was talking about.

Clark sighed and turned away from her. Her words echoed the thoughts that had swirled around in his head for so long. It was amazing sometimes how much alike they were, how much their thoughts matched. If he had had any question as to whether she had been able to fathom his line of thinking had been answered, he supposed, but even though she understood what his problem had been, she obviously couldn't see why he was there. He needed to make her see that, but, he thought as he looked around at the curious bystanders, this wasn't the time or place. He had hoped to delay any discussion until they got home, but now that the subject had been broached, he supposed that they should get there sooner rather than later.

Clark turned and placed his hand on the small of Lois's back, raising his eyebrows and gesturing toward the stairway door a few feet away. She frowned fractionally and walked with him, waving her lawyer off just before entering the stairwell. The door closed behind them with a resounding thud that took a few moments to die down.

"What's this all about?" Clark whispered, frowning as his voice echoed down the stairwell. Lois fixed her eyes on the floor, trying to collect herself.

"It's about doing what's right Clark, and what's right is leaving me here," she said, but as she said the last word, he could hear a slight tremor in her voice, something that said that maybe she wasn't as convinced of that as she wanted him to believe. He found it hard to think that her self esteem had sunk so low that she could actually believe that she was worthy of being locked away with the dregs of society, although he supposed that he could see where she was coming from. She had something in common with them, or at least she had at one time. But not now. He knew her, and he knew that she deserved better than that.

"Lois," he said softly, trying not to sound patronizing. He put his hand squarely on her shoulders, drawing her gaze upward. She seemed on the verge of tears, and his heart went out to her, guilt slowly building up in his chest. "Believe me, I know what you did, and I know it was wrong. But I also know that the law allows for me to take you out of there, just like I did. I didn't do it rashly, I didn't do it without pondering the consequences. I'm more than willing to talk to you about this or anything else, and I took the whole day off so that we could do just that. Please, though, can we do it someplace a little more private?" He raised his eyebrows and looked at her, awaiting her answer. She drew back a corner of her mouth as she seemed to fight some inner struggle, then dropped her eyes.

"Okay," she said softly. Clark smiled. He waited a moment for her to return it, just like she always had before, but she didn't. In the past, it had always a smile or a gesture that had brought them out of bad situations, but the past was most certainly over with, he thought as he looked at her still troubled face. Everything was different now, their whole identities redefined in each others' eyes, and the innocence they once had could never come back. But with the truth, and with love, then maybe they could at least try and find a new understanding. The truth was a powerful thing, and, he thought as inspiration hit, what better way to live the truth than to face it head on? And what better way to get to know him than to travel his way?

"Come on," he said as he reached for her hand, clasping it in his as he started up the stairs. Lois looked at him sideways and hesitated before following him.

"Where are we going?" she asked as they climbed. Clark looked over his shoulder and gave her a crooked smile, one that almost felt too wide, too knowing. He felt like the world's biggest kid, sharing his big supersecret with his best friend.

"To the roof," he said, waiting for the recognition to flicker in her eyes. She seemed confused momentarily, but he could tell the instant that the recognition hit. At first she seemed caught off guard, but then he saw her smile break through.

"Couldn't we just take a cab?" she asked, but there was no accusation there, no note in her voice that suggested that was what she'd rather be doing. In fact, if he heard correctly, he could swear he detected a hint of the gentle humor that had always been held by the Lois he knew.

"Well, you have to admit the price of going this way is a lot more attractive. And besides, I want to make sure you got there in one piece," he said, hoping to smooth away the awkwardness that he knew was to come. He looked expectantly at her, waiting for that smile, and finally saw it. Only then did he allow himself to relax, to enjoy the moment that was to come.

The roof was two stories above them, and they climbed the stairs in a comfortable silence, each lost in thought. They didn't pass anyone on the way, which Clark supposed was for the best. People tended to be suspicious of strangers poking around on the roofs of buildings, and Clark didn't blame them. Why would someone need to be up there, anyway, unless it was for something suspicious — maybe to mess with the ventilation system, or maybe to jump over the edge of the building. That was why he usually supersped to the roof, but not today. For Lois, he took it gently.

Clark was the first to reach the door leading outside. He pushed it open and walked through it, spinning into his suit as he did so. The change was so rapid that Lois hadn't even detected it. As she followed him onto the roof, she stopped dead in her tracks, noticing that it was now Superman standing in front of her and not Clark. Her eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped perceptibly, although he couldn't tell if she was afraid of him, surprised, or just momentarily caught off guard. Inwardly, Clark chastised himself for not anticipating how seeing him as Superman would affect her. He plastered the largest smile he could muster onto his face in a weak attempt to ease any fears she might have, but he felt his cheeks start to strain as the time wore on and Lois remained shell shocked. Finally, he heard her swallow, and she forced an unsteady smile onto her face to match his.

"Shall we?" he asked with a light tone, holding out his arm to her. Lois gave a small nod and he gingerly scooped her up, noticing how stiff she seemed. It was something that would be fairly difficult to notice under normal circumstances, but he knew Lois well enough to see that something was bothering her, even above and beyond what they had talked about earlier. As he took off into the air, her arms wrapped around him rather delicately, almost as if she was afraid to get too close, and Clark couldn't help but turn his attention away from the skies to get a look at her face. Beneath her forced smile, beneath her wide eyes, he could detect a sense of what he could only classify as confusion, unease. It was only understandable, he supposed. Throughout the course of their relationship they had always been close, maybe closer than they should've been, especially considering the skeletons that lurked in each of their closets. Now that everything was out in the open, it was hard to face up to what the truth was, and to the fact that the person they were with was not who they had thought. When she talked to him while he was wearing his normal street clothes, it was easy to forget about that. Even the couple of times they had rather cryptically spoken of his experiences as Superman, there was a certain amount of detachment to the discussion. But here, flying through the air together, they couldn't help but be faced with the reality of the situation, something that he knew Lois was all too aware of already.

Clark tightened his grip on her and gave her a reassuring smile before looking back toward the sky, continuing the flight in silence. Maybe, on some level, he had hoped that by showing Lois the world from his vantage point, she might have less reservation, that maybe she would let go of some of her anxiety. But then again, it was entirely possible that it would have the opposite effect. He would find out soon enough, he supposed. Until then, he didn't blame her for feeling confused about him — he had been confused himself when he first took on the Superman persona. It would take time to sort it all out.

"What's it like?" he heard Lois say into his ear, her voice heavy. As he looked at her again, he was surprised to see her looking in fascination at the city as it passed below them. After a moment, he noticed that at some point during the flight, her body had relaxed against his, all traces of the tension she had felt on takeoff apparently gone. As he favored her with a curious look, he felt himself suddenly relax, not even realizing that he had been just as uneasy as she had been.

"What do you mean?" he asked, drawing her gaze away from the scenery. Her eyes softened as she looked at him, a lopsided smile beginning to form on her face.

"Being you. What's it like?" she smiled at him and looked away again. "You can come up here, see the whole world from above. It must be very liberating being able to do that," she said, her voice drifting on the wind as it sailed past his ears.

Clark didn't answer right away, instead choosing to think of how it was for her, seeing all this for the first time. His first flight had been so long ago, he almost forgot what it had felt like for him, how all the emotion had coursed through his body. After getting over the initial terror, there had been an incredible feeling of euphoria. There was power in being able to detach yourself from the rest of the world, to soaring with the birds. The flying had been the last of his powers to develop, and it had been the one that he felt set him the furthest apart from the rest of humanity. It was a double edged sword in way, and he had spent much of his adult life wrestling with the conflicting desires to fly and to remain one with the human race.

"It's all I know," he said, squinting up toward the sun. All the tales he could relate to her about the joy and the pain of being who he was would all boil down to just that. "I could ask you the same — what it's like to feel so much pain and anger, what it's like to not have this available to you."

Lois gave him a strange look for a moment, then nodded slowly. "I guess everyone is unique, and deep down, when they look at others, they wonder what it's like to live their lives. For the longest time, I looked at kids who still had their parents and felt that tug, that quiet what if. What if I still had my own parents, what would it be like?" Her smile seemed far away, and the silence stretched out for a moment as Lois seemed to be lost in quiet contemplation. Her arms wrapped around him more tightly as she seemed to return to the present. "But you still haven't answered my question. What's it like being you?"

Clark smiled and let himself enjoy the moment briefly before he started thinking of a way to respond to her question. He supposed that he could try and compare himself to her, or to any other normal person for that matter, but although he knew fairly well what life was like for a normal person, he had never truly experienced it. Even when he was younger and didn't technically have all the powers he had now, he had still been different from everyone else. He never got hurt, he never had any problems accomplishing the physical feats that a lot of children found hard. There had always been the feeling that something set him apart, and because of that, he had never really known what it was like to be ordinary. "All this — the flying, the strength, the powers — they're just something I can do. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed them throughout the years, but I honestly couldn't tell you what it's like to be anything other than I am."

Lois nodded and detached one of her arms, thrusting it out into the wind. "But I bet it must help, when times get hard, to know that this is up here. To know that, no matter how bad the world gets, there's this waiting for you." She closed her eyes and let the wind run through her hair. Clark smiled as he realized how beautiful she was when she was smiling. That was something that he never got used to, that he could never get enough of.

"Yes, it is, but the friendly skies can't always help. When bad things happen, you can fly around the world forever, but inevitably, when you land, you're right back where you were before," he said, noting the irony in his words as he found that they were now right outside her brownstone. She seemed to notice, too, and her smile contained an understanding.

"That might be true," she said as they landed in a dark spot behind the brownstone, out of the view of any bystanders. "But when you're in pain, every little thing helps. Take it from me, it can be unbearable sometimes, and can make you forget the beauty that's out there. Sometimes I think that you need to see that, to see the joy that the world holds, just to keep everything in perspective." Her expression was pained yet again as Clark bent over and set her on the ground. He let his hands linger on her waist, hoping that it would be comforting somehow, but as they stood and looked into each others' eyes, he felt heat pass between the connected surfaces. Immediately he looked away, his hands flying away from her almost as if he had been burnt by the contact. It would be so easy for both of them to just give in to emotion right now, to let themselves get carried away in their need for each other. It wouldn't be too hard, he thought, as he summoned the look her eyes had held only a moment earlier, one that spoke of desire, the same desire that he felt stir inside himself as he touched her. He would be lying if he said that something inside of him didn't want that, but it wasn't what they needed. So many issues were left on the table right now, issues that would need to be sorted out sooner or later, issues that would only grow if left ignored. No, it was far better to save the desire for later, for some time when it could be truly special.

Lois, whose eyes went wide with recognition, straightened her posture and turned on her heel, taking off for the door without a word. Clark quickly spun into his street clothes again as he fell into step behind her. So far, his time with her had been a series of rocky emotional ups and downs, and as he followed her through the house, he briefly wondered what would come next. It was then that he saw her stop abruptly at the entrance of the living room, looking down toward the floor. He tried to follow her gaze, but only saw a throw rug, one that almost seemed out of place. Something tickled the back of his mind, something that seemed to hold the answer to the question of just what was wrong, but it was wiped away by the gentle sound of her sobs. Quickly, he came up behind her, daring to lay a hand gently on her shoulder. She didn't flinch at all under his touch, and as he stood by her side, he gazed intently at the floor, opening his senses and trying to summon back the vague notion of what it was affecting Lois so strongly. It was then that it hit him, a smell that was subtle, yet distinctive — the smell of death, the smell of blood. He focused his eyes through the rug, seeing a dark stain on the hardwood, one that told the story of the last minutes of Lucy Lane's life. A sharp twinge of guilt coursed through him, guilt for not being there when both of them had needed him so badly. Lucy had laid on that floor bleeding to death, and Lois had slowly slipped away from reality, but he had been oblivious to it all. During the day he tried to limit his appearances as Superman, if only to give himself time to do his job at the Planet. He knew that crime still happened when he was away, and that sometimes people died, but it had always been a tradeoff he had been willing to make, the price he had to pay for living his own life. It hurt him that he had to make that choice at all, but he had always told himself that he was glad for any time that he was able to help as Superman, because it was more than he had ever been able to help before. But that tightrope walk had now cost the life of someone dear to Lois, and he couldn't help but feel responsible for that. It was his turn to play that what if game, to wonder what would've happened if he had just opened his ears and listened for that call, but he quickly decided that it could only make him crazy.

As Clark tried to straighten the emotion within him, he felt Lois breathe heavily a few times, a signal that she, too, had finally gathered herself together. As she spoke, her voice was small yet firm. "You have to take me back," she said into the depths of the living room.

"No," he said in an equally firm tone, earning a startled glance from her. "I brought you here for a reason."

Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him, and then turned back toward the spot on the floor. It wasn't hard to sense the dark thoughts she was thinking, the ones that were undoubtedly asking why he felt the need to torture her, but torture was the furthest thing from his mind. Maybe, somehow, he had felt that she needed to chase away the demons at home first. Or maybe he had thought that she would be more comfortable at one of the few places on earth that she has happy memories of, memories of a family that loved her and cared for her, just like he did. But lost in that line of reasoning had been the fact that Lucy's ghost haunted this brownstone.

"Let's go into the other room," he said, hoping to take her mind off Lucy. He removed his hand from her shoulder and started to walk away, but Lois didn't follow him right away. It was almost as if she hadn't heard him, but a glance over his shoulder showed him that she had, and that she was in conflict. She shifted her weight back and forth between her feet while staring into the living room, then shook her head once and turned toward Clark. They walked together into the Lost and Found reception room, sitting down in adjoining chairs. The brilliant afternoon light streamed in through the windows behind them, the blinds on the window contorting the rays into thin ribbons that stretched across the wall in front of them. Reflected off the white paint, the sun tried its hardest to cut through some of the gloom in the room, but it wasn't helping. The nagging stiffness of the chairs, the slightly worn fixtures of the room, and the thin layer of dust that was building up on everything created a counterpoint to the cheeriness of the sun, making Clark frown for only a moment. It was all too easy to get depressed at this time and in this place, where so much bad has happened, but he wouldn't allow that to happen, not to Lois, and most certainly not to him.

"Do you know why it is that I took you out of there?" he asked after a moment. He didn't turn to face Lois, instead choosing to track the dust particles that floated in the air, reflecting the rays of the sun and casting minute shadows on the wall.

Lois stared straight ahead toward an unknown spot on the wall and shrugged. "You're a sucker for a hard luck case?" she said, the teasing tone that would generally accompany such a statement completely gone from her voice.

Clark smiled anyway. "Because," he said, turning toward her. "Criminal or not, I don't think you deserve to be in that jail. When I think of the lives you've touched, the people you've helped here in this very room, I know for sure that it was the right thing to do."

Lois snorted diverted her eyes toward him. "I suppose you think that operating this place was a selfless and giving gesture, completely for the benefit for others. I hate to tell you, but it all had an ulterior motive, Clark. I benefited from the information they brought, and I used it in my investigation into Luthor."

"Maybe, but does that make it selfish?" he shot back at her, his eyebrows raised in challenge. "You kept logs of the accomplishments of everyone who passed through the doors of the agency, whether they were linked to your quest or not. That doesn't sound like something that you would do unless you truly cared about those people."

"How did you…?" she asked, surprised. At her words, he got up and walked over to the desk that had been Lucy's. Around it were photos, journals, and albums, all very much out in the open, and all of which Lois had had a hand in creating. He could see her handwriting on the captions, in the notes, in the correspondence.

"Lucy and I talked once or twice. She showed me these," he said, gesturing toward the items. "She told me about how you would help these people and the smile it always seemed to bring to your face. Every time I would think about these, it would just make me feel warm inside, knowing that that was the type of person that you truly were." Clark regarded Lois for a moment before returning to his chair. He reached out to hold her hand as he sat down, but she pulled it away, seemingly more determined than ever.

"All the good in the world doesn't excuse the crimes I committed, Clark. The only thing that can make them right is for me to serve my time, and that's what I want to do." Her jaw set in the same way that it had back at the police station, and Clark felt his own indignation grow.

"The law is a funny thing, Lois. The rules we live by are put in place for a reason, for the good on society. In a perfect world, I would agree with you, but we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world with plea bargains and parole boards, where time served is hardly ever the same as the time sentenced to be served."

Her eyes narrowed and she started to say something, but Clark held up his hand. What he had to say was too important to be interrupted, and he was afraid that if she started speaking, he would forget. "Lois, every day I pick up criminals and bring them to the police. Most will argue with you until they're blue in the face that they're somehow innocent of their crimes, never mind the fact that they were caught red handed. But in the back of their eyes you can see that twinkle, the one that says that they knew exactly what it was they were doing, and that they'd do it again if given half a chance. Seeing that is enough to make anyone cynical, but I refuse to fall into that trap because I believe that, ultimately, the justice systems knows what it's doing. Those who know what they've done, who are remorseful and who have paid their debt to society will be freed, and those who haven't, won't."

Clark leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together and letting them hang in front of him. His heard turned to the side and he locked onto her eyes, studying them, penetrating into her soul. "Nobody can argue that you're in the same class with those people, because you aren't. You have to be blind not to see how the death of your sister affected you, and how much regret you feel for everything you've done. Some can say those feelings are selfish, but I say that they show a rare understanding, something so many people lack. I know that you want nothing more than for this world to be a better place, and while I don't agree with your methods, I don't think your intentions were entirely wrong. The world will be better for having you free, and I plan on doing everything I can to make that happen."

As he finished, Clark searched her eyes for understanding, and for a moment he thought he saw a crack in her armor. Almost as quickly as he saw it, though, it went away again as Lois closed herself off from his influence. "I haven't paid any debt to society," she said, her tone still rigid. "And I certainly haven't proven myself worthy of being someone who should be here, with you. You're Superman, the man who stands for virtue and truth and everything else I've scorned for so long, and while I'm certainly flattered that you have such a high opinion of me, I can't say that I agree with your assessment."

Clark shook his head, knowing that it would come down to this eventually. "I'm Superman, yes, but I'm no saint. Who's to say that I'm even worthy of having someone like you? To go out there at night and face your enemy, to fight what seems like a hopeless fight against a man who has people killed routinely, that takes courage. What I do doesn't take any guts at all — I can't get hurt, and there are no consequences for me if I mess up. I hide behind an identity and conceal myself to everyone, including the ones I love," he said, gesturing toward her. "At times, I've been downright mean to you. Leaving you alone that night in the other room, where your sister died…"

Clark felt his throat tighten up, and he had to look away. At the time it had seemed like the thing to do, but now that he'd had some time to think about everything, he realized how horrible that must've been for her. To find out that her sister had died and her boyfriend was really Superman was a lot for a person to digest, but to have to deal with it alone must have made it that much worse. He was the last person she had left in the world, and it angered him to think that he could just leave in such a callous manner. Lois deserved better.

When he turned back toward her, he could see that her expression had softened considerably. He almost thought that he could make out a tear in the corner of her eye, but with one quick blink it was gone. "It wasn't pleasant, but at the same time, it made me think. That night was when I resolved to do what was right, and for that reason I don't hold any feelings of animosity toward you for leaving. If you'd have stayed, I don't think I could've faced the reality of the situation, the fact that I was only the one to blame for the ruin that my life had become." Lois gave a self-deprecating smile that quickly turned into a frown. Clark reached out for her hands once again, and this time she didn't draw away. Her gaze shifted into her lap, and she let out a long, shuddering breath, one that almost sounded like a sob. They had both learned lessons that night thanks to the cruel hand of fate, but that was the way that life worked. People didn't learn without having to live through some hard times, and that was as true for him as it was for her. She had learned the consequences of her crimes, and he had learned that nothing was as straightforward as it seemed. Happiness for them was long overdue, and it was time for them to find it once and for all.

"In a way, I suppose that whole fiasco was a blessing in disguise. I sure won't take anything for granted anymore," Lois said with a shuddering voice, and Clark smiled.

"It makes you realize what you have, what your priorities are, and what's worth hanging on to," he said as he squeezed her hands. "Whether its right or wrong, I think you're pretty great. And I promise I won't leave you again."

Lois smiled even as she cried, raising her eyes to his. What he saw was love in its purest form, breaking through her resolve at last. They spoke to each other without saying a word, expressing emotions that the English language couldn't do justice to. Then, without hesitation, she shot out of her chair and into his lap, devouring his mouth. They were both hungry, all too anxious to make up for the time that had been lost. The kiss lasted for several long minutes before it finally died down, and Lois situated herself on top of Clark, her body pressed into his. She laid her head contentedly against his chest, and he found himself enjoying the feeling of having her in his arms again. He didn't know how he could ever have doubted something that just felt so very right, something that made him so very happy. Soon the only sound in the room was that of their breathing, in unison. Neither of them needed to say how close they had been to losing this, they both knew it all too well. But that was not a concern anymore, now that they had found peace.


The sun had long since sunk below the skyline of the city, leaving long shadows in the street and casting the buildings into a gloomy grayness, one that wasn't quite night and wasn't quite day. All over the city, streetlights were beginning to flicker on, and those on the street where Lois lived were no exception. The spot on the wall that had once been bathed in bright sunshine was now being illuminated by a sickly orange light, one that distorted the shapes and shadows of everything in the room. Lois supposed that, under normal circumstances, she would find that to be profound. In a way, their lives had been cast into a new light, one that distorted the reality that they thought they had known, one that could make things look uglier than they were. But the circumstances were not normal, and she found that the play of light on dark, the shadows that were everywhere in life, no longer held any meaning to her. All there was now was Clark and the happiness he brought her. She wasn't a creature of the night anymore, slinking from dark spot to dark spot hoping to avoid discovery — now that she had been unmasked, she found herself wondering what the appeal of shadow was in the first place.

As Lois took in a deep breath of air, she felt Clark's chest rise underneath her own, an outward sign of their unconscious connection, a link that she had spent the last few hours exploring. All he had to do was look at her and she found that she could feel his own emotion, that she could almost read what it was he was thinking. It helped, of course, that he had spent his time thinking of her. She didn't know if that was a byproduct of where they were, or what they had talked about earlier, but she just knew, somehow, that he was thinking of her, and she knew with certainty for the first time in a long time that those thoughts were positive. He seemed so content, and for a moment she let herself wallow in that feeling herself. As she relaxed, she remembered other times when she had been happy, times long ago in this very room. Fuzzy memories of holidays past, of special events and rainy days, began to surface, reminders of simpler times. She could almost smell the pine needles from the fresh tree, almost smell her mother's cookies baking in the oven, almost hear the rain beating away against the glass behind her. The memories were ghosts from times when her soul had been warmed, times that had played over and over again in her mind, times that had grown blurry because of the passage of years.

"Sometimes I wish I had a time machine," Lois said softly, her voice cutting through the quiet of the room. "I would give anything to go back, to see them one more time. I took it for granted that they would always be there was I was younger, and then, when they died…" she let out a sob and had to pause before regaining her composure. "Then they were gone, stolen from me in an instant. In my mind, I'll always remember the good times, but I know that I didn't always treat them well. I said some of the cruelest things to them right before they died. If I could I would go back, take those words away, and just look at them and feel their love. You forget after a while, as horrible as that sounds. You forget what their faces looked like, how their voices sounded, what their mannerisms were. Every time I realize that I've forgotten another detail about them, I feel like a part inside me has died anew."

Clark wrapped his arm around her shoulders as she broke down it tears, overwhelmed by the memories. Leaning his cheek against her soft hair, he closed his eyes and let his thoughts wander across the vast expanse of time and space, to a planet long destroyed. "I never knew my real parents. Many a night have passed with me staring up at the stars, wondering how it was that I made the journey safely across the light years that separated Earth from Krypton. Out of a true act of selflessness and love, my parents saved me from a dying world, even though they couldn't save themselves. I wish I could see them just once and thank them for everything. I'd like to show them who I've become, what I've done. But I know that I can't. I think sometimes that I can feel them looking out for me, you know? For years I never knew how I came to arrive at the doorstep of Jonathan and Martha Kent, but I always knew that my real parents, whoever they were, loved me. I could just feel that."

Lois gently pulled away from him and tilted her head up, her eyes meeting his. It was strange how much they had in common, after all. Both their families had been taken away from them by tragic events, he was just lucky enough to have ended up with a new family who loved him as if he were their own. She supposed she envied him for that, but she couldn't hold it against him. If she had been adopted by a family like the Kents, she probably would've turned out much the same, too. They instilled him with an incredible amount of caring and compassion, and enough patience to put up with someone like herself.

His hand made contact with her chin, and with a gentle motion, he drew his fingers up and caressed her cheek. "Your parents, wherever they are, are looking out for you, I'm sure. As the years go by and the memories slip away, always remember that piece of them that you always keep in your heart. Remember the love they felt for you and let that sustain you. Whatever else may come, remember that when you are loved, you are never alone."

His angelic face began to blur as tears formed in her vision. She had known from the moment that she had first laid eyes on Clark that he was something special. As they had grown closer, she had seen glimpses of the depths of his soul, but they had both actively kept each other at arm's length. It had taken a near disaster for them to finally be able to take down their barriers and show their true selves. Neither of them were perfect; each of them bore emotional scars. But that didn't matter, not when they knew that they had each other.

"Am I loved, Clark?" she asked with a shaky voice. His eyes became tender, and instead of answering her directly, he leaned down towards her. Lois closed her eyes as she felt his lips on hers. They brushed against each other gently, teasingly, before he leaned in further, this time making firm contact. As they kissed, Lois realized what a silly question it had been. Of course she was loved, by him. In the months they had been together, she had been kissed by him before, but something about this one was different. It only took a moment for her to realize what that difference was. The other ones had all been timid, reserved. They had both held back, probably scared of what would happen if they were to truly let themselves go. But now they knew everything about each other, and they accepted their various imperfections.

Lois let her thoughts fade away as she lost herself in his touch. After a few moments, he pulled away from her, and Lois let out a small moan of disappointment as her eyes lazily opened. Clark had a dazed expression on his face, and she couldn't help but smile at that. He might be super, but he obviously felt the fireworks between them.

"Does that answer your question?" he asked, a smile forming on his face to match hers.

Lois giggled and let her hand linger on the broad expanse of his chest. "I would say that it does, yes," she said with a teasing tone in her voice. He looked at her, the light that had been in his eyes brighter, somehow, than it had been before. But it seemed that he was troubled, too. Only a day or two earlier, Lois wouldn't have been able to catch that, but she was getting to know him better with each passing moment. And if she knew him, than the problem was clear to her.

"What about you Clark? You have to know that you're not alone, either. You'll never be alone again, at least not if I have anything to say about it."

Ah, she did know him well. He seemed momentarily surprised, but she could see the worry drop away as the smile on his face finally reached his eyes. "Thank you, Lois," he whispered as he drew her toward him once again. They sat and held each other wordlessly, the sound of their breathing the only thing that could be heard. Lois could see herself spending the rest of her life just like this. She would have never thought herself capable of being able to love so strongly, but every time she looked at him, thought about him, her heart swelled. She loved him, and he loved her. That was what had ultimately carried them through the last couple days, and hopefully would carry them through whatever it was that would come.

But what was going to come, exactly? Up until a few hours ago, she had just accepted the fact that she would be spending a great deal of time behind bars. But that was before Clark pried her eyes open and made her see that she wasn't the monster that she thought she was. Deep down, a part of Lois still felt obliged to go back to prison, to truly make good in the eyes of the law. But a growing part of herself was beginning to find hope, beginning to think of a way to truly have her happily ever after. She didn't know how she would get out of all her troubles, but it occurred to her that Clark might. He obviously took her out of prison for a reason, and while she was sure that making her see her own self worth was part of it, there had to be something else.

Lois shifted in his arms, snuggling up closer to him. "So, Clark," she said, looking away. "What exactly do you see in my future? I know it's hard to predict, even for someone as talented as yourself, but I can't help but think that you're a man of vision," she said, turning toward him as she finished. Her smile was gentle and sincere but that wasn't what she found Clark looking at. His eyes focused steadily on her own, and she knew instantly that he had understood her question.

She felt him move ever so slightly against her, then let out a loud breath as he slowly started rubbing her arm. "I see…a courtroom. Sitting at the defense's table, with his barrage of high-powered lawyers in Armani suits, is one Lex Luthor. On the witness stand is Lois Lane, renowned expert on Lex Luthor and keeper of the most extensive body of evidence from his various shady dealings throughout the years. Her research was integral to capturing him and building a case against him, and for that the prosecutor has decided to give her a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge."

Lois stared at him wide-eyed, processing what he was saying. It sounded like he thought the district attorney's office would somehow seek her out, then use her evidence, most of which was inadmissible, in exchange for a plea bargain. She found herself laughing gently as the absurdity of it all began to sink in. Clark had to be kidding — no prosecutor in their right mind would take the word of someone like her, and they certainly wouldn't give her a plea bargain for information that probably amounted to almost nothing in the grand scheme of thing.

Clark's mouth turned up ever so slightly before a somewhat hurt expression flashed across his face. Lois found her laughter dying away as it occurred to her that maybe he wasn't kidding. "Are you serious?" she asked, leaning away from him slightly.

He favored her with a small nod and let the hands that had been gently caressing her fall away. "Of course I'm serious," he said. "Almost since the moment we met, you've had me absolutely convinced of his guilt, and you've done so by showing me evidence that is thorough and very telling. I imagine that you've probably got a lot more around, too, bits of information collected during your late night escapades, things that nobody else has ever seen. Although it was collected outside of legal means, your evidence could play an important role in leading police down the path to collecting information that IS admissible. Certain people in the police office and the DA's office would like nothing more that to nail Lex Luthor to the wall — it's just a matter of getting them on your side."

"And how do I do that?" she asked, skeptical. He gave her a gentle smile, one that she was beginning to label the secret smile.

"Oh, you reach out to your connections, send out word to the right people," he said, and Lois was beginning to wonder for the first time if maybe he wasn't on the right track.

"I don't suppose that you know anyone who has started spreading the word?" she asked, feeling a tingle go up her spine. She knew that he was very connected in both the police department and the DA's office, and she also knew that he wouldn't hesitate to act when he knew he was doing the right thing. By doing so, he was putting his reputation on the line, something that was the lifeblood of journalists. He would be risking his credibility, and all for her.

His lips pursed ever so slightly and he gave a small shrug. They stared each other down for a second before he finally gave a wide smile, and Lois finally had her answer. Yes, he had put word out, and there was no turning back. A wave of love swept over her, and Lois leaned back against his chest, wrapping her arms firmly around him. She was a fool to ever even think about giving up a man like this. By themselves, they each changed the world somehow, just by sheer force of will and personality. Together, as a team, they could do things that neither of them could even dream. They could truly move mountains if they so desired. More importantly, together, as a true, honest, and open couple, they could finally do the one thing that neither of them had managed alone, and that was to put Lex Luthor behind bars. The idea excited her, but the all-consuming zeal that she once felt at the prospect was gone. Now there was only the patience borne from years of waiting, and fostered by her new partner. Bringing in Luthor would be fun for once, it would be satisfying, and in the end, she knew, it would be successful. They would be successful. And she couldn't be happier.


The stenciled black letters on the frosted white glass of the door announced that he had found the evidence locker, a destination that apparently wasn't too popular with his colleagues, judging from the deathly silence of the area. Given the number of people that worked for the MPD, Henderson had figured to run into at least a few of his coworkers, but so far he had seen nobody. It was probably for the best, he figured, especially given what it was that he was searching for.

After some digging earlier that afternoon, Bill had remembered where he had heard the name Nigel St. John before. It was somewhat ghostly in the police community, a name that seemed to pop up at odd times, usually mentioned in passing as a suspect in shady homicide cases. Nothing ever seemed to come of the leads on him, and he had never been charged with any crimes, which was probably just as well since nobody seemed to know who the man was. But Henderson had heard through his connections that St. John was currently residing in Metropolis, doing the dirty work for Lex Luthor, the city's renowned philanthropist and, as far as Henderson was considered, its top criminal as well. No proof had even been collected to prove Henderson right, but he knew it was only a matter of time before it did. Which brought him here.

A quick cross reference of the crimes mentioned in connection to St. John showed a smattering of unsolved cases and even more built on nothing but circumstantial evidence, the very type that Henderson considered flimsiest and most suspicious. All that lacked was a common denominator, something to tie them all together, which is what brought him down to the darkest corner of the MPD offices. It seemed odd to think that this search started from nothing but a simple inquiry into a set of fingerprints, but he just couldn't ignore the suspicious buzzing in his subconscious whenever he thought of this case. The veterans called that police instinct — Henderson preferred to refer to it as a hunch. But his hunches more often than not seemed to pay off.

After pulling the list of cases out of his pocket, Henderson got down to business, pulling piles and gathering them around a table, fighting a never ending battle against the dust bunnies as he did so. One by one he studied the files, making a detailed list of relatives, bosses, friends, and other people that deceased had known. The logistics of the crime itself were unimportant, though he did find it interesting to read about some of the unusual ways that some of them had ceased to be. What was important was the account of evidence, and as Henderson continued through the files, he noticed a pattern that hadn't been entirely unexpected. In the era of scientific crime fighting, where DNA samples convicted people on a routine basis, there was a surprising lack of that type of evidence in these cases. No stray hairs or bodily fluids, not even so much as a fingerprint. Normally that could be attributed to shoddy police work, but according to the reports he read, the crime scenes had been thoroughly searched and inventoried, but they had been completely clean. Prints had been rubbed off surfaces, blood had been cleaned up, and all traces of just who had committed the crime had literally been washed away.

It was for that reason that St. John's named had been drug into the mix. He had an aura of someone larger than life, someone who always seemed to get away. It was odd, then, that the detectives in charge of the cases hadn't made any headway, if only because someone like St. John would be considered to be a prime catch, the kind of thing that careers were built on. Homicide detectives all seemed to have egos the size of Alaska, while at the same time having an eye for the finest of details. So why hadn't anyone noticed the similarities in these cases? Why hadn't anyone taken the time to assimilate the information that he was currently gathering?

The process took the better part of a 12 hour shift, although to Henderson it felt more like 12 minutes. The yellow glow of the lights overhead seemed burned into his soul as he started replacing the files, but he didn't feel tired. The dust churned in the air again as he trudged though the room, bringing box upon box back to the perfectly bare and oddly dust-free spots on the shelves where he originally found them. Once everything was back as it was, he told himself, then he would look. Compiling, assimilating, all that had been done without a thought to the cases that came before it. Now, finally, he could take that look, find that piece of the puzzle that made everything fit together.

With a shaky hand, Henderson picked up his notebook and started thumbing through the list, cross referencing names and places, friends and enemies. The more names he reviewed, the more something in the back of his mind tried to break through, a vague notion of what it was that linked everything together. He tried to access that thought, but it remained elusive, waiting for that one word or name that would set it free. Finally, unexpectedly, that named just seemed to pop into Henderson's vision.

Stunned at the implications, Henderson could only blink for a moment. It couldn't be true, could it? Quickly, he thumbed through the names again, trying to verify his hypothesis. In the end, though, there was no denying the fact that it was true. And suddenly he could see why it was that the crime scenes had been so clean, why it was that nobody had been able or willing to solve these crimes. Some villains were just too intimidating, too influential to be stood up to, and Henderson wondered if he really wanted to remember what it was that he had just found out, because it almost seemed to him that knowing would put his life and his career in jeopardy. But would it be worth it, if it meant saving lives like those of the people whose deaths had lead to this investigation?

Yes, it would be, he knew right away. It wasn't even a question. But the investigation would go far more easily if he had help. Men like Lex Luthor, the man who was the common link in every murder that Henderson had read about that night, could only be brought to justice with the effort of a team of men, people who had principles and who couldn't be bought. And Henderson knew just the man he wanted on his team.

Quickly, he got up and left the archive, reaching for his cell phone on the way. As he walked down the empty corridors, he dialed the number that he knew so well, hoping that it was just that link to Luthor that had brought Kent to him in the first place.


As Clark began to stir, he became aware of a feeling of weight on top of him. It wasn't an uncomfortable feeling, or even an odd feeling, although it probably should've been. It wasn't every morning that a person awoke to find a beautiful woman sleeping on top of them; in fact, as far as Clark could remember, this was a first for him. He shifted his arm and felt her move ever so slightly against him, causing ripples of awareness to course through him, accompanied by thoughts of the night before.

Clark had to smile as he reveled in the memories. They probably could've done any number of things to usher in the new era of their relationship, but in the end they had laid down on the couch and just talked. Clark told her his innermost thoughts and secrets, and she had opened her soul to him. For the first time, he felt as if he actually knew who she was, but the odd thing was that it hadn't done anything to change how he felt about her. He could only love her as she told about all she had to endure, and he could only be grateful for the fact that she had turned out to be who she was. As the hours had worn on and the stories had been told, they had both drifted off to sleep in each other's arms, content to just be together.

So this is what it felt like, Clark thought. To tell the truth, he had always wondered how it was that men and women were able to live together, to put up with the little nuances and annoyances that made them who they were. He had wondered how love could forgive so many things, but not anymore. As he opened his eyes and looked upon Lois's sleeping form, he could see himself spending forever with her, for better or worse, no matter what little things came between them. Love was that strong, and there was just no fighting it.

The sharp chirping of his cell phone ringer jolted him out of his thoughts. Clark reached up toward the end table and felt around for the phone. As his hand finally hit it, he felt Lois shift on top of him.

"Just a few more minutes. Don't wanna go to school," she mumbled, reaching her hand up as if to hit an imaginary alarm clock.

Clark smiled as he let her roll over. He sat up slightly, positioning himself so that she gently rolled off of him and back onto the sofa. Twisting, he sat up and pulled away from her, bringing the phone to his ear.

"Clark Kent," he said, hoping that his voice didn't give away the fact that he had just woken up.

"Clark, I'm glad I found you," came the excited voice of Bill Henderson. "I got the results of your query, and a bit more on top of that," he said.

Clark raised his eyebrows, any remnants of sleep quickly fading away. "Oh?"

"Well, for starters, the prints on the picture you mentioned were for a man named Nigel St. John," Henderson said.

"Why does that name sound so familiar?" Clark thought aloud. He knew he had heard it before, but just where and under what circumstances eluded him.

"Yeah, I asked myself the same question. St. John's name is mentioned in a lot of shady murder cases, so I did some digging. Come to find out, the cases that he was mentioned in connection with all had one other common denominator: Lex Luthor."

Clark frowned. Of course — Nigel St. John was Luthor's number two. That was a good enough link to drag Luthor's name into the equation, but it wasn't enough to build much of a case on. As Clark looked back toward the couch, it occurred to him that Lois had enough evidence to solidify that link, to start building something solid. "How strong is your connection, Bill?" Clark asked, a plan forming.

"Well," Henderson said, then seemed to hesitate. "Truthfully, it's weak at best. It'll take a lot of work to pour through the evidence logs and cross reference those to the information that the crime lab has, but I think I can build a case from there."

"What if I told you that I know someone who can help you out," Clark asked, noticing how Lois seemed to stir at his words.

The other end of the line went silent for a moment. "I would be very interested in picking their brain," he said finally.

"I'll have to confer with them first, but how about we meet over lunch. We could meet at noon at Emerson's Caf‚." Lunch was fairly innocent, Clark thought. The atmosphere at a caf‚ or any other neutral public site would take away the stresses associated with the police station or the Daily Planet, for instance. Sometimes, just being someplace relaxing helped to take the objectivity away from a person, making them more agreeable. Honestly, he didn't know if Lois would be willing to cooperate or not, but he hoped for her sake that she did. Henderson was one of the good guys, someone who Clark knew thought as unfavorably about Luthor as she did, he just had to make her see that.

"See you then," Henderson said, and hung up. It occurred to Clark that noon was usually the detective's time for rest, but if he knew Henderson as well as he thought he did, then the case would come before insignificant things such as sleep.

Clark pressed a button on his phone and set it back on the end table. As he leaned over Lois, she turned her head to look at him, cracking her eyes open and squinting in his direction. For a moment, Clark had to stifle a laugh at her appearance. It's been said that one never truly knows a person until they wake up next to them in the morning, when neither of them has had time to primp themselves or otherwise make themselves presentable. As Lois looked at him, her disheveled hair creating an irregular halo around her head, she looked very comical, yet at the same time very beautiful. Clark was sure that he was quite a sight himself — man of steel or not, there wasn't much you could do to prevent bedhead. The smile died on his lips as he wondered how she saw him now, in his most raw form. Her eyes opened further as she looked at him quizzically, and all of a sudden, he found himself smiling at her. It didn't take long for a smile to creep across her face, and it seemed to Clark that the whole world had faded away in the glow of her beautiful, if not somewhat groggy, smile. They sat in silence for a long while, content in what would normally be an eerie silence, and Clark couldn't help but notice the fact that the feelings they shared felt different than anything previously. There was no heat, no hint of barely contained passion, like there had been last night. There was only contentment, and an incredibly domestic feeling that had no business being in the presence of an arsonist and a superhero. The exchange stretched out several long, happy moments before Lois finally broke their connection by turning away and running a hand through her hair.

"Who was that?" she rasped as she sat up. Clark scooted back on the sofa until he was sitting next to her again.

"Inspector Henderson, Metropolis PD. I talked to him yesterday about your sister's case, and after some investigation, he found a link to Lex Luthor."

The hand that was still running through her hair froze for a moment as Lois's eyes went wide. She sat completely still for what seemed like eons, staring at some distant point on the opposite wall, before she finally turned toward Clark again.

"And you told him that I would be able to help him establish a case?" she said slowly.

Clark shrugged. "I know you have a lot of information on Luthor. I just thought that it might give Henderson a better shot at really nailing him if you shared what you had."

Lois tugged her hand out of her hair and turned sideways on the couch so that she was sitting cross-legged, facing him. "Clark, whatever I have won't mean anything to anyone who's serious about prosecuting Luthor. Like I said last night, I obtained most of it through illegal means, and the activities they detailed were either covered up or pinned on someone else a long time ago."

"That may be," Clark responded. "But, again, it at least gives Henderson an idea of what Luthor was up to and where he can go to collect information that WOULD be admissible. Besides, let's not forget that you can help prove the case against Lex on the whole heat wave deal."

Lois's nose wrinkled briefly as she processed what Clark was saying. "Yes, I was at that warehouse, and yes, there's a picture that proves it," she said distantly. "And although I produced evidence that would implicate someone in Lex Corp, it isn't the type that could convict Lex." Her eyes focused on his face, and suddenly she seemed very much the professional that he had always known her to be. "I've seen it happen time and time again, Clark. You and I both know that it was Lex behind the heat wave, but the evidence is circumstantial enough that it would be very hard to prove our case. He'd just implicate one of his underlings in the scam, just like he always does, and they wouldn't put up too much of a protest, because they'd know what would happen to them and their families of they did. No, we need to catch him red handed."

Clark smiled as he caught the meaning of her words. "We?"

Lois cocked an eyebrow at him and smiled crookedly back. "Yes, we. If Henderson wants to know what I know, I say that's fine. Let the police look into what he's done in the past. I want to look at what he's going to do in the future, and I want to get him in the act. Of course, I want the police to be there when that happens, but…" Her slightly playful expression turned devious. "I suppose I could strike a deal that would make such an endeavor worthwhile to both them and me."

Clark nodded, marveling at her tenacity in the face of a monumental task. She had laughed when he suggested the same thing the night before, but now she it looked like she convinced herself that it was the right course to take. What a difference a day made when it came to her confidence. The woman who sat in front of him now almost seemed like the Lois he remembered, the one who was driven, who didn't stop at anything. That was the woman he fell in love with, and he was glad to have her back.

He suspected that a large part of Lois's comeback stemmed from that grain of hope he had implanted in her. That hope rested on the possibility of being able to prove herself, to make good by the world, and his plan on bringing that to her had been considered a long shot at best. Truth be told, he had wholeheartedly expected the photograph that Lucy had held to be wiped clean of prints, and that he would have to end up groveling to the DA to open an inquiry into Lex Luthor. But all the cards had fallen his way, and it was time to take advantage of it. If Henderson was truly dedicated to catching Lex Luthor, than Clark could see the police going to the DA to let Lois help them, to strike up any deal necessary to get her cooperation. That one set of fingerprints that Henderson found on that photograph was probably all that stood between freedom and dozens of years behind bars for Lois.

Clark knew that Lois was thinking just the same thoughts as he was, and he smiled at her, silently voicing his support. "I get the exclusive, of course," he said mischievously.

Lois leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Of course. But let's not count our chickens before they hatch. The first priority is getting to Lex, and I think I might know a way to do that." With that, Lois abruptly stood up and made a beeline for the staircase. "But we have to get to work, partner," she threw over her shoulder as she reached the stairs. "So I suggest we freshen up and meet back here in an hour."

"Okay," Clark replied as he watched her climb the stairs. When Lois got down to business, she really got down to business, but in this case he didn't blame her. The faster they got a lead on Luthor, the better it would be for her, for them. With a decisive nod, Clark rose from the couch and headed toward the back door of the brownstone. As soon as he was out the door, he spun into the suit and took off into the air, feeling suddenly giddy. He could feel the resolution coming, and couldn't wait. It took all his willpower to hold himself back, to reign in his speed and enjoy this small respite before the real work began. Even though he COULD take a shower in five seconds, Lois still needed her time, and he needed her to build the case. And oh, what a case it would be.


"Project Shockwave," Lois said as she slapped a folder onto the massive oak desk in front of him. The room they were in was lined with filing cabinets, and the only illumination came from the dull fluorescent light overhead. The desk was very old, and from the looks of it, very well used. An overstuffed leather office chair stood behind Lois, dwarfing the small folding chair that Clark found himself sitting on. It was apparent to him that this room didn't get many visitors, and he thought he knew why. Curious, he had taken a peek inside one of the cabinets as he had entered the room, and he had seen all manner of papers and documents, all relating to Lex Luthor. This room had to be Lois's own personal office, and, judging by the heaviness of the locks on the door, the location where she kept all her valuable information.

Clark picked up the folder from the desk and quickly flipped though it. Project Shockwave was a government contract for costal defense, a contract that was won by Lex Luthor. Clark looked up from the folder, not sure what Lois was getting at. The vote for this project had been months ago, and the system was already in place and in the testing phase.

Apparently his expression had gotten his point across. "I investigated this when it was current." Lois said. "Typically, government contracts are very competitive, drawing many bidders and a lot of scrutiny from the legislature. This one, though, went through amazingly fast and with very little opposition. Because it dealt with Luthor, I did some snooping, and found out that the wheels had been significantly greased, to the tune of several million dollars."

"But that was months ago," Clark retorted, still confused. The file had more or less outlined what she had said, although nowhere had Lex been mentioned specifically. Just like with everything else, the evidence was more circumstantial than anything else.

"Yes, but it shows that Lex is not above influencing house and senate votes for his own gain. Now," she said as she turned around and pulled another folder from atop one of the filing cabinets. "Fast forward to this week. The newest big deal contract is for the continental ballistic missile shield, a pet project of the president. Normally, Lex's shakedown of the defense committee would be enough to buy him quite a few big ticket contracts, but with the recent election came a new group of representatives and a new makeup for the committee."

Clark nodded, considering the possibilities. "When the new session of congress begins, he'll want to have the new committee members in his pocket, so you think that he'll be approaching them and making them offers that can't be refused."

Smiling, Lois nodded. "All you have to do is catch him in the act, maybe get a few of our elected officials to talk, and he's nailed. The feds don't take to kindly to defrauding the government."

On the desk was a legal pad and a mug filled with pens. Clark quickly grabbed a writing implement and pulled the paper in front of him, making an outline on the sheet in front of him. "Catching Luthor would mean overhearing the conversation and catching it on tape somehow. I would imagine that he'd be very cautious about where the conversations took place, so I don't think that'll be very easy."

Lois began to pace back and forth, her hands planted firmly on her hips. "Not exactly," she said. "I would think that all you would need was a picture of the representative with Lex, maybe a printout of his most recent bank statement, and I bet he sings like a canary."

Blackmail, then. Clark wrote down what she said, but he frowned internally at the thought. There was something underhanded about it all, but he supposed blackmail of this sort would almost be necessary against someone like Lex. The man was a wizard at hiding his tracks, and he got away with it because his employees and business associates all knew what would happen when they crossed him. Dealing with elected officials, however, was a different story entirely. With them, it was all about enticements and politics. As much as he hated to admit it, Clark knew that a large part of playing the political game was dangling an imaginary carrot in front of the various political figures and hoping that they'd take the bait. Their evidence, coupled with the fact that Clark was a reporter for one of the country's most respected newspapers, would be more than enough to counter whatever Lex decided to offer..

"So I'll be following the representatives, then?" he asked without looking up.

"Well, one of the conditions of my release was that I not leave New Troy," Lois said, stopping her pacing and leaning over the desk. "Besides, most of those politicians probably aren't in Washington right now. You have to admit that you can get around the country a little better than most people can," she said. Clark looked up toward her and saw her regarding him with an almost pleading expression. He gave her a reassuring smile as he laid his hand on hers.

"It's fine, Lois," he said.

"But are you sure you're okay with this?" Lois asked as she sat down. Her hand turned under his, wrapping it in a comforting grip. Clark marveled again at they way she was able to read him, to understand what he was thinking.

"I admit it's not the most orthodox method of catching a criminal, but I understand why it needs to be done this way. Don't worry about me," he said with a smile, giving her hand a light squeeze. Her worried expression softened, and she turned her gaze toward the pad of paper.

"While you're busy doing that, I'll be here pouring through the house voting records, the financial statements of the representatives, and whatever else I can think of." She paused and looked at him for a moment, then brought her free hand up and pointed at the paper. "You might want to write that down," she said.

Clark blinked, not realizing that he had been lost in her. Quickly he scribbled down the notes and pulled his hand away from hers. The connection was wonderful, but it was also distracting, and that was the last thing he needed right now.

"I guess my next question is, what's the time frame on this?" he asked as he leaned back in his chair.

Lois looked at her watch, and then back at him. "Well, at lunch we talk to your inspector friend. We have until then to make a game plan and gather up some information, and then I say that we get started in earnest after lunch."

It was an ambitious plan, but Clark expected no less. He would have to call his boss and let him know that he was hard at work securing an exclusive for the Daily Planet, but Clark was sure that Perry would understand. It would only take a few dropped hints for Perry to see how big this story had a chance to be. With any luck, his byline would be on the front page in a matter of days, the story beneath it detailing the dramatic end to one of the most influential men in the world. Clark couldn't wait.

"Great, let's get to work."


Henderson fought his way through the busy lunchtime crowd and entered the cafeteria, shielding his eyes as the bright sun was left behind. It took him a few moments to adjust to the relative darkness of the interior, but as everything began to come into focus again, he was immediately able to pick out Clark Kent, seated at a booth next to woman. Henderson knew she should be familiar to him, but her name seemed to escape him at the moment. As he approached the table, they seemed oblivious to him, and he was able to observe certain almost intimate gestures, things that would seem inconsequential to anyone who didn't make a career out of observing others. But he had seen this type of behavior before, and he could see just by the way they looked at each other that there was something going on between them.

Suddenly, Clark stilled and looked up, catching Henderson just as he was about to sit down. His cheeks reddened fractionally, and immediately the two of them scooted apart on the bench, both assuming detached expressions, ones that tried to convey the fact that they were both professionals. But Henderson wasn't buying it.

"Clark," Henderson said as he sat down. Clark nodded his head once in acknowledgment.

"Bill," he said then gestured to his companion. "Detective Henderson, this is Lois Lane. Lois, Bill Henderson."

Bill stilled as he immediately recognized the name. Lane was the woman who Clark had asked about, the one whose sister had been killed. She was also the woman with the incredibly long rap sheet, who until recently had been calling the city jail home. Warning bells went off in Henderson's head as he recalled the tender looks that they had given each other only a few moments earlier. He had never figured Kent to be the type to associate with criminals, but as he was finding out recently, Bill didn't really know as much as he thought he did.

"Ms. Lane," he said politely, reaching for her hand. It also occurred to Bill that Clark had said that he was going to introduce him to someone who was an expert on Lex Luthor. His eyes narrowed briefly as he looked at her, then he made his expression as neutral as possible. If she was that expert, this case could get a lot more interesting before it was all said and done.

"Inspector," she said as she locked his hand in a surprisingly strong grip. Before the conversation could go any further, a waiter approached the table and took their drink orders. As the waiter cleared away, Bill looked across the table again, regarding his two companions. He trusted Clark implicitly, and no reservation about sharing his discoveries, but someone with the reputation of Lois Lane…that was a whole other matter entirely.

"So, Clark," Bill started, his eyes shifting toward Lois before settling on Clark again. "I hear that you might have information about our mutual friend that would help me in my case."

Clark turned his head toward Lois and smiled, then regarded Henderson again. "It's not me so much as Lois. She's spent many years getting well acquainted with him, gathering information, and tracking his movements."

"I'm sure," Henderson replied, aware of the stoniness that had entered his voice. As he looked toward Lois again, he found her eyes locked on his, her expression passive. Her crime had been arson, and if Henderson recalled correctly, most of the places she had torched were affiliated with Luthor somehow. The information she had gathered was probably all that remained of some of those places, and if that was the case, then it would be generally frowned upon to be in possession of it. "But something tells me that I'll have no use for the type of information that she undoubtedly has."

Lois frowned slightly, then leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table. "I beg to differ," she said, her voice soft and steady, yet still intense. "I imagine right now you have a lot of interesting information pertaining to unsolved cases. There's enough there to make you suspect, but it doesn't leave you with any idea where to start. That's where I come in. My evidence might not be valid in and of itself, but it is that magical starting point that you don't have. It'll tell you where to look if you want more information, and it'll tell you what actually happened when all your unsolved crimes were taking place. One would think that you'd find such a thing very valuable."

As she finished, Lois continued to look at him intently, her gaze almost seeming to bore through him. She was definitely not the type of person who should be underestimated, he thought. And she did have a point — the leads on the cases he had had either run dry or been covered up a long time ago, and if she could give him that information, then it would definitely be to his benefit. But why would she be so willing to just hand it to him? Considering the fact that it was the set of prints found at her sister's murder scene that led to this investigation in the first place, he shouldn't be surprised at all. But her sister had only died a couple of days ago, and she'd apparently been investigating Luthor for quite some time. No, there was more to this story.

"What do you get out of this?" Henderson asked, cutting to the chase. Lois's stony fa‡ade broke as she smiled, looking sweet and mischievous at the same time.

"I know full well who killed my sister, and I know it was supposed to be me who died and not her," Lois said, her smile fading slightly. "Lex Luthor has been one of the few constants in my life, always hovering over me like a dark storm cloud. If I could help to finally put him away, I would be very happy." Her smile widened as she continued. "But I do think that you can help me in another way."

Henderson immediately turned to Clark, the fire welling up inside of him. There was no doubt what that "other way" would be, and he was sure that Clark knew, too. For a moment, Henderson felt a flash of betrayal, certain that Clark had deceived him. So much for Kent being the last honest reporter. At the same time, though, as he looked at Clark, he saw pleading in his eyes, and it surprised him. It had been obvious that he had feelings for this woman, so maybe his deceit was more of a love-clouded error in judgment.

"Lois has had a hard life," Clark said evenly. "I know she has committed some wrongs in the past, but she has also done a lot of good. You know that I wouldn't have brought her here if I didn't have faith in her, and if I didn't know it was the right thing to do. We all want to bring down Lex Luthor, and with Lois helping, we can."

It was wrong, Henderson told himself. It was blackmail. But hadn't he done such a thing before? Hadn't he helped to pardon drug dealers in exchange for their testimony against their bosses? Hadn't he forgiven mafia underlings in exchange for information of their families? Was this really any different? The more he thought about it, the more he realized that it wasn't any different at all.

The waiter set the drinks on the table and started taking their orders, and for a moment Henderson felt the urge to get up and leave right then and there. His resolve at the moment was pretty strong, but he was almost afraid to wait any longer, fearing that his good will toward Lois Lane would vanish once he got a chance to talk with her a little, to get to know her for who she is.

"Sir?" the waiter asked. Apparently Lois and Clark had already given their orders, and now it was his turn. Bill played with the straw in his drink for a moment and looked up toward Clark, trying to decide what his course of action should be. It was then that their eyes met, and Henderson felt the most incredible feeling of rightness coming from Clark. His jaw was firm, but his eyes told Henderson that maybe it was something more than pure love that was driving Clark to help this woman who had done such wrong in the past. Maybe it was his sense of justice, and that almost made sense to Henderson. There certainly was justice to be done in bringing Lex Luthor in, and whatever Lois had done was no match for the incredible crimes that Luthor had perpetrated. Dropping his eyes again, Henderson took a deep breath and turned toward the waiter.

"Philly cheese steak, fries," Henderson said, handing the waiter the menu. For a moment, he could swear he heard a sigh of relief from across the table, but as he regarded Lois and Clark again, he saw nothing that would substantiate it. They were both looking at him quietly, a question on their faces.

"I will go to the DA after lunch," he said. His words brought a relieved smile from Lois as her hand reached out for Clark's. "But I need to know what exactly it is I say to them," he finished.

Lois and Clark looked at each other again, then turned in unison back toward Henderson. "We have started an investigation," Clark said. "Lois can fill you in on the details after lunch, but the gist of it is that we suspect Luthor is buying off congressmen for large government contracts."

"Clark is going on a bit of surveillance after we're done here," Lois continued immediately. "You can work with me, gathering information, while he's gone. We'll need you to coordinate your forces when it comes time to make an arrest, but we don't anticipate this operation taking more than a couple of days."

"Any longer than that, and we give Luthor too much time to cover his tracks," Clark finished without missing a beat. Henderson was amazed at how they fed off each other as they spoke. Maybe it had been wrong of him to think that getting to know Lois would make him less likely to help her. On the contrary, just from the way she interacted with Kent he could tell that maybe there was a reason Clark was with her after all. Only time would tell how it ended up, of course, and without knowing any details, he had no idea how this operation would turn out. But between his open cases, Lois's information, and Lois and Clark's current investigation, there should end up being more than enough to get Luthor.

Henderson nodded and settled into his seat. His day had been very long already, and he suspected that it would get a lot longer before it was all said and done. But considering what the outcome would likely be, he couldn't complain.


The sun was starting to cast long shadows as Clark made his way to the neighborhood park. In the distance, he spotted a bench and quickly walked toward it, reaching inside his jacket for his cell phone as he did. The chilly wind whipped the last remaining leaves off the trees, sending them swirling along his feet as he walked, but he found that he was in too good a mood to notice the inconvenience. He settled onto the bench and stared out over the town as he dialed the number on the phone. In the distance, he could hear a train rattling by on the tracks, slowing down as it reached the local grain elevator, which was clearly visible over the neat roofs and manicured trees of the town.

In a way, it was a sight that was very familiar to him, or to anyone who came from the Midwest. Every county of every state in the grain belt probably had a similar town, one that was big enough to have some industry, but was still centered around agriculture. A town where you could still get an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen in the summer or go ice skating on the local farm pond in the winter. It was easy for Clark to feel nostalgic about such a place, especially after stopping in the local caf‚ to sample the homemade apple pie, but nostalgia wasn't the reason he was here at all.

As he listened to the phone ring in his ear, Clark tried to mentally sort out the events that had brought him to this little park in southwest Iowa, seemingly far away from anything relating to Lex Luthor or the case they were trying to build against him. Clark had to admit that when he woke up this morning, he had no inkling that he would find himself here, but that was before he and Lois had started researching in earnest. It was before they had managed to get a hold of the flight plan for Luthor's Lear jet and started cross referencing it with the known residences of the freshman House defense committee members. It had been apparent that Luthor had been busy for the last couple days, traveling to most of the locations while Lois and Clark were still trying to work through their emotional upheaval. Fortunately, he still had two stops to make that day, first in Reno, Nevada, and finally right here in Creston, Iowa. Clark had flown into town immediately after lunch, arriving just in time to see a rented Lincoln pull away from Luthor's personal plane and start toward town. Clark had followed from high in the air, patiently waiting as the Lincoln wound through the city streets, finally stopping in front of a small, unassuming office building that housed the law practices of John Fennelly, rookie representative and defense committee member. It was then that Clark had slipped out of the sky and headed toward the diner that sat across the street from the office.

The lunchtime crowd had just been winding down as Clark had found a seat in a booth in front of the diner's large glass window. The old farmers sat at the counter, eyeing him strangely, murmuring about the weather and trends in the grain market as they watched. Clark supposed that this cafe didn't see a whole lot of strange men in business attire, so they were probably right to be suspicious, but after a warm smile and a nod, they seemed to relax and ignore him again. The waitress took his order for a slice of pie, and as she headed back toward the kitchen, he finally let himself get down to business. Gazing intently at the building across the street, he watched the walls melt away until he could see clearly into the back office, where Luthor and a man that Clark could only assume was John Fennelly were in a heated discussion. Concentrating on the room, the background noise of the cafeteria faded away, and he was able to zero in on the voices of the men across the street.

The shakedown was pretty routine, Clark had thought as he listened. Luthor played it up as if he was Fennelly's best friend in the world, then waved enough cash in his face to make the new representative the richest man in town. Every now and then a menacing word or inflection would be uttered, and Clark could see the representative squint his eyes ever so slightly in reaction. Fennelly seemed oblivious to Luthor's charms, icily shaking his hand as his guest stood up to leave. Luthor turned around and reached for the door handle, then stopped suddenly, pulling his hand away and reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket. Fennelly stilled, his posture stiff and straight, and watched as a stack of large bills and a picture were tossed onto his desk.

"Your wife is a very beautiful woman," Luthor had said, nodding to the picture he had just thrown on the desk. "When she gets excited, her eyes light up and her laughter fills the room. If she had one flaw, it's maybe that she's a little too trusting of strangers."

Fennelly balled his hands into fists behind the desk, his outward expression completely calm, but his rising heart beat giving away the anger he felt. "Stay away from her," he said calmly, his tone so even that it was almost menacing.

A sinister chuckle escaped Luthor's lips. "Become a team player, and I might just consider that. But if you don't, there are no guarantees. And maybe the next stranger won't be as friendly as I was." With that, he turned and left the building.

Clark had drawn his attention back to the diner, aware that a warm slice of pie was now sitting on the table in front of him. His eyes only lingered on the waiting dessert for a moment before he hastily reached into the bag he had been carrying, pulling out a brand new digital camera. As Luthor exited the building across the street, Clark took several pictures, making sure to frame the name of the building so that the location would be easily recognizable. After a few moments, Luthor stepped back into his car and left. Clark pulled the camera away from his face and pressed a few buttons, causing the images he had just snapped to appear on a small screen on the back. He was definitely no professional photographer, but they were good enough for his purposes. Smiling, he had placed the camera in his bag and picked up a fork, regarding the pie in front of him. He could afford to take the time to enjoy it, he supposed as he glanced across the street. After a few quick bites, he was done, and ready to visit Fennelly.

The representative had eyed him suspiciously at first, but as Clark had explained who he was, what he was there for, and presented his press credentials, Fennelly had opened up, becoming extremely open and helpful.

Clark was suddenly snapped out of his introspection by a familiar voice in his ear. "Lane here," he heard, causing his smile to widen. Her voice sounded very curt and businesslike, but it wouldn't be long before she shared the enthusiasm that he felt.

"Greetings from the tall corn state," he said, letting his smile creep into his voice.

"Clark, hi. How'd it go?" Lois asked, her tone suddenly much friendlier. A feeling of warmth washed over Clark, and he suddenly wished that he was back at her side again, but he quickly pushed it away. There would be plenty of time for that soon enough.

"Very well," he responded. "Turns out that there are a few honest politicians out there, and John Fennelly is one of them. He was suspicious of Luthor to start with, and the threats against his family were more than enough to convince him that Luthor wasn't someone to mess around with. He probably wouldn't have said anything if I hadn't come along, but he's now agreed to offer his testimony against Luthor."

"Did he agree to swear out a warrant?" Lois asked, a note of hope in her voice, strengthening Clark's resolve to follow through and make it all right. After so much waiting, so much false optimism, so many dead leads, this could finally be it. If Clark had anything to say, Lex Luthor would never hurt anyone anymore.

"He's done one better than that," Clark said in a serious tone as he stood up again and started to pace. "He's agreed to come to Metropolis and set up a meeting with Luthor. If we can get the cooperation of the Metropolis PD, Fennelly should be able to get Luthor to say enough to hang himself. In two days time, this WILL be over," he said definitively, punching the air with his index finder. His heart raced in anticipation and he stilled, finally letting the seriousness melt away. The other end of the line remained silent, but he could hear the rush of air past the microphone as she breathed, almost as if she expected something else.

"And then we can be together," Clark added softly, stating the final outcome of the case that neither of them had allowed themselves to say.

"Oh, Clark," Lois said, seemingly on the verge of tears. Clark closed his eyes and breathed heavily, turning his face upwards toward the heavens. As he opened his eyes again, he could see the brilliant oranges and reds filling the sky above him, almost making it look as if the sky itself were on fire. Maybe it was a heavenly sign, but when he looked at the fire above him, he thought of nothing but how beautiful it was. It was nothing compared to the beauty of the woman who was on the phone with him now, though, the woman whose life would forever be colored by the flames she had brought in the past.

"I love you, Clark, and it's not just because of this. It's because of everything, your faith in me. I wish I could hug you right now," she said, the heaviness in her voice giving way to an almost wistful longing. He sighed.

"I wish you could, too. But I won't officially be home until tomorrow." As he spoke, he brought his attention back to the park, and the skeletons of trees that stood around him.

"What about unofficially?" Lois asked.

"Unofficially, I'll be there in about 5 minutes to have a talk with Inspector Henderson. I have a plan, and will involve the help of my other guise."

Clark could almost hear her smile through the phone. "I might need to have a talk with, uh," she said, and he could hear her walking. "Superman," she whispered, then cleared her throat and continued in a normal voice. "I have some matters I need to discuss with him, too."

"Really?" Clark asked, a lopsided grin forming on his face.

"Yes, really. Anyway, I should probably let you get back to work. See you *tomorrow,* Clark."

"Bye," he said, then flipped the phone closed, allowing a small chuckle to escape as he did. He never really thought that it would be particularly fun to have Lois in on his secret, but it seemed that it might have its benefits, after all. He would have to be careful, of course, but only in public. In private, he wouldn't have to worry about deceiving her anymore.

Clark shoved his cell phone back into his coat pocket and started walking toward the far corner of the park, away from the prying eyes for the neighborhood. It was time to go home.


Lois sat in the center of her office, papers and notes spread out in front of her, but she found that she couldn't concentrate on them anymore. She turned her attention toward Henderson, who was standing in front of one of the filing cabinets, pouring through her evidence and making notes to himself on a legal pad. Aside from taking time to ask her a few questions, he had pretty much left her alone, which was just fine with her. It wasn't that she didn't like Henderson, exactly. If he was a friend of Clark's, then he was a friend of Lois's. It was more that she could see the judgment in his eyes when he looked at her. That, more than anything, was the side effect of her crimes that she had least anticipated, and looking back on it now, she didn't know why. She knew how she viewed criminals — what made her think that she would be viewed any differently?

She sighed as her thoughts drifted to Clark. In a way, she supposed that was something they had in common. He, too, was judged by people who saw him as someone he wasn't. The reverence that people held for their local Superhero was almost frightening sometimes, and she knew that it made Clark uncomfortable to see that. He, at least, had another persona to escape behind, and she didn't. But like so many things, Lois was sure that her transgressions would eventually be forgotten, and she could finally move on with her life. Clark would no doubt still be Superman in the months and years to come, and he would always be in that spotlight, but at least he would have a kindred soul around from now on. He would understand what she was feeling, he HAD understood when Henderson judged her, and the least she could do was return the favor.

At the thought of Clark, she heard what sounded like a strong gust of wind outside, and immediately there was a knock on the front door. Lois excused herself and descended the steps, knowing full well who was waiting for her outside. She flung the door open and felt her heart begin to race as she saw him standing there in his Superman suit, smiling at her. For the first time, she let her eyes wander down the length of his body as he stood there, and she could feel her temperature rise as she took in his form. Every other time she had seen him like this, she had either been too afraid or too distracted to look, but now…now she could understand the vast appeal of Superman. With a grin, she waved him inside and quickly closed the door, then took his hand and pulled him into the living room. As soon as they were out of the line of sight from the stairwell, she flung her arms around him and locked her mouth over his. He responded immediately, gathering his arms around her waist and drawing her in tighter, sighing into her mouth as they deepened their kiss. After a few moments they separated, and Lois shifted her head so it was resting on his shoulder.

"You did it," she sighed, shifting her gaze so it was locked on his face.

He smiled and turned his face toward hers as far as he could. "Well, 'it' hasn't been done quite yet, but when it is, it'll be because of you, not me. This investigation started with your information, your leads." He leaned his head slightly and met her lips briefly for another kiss.

"I wouldn't have done it at all if you hadn't given me the confidence to do it. I felt pretty worthless yesterday, and you changed that. None of this would've been possible without that, and I just wanted to thank you personally."

Clark disengaged one hand and brought it up to push a stray lock of hair out of her face. "Is that what you just HAD to see Superman about?" he asked teasingly, although his voice was still tender. She nodded her head as best she could, and then just smiled. Clark dipped his head down to give her another, deeper kiss. The world always seemed to dissolve away when she was in his arms, but as she lost herself in him this time, she heard a voice call out from up the stairs.

"Who was that at the door, Ms. Lane?" she heard Henderson ask, and suddenly Clark pulled away. Their heads snapped quickly toward the stairway, and Lois's mind was racing, trying to reorient itself with the world. She almost yelled out that it was Clark, but she made herself stop. While, yes, it technically was Clark, it was Superman who had come here.

"Uh, Superman's here. He says he needs to talk to you," she said, and she felt Clark's arms fall away from her. She turned back toward him and saw that his eyes were slightly large, almost as if he had been caught doing something that he knew he shouldn't have been doing. "Come on," she said quietly to Clark, taking his hand in hers and starting toward the staircase. She began to turn away from him, but as her eyes finally fell onto his lips, she saw a pink smear there, one that had absolutely no business being on the lips of the outwardly chaste superhero.

"What?" Clark said, reacting to what must've been a look of shock on her part. Lois dug in her pocket, found a tissue, and thrust it in front of him.

"You have a little, ah…" she said, pointing to her lips.

He seemed puzzled for a moment, then his eyes got even larger, and he grabbed the tissue out of her hand. He licked his lips, then dabbed his mouth off, looking at the tissue to make sure he'd gotten it. "How's that?" he asked quietly, puckering his lips ever so slightly, eliciting a chuckle from Lois.

The edges of his mouth pulled up at the sound of her laughter, and for a moment, Lois thought for sure the scene would degenerate to the point that they were both doubled over with laughter. She had to admit that the whole situation was pretty absurd, and under normal circumstances she would be more than happy to go along with it. But Henderson was upstairs, and he would certainly hear them if they broke down in a fit of hysteria, so Lois bit her lip and held back. A small smudge of pink lingered on his lip, though, and she brought her hand up to wipe it away, realizing too late what kind of affect it would have on him. Clark inhaled sharply as her finger touched his face, and his hand locked on her arm, stilling it. Their eyes locked, and they looked at each other for a long moment before he gently kissed her finger, then her hand, before letting her arm go.

A pleasant warmness spread over Lois, and she had to force herself to breathe as she continued to look at him, wishing for nothing more than some time alone. Just then, she remembered that they weren't, in fact, alone, and that Henderson was probably up in the office wondering what had happened to them. "We have to go see Henderson," she said without conviction. As much as she knew what needed to be done, she didn't want to go. As soon as they got back into that hallway and were in a line of sight from the office, she would have to pretend that Superman meant nothing to her, and she didn't know if she could do that.

"You want me to go up there by myself?" he asked, almost as if he had been able to read her thoughts. Lois closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm her emotions. There was a certain amount of appeal to the suggestion, she had to admit, but Henderson might get suspicious.

"No, I'll be okay," she said confidently. Clark cocked his eyebrow in challenge, and she smiled, knowing that he had done it again. He knew just as well as she did that she wasn't as confident as she made out to be, but he also knew that she wouldn't shy away from a challenge. Straightening herself up, Lois made her best effort to snap into professional mode. "Really," she said with conviction. "It's not a problem."

Clark nodded once and held out his arm, gesturing for her to lead the way. "Shall we?" he asked, and with that Lois started up the stairs, Clark right behind her, and entered her office.


Henderson wound his way through the dark hallways of the central precinct, on his way back to the evidence warehouse. It had officially been more than 24 hours since he'd last had any sleep, but he still didn't feel in the least bit tired. In fact, he thought with a wry smile, he was probably sharper now than normal. He couldn't say if it was the fatigue that his body must be feeling, or the fact that he was so in tune with his work at the moment, but in the last couple hours, he found himself observing things that he never would've caught normally. Things that had snuck by his radar in the past were now crystal clear, and those things he saw now were starting to make him look at the world in a different way.

His newly honed powers of observation first manifested themselves when he began to thumb through the files in Lois Lane's office. Any piece of information relating to the cases he had studied earlier had been immediately absorbed and assimilated, and without his conscious knowledge, bits and pieces began to merge together, forming a more complete picture, one that was even more damning for Luthor than he had previously thought. A plan of attack had begun to form, and the longer he had studied materials, the more he knew exactly what it was that he had to do. It was just as he was preparing to leave for police headquarters that a visitor had arrived at Lane's townhouse.

The visitor had arrived only a few short minutes after Lois's cryptic phone call from Kent. When the doorbell had first rung, it hadn't occurred to Henderson to wonder who it was, but the longer Lois was gone, the more interested he became. Lois didn't really strike him as the social type, and if whoever it was at the door had been a traveling salesman or Jehovah's Witness, she surely would've shooed them away without another thought. Curious, he stuck his head out the office door and listened, hearing the hushed tones of a man's voice responding to her. It was easy to infer mood from his voice, from the way his words weren't rushed or clipped, but instead almost tender. There were a couple long stretches where all Henderson could hear was the gentle rustle of clothing, something that didn't fit with anything he could imagine a stranger doing with Lois. Impatient and curious, he had yelled down the stairs, and she had answered that it was Superman who was there waiting to see him.

Immediately, the detective inside Henderson became activated. How on Earth would Superman know where to find him, and why would he be having hushed, tender words with Lois Lane? It was possible they had met before, but if it were in a 'professional' sense, Henderson highly doubted that the Man of Steel's feelings for her would be tender. Maybe he was sorry to hear about the death of her sister, but Superman had never been the type of person to go out of his way to be outwardly tender or affectionate. Something was wrong with the picture he was being presented, and that feeling remained as he saw Lois reenter her office, this time with Superman behind her. The first thing Henderson had noticed when they entered the room was the way the atmosphere seemed to change with the gentle hum of some unknown electrical force that followed them. Lois, who stopped to drop something in the trashcan before taking a seat behind her desk, seemed almost too professional, too confident. Superman stood to her side, his arms crossed over his chest, appearing to be every bit the superhero that Bill had heard about. He had proceeded to tell the tale of Lex Luthor and the congressmen he'd bought, and how Lois and Clark had brought it to his attention. Bill nodded dutifully as the story was told, but after a few minutes his eyes began to wander, and his attention was pulled to a spot of color that seemed out of place against the bright blue and red outfit. There, on his shoulder was a slight smudge of pink. Out of curiosity, Bill stole a look at Lois, and noticed that it was the same shade as the lipstick she wore.

Inwardly, Henderson felt almost sick, although outwardly he kept his face a mask of neutrality. Just that afternoon, Lois had been seemingly hot and heavy for Kent, yet now that he was out of town on business, she turned on him and went right into the arms of Superman, of all people. No wonder there was that electricity in the air between them, he thought. In fact, it was similar to that feeling he got when he saw Lois with Clark. Now that he thought of it, Superman and Clark had other things in common besides their chemistry with Lois Lane, including hair color and build. It was almost enough to make him wonder what Superman would look like if he put on a pair of glasses.

His hypersensitive perceptive sense kicked in again, mentally drawing the glasses on Superman's face, and all of a sudden the strange situation made sense. This time he knew that he couldn't keep some of his surprise from showing on his face. Never in a million years had he figured that Superman would have another identity, but as he thought about it, the notion made a lot of sense. Superman knew so many worldly things, spoke such plain and perfect English and knew all the colloquialisms that non- native speakers would have a hard time understanding. It would seem obvious to assume that he had been on Earth, in America, for a long time, and the only way he could do that would be to live as someone else. Clark Kent, his friend, grew up in the Midwest; he had parents and friends, a past, a job, a girlfriend. He was a living, breathing, seemingly normal person, but he was also apparently Superman. If Henderson thought about what it was that would make a person want to put on such an outlandish costume and put himself on the line every night, he supposed that Clark's personality would fit the bill. He could be incredibly strong willed if he wanted to be, yet he was one of the most compassionate persons that he had ever met.

As the briefing wore on, Henderson found himself smiling, thinking about what it meant to be there, with the man who was Superman. The details of the Luthor case were almost unimportant, comparatively, but he forced himself to focus. The plan that Lois and Clark had was not bad, and it would most likely bring a charge against the billionaire, but it hardly cut to the root of the problem. They seemed to be acutely aware of that, but they seemed to know that he was there to help, to look out for them, and he had a plan. Superman wrapped up his speech and then left, giving a small nod to Lois before disappearing in a blur through the door. Henderson excused himself shortly thereafter, making sure to take a look in the trashcan as he left. There, sitting on the top, was a pink-smudged tissue. He had to stifle a chuckle as he continued out of the office and down the stairs, pondering the fact that Superman and Lois had been making out, and right under his nose.

The warm feeling from the meeting with Superman had recharged him, giving him the strength to carry though with the research that he needed to do in order to wrap things up. His mind still wandered back to it as he worked through the files, organizing them to correspond with the notes from his time in Lois's office. Once everything was set up how he liked, Henderson pulled the first folder off the stack, opening it to the case description.

Ron Harris, scientist at Lexlabs, was killed four months earlier. There had been no witnesses and no clues to this case; Harris had no enemies, he had no debts, and he had a family that loved him. But, according to Lois's notes, his wife had believed in the days before his death that something was wrong. The project that he had been in charge of at work had something to do with control of fluid flow in power supply systems. Generally in power plants, water was heated into vapor by boilers, and the vapor was run through a turbine, creating the power that was outputted by the plant. Generally, that superheated steam was cooled as it was expanded through the turbine, but it was still quite hot, and from what Mrs. Harris understood, it was how that hot water was diverted that was the focal point of her husband's research. Mr. Harris had grown suspicious over the possible use that would be made of his work, and he had taken to carrying his project, including notes and physical coolant parts, with him at all times. The night he died, they had been present on his person, but according to the sheet he was now looking at, both the device and the notes had been stolen out of evidence lockup the next day, never to be seen again. Lexcorps, the recipient of the lab's research, have had only one power plant either planned or under construction in the last year, and that was the one in Metropolis that had opened a week ago, the same one that had been responsible for the heat wave and the hysteria about Superman. In fact, parts of the stolen device were found beneath the plant, replacing the very parts that had been found in Luthor's warehouse.

Henderson slowly closed the file, his eyes shifting back and forth rapidly. It bothered him that nobody had questioned the theft of Harris's device, and it bothered him even more to find that the suspicions of the late scientist were correct, and that the device had been used for insidious purposes. The question became, who would profit from installing that device? Lois's notes would lead him to believe that Lex Luthor would have a vested interest in getting rid of the hero, the man who had begun to methodically dismantle criminal organizations of Metropolis, many of which Lois was convinced the billionaire had his hands in. Henderson had to admit that there was a ring of truth to that, that there were probably many other reasons why Luthor would want Superman out of town. But all that was speculation, and to get any type of warrant against Luthor, he needed something concrete to go on. What he kept coming back to were the parts found in the warehouse, the ones that had been replaced by the device. Those parts would be hard to connect to Luthor under normal circumstances, but in this case, they just might be strong enough evidence to persuade the DA to let him look for more.

Bill smiled again as he stood, tucking the files into his briefcase. If this panned out, it would be absolutely huge. Environmental crimes, theft, and a possible manslaughter charge were all very possible. And those things combined with Lois and Clark's investigations would likely put him away for a very long time, indeed.


The high rise across from the Lexcorp tower was a place that had almost been a second home to Lois during her many probes of Lex Luthor. Renting an office with a view of the tower's front entrance was relatively easy, especially when one had the contacts that she had. Procuring the office space had been her final favor for Henderson, but it was probably one of the more important ones. In the last couple of days, officers had been able to observe some of Metropolis's finest entering the Lexcorp tower, officers that had no business being there. Henderson had been a workhorse during that time, checking up on the wayward officers, looking into the cases they had handled and the lifestyle changes that they'd all recently had. In the next few weeks, there was going to be a major shakeup within the Metropolis police department. But before that could happen, they needed Luthor.

Inside the newly rented office suite, a handful of uniformed officers crowded in one corner, next to an array of complicated observation equipment. Their attention was focused on Inspector Henderson, who was installing a wire on US Representative John Fennelly. Lois and Clark stood on the other side of the room, quietly watching the proceedings and trying to remain inconspicuous. Every now and then a curious glance would be sent their way, lingering a moment before diverting back to Henderson.

"Done," Henderson said as he hooked a wire to a small battery pack mounted on Fennelly's belt. "The microphone is voice activated, so all you have to do is speak, and you'll be fine."

Fennelly looked Henderson in the eye, taking a deep breath before diverting his attention briefly to Clark. His face clearly gave away how nervous he was, but his eyes conveyed a strong conviction, and Lois knew that he would do whatever it took to make sure that everything turned out right. After a small nod and an encouraging smile from Clark, Fennelly looked back at Henderson.

"You'll be protecting me after I go in?" he asked, and Lois could feel Clark tense up beside her. She knew that he would've preferred to be there as Superman, but the police needed handle this collar 100% by the book, just so that there was absolutely no possibility that Luthor could get off on any sort of technicality. Henderson had assured Clark that the police were covering Fennelly's back, but Lois knew that Clark would still worry. As she laid her hand on his chest, she could feel the outline of the S- shield on his suit underneath. Police reassurance or not, she knew he would be out that door in a second if anything were to happen.

"I will be right behind you with my group, here," Henderson responded, gesturing to the officers in the room. "We'll be outside the door as Luthor incriminates himself. When you leave, we'll enter with a search warrant."

Fennelly nodded. A determined look came across is face as he stood up and straightened is shirt and tie, making sure that everything was in order.

"You know what you need for him to say, right?" Henderson asked. Fennelly bent down and picked up his blazer, lightly patting the dust off it before putting it on.

"Anything illegal," the representative answered with a hint of a smile, before turning to exit the office.

Henderson raised his eyebrows and watched his retreating form. "That'll work, I guess," he muttered, and Lois noticed several officers trying to hide smiles of their own. The room threatened to fall into silence as the door closed behind Fennelly, but Henderson clapped his hands together, effectively ending the brief interlude. "All right, let's get to work," he said to his troops, individually instructing them of what needed to be gathered in order for them to conduct their search of the Luthor apartment. Lois and Clark continued to watch from their corner in silence, knowing that their roles for the evening were merely to act as observers. It was a strange feeling, Lois thought. Her life had been about doing, not about watching. Never in a million years would she have dreamt that she would be sitting here watching the police get ready to take out Luthor, all the while knowing that there was nothing she could do to help. In a way, she probably had helped them out more than she could know, but that wasn't the type of help she meant. She wanted to be standing in that penthouse when they snapped the handcuffs over Luthor's wrists. She wanted to see the look on his face when he realized that all the crimes he had been committing for years had finally caught up to him. But mostly, she wanted him to see her and know just who it was that had led to his downfall. Given the circumstances, though, she supposed that she should be grateful to be able to overhear it all and know that all those years of digging and searching hadn't been for nothing.

As she watched, Henderson shoved a generic looking envelope into his coat pocket and broke away from the crowd of cops, making his way toward them. He looked at them both directly in turn before addressing Lois. "I know it's not as glamorous in person as the people in Hollywood would lead you to believe, but preparing to indict someone like Luthor is more dull paperwork and semantics than anything. If you've seen one of these, you've seen them all," he said, directing a glance at Clark as he said his last sentence. Lois puzzled at that for a moment, but let it go as Henderson continued. "We're going to leave here soon, but Judy is going to stay behind and operate the equipment," he said, pointing to one of the officers behind him. "I've told her to cooperate with you two, so she won't cause you any problems."

Henderson made a move to turn and go back to his group of officers, but then stopped and turned back toward Clark. "Assuming this goes off okay, feel free to print the details of what went down here. But please don't mention anything that might jeopardize…"

"Trust me, Bill," Clark said, interrupting his friend. Henderson looked at Clark, then cast a glance at Lois before turning back toward Clark and giving him a smile.

"Yeah, I know. I just wanted to make sure," he said, then walked away. As he reached his group, he grabbed a few more items before starting toward the door. "Let's get a move on. I want to be in that lobby before Fennelly reaches the penthouse," Henderson said. The group followed behind him, and soon they were all out of the office.

Lois and Clark remained silent as they waited for the excitement to begin. Lois wandered toward the window, craning her neck and gazing upward as far as she could. The penthouse suite of the Lexcorps tower was the tallest point in Metropolis, and everything was going to happen up there. She would give anything to just have a peek into that office, to see at least a part of, but the only living creatures that would see it outside the occupants of that penthouse would be the birds who just happened to be flying by at the time.

The thought caused her to turn abruptly toward Clark. No, that statement wasn't true, she thought as she watched him pull his glasses down his nose, then look over the top of them, directing his gaze toward the top of the tower. He could see exactly what was happening, she thought with a sudden surge of jealously. If they were alone, she could probably get him to give her all the juicy details, but as it was… She looked ruefully toward the officer who remained. Weren't those machines automated? Couldn't they record on their own? Wasn't there something else Officer Judy could be doing besides raining on her parade?

As Lois let out a snort of frustration, the equipment came to life, and suddenly they could hear Fennelly approach Luthor's secretary, making small talk with her before entering the personal lair of Lex Luthor himself. All her former frustrations melted away as Lois started intently at the speakers on the machine, visualizing the scene all on her own. The voice of the billionaire filled the room, sounding smug and pompous as it always had. The two men bantered like old friends at first, until she heard a scratch of the microphone, and the sound of something being placed on the table. It was the money that Lex had given Fennelly, she knew, and all of a sudden, the voice coming from Lex Luthor grew cold and hard. It was truly frightening to hear Lex inform Fennelly of all the reasons why it would be wise to take that money and do what he was told. He never came right out and said that he would have the members of the Representative's family eliminated, but it was inferred, and Lois found her arms breaking out in goosebumps. Fennelly declined yet again, bringing out Luthor's most menacing speech yet. The things he said would be more than enough to convict Luthor and send him to jail for a very long time, something that Lois knew she should be reveling in, but no joy came. No comfort came. Instead, she almost felt lightheaded, almost as if she was about to faint.

A gentle hand was laid on her shoulder, and she knew instantly that Clark had felt her distress. She laid her hand on top of his, holding onto it like a lifeline. It suddenly occurred to her that her father had probably experienced just such a thing. Most of her life, she had had her own ideas about what had transpired between her father and Luthor, and she had always imagined some Hollywood version of the exchange, with the menacing billionaire and the lowly scientist pitted against each other. But hearing Luthor threaten Fennelly, hearing that true touch of evil that his voice held, she suddenly admired her father more. There was no doubt in her mind that he had known from the minute he had talked with Luthor that his days were numbered, yet he had still done his best to make sure that she and Lucy were kept unaware of it, and untouched by it. Now, suddenly, everything that happened back then, everything that had been imagined, felt so real, it made her want to grieve all over again.

She heard Fennelly take of his leave of Luthor, and as he left the room, a new voice came across the wire, one that was also familiar to Lois. She could hear Henderson presenting his search warrant, followed by the sounds of people bustling around the room. One man cried out that he had found something, and suddenly a series of shouts arose. Henderson's voice came again, advising Luthor of his Miranda rights. It was then that pandemonium erupted. Shouts followed scuffles, and Luthor started making thinly veiled threats to the officers.

Suddenly, Clark tensed up behind her. She turned and saw him gazing upwards, an increasingly stern look on his face. He seemed to sense her eyes on him, and he diverted his gaze to her face, giving her a pleading look.

"I have to go to the restroom, excuse me," he said quickly, obviously for the benefit of the officer, then pulled away from her, practically running out of the room.

Over the speakers, she could hear the sound of some mechanical equipment. "Lex Luthor will not live in a cage," the billionaire said, and suddenly Lois knew why Clark had to leave so abruptly.

"Luthor, no!" Henderson yelled, but it was too late, she knew. The words had barely come out of his mouth when she heard Luthor speak again.

"Top of the world," he said, his voice almost triumphant. What sounded like a clap of thunder cut through the air just then, a streak of red and blue outside the building telling her just what was happening. She rushed closer to the window, just in time to see Superman land in front of the crowd of police vehicles that had gathered below the Lexcorps tower, Luthor held roughly in his arms.

Her eyes were riveted to the scene, absorbing every detail, from the mildly surprised expression of Lex Luthor to the hard, stern mask that Clark seemed to be wearing. Even from this far she could feel his disgust toward Luthor, and she knew he was thinking exactly the same thing she was. After everything he had done to the people of this city, Luthor had decided that killing himself was better than having to face up to his crimes. The act was one of a truly cowardly man, someone who had no regard for the rule of the law or the system of justice. Even though Luthor made himself out to be superior, to be better than anyone else, in the end he was just a scared, spoiled child who was caught red handed and didn't want to face the consequences.

On the street below, officers rushed out of the car toward Superman, placing handcuffs on Luthor just as soon as they reached him. The fight seemed to be taken out of Luthor, and Lois found herself disappointed. She had expected more from this final confrontation, something more befitting of a powerful adversary like Luthor, but it just didn't happen. Quietly, dejectedly, he climbed into the back of the squad car. Before the door was closed, he looked absently toward the building that Lois was in, and just like that she found her eyes locking onto his. A smile played across her lips as she saw his eyes grow wide. No doubt he thought he was seeing a ghost, she thought as she gave him her most knowing look. In a way he was seeing a ghost. She represented all the people that he had wronged, and she could almost feel their souls lingering around her, all looking out the window and rejoicing at what they saw. It was then that the police door slammed shut, breaking the connection. Slowly, the car containing Luthor pulled away, followed by several escort vehicles, trailing toward the central precinct, and the jail.

The crowd of emergency vehicles in front of the Lexcorp tower slowly cleared away, leaving Clark alone on the street, standing tall amidst the organized chaos around him. He, too, looked up toward Lois's window, finding her eyes. The invisible connection they possessed clicked suddenly, and she could feel the gentle wave of relief that washed over Clark. They both knew it was over, that everything they had worked for was now finally done. He smiled at her, his smile brighter than anything she had ever seen on Superman's generally somber face before. With a nod he conveyed for her to meet him behind the building. It was time to go home.

Lois thanked the officer before leaving, receiving an almost inaudible grunt in response. Normally such a callous brush-off would cause her no small amount of consternation, but tonight she just couldn't bring herself to be mad. Everything finally was as it was supposed to be in Metropolis. Good had finally triumphed over evil.

Thick, white clouds blanketed the sky overhead as Lois watched a small group of people make its way across the yellowed grass, toward a small spot in the corner of a graveyard. A large, gray canvas tent marked their destination, and as the crowd neared, the wind began to pick up, causing the canvas to sway gently, hypnotically. As tempting as it was to get lost in the soothing rhythm, Lois found her eyes gravitating downward, toward the simple wooden coffin that resided under the tent. A small arrangement of colorful flowers decorated the lid, trying to lend a little cheer to the otherwise drab day, but it did nothing to cheer her up. The reality of the situation was that it was her sister in that coffin, as hard as it was for her to believe even a week after it had happened. Lois felt herself almost not wanting to follow the crowd, hoping that by not approaching that tent and not going through the service, she could make it all just go away. But ignoring it wouldn't make it less real, and she knew that. The thought caused her to shiver slightly, and an instant later she felt herself being enveloped by Clark's trench coat. Startled, she turned toward him, and she couldn't help but be comforted by the sympathetic expression he wore, one that silently gave her all the support that she was willing to accept from him. She found herself weakly smiling at him, and as he smiled back, suddenly her feet didn't seem as heavy. Her hand reached out and found his, and together they continued toward the tent in silence. Lois honestly didn't know what she would've done without Clark there. He was her anchor to reality; he was the hope that she held onto. It was because of him that her lifelong pursuit of Luthor had finally come to a conclusion, and was because of him that she had a newfound zeal for life. Slowly they followed the crowd across the yard and took their spots under the tent.

As they sat down, she found herself pondering the timing of Lucy's service. The need for a criminal autopsy had delayed the funeral, making it possible for Lois to attend. As horrible as it was having to bury her own sister, it would've been worse to have been locked in jail when the service had been happening. At least here, now, she could have her closure, say goodbye, and assure her sister that everything would be okay. As important as it was for Lois to say her personal goodbyes to her sister, it was also important for her to see just what Lucy had meant to all the other people who had known her. It was truly an inspiration to see the effect she had had on others, the people whose lives she touched. As Lois looked around, she saw many familiar faces, people who at one time or another had come to the Lost and Found agency in their own times of trouble. Without exception, the looks her former clients gave her spoke of the knowledge of just what it was that Lois was going through.

As the service began, Lois couldn't help but turn her gaze toward the polished wooden box in front of her. Inside was someone who had hopes and dreams, whose life had only really just started. Everything that had been accomplished in the last couple days should be cause for celebration, but without Lucy there to join her, Lois found that she couldn't feel festive. The edges of her eyes started to mist up as the priest recited his words, the same ones that had been said at funerals for centuries; words that were meant to comfort, but instead seemed almost cruelly final. An arm snaked around her shoulders, and before she knew it, she was leaning up against Clark, letting all the sorrow and anguish she had felt over Lucy's death well up inside of her. The tears came freely as she rested in the gentle shelter of his embrace. The priest's words continued in the background, and she couldn't help but think about the only other time she had heard them, the only other funeral she had ever attended. Images flashed in her mind of a dreary autumn day, and two coffins sitting side by side, suspended over impossibly deep holes. It had been cold that day, too, and she had cried harder than she had ever thought possible. But then, unlike now, there had been no comfort for her. Her relatives had regarded her and her sister with sympathy and kind words, but as she had sat in her chair, listening to the priest, nobody had come and offered her the kind of comfort that she felt here, with Clark.

The service finished, and through the tears, she could see the people parade by in front of her, stopping one by one to briefly pay their last respects. Slowly the crowd thinned out, until Lois found herself alone with Clark under the tent. Gently, she heard him say her name, and she forced herself to pull away from him. The soft feel of his jacket lingered on her cheek as she looked at him, the tears threatening to come anew as she caught sight of the look of naked concern that his face held.

"Would you like to say your goodbyes?" he asked softly, gently, his eyebrows drawn together in anticipation. Slowly, Lois turned toward the coffin, regarding it for a few moments before turning back toward Clark.

"I suppose I should," she responded. Clark's arm moved down to her waist as he helped her up, and, together, they approached the coffin. Lois laid her hand on the lid, feeling the smoothness of the wood beneath her fingertips. She didn't want to think of Lucy in there, of the blank expression her face surely held, or of the red halo that she envisioned every time she thought of their final time together. Lois's hand flew up to her mouth, stifling a sob, before she took a couple of deep breaths to compose herself.

"You were the best sister that anyone could've asked for," she started, thinking of all the times that Lucy had been there for her. "You put my needs before your own, but at the same time, you didn't let me push you around. We shared so many things, survived so many things, together." Flashes from the dark, lonely years they had spent moving from foster home to foster home flashed through Lois's mind, but instead of the usual feeling of sorrow that accompanied these images, she felt nothing but gratitude toward her sister for being there with her. As much as Clark was her anchor now, Lucy had been so back then. As terrible as those years had been, Lois knew that it would've been worse yet without the support of her sister.

"I love you, little sister, and I always will. Give my love to Mom and Dad." Lois's gaze lingered on the coffin for a moment, then she turned away, leaving Clark's arms and walking toward the edge of the tent. She looked up into the sky, the unbroken white of the clouds stretching out as far as the eye could see. In the distance, a bird sat in a tree, staring directly at her from across the expanse of space, before it flew up into the sky, going further and further away until it was out of sight. As Lois watched it go, she let go of all her old feelings and insecurities, letting them fade away into the horizon until she couldn't see them anymore. The pain of her parents' death, the all- encompassing anger toward Luthor, and the sorrow that had been present for so long, driving her, drifted away. As they did, she almost felt lighter herself. Just then, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds, illuminating the ground, and replacing the dreariness that had been there before. A smile threatened to form on her face, but then she heard Clark's soft voice behind her.

"I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you," he said, and Lois turned to look at him in disbelief. "I make it my job to help people in danger, but when the time came, I wasn't there for you, or for Lois. She says she's forgiven me for what I did to her that night, but I'm not so sure if I forgive myself."

Clark flinched slightly as Lois came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He leaned back slightly into her grip and gave her a smile that she could tell was only a cover. "You can't blame yourself for not being there any more than I can, Clark."

He looked over his shoulder at her, his expression pained. "I know. One thing I had to confront when I first started going out there in the Suit was the fact that I couldn't be there for everyone. But I always hoped that I could at least be there when the people I cared for needed help, and I wasn't. I can't help but feel responsible, somehow."

Lois tightened her arms around him, leaning over to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Don't. You give so much of yourself, Clark, but you're only one person. You do what you can, and the world's a better place because of it. I'm sure Lucy understands that, too."

Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his lips pulling tightly together. As he opened his eyes again, the sorrow that he had been feeling seemed to have completely vanished. He looked tenderly at Lois for a second, then turned back toward the coffin. "Thank you for helping your sister become the woman she has," he said. The words seemed to hang in the air as they both stood perfectly still, staring at the coffin for the final time. Lois found herself seconding Clark's comments, mentally thanking Lucy for the push she had given her toward Clark.

After a moment, Lois disengaged her arms from Clark's waist, reaching for his hand. Wordlessly, they started walking away from the tent, away from Lucy. The urge to look back was strong, but Lois fought it, choosing, instead, to turn her attention toward Clark. The past was done, and Lucy represented the last tie to that past. Clark, on the other hand, was her future, the link to the new life that she was going to embark upon, and she couldn't feel anything but happiness at the thought of their future together.


Heavy oak doors swung open in front of Clark with an audible groan, giving him his first glimpse of the courtroom where Lois's hearing would be held. Inside, he could see a handful of spectators, not as many as would be present for a high profile trail, but certainly more than he had anticipated. Among the group were a large number of colleagues, people he knew well and had met with on more than one story. As he took his first steps into the courtroom, his attention turned toward Lois, who sat at an impossibly large wooden table, surrounded by her lawyers. Her head seemed to incline ever so slightly as he walked into the room, and he could almost sense that she knew it was him behind her. He smiled at the back of her head, and all of a sudden she seemed to relax a little, her shoulder hunching over slightly as some of her anxiety seemed to float away.

Clark took a seat toward the back of the courtroom in a row by himself, pulling the morning edition of the Daily Planet out from under his arm. "Lex Luthor Indicted in Congressional Bribery" the headline screamed. "Other charges pending, including murder and fraud," a subheading read. Clark's byline say proudly at the top of the column of type, his story conveying the truly horrible nature of his alleged crimes without giving away any details that might jeopardize the pending cases. It was by far the biggest headline of his fledgling career, and he was very proud to have been the one to write the story of Lex's fall. Perry had been proud, too, not to mention impressed. It was a Kerth award winner for sure, Perry had said, but Clark didn't care about that. That headline was the culmination of his cooperative investigation with Lois, a partnership that had been very potent and very successful. It felt great to have been able to accomplish so much with her, but at the same time, he found himself not wanting to work alone again.

After a few minutes, the judge entered the courtroom, and a hush came over the crowd. The gavel banged once, and the hearing was underway. Mayson Drake, the lawyer assigned to her case by the DA's office, had agreed to dismiss the more serious charges leveled against Lois in return for her assistance on the Luthor case. Clark had only met the woman once, the day that he had accompanied Lois to their meeting, and all Clark could really remember about the experience was how uncomfortable he had felt in the Assistant DA's presence. She kept throwing sidelong glances at him, ones that seemed almost too measuring, too appreciative. While being leered at wasn't an uncommon occurrence when he was dressed as Superman, he was definitely not used to it as Clark. Unconsciously, Clark knew he had clung a little too closely to Lois during the meeting because of that, and he could feel her responding to him, trying to deflect some of the attention away from him while at the same time not trying to rile Ms. Drake. After the meeting they had had a good laugh about the whole thing, but he certainly wasn't looking forward to meeting her again. Peeking toward the prosecution's table, Clark could see Mayson looking back toward him, that same gleam in her eye. Inwardly, Clark groaned. In front of him, he could see Lois looking toward the assistant DA, her increased heartbeat thundering in his ears. Under normal circumstances he would almost find Lois's jealous streak moderately amusing, but as it was, it had the possibility of doing more harm that good. The last thing Lois needed was to get Mayson Drake, the women who held the future in her hands, upset at her. If this hearing didn't get over with quickly, though, Clark had a feeling that things could get ugly, and he would never be able to live with himself for any negative consequences that might hold for Lois.

Fortunately, the near confrontation didn't have time to develop. In due course, the lawyers for the two sides stood up and gave their statements. Lois agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor property destruction charges, and the prosecution accepted. With another bang of the gavel, the judge also accepted the charges and summarily sentenced her to probation and time served. The gavel fell and the small crowd of reporters, none of whom had seemed overly thrilled to be there in the first place, began to disperse. Lois stood up and turned toward Clark, giving him a triumphant smile. As he stood and approached her, she turned to shake the hands of her lawyers, but as soon as he was in her reach, she pulled him into a bear hug, which he gladly returned. His head dipped down, and he captured her lips for a quick kiss, aware that the eyes of the assistant district attorney were on him the whole time.

As Lois pulled away, he saw her eyes flicker to the other side of the room, and she gave a devilish smile before turning toward Clark again. "Do you know what this means?" she asked, but she didn't have to. They both knew exactly what it meant, although they hadn't let themselves say it up until that moment.

Clark tightened his arms around her, a lopsided smile creeping onto his face. "It means the New Troy courts know a good seed when they see it," he responded, his attempt at humor providing a cover for the relief that he felt. It easily could've gone the other way. If everything hadn't fallen into place, her sentence would've been much stiffer than the probation that she had received.

Lois smirked at him as she walked her fingers up his back. "Well, yes, it does mean that," she said with a girlish grin, which faded as soon as the words left her mouth. "But it also means that life can finally start for me, for us. That verdict gave us a future." Her tone grew increasingly serious, and as she finished, she was almost on the brink of tears.

"We would've had a future in any case," Clark said, certain for the first time of those words. There had been a time, right after he had found out about her, that he would've been horrified about the thought of committing himself to someone who was doing time in jail, but that had been na‹ve of him, he knew now. The woman in his arms had only wanted to do the right thing, and deep down, she was a wonderful person. What she had done had been misguided, but she knew that now. Anyway, it wasn't about one action at one time in history, it was the soul of the person that mattered, and her soul was so achingly beautiful now that all the anger and bitterness had fallen away. "Whether that future started today or ten years from now, it'd be worth any wait that I'd have to endure, because it would mean being with you."

The sound of a chocked snort came from behind him, and Clark could hear the shuffle of papers and the rustle of clothing, before clipped footsteps started heading toward the back door of the courtroom. A tear made its way down Lois's cheek as her eyes locked on him, and he could tell that she hadn't even heard the outburst behind him. She stared at him intently, her eyes roaming over his face, her expression haunting. Out of impulse, Clark brought his hand up and wiped away the tear, Lois's hand locking over his as he did so.

"I was never one to believe in happily ever after," Lois said slowly, her voice thick with emotion. "But now I don't know how I could even fathom anything else. I had the shadows of my parents looming over me for so long that I refused to see what else there was, what happiness and love there was. It's because of you that we can start our new life, and let them rest in peace."

Clark opened his mouth to respond to her, but quickly found that no words could provide an adequate response to what she had said. Her eyes looked at him questioningly, almost timidly awaiting his reply. The only response that he could give was to dip his head down and devour her mouth. She responded to him with an almost frightening intensity, and as they kissed, he could feel their souls becoming one for the first time. Up until now, even though he had convinced himself of his love and support for her, he had never given himself permission to truly let all his inhibitions go. Now, with their futures certain, he could do that.

After a moment, the sound of a throat being cleared brought them out of their kiss, and Clark turned toward the source, quickly seeing that the bailiff was still in the courtroom. The man's cheeks seemed to be burning scarlet, and Clark couldn't help but blush when he thought about the spectacle that he and Lois must've presented. Looking back at Lois, he could see that she was equally embarrassed. They dropped their arms in unison and turned to leave the court, neither of them anxious to say anything more until they were alone.

The big oak doors swung open in front of them, and they entered the hallway, a bustle of people surrounding them. After a moment, he heard Lois start to giggle, and he felt the corners of his mouth turn upward as she continued. At first her laughter was gentle, joyful, but quickly it degraded into something more intense, and soon Clark found that he couldn't stop himself from laughing along with her. In a matter of moments, they found themselves gasping for air as they searched for a bench to sit down on. All the tension of the last few weeks, all the held back emotions and forced silences, seemed to have bubbled to the surface at once. They drew curious stares as their fit continued, but after a while it died down, and they found themselves sitting in companionable silence, watching the lawyers and reporters and spectators walk by in front of them.

"I needed that," Lois said, her eyes still focused toward the hallway. "I've been too serious for too long. I think the new me needs to break down in a fit of giggles every now and then."

Clark smiled and stood up, offering his hand to her, which she gladly accepted. As she stood, Clark looked toward her quizzically. "So what other changes are in store for the new Lois?" he asked letting a teasing tone slip into his voice.

Lois turned toward him, giving him a half smile as they started down the hallway. "Well, I don't think the new me particularly wants to be a private investigator anymore. I used that largely as a cover for my Luthor operations anyway, so now that that's done, I don't really see the point."

His eyebrows shot up in response. Before he had even met Lois, he had heard about her reputation as a private investigator, and her work on the cases that she had publicly worked on. She was very good at what she did, and she no doubt had made connections in the course of her work that a reporter such as him could only dream of. It almost seemed unfathomable that she would want to throw away something that she had worked so hard to establish, but, he thought as he looked at her again, he could understand why she would want some change in her life.

"So what do you want to do?" he asked her, curious. Lois looked at him, then shrugged before turning her attention down the hallway. They walked in silence for a moment before she gave her response.

"I've always had this side of me that's liked to dream, to imagine, to create. I used to formulate the most fantastic stories in my head, just to pass the time, but I never really had the time to write them down. There's a writer inside me, I just know it, and I want to take some time to explore that part of myself."

Something inside Clark clicked, and he remembered the conversation he had with Ralph right before he met Lois for the first time. Lois made it her job to edit the stories she helped with, and Clark had the feeling that Perry had appreciated it. The quality of reporting that came from someone like Ralph was never as good as it was on an article that came from Lois.

"What about writing for the Planet?" Clark asked, eliciting a startled expression from Lois. "I've seen the articles that were written under the names of Planet reporters, and I know it wasn't them doing most of the writing."

Lois blushed ever so slightly as a meek smile formed on her lips. "Well… They didn't seem to be taking me too seriously."

"That's just my point," Clark said, punctuating his words with his hands. "You care about the quality of your work, and you know more about what's going on in this city than half the cops out there. You'd make a better reporter than a lot of my coworkers."

Lois's face became positively radiant, and Clark knew that the idea held some appeal for her. It was possible that she had been mulling just such a thing for quite a while, but just wouldn't let herself commit to it. Judging by the look on her face, though, Clark had a feeling that their partnership might end up being more than a one time deal.

"I think I would like that," she said, still a little timid.

"If you're not comfortable with working by yourself, you can always ask to get teamed up with a partner," he added, giving her his most dazzling smile.

Lois grabbed his hand and swung it, her smile becoming playful. "But what name would come first?" she asked, and suddenly Clark knew that she had made her decision. "Lane and Kent or Kent and Lane?"

"Lane and Kent," Clark said a smile creeping across his face. "The straight man always goes first."

Lois favored him with her most stern look, but her eyes gave away her amusement. Clark squeezed her hand as they continued down the hallway, toward the future. The sun from the outside doors shone brightly in front of them, and for once, Clark knew that Lois wasn't looking at the shadows that created. She was looking at him, and he was looking at her, and together, he knew, they could accomplish almost anything.


C. A. Leuch, February 2002