An Extraordinary Man: Part Two — Trials and Triumphs

By Chris Carr <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: August 2003

Summary: After spending ten days with Lois and Clark, CJ Kent returns to his own world. The powers he has gained will not last long, and CJ knows that he will have to work fast if he is to save his world's Lois Lane from a gunman, forge an alliance with the prickly reporter, and bring Luthor down before his power reserves run out. Will he manage to do it? And will he find time to fall in love along the way? (Sequel to "An Extraordinary Man")


Well, this is it. I'm done. Extraordinary Man II is completed.


I hope you, dear reader, think that it has been worth the wait.

It has taken me years to get this written; I've been working on it sporadically since the summer of 2000; bits of this were written before EMI came out, as I originally planned the whole saga as a single story, not the two parts it eventually evolved into.

EMII is surprisingly well travelled. I've taken incomplete drafts of it away with me to the Netherlands (three times) and Germany (twice). It has yo-yoed back and forth across England, usually staying untouched in my bag over weekends spent with friends and relations. It even went backpacking around the Outer Hebrides, just when every pound really counted, too!

I'm almost relieved to see the back of it, to be honest. Yet, at the same time, I'm sad to let it go.

That this story has been finished goes to show the power of nagging, and to prove that miracles do happen, that stories can wake up from their comas and that I'm really not quite the lost cause that I, and an awful lot of other people, sometimes think I am. I would never have made it this far without the support and encouragement of more people than I can probably remember after all this time. My apologies, therefore, to anyone I unwittingly leave out.

Various people have beta-read bits of this: Kaylle, Anne, Wendy, Helene, Pebbles… A *huge* thank you goes to Jenni for volunteering to beta-read the whole thing. Thanks also to Carol, who sent very supportive emails and pointed out a number of typos etc that would otherwise have got by me; you guys are terrific! (BTW, Carol, you won't find any references to 'electric shocks' in *this* version!) Helene might also be able to identify a few of her suggestions that have been incorporated into the final version.

There has also been a number of people cheerleading in the background, on IRC, on the mbs and even, once or twice, by private email. You, too, have helped to improve the story, by pointing out more typos and making yet more suggestions.

Thanks also to Jeanne Pare for GEing this for me. Appreciated! :)

DISCLAIMER: This story has been written for fun, not profit. No attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or anybody else.


I strongly suggest that you read Extraordinary Man before reading this, but in case you don't want to, here is a recap:

PREVIOUSLY, ON EXTRAORDINARY MAN: Even by Assistant District Attorney CJ Kent's standards, Wednesday, 30 April, 1997, turns out to be a spectacularly bad day. He's having flashbacks to a traumatic event several years in his past, he's on the verge of a breakdown and, thanks to the machinations of Lex Luthor, the case he is prosecuting is going down the toilet. Then he witnesses a shooting on the steps of Metropolis's courthouse… just as he is pushed by a meddlesome H G Wells into an alternate reality.

CJ meets his alter-ego, a journalist called Clark, who, CJ quickly discovers, masquerades as a superhero in his spare time. He also meets Clark's wife, Lois Lane. CJ learns that H G Wells's purpose in removing CJ from his own world is to enable CJ to acquire powers like Clark's so that he can return home and prevent the death of his own world's Lois. The only problem is that CJ isn't sure that he wants to go back.

Over the course of ten days, CJ comes to know Lois and Clark better. He learns how to control the strange, and sometimes frightening, powers he's developing. He begins to put the worst of his past behind him, and with it his depression. It takes a lot of soul-searching, but he finally decides to go back to his own world and save Lois's life.

But saving Lois is only the first of the tasks he sets for himself: he also wants to bring Luthor down. CJ returns home carrying with him copies of Lois and Clark's Luthor files, the key, he hopes, to dethroning the criminal mastermind who holds the whole of Metropolis in his grip.




Wednesday, 30 April 1997

"No, Lois! Absolutely not! I told you already: it's either going to talk to Saxon about those fish or it's the Allen trial. Nothing else!"

"But, Perry—!" Lois placed her hands palm down on her editor's desk and leaned across it to lend force to her protest. She knew it was useless to argue with him but she was Lois Lane, so she was going to argue anyway. "It'd be a great piece!"

They were arguing about an article she wanted to write. She'd come to Perry White with the idea, saying that the fourth anniversary of the Council of Nations' withdrawal from the space programme was a timely opportunity to consider the ramifications of LexCorp's virtual monopoly on space science. Perry had immediately vetoed the idea and suggested that, rather than in op-ed pieces, her talents would be best showcased through the investigative work of which she was so fond. The real reason for his refusal remained unsaid by, but known to, both of them: he didn't want to have to pull the piece after she had written it, something which would almost certainly be necessary if she ground her axe as she was wont to do where Luthor was concerned. If Perry didn't nix the piece, the paper's lawyers undoubtedly would. Then they would recommend that Lois be suspended.

Perry refused to be intimidated by her fervour. He stared her in the eye and, exasperated, said, "I'm sure it'd be a great piece, but you know as well as I do that I couldn't print it!"

She screwed her lips together, straightened up, folded her arms across her chest, then plonked herself down in Perry's plaid arm-chair. Petulantly, she said, "Why not?"

"Now you're just being obtuse."

She had to admit that was true, if only to herself. She knew things were bad at the Planet — worse, in fact, than Perry let on. The paper was haemorrhaging money; the only reason it had stayed afloat for as long as it had was that Franklin Stern was prepared to throw resources at it, just because it annoyed Luthor that there was still one part of Metropolis's media he couldn't control. But Stern's pockets weren't bottomless and, in a war of attrition, Luthor would eventually come out on top simply because he was the second richest man in the world; Stern barely made it into the top one hundred.

Defeated, Lois scowled and said, "Okay, okay… I'll take the Allen story."

Perry evidently recognised that the last of the fight had left her because when he spoke again, it was in a much more sympathetic tone. "Well, that's great, Lois. Now, don't you think you'd better get a move on if you're to get to the courthouse before the trial starts?"

Lois sighed and nodded. As she left his office, she threw Perry one last, slightly reproachful glance. She was only slightly mollified when he said, "I'm sorry, honey. I really am."

"I know," she answered him softly. He hated Luthor almost as much as she did; he was just much better at not letting it cloud his judgement.


Perry's warning notwithstanding, Lois arrived early at the courtroom, and she applauded herself for managing to get a seat in the front row of the gallery. From there she had a good view of the benches below. She made herself comfortable and, to fill in time before the trial began, decided to browse through that morning's edition of the Daily Planet. However, after scanning the first few pages, she found her thoughts beginning to wander.

She didn't usually bother to follow the legal process beyond the indictment of malefactors; she preferred to tell the story of how people were caught rather than to cover the drier aspects of the trial process. That, she felt, was beneath her dignity; she usually left such stories to her more junior colleagues. Today, however, she had been forced to make an exception to that rule, not just — or even mainly — because it wasn't often that anyone as prominent as Sean Allen found himself in the dock. No, she was here because Perry thought that keeping her in the courtroom would keep her out of mischief. The trial would undoubtedly run for a few days, by which time the anniversary would have passed and with it the last vestiges of Lois's hopes of writing her story.

At least it was, as she'd hinted, a better option than writing about declining fish stocks and the poor health of the aquatic life in the rivers and bays around Metropolis. Moreover, with Assistant District Attorney Kent prosecuting, the trial promised to be good theatre.

Lois gave up on the paper, folded it, and laid it aside. Then she focused her mind on Kent. There had been a time when she had been firmly convinced of his corruption, and that bias had been reflected in some of the articles she had written soon after Elyse's death. Over time, though, her opinion of him had become increasingly ambivalent. Now she was no longer quite so sure about his dishonesty.

Lois Lane knew quite a lot about Clark "CJ" Kent, partly due to the things that Elyse had told her, but mostly because of things she had learned subsequently in the course of her research. She knew, for example, that his lifestyle was not what one would expect from a lawyer in receipt of bribes. She was also aware that the man she bumped into from time to time in the course of her work was not the same man who had graduated from Harvard. It had only taken a few phone calls to find that out. Lois bit on her lip thoughtfully. According to her information, Kent had been a popular student: confident, outgoing and sociable. He had been a hard worker with a lot of friends and even more admirers. Yet, despite the opportunities that presented themselves, he had always stayed a little aloof; he had treated relationships as he had done anything else: with a measure of humour that belied the seriousness he attached to them.

None of this accorded with his current reputation. These days Kent gave the impression that he was someone who worked too hard and had a dour personality.

And therein lay the paradox, thought Lois. She had all the facts she could muster about Kent, but she couldn't make them mesh into any kind of sense. He worked hard. He looked honest. And yet…

The Luthor trial had fallen to pieces on a technicality. A mistake had meant that the monster walked free. Since then other cases Kent had been involved in had similarly fallen apart or had not even made it to trial. The acquittal rate of those cases that *were* completed was astonishing also. So, either Kent was a far worse lawyer than his performances in court would suggest, or he was supremely unlucky. Or he was, as she had once believed, an actor, whose performances masked a wicked duplicity.

"Hello, Lois."

Lois suppressed a grimace as she recognised the mellifluous voice, coming from a point about six inches behind her right ear, as belonging to Robby Roberts. She slowly turned her head towards him. "Robby," she said coolly. "I didn't expect to see you today. What are you doing here?"

"Same as you. Covering the trial." He rearranged his lips into an approximation of a smile. However, there was no sincerity to it; all it served to do was reveal a row of perfect white teeth — which Lois knew for a fact were the result of cosmetic dentistry. "This isn't your usual kind of story, is it? You wouldn't be in Perry's doghouse, by any chance, would you?"

"You'd like that, wouldn't you, Robby?" she said, her tone rendered even chillier than it had been before because his gibe cut perilously close to the truth.

"Now, now," he chided her. "No need to be unfriendly, is there? After all, we are colleagues."

Lois tilted her chin fractionally upwards. "We *were* colleagues, Robby. As I recall, you jumped ship." She had never liked Roberts much — he was too smooth and full of his own self- importance for her taste — but her opinion of him had dropped precipitously when he'd decided to hand Perry his resignation. To her mind, Robby's actions smacked of disloyalty, something she hated.

"I didn't see any reason to wait for the ship to sink. By the way, how *is* the advertising revenue at the Planet these days?" When Lois didn't deign to answer, Robby asked snidely, "Want me to put a word in for you at LNN before you all drown?"

Lois's eyes narrowed. "No, thanks, Robby. I don't need any favours from you or from anyone else." She wondered what he would say if she told him that LNN had approached her first and had only gone to him after she'd turned the job down; probably he would think she was lying. *She* hadn't believed it herself when she'd first received the offer. Given her outspoken dislike of LNN's proprietor, she'd been more inclined to think it was an elaborate practical joke. If she hadn't been able to take the offer seriously, how could she expect anyone else to?

The fact remained, though, that, second choice or not, with his perfect cheekbones, expensive coiffure and carefully cultivated voice, Roberts had quickly carved himself a niche at the news station. Now he was on prime time every evening and media pundits were tipping him to be the next anchorman.

"I see you made the front page again," he said.

Lois quirked an eyebrow, surprised not because her story was the morning's lead — she'd known that already, of course — but because he had noticed. She had assumed that he had given up reading printed news when he'd made the sideways move into television.

She felt a momentary satisfaction that her story about Myerson Construction had been given the treatment it deserved. Somehow she doubted that she was going to be on the company's Christmas card list this year, always supposing that there would still be a company come December. Hopefully Myerson would be making license plates by then. Lois didn't dwell on the satisfaction the story's prominence engendered, however. She had had it drummed into her that a reporter was only as good as his or her next story. Myerson Construction was the past; Sean Allen was the future.

And her Lex Luthor story was nowhere. She pursed up her lips with frustration and turned away from Roberts before he could pick up on her emotions. Dammit, but Luthor was the biggest story in the city, and she couldn't write about him! In fact, she was fairly surprised that Perry was allowing her near Allen; he was, after all, allegedly one of Luthor's associates.

It crossed her mind to wonder why LNN would see the need to follow the trial in the first place, let alone give it the high profile that Roberts' presence suggested. Why would a LexCorp company want to give bad publicity to one of its own? Suddenly the trial seemed vastly more interesting than before.

Her musings were interrupted as silence descended. She cast her eyes around, finally letting them alight on the clerk of the court.

"All rise! Court is now in session! The Honourable Angela Diggs presiding!"

As one, all those present scrambled to their feet as the judge entered from a door set off to the rear and towards one side of the bench. Lois smiled involuntarily as she stood up. At least she didn't have to wonder about the morals of the judge: Diggs was as straight as they came. Lois both respected and liked her.

The command "Be seated!" was followed by a loud rustling of fabric and scuffing of feet as everyone hustled to obey.

The clerk remained standing just long enough to call out, "Case number 97-67361! State of New Troy versus Sean Allen!"

Peering over her glasses, Judge Diggs asked, "Is counsel ready to proceed?"

Lois watched as Kent stood up and indicated that, yes, he was. Looking down on the proceedings below her, it crossed Lois's mind to question whether three defence attorneys against one prosecutor made for a very fair fight. Then she found herself wondering whether it was preference or necessity that made Kent work alone.

"Very well," said Diggs, pulling Lois's attention back towards the unfolding action. "Counsellor Kent. You may present your opening statement."

"Thank you, your honour." Kent stepped around the table and looked around the room. Then he began to speak. "Your Honour, members of the jury. My name is CJ Kent. I will be representing the people of the state of New Troy in the prosecution of Sean Allen for kidnapping, corruption and first-degree murder. Over the next few days you will hear…"

Lois was a journalist, not a lawyer. In a perverse way, maybe it was that fact which allowed her to realise as quickly as she did that Kent's performance lacked something. Her brow furrowed as she groped around for an appropriate word and eventually came up with one: theatricality. It lacked theatricality. Was that, Lois wondered, why Roberts was there? Luthor — through LNN — would be more than happy to propagate the fiction that Allen was an honest man. Roberts was here to cover the acquittal. And Kent was going to make sure that he got it. Kent, the showman, wasn't even bothering to go through the motions of giving a performance. He was presenting, in a very bland way, the mere facts of the case. He was making no effort to explain why the crime had been a heinous one, or why the perpetrator ought to be punished to the full extent of the law.

So much for her earlier doubts about his dishonesty!

By contrast, when it was the turn of the defence, their lead lawyer, Rosemary Tierney, turned in a polished performance. Speaking slowly at first but building up into an impassioned crescendo, she explained how she and her three associates would illuminate the weaknesses in the prosecution's case and would force the jury to acquit "this fine, upstanding member of our community". At that last phrase, Lois almost choked from holding back her laughter; from what she knew of Allen, he was more of a devil than the angel the defence were portraying him to be.

Rosemary Tierney sat down.

CJ stood up.

Diggs said, "You may call your first witness."

CJ nodded. "The prosecution would like to call Debbie Morgan to the stand…"


Lois deliberately stepped into Kent's path as he exited the courtroom, making it impossible for him to ignore her. She planted her feet six inches apart, placed her left hand upon her hip, and thrust a tape recorder under his nose with her right. "Counsellor Kent!" She was meanly satisfied to notice that he flinched in response to her salutation. "Would you care to—"

"No comment," he said sharply, cutting her off as he pushed past.

"Now, just you wait a darn minute!" she called after him. "Don't ignore me!"

Lois's irritation blossomed into anger as Kent carried on moving towards the exit. He pushed through the rotating door and began the long walk down the majestic steps to the plaza below. Lois, muttering softly under her breath, ran after him.

"Wait!" Lois cried after him desperately, fearing that, in her heels, she wouldn't stand a chance of catching him up.

To her surprise, however, he stopped short, spun around on his heel to face her and angrily asked, "What, exactly, should I wait for? For you to ask me about my links to organised crime again?"

"No. I… Look. I need a quote for the afternoon edition."

CJ shook his head and glowered at her. "Why should I give you a quote when I know full well what happened last time I was stupid enough to allow myself to be interviewed by you?"

"That was almost four years ago, Kent!" protested Lois. "Besides… I'm sorry about that."

"Are you? Somehow I doubt it, given what you've written about me since."

"Yes, actually I am." And she was. It wasn't just that she feared she might have been wrong about him; she knew that she hadn't been fair. She'd tried and convicted him without even attempting to see things from his point of view, and that realisation never ceased to gall and grate. Lois, who took great pride in her work, found it hard to live with the self- knowledge that she had been anything less than professional in her dealings with him. It was odd, she thought, how he had the power to bring out the worst in her; that thought made her feel guilty, and her guilt brought her anger to the fore again. "Okay, Kent," she said, suddenly. "Let me be frank."

"Go ahead. I'm not stopping you."

"I think that Allen should pay for what happened to that poor woman. But that's never going to happen so long as you're prosecuting the case. You didn't put any effort into your opening statement in there. You didn't even try to sound convincing. And your questioning was a joke!"

His eyes narrowed and he said, "As it happens, I agree with you. Allen should pay for Melissa Keene's death. And you're right; that's never going to happen inside that courtroom. Not when the jury's been bought off!"

Lois was taken aback by his response. "Already?" said Lois sceptically. "Even before the first witness took the stand?"

"Yes. Justice is not going to be done here, and it's gotten to the point where I'm fed up with even trying to see that it is!"

Lois shook her head, stunned. "You're incredible," she said quietly, disbelieving. "At least before you've always made some pretence of prosecuting your cases. I can't believe that you are being so… so… blatant…"

She stepped away still shaking her head, wondering what, precisely, was going on. Kent's behaviour was making no sense to her. She'd thought he had deliberately set out to be ineffectual, wanting Allen to be acquitted, but the man she had just talked to didn't seem like someone who was happy that his trial was going to heck in a hand-basket. Rather, he seemed genuinely frustrated with his failures; he had been angry, as much, she suspected, with himself as with her. And if she was right about that, that meant…

She wasn't sure what it meant.

She moved off down the steps, putting distance between herself and Kent, but glancing back once or twice.

She didn't understand what had happened in the courtroom and, given their past history, she thought it most unlikely that Kent would explain if she pursued the matter further. Were it not for his anger, she doubted he would have told her anything at all. He didn't trust her motives. That was fair enough, she supposed. After all, she wasn't sure that she trusted him.

Even so… Maybe she should go back.

She turned around, only to see that Kent was now locked in conversation with a small man who was wearing, of all incongruous things, a bowler hat. She shook her head, decided that her impulse to go back was foolish, and began to walk down the steps once again.

"Lois!" A panicked cry behind her made her twist around towards Kent. Then she turned forwards to see what had prompted him to yell like that.


She didn't know who was responsible for that last cry. Before she could look around to identify its source, she caught sight of the gun pointed towards her. She tried to throw herself to the ground but it was already too late. Far, far, too late.

The crack of the gunshot echoed around the square. The punch of impact pushed her and she screamed. She scarcely had time to realise that it was not the bullet which had hit her body, but an arm pulling her to… safety? The ground rushed away from her. Instinctively, she screamed again, this time louder than before. Then, with indignation, she cried, "Let me go!"

"I don't think you'd want me to do that," a warm voice said lightly. "We're fifty feet off the ground. Besides, you wouldn't really want our friendly neighbourhood assassin to finish off what he started, would you?"

Fifty feet!

Instinctively she glanced down, towards her feet. She took in the way they were flailing about in the air, the way the trees and tarmac below were rushing past in a grey and green blur. For a moment she was too stunned to think, let alone to do or say anything. However, her paralysis was fleeting and soon thoughts were tumbling through her head. She was in the arms of someone who could fly! Who was it? Why was he doing it? How had he known to grab her at that critical moment? *How* was he doing it?

Lois tried to twist in her rescuer's grip, wanting to see his face. However, the way she was being held, her back to his chest, prevented that. All she could make out was the sleeve and trouser legs of a charcoal grey suit and a pair of polished black shoes, and she was not really in any state of mind to take in the details of either of those.

Her rescuer deposited her on the flat roof of a nearby high- rise. Then, after saying, "Don't move. I'll be right back," he took off again. He moved in a blur, but not quite so fast that she didn't get a general impression of dark hair and olive skin.

"Stay here?" Lois muttered to herself. "I don't think so!"



CJ punched the air with his fist and arrowed upwards in an unwitting copy of one of Clark's favourite flying poses — right arm extended above his head, in line with his body, left arm down by his side. When he was about a hundred feet above the buildings, he paused to look down at the square. Nobody had noticed him. The sensible members of the crowd were too busy scurrying for cover in case the shooter decided to renew his attack. The remainder of the crowd was rubber-necking, alternately staring at the building from where the shots had come and at the empty space where, seconds earlier, Lois had been standing.

CJ pulled down his glasses and concentrated, willing himself to peel back the layers of brick and concrete so that he could see into the room where the gunman had lain in wait. He wanted to crow with success as he found himself looking into an almost empty living room, which evidently was in the process of being refurbished. However, when he took in the two workmen — electricians, he guessed — and their paraphernalia, he realised he'd got the wrong place. He muttered darkly and forced himself to try again.

When he looked into the next floor down, he realised he'd got things right this time. The gunman was struggling to take his weapon apart, trying, and failing in his haste, to fit the various pieces into the correct slots inside the gun's case. Odd, thought CJ. He'd always assumed that assassins were more efficient than that. However, he didn't have the luxury of time to dwell on the thought. Instead, he needed to figure out how he was going to catch the man without leaving too many clues as to his identity. Another thought flitted across the edge of his consciousness: why hadn't he thought this through before, back in the other world when he'd had the luxury of time to do so? Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea to have brought back one of the Superman suits with him, after all.

Whatever, it was too late to worry about it now: the gunman had finally managed to ram the last components home and was snapping the case's catches shut. CJ frowned. If it weren't so completely ridiculous, he would have sworn that the man's hands were shaking.

CJ had to think of something quickly. Then, in the manner of an Olympic swimmer executing a turn at the end of the pool, he spun in mid-air and sped through the open window into the apartment *above* the gunman's.

Faster than any human eye could follow, CJ snatched a length of electrical cable off the floor and exited the same way as he had entered.

Then he dived through the window into the gunman's apartment and caught the fleeing man just as he was about to open the door. CJ yanked him backwards with more force than he'd intended. The gunman sailed through the air and landed on his backside in the centre of the room. CJ hoped fervently that his victim's cry was one of surprise rather than one of pain. Still moving faster than the eye could follow, CJ flew around in circles, binding the gunman tightly with the stolen cable.

Satisfied that the gunman wasn't going to be able to escape, CJ fled, leaving the other man for Metropolis's finest to discover in due course.

Lois, he thought. He had to get back to Lois. He sped through the air and returned to the rooftop upon which he'd left her.

She was gone.

"Now what?" he muttered, frustrated. He looked out over the square. There was no sign of Lois, but he was pleased to see that some police officers had already arrived and, guns held at the ready, were preparing to enter the building where he'd left the gunman.

He looked around again and spotted something else he needed to deal with. H G Wells was standing on the steps of the courthouse where, for appearances sake, CJ needed to be. He'd have to hurry down before anyone noticed that he'd been missing for… was it really less than a minute? It felt so much longer than that! He'd been back in his world for less than a minute, but already it felt as though hours had passed.

CJ flew down into an alley next to the courthouse, landed and then quietly walked up behind Wells. "Well," said CJ softly, "I saved her."

Wells gave no sign of surprise at CJ's sudden appearance. He turned to face CJ, smiled and said, "Yes, my boy, you did. Congratulations. It was a splendid effort. Now, while I remember, here is your brief—" He broke off abruptly, his attention caught by something happening on the other side of the square. "Oh dear! CJ, you might want to do something about that, before she gets a chance to talk to anyone else."


Wells pointed surreptitiously. "Lois Lane has just emerged from that alley over there. Look. Next to the caf,."

CJ turned his gaze in the direction Wells indicated. There, indeed, was Lois, venturing onto the square, heedless of any possible danger. How was *she* to know that the gunman had been dealt with? Reckless, he thought. That was what she was. CJ rolled his eyes. "I told her to wait for me on the roof!"

"One thing you should learn right now, CJ, is that there isn't a Lois Lane on any world who likes to be told what to do."

How many Lois Lanes had Wells met? CJ wondered.

"Now, while you waylay Ms Lane, I think it is time for me to disappear. I have no desire to be around when the police decide to interview witnesses."

"But—" CJ's protestations were to no avail because Wells had already opened a time window and was stepping through it.

CJ sighed; he could understand why the other world's Lois found Wells to be so infuriating.

He couldn't blame Wells for his disappearing act, though. After all, he wasn't sure what he was going to say to the police, either, assuming, of course, that they would see the need to ask him anything. He rather hoped that they would not. And Wells was right about one thing; he *did* need to get to Lois before she had an opportunity to blurt out his secret to someone else. At least nobody else seemed to have noticed her yet.


"Lois! I thought I told you to stay on the roof!"

She began to protest as she spun around, anger instinctively rising in her throat in response to the imperious comment. "Now, just you wait a minute! Just because you saved—" Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped with shock as she saw who had spoken to her. Then her eyes narrowed dangerously. She pointed a long elegant finger at him and said incredulously, "That was you?"

"Well, yeah," CJ replied nonplussed. "Didn't you realise?"

"Of course I didn't realise you… you…" She floundered as she searched for an appropriate epithet. Finally she settled on "… great lunkhead!"

"Lunkhead?" CJ raised his eyebrows. His lips quirked into a lopsided grin.

Well, glory be, Lois thought. The guy can *smile*. She wasn't sure whether she found the smile or the flying more amazing; both were completely at odds with all her preconceived ideas about him. She couldn't help but notice that the expression looked really good on him, though. Discomfited by the direction her thoughts were taking her, she glanced at the ground, shuffled her feet and forced herself to remember that, even if he had just saved her life, she didn't like CJ very much.

"Lois?" he asked, sounding rather worried. "Are you all right? You look…"

Lois nodded — unwisely as it turned out. Her head swam with delayed reaction even as she muttered, her voice replete with irritation, "Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine… except that I think I want to *faint*!"

"Here. Let me help you." He gently grasped her elbow with his right hand and guided her towards one of the caf,'s pavement tables. He settled her into a dark, shady corner and gave her a couple of minutes to catch her breath. Then he asked again, "*Are* you all right?"

This time, when she answered, she did so with more honesty and more anger than before. "No, I'm *not* all right! And it's all your fault, Kent!"

"*My* fault? What did *I* do?"

That was a good question, Lois decided. What *had* he done? Why was she so mad at him? It wasn't as though he'd done anything wrong. In fact, he'd saved her life, for goodness sake! That was about as far from wrong as a person could get! Of course, the way he'd done it was pretty incredible. Actually, now that she thought about it, it was downright unbelievable. CJ Kent could *fly*? How come? Since when? Had Elyse known about this? Lois put a palm to her swimming head and forced herself to take a couple of deep breaths on the off chance that they might help.

Just then an eagle-eyed waitress came out to grab their custom before they could change their minds and move away. Lois let CJ order for them both while she continued to try to sort through her thoughts. She supposed she was mad at him because that was how she reacted to anything she didn't understand or felt uncomfortable about. She was aware that it wasn't one of her more appealing personality traits, but no matter how hard she tried to get over it, she couldn't. Still… As the waitress disappeared back inside the caf,, Lois tentatively said, "So… You saved my life."

"Yes," he said. "I did." He sounded shyly satisfied about that and almost surprised.

Somewhat grudgingly, she said, "I suppose I ought to thank you, Kent."

"You're welcome." She noticed that he was smiling at her again. "And… my name is CJ."

Lois's head jerked up and her eyes met his. She'd known that, of course. But his encouraging her to *use* his nickname… That was new, and she wasn't sure what it meant.

She reached across the table and fiddled around with the menu card and a dish crammed full to bursting with pepper, salt and sugar sachets, allowing time for her scattered wits to begin to reassemble. When, a few seconds later, she tried to ask him some important questions, she was pleased to discover that she sounded vaguely — but only vaguely — coherent. "You… I honestly had no idea that it was you… How did you…? I mean…"

CJ shrugged and smiled faintly. Self- deprecatingly, he said, "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."

"Don't you tell me what I would or wouldn't believe!" Lois felt her anger rising again, and she did her best to tamp it down. Suddenly disconcerted, she said, "I… I mean…"

"It's okay," CJ said gently. "I know what you mean. And, believe it or not, I also know how you feel."

Lois looked at him, a slight frown marring her forehead. Something about him was different from the way it had been just a few minutes ago. She tried to figure out what it was. Her frown deepened as she stared at him. If it weren't impossible, she would have said that he had suddenly acquired a tan. More than that, though, he had lost the angry, haunted look he'd left the courtroom with. He looked far more relaxed for some reason. Not so wound up. Then it crossed her mind that CJ wasn't objecting to her close scrutiny. He wasn't ignoring her, or arguing with her, or walking away, or doing any of the other things he usually did when they ran into each other. Instead he was looking at her with an almost gentle expression in his eyes. It was most peculiar.

Again, her thoughts were interrupted as the waitress returned. Lois glanced at the drink that was placed in front of her and she asked, "What is this?"

"Tea with plenty of milk and sugar," said CJ with a shrug. "I've always been told that it's what you should give people suffering from shock. I thought it might do you some good."

She nodded, picked up the mug and took a sip. She grimaced and said, "It tastes disgusting so I guess it must be good for me, right?" Where, she wondered, had that comment come from? What was she thinking? She was *joking* with him?! It had to be nerves, she thought. She ducked her head, devoted her attention to the mug and began toying with its handle.

"Lois…" he said a few moments later, sounding rather tentative. She glanced at him; she could see him summoning up the courage to say something else. He tried again. "Lois…" She was slightly alarmed to realise that she felt a pleasant tingle at the way he said her name. "I was wondering… I know that we don't have a happy track record, and I've no right to ask it of you… And I know what I said before, about not wanting to talk to you, but… Could we, well, talk?"

"Now you *want* to talk to me?"

"Sounds crazy, doesn't it?"

She raised her eyebrows at his reply. "You realise, don't you, that after your little stunt just now yours is going to be the hottest story in town. You could take it to anyone you liked. Given our past history, I have to admit to being surprised that you'd *choose* to come to me."

"Lois, I don't want to talk to you about that… about me. At least, not on the record."

"You're asking me to spike the article before it's even written?"

"I guess so, yes."

She opened her mouth to object, but before she managed to say anything, CJ raised his hand, forestalling her, and said, "Please… Lois… Just hear me out, okay?"

There was something compelling about the intensity with which he spoke. "All right," said Lois guardedly. "I'll play along for now. So, what *do* you want to talk about?"

Clark sighed. "A couple of things, I guess. But mostly I want to talk about Luthor."

Whatever she'd been expecting, it wasn't that. "Luthor?" she asked, nonplussed.

"Yeah. I've got some leads that might take me to him, but I'm going to need the help of someone I can trust to follow them up, and that more or less rules out anyone in my department. But you… I do at least trust your honesty."

That sounded suspiciously like a compliment to Lois, backhanded though it was. Moreover, the thought of getting closer to Luthor… That was a bait she couldn't refuse. Plus, she was fascinated by this incarnation of CJ Kent; she wanted to know more. However, she decided it wouldn't hurt to test his resolve for just a little longer. She leant back in her chair, crossed her arms over her chest and said, "And why should I go along with you? Why should I ignore the story in front of me for something that might — only might — turn out to be printable somewhere down the line?"

"Because… Because you hate Luthor more than you hate me. Because I'm going to be a seven day wonder — no more — whereas bringing down Luthor will be the story of the century, always assuming we can pull it off. Kerth material, for sure. Maybe even worth a Pulitzer."

Lois chewed on her lower lip for a moment as she mulled over what he had said. She had to admire the way he knew which of her buttons to push. Actually, she thought, what he'd said was rather amazing on a couple of counts; first, it was unusual for someone not in the business to have heard of the Kerths and, second, when had he come to understand her so well, anyway?

There was something he hadn't mentioned in his sales pitch, though. Just as CJ couldn't rely on people in his department to help him, she could never count on her Daily Planet colleagues to give her support in her campaign against Luthor. Perry's actions just that morning were evidence enough of that. But what if she — if *they* — could put enough material together so that she could go to Perry with a *fait accompli*? Not only would it be a great story, it would also remove Luthor's stranglehold on the paper. It just might prove to be the paper's salvation. That was something worth fighting for, wasn't it?

Bringing Luthor down… She nodded thoughtfully. CJ had baited his hook well, and she knew that he was already reeling her in.

CJ's head whipped around, as though his attention had been caught by something only he could hear. That impression was reinforced when he said, in suddenly hushed tones, "The police are coming over. But before they get here… Tell me… You won't *write* anything about me, will you?"

To Lois, he sounded anxious. She, unaccountably eager to allay his concerns, found herself shaking her head even as she cast around, looking for the police presence CJ had predicted. "No, I won't write anything, at least not until I've heard you out, anyway. That's the best promise I can make."

CJ nodded. "That's fair enough, I suppose."

She belatedly spotted one officer and one plain clothes detective talking to each other some two hundred feet away. How, she wondered, had CJ, who had his back to the square, known that they were there? It wasn't humanly possible that he could have heard them. Then again, flying wasn't possible, and he'd done that, too. She pushed the thoughts aside and said in a hurried whisper, "If you're free, come over to my place tonight. Eight o'clock."

He nodded again, already rising to his feet, preparing to make his escape. "Okay. Eight o'clock. I'll see you then. And… thanks for promising to keep quiet."

To her surprise, she found herself smiling at his retreating back. Then, under her breath, she muttered, "Who would I tell about you, anyway? It's not as though anyone would actually believe me!"


CJ made a strategic retreat as the police bore down on Lois. It wasn't that he thought they would have any reason to suspect him of having played any part in the afternoon's activities so much as he didn't want to have to dissemble in front of them. Since he was a lousy liar, he reckoned it was far better, if at all possible, to completely avoid situations where it might be necessary to do so. He hoped Lois would understand his need to fade into the shadows and that she wouldn't feel as though he had abandoned her.

He headed back to his office, driven as much by habit as need. It was, of course, what he would be expected to do; it was part of his routine. Even if conditions were about as far from normal as they could get, he ought to try to at least appear as normal as he could.

As he walked along a corridor, Mayson, a colleague who seemed to have inveigled her way into the DA's favour and was, therefore, automatically suspect, poked her head around her office door and asked, "Okay, so what happened?"

CJ stopped and, stalling, asked warily, "How do you mean?" Could she really have heard about Lois already? Of course, media coverage was inevitable; he had not, however, given any thought as to how, if at all, he would deal with any casual questions that were pointed his way.

Mayson's next words, however, showed that Lois was nowhere in her thoughts. "What happened in the courtroom? I've just had Rosemary on the phone asking what you thought you were playing at!"

Another mark against Mayson, CJ thought. She was on social terms with the "enemy" and made no secret of the fact that they went to the same gym and occasionally even to movies together.

Mayson was continuing. "She said you were quite useless. Ineffectual. She said you were pitiful."

The caustic criticism stung CJ into remembering what had happened prior to his departure to the other world. When he'd left, he hadn't been in any frame of mind to care about his behaviour in court. Now, though, it ate at him because he hadn't been very professional and he knew that all the criticisms were justified. Still, there was no way he was prepared to admit as much to Mayson — he had his pride — so he simply shook his head and shrugged uncomfortably before proceeding onwards to his own office.

Five minutes later, CJ had still not made it back to his desk. Instead, he was standing at his office window, watching the rush hour traffic beginning to pile up on the street below. He sighed.

In all the excitement of the last ten days, he'd almost forgotten about the Allen case, yet it was an issue he needed to address, and soon. If he was going to prosecute, he would need to be more convincing than he had been thus far, if only so that he could escape with his career and reputation intact. And yet… Was there really any point in going on with the trial when he knew that the result was already a foregone conclusion?

Although CJ trusted Diggs' integrity — she was one of the few judges he did trust — and she would probably be more receptive than most to the idea of corruption in her court, CJ knew that he couldn't go to her without evidence. The problem was that he didn't have any. In the short term, he decided, he'd just have to do his best. He'd have to prosecute the case to the best of his ability and hope that, in amongst all the other extra- curricula activities he had planned for the next few days, he'd find a solution to this particular dilemma.

And thinking about his plans… Now that the adrenaline rush of saving Lois was wearing off, the burden he'd taken on suddenly weighed heavily on his shoulders. Reaction, he thought, was setting in.

CJ picked up his briefcase, opened it, and peeked inside. All the files and disks he'd brought back from the other world were safely tucked away. He flicked through them and stumbled across a photograph he couldn't remember having seen before.

It was a picture of Superman — not Clark, but Superman — and Lois together. One of them, he guessed, must have slipped it into the case when he wasn't looking.

He wondered why they had chosen to give him such a picture, especially since they didn't let other people see any. Maybe, though, that was the question's own answer. They'd given him the photograph because they *could*. They'd shared their secret with him, and the photograph was tacit recognition of that fact.

Suddenly he felt very alone. He wished that they were there so that he could have asked them about it. And maybe, at the same time, he could have asked what he should do about the Allen trial… and Luthor… CJ felt a bittersweet ache well up in his chest. He missed his new friends with an intensity that shocked him. He missed their support. He missed their encouragement and advice. Most of all, though, he missed them.

CJ turned the photograph over and recognised Lois's handwriting. "Dear CJ," she'd written. "It was a pleasure to meet you. Have faith in yourself and do your best; no-one can ask more of you than that. Good luck." She'd signed off for both of them with the words, "You'll always be in our hearts. Love from us both, Lois and Clark."

He read the message again, and it was as though he could hear her across the dimensional divide, the words on the picture complementing the ones Clark had said to him in Kamchatka: "Whatever you can do, that's enough."

"All right, Lois," he whispered softly, making a solemn vow, "I will have faith. I'll make you proud of me. I'll make both of you proud."

How odd, he thought; he was talking to the memory of a woman he would almost certainly never see again and yet that realisation made him feel neither lonely or foolish. Instead, it made him feel good, perhaps because he had taken them, along with the many things they'd taught him, to his heart. There they offered, and would continue to offer, him strength whenever he needed it. He had needed some of that strength just now, he thought.

He smiled as he slid the photograph into a side pocket of the briefcase. Then he went over to his filing cabinet, unlocked it and dug around under the suspension files, looking for the folder he'd secreted there, away from casual view. This was *his* Luthor file. It was thinner than Lois and Clark's, but then he only added scraps of information and speculation to it when they came his way, on a case-by-case basis. Still, it might be useful to have it with him when he went to visit Lois. It might help to cross-check some of Lois and Clark's information, but, more importantly, it might complement any information his Lois had to offer.

Feeling more optimistic than he had just minutes before, CJ decided it was time to head home.



Perry must have been looking out for Lois because he waylaid her moments after she stepped out of the elevator. "So," he asked, "what happened down at the courthouse?"

"Before or after the trial was adjourned?" she asked vaguely, her mind still reeling in the aftermath of recent events.

"I was asking about the trial. Why? Is there something else I should know about?"

"I think I'd have to answer 'yes' to that one," said Lois. Even though she had promised to keep CJ out of it, she knew she couldn't pretend nothing had happened. There had been too many witnesses to her abrupt disappearance for that. "I was shot at and someone swooped down, scooped me up and dumped me on the roof of a nearby sky—"

"Chief!" Jimmy Olsen, who, upon Roberts' departure, had been promoted from general gopher to the post of reporter, broke into the conversation. "I think you're going to want to take a look at LN—" He broke off when he belatedly noticed who Perry was talking to. "Oh… Hi, Lois." He turned back to Perry and said, "So, I guess you already know all about it, then."

"Know about what? Lois was just funning me with some cockamamie tale about—"

"It's *not* cockamamie!" exclaimed Lois indignantly. "I tell you, it happened!"

"Chief," ventured Jimmy again, "if you're talking about what I think you're talking about, you really ought to take a look at LNN."

Lois noticed that Perry rolled his eyes. Then, as much to humour Jimmy as anything else, he said, "Okay. But this had better be worth it, Olsen."

Two minutes later, as they stood staring at the television screen, Perry murmured, "I see it, but I don't believe it."

The news report had started with Roberts standing on the courthouse steps, microphone in hand, recounting the miraculous events that had taken place "in this very place". Odd, thought Lois obliquely, how the word "pontificate" always popped into her head when she saw one of Roberts' pieces.

"… Nobody knows quite what happened. Even the heroine of the piece, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane — who was snatched from the jaws of death — could not shed any light on the incident…"

"Snatched from the jaws of death?" exclaimed Lois. "Who writes this lame-brained stuff for him? Surely not even Roberts would write something that… bad!"

Perry, who was paying no attention to her outburst merely mumbled, "Uh, huh," and nodded with approval. "So, you didn't tell them anything. That's good. Very good. Saving the exclusive for us, huh? Excellent."

"Actually," she said, "there's nothing else I *can* tell you." Lois felt uncomfortable then. She hated lying — or, to be more exact, she hated lying to *Perry*. However, she told herself sternly, strictly speaking what she had just said wasn't a lie. She couldn't tell Perry everything she knew because she'd given her word to CJ that she wouldn't. Of course, that was splitting hairs, but she refused to think about that…

By the time she tuned back into the report, the footage had changed to an interview with someone a caption at the bottom of the screen identified as David Popovic. "… I was workin' in the fourth floor condo, along wiv Baz. We wuz just workin' away when sudden like there was this… well… It felt like a gust of wind, but that's impossible, right? I said to Baz, 'Didja feel that?' an' he said, 'Yeah,' and that wuz when we saw it wuz gone." Popovic paused dramatically.

Obligingly, Roberts, off camera, asked, "What was gone?"

"Three metres of electrical cable! Just gone. Vanished. At least that's what we thought until—"

This time Roberts cut in to discourage further comment, preferring to tell the next part of the story himself rather than have someone else upstage him. "The police found Lois Lane's would be assailant trussed up with the missing cable in a third-floor apartment. Police sources say that, like the other witnesses, he could give no clear account as to what had happened to him. Ms Lane herself was not available for comment. Now, back to Molly Richmond in the news room."

Molly's Barbie-doll face appeared on the screen. "Thank you, Robby," she simpered. "And this just in: the gunman has been named as Clive Myerson. As readers of the Daily Planet will know, Lois Lane yesterday—"

Perry muted the sound. "They're recycling your story now. We don't need to hear that."

"Myerson? Clive *Myerson* tried to kill me?"

"I take it," said Jimmy, "you didn't know that already."

"No, I most certainly *didn't*! The police didn't say a word to me about it!. Myerson! I knew he wasn't going to like me very much, but to kill me…!"

"Well, we've got our lead for the evening edition. Now, Lois, honey, after everything that's happened to you today, do you feel up to writing it?"

"Of course I do, Perry. It's *my* story."

"All right, then. Now… Are you sure you can't remember anything more about your rescuer? I mean, what did he — she? it? — look like? Did you get a good look?"

Lois's mind raced. If the other witnesses hadn't *seen* anything, then did she even need to reveal the little she had noticed at the time? Maybe she was taking a risk by keeping quiet, but she hoped not. She shook her head. "Sorry, Perry, but like everyone else has said… It just happened too fast."

He looked disappointed, but he didn't look sceptical, a detail which caused Lois to feel a pang of remorse. She kept quiet as Jimmy and Perry began to speculate as to what, precisely *had* saved her. A miracle? A freak of nature?

"Hey," Jimmy suddenly said brightly. "You think that maybe Metropolis has its very own Batman?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" snapped Lois with even more acid in her tone than was usual. Jimmy's joking suggestion, she thought, just might have come perilously close to the truth; her saviour had been a man at pains to keep his identity a secret. "You know as well as I do that Batman and his kind only exist in comic books… or in New York City." There was a pause before she added, "Besides, Batman can't fly."


Although Lois wasn't altogether satisfied with her story, Perry seemed happy enough with it, and for that she was grateful. She couldn't help feeling, however, that she had sacrificed her journalistic integrity. She just hoped any future pay-off would make her current actions worthwhile. Was she being stupid, placing so much hope on CJ?

Given their past history, she found it almost incredible that she and CJ had managed to reach an… "Agreement" was too strong a term, she thought, for what they'd shared. Maybe "understanding" or "truce" were better words. Whatever it was, they'd managed to reach it surprisingly easily. Lois found it a little disquieting just how quickly CJ had slipped beneath her guard, but she couldn't bring herself to regret that fact.

Lois nibbled on her knuckle as she thought about her upcoming meeting with CJ. She frowned as she felt a flutter of anticipation in the pit of her stomach. It was an odd sensation and it took her a while to remember where and, more importantly, why she'd felt it before. The first time had been when she'd met that footballer — what was his name again? — back in high school. She'd felt it on several occasions since, too — when she'd met that French reporter, Claude, for instance. And then there had been that time, at Elyse's memorial service… The fluttering in her stomach was quickly replaced by a flip-flop sense of unease as she realised what she was feeling now was attraction. Attraction for… *CJ Kent*!

She pushed the treacherous thoughts away and found herself muttering under her breath, "Remember, Lois. This meeting is purely professional. Just business. Nothing more."

And thinking of business…

Subsequent events had forced her to push thoughts of the Allen trial to one side, but now that she had time to think about it again, she realised that CJ had dangled a tantalising lead in front of her. She knew she had to grab it.

"Jack!" Lois hollered across the news room. Her newest and most junior colleague ambled over to her. As usual, his studiedly bored expression and earring made him look more like a delinquent than the eager-to-learn reporter- wannabe he actually was. Intelligent and keen to please, Jack was proving himself to be a more than adequate substitute for Jimmy.

"Yeah?" he asked as he came to a stop beside her.

"I need you to do something for me." She handed a list of names to him. "I want you to do background checks on these people."

"Are you looking for anything in particular?" Jack asked.

Lois considered that for a moment. "Can you hack into their bank accounts?" she asked.

"You know that's illegal, don't you?" The twinkle in Jack's eye and the enthusiasm evident on his face suggested that he wasn't too concerned about that fact; rather, he looked as though he was already warming up to the challenge.

"That doesn't answer my question," said Lois lightly.

More seriously, Jack said, "Who are these guys, anyway?"

Lois looked at him sombrely. "The jury on the Allen trial."

"The jury!"

She nodded.

"What are you interested in them for?"

Lois leaned in and, speaking quietly but intensely, drawing Jack into her confidence, said, "I've a… source… who says that someone has gotten to the jury. I want to know if it's true."

Jack's grin widened at that piece of information. "Okay, Lois. I'll see what I can find out for you."

"Thanks," she said. "I'm heading home now. Call me there if you find out anything."

"Sure thing, Lois."


Lois was casting critical eyes around her apartment when the intercom buzzed. She lifted the handset that would connect her with her visitor, who, she knew, would be standing, ear jammed against the tinny speaker in the doorway below. "Hello?"

"Hi, Lois. It's CJ. Can I come up?" The poor connection made his words crackle in her ear.

She didn't bother to make any verbal reply, knowing that any response she made would be drowned out by the street noise and the angry rasping of the door release.

Lois began to fill the thirty-odd seconds she guessed it would take for CJ to reach her apartment by unnecessarily plumping cushions and straightening various knickknacks.

What was she so excited about? she wondered before she realised just how stupid a question that actually was. A better question might have been, what *wasn't* she excited about? She wanted to know everything there was to know about CJ Kent: how had he acquired his powers? Could he do anything else other than fly, move faster than the eye could see and listen in on other people's conversations? What was he going to tell her about Luthor?

She began to pace to and fro across the living room as she wondered how she was going to get the most out of this upcoming… interview?

Maybe *that* was what she was excited about, she suddenly thought. No, "excited" wasn't the right word, at least not entirely. She was… she was *nervous*. That was it; she was nervous. She wasn't going to be working on a story this evening. Her meeting with CJ wasn't going to be an interview; but interviews were the kind of social encounter she was most familiar with. This was going to be a… A what? An exploratory conversation. Lois nodded to herself. Yes, that sounded good. She took a deep breath to steady herself.

She glanced around the room again and spotted a romance novel — - one of her few secret vices — lying on an occasional table. She whipped it away, opened her coat closet and threw it carelessly inside.

Just in time, too, because the knock on her door told her that CJ had arrived. "Coming!" she called. She ran her hands down her body, smoothing the lines of her freshly laundered blouse and trousers, straightened her shoulders, took another deep breath and unbolted the door.

CJ, she immediately noticed, had changed out of the charcoal grey business suit he had been wearing earlier into something more casual. As she cast her eyes over him, she realised that he had taken care over his choice of clothing for the evening. His navy shirt was freshly ironed and crisp, the creases still evident along the length of his arms and torso. His black jeans, which were painted around his thighs, looked smart enough to be nearly new and his sneakers were almost spotless. The briefcase he was carrying added a businesslike touch that was at odds with his otherwise casual appearance.

She thought it was rather flattering that he had made an effort for her, but then again, why shouldn't he have done so? After all, she'd done something similar for him, although she wasn't altogether sure what had compelled her to do so. If the warm regard she read in his brown eyes was anything to go by, he appreciated her efforts every bit as much as she appreciated his.

CJ moved his left hand from behind his back to reveal a bunch of flowers. He held them out to her, smiled nervously and said, "I brought you these."

"Roses?" Lois asked, hoping that she managed to sound at least a little sceptical.

"The florist told me that red and white roses are for partnership. And that's what we are, right? Partners?"

"Not yet… CJ. Maybe not ever. It depends on what you've got to offer me." However, as she reached out to take the flowers from him, she was uncomfortably aware that her soft tone and the almost shy smile playing around her mouth were in direct contradiction to her discouraging words. "Come on in, else the neighbours'll come out to see what's going on. I don't want to be the topic of tomorrow's Laundromat gossip."

"You dish it out, but can't receive. Is that it?" he asked good-naturedly.

"I don't write *gossip*," replied Lois perhaps more archly than she had any right to. After all, some of the scurrilous things she had written about CJ in the past had been little more than unsubstantiated supposition. "I write the *news*. There's a big difference."

"But isn't the news simply gossip backed up by hard evidence?" CJ queried.

"And a trial would be what? Gossip backed up by *conflicting* evidence?"

"Touch,," answered CJ, refusing to take offence at her comeback.

She pulled the door open more widely and stepped back. Waving a hand in the direction of her living room, she said, "Come in."

CJ stepped over the threshold and glanced around. Aware of his appraisal of her apartment, she saw it through fresh eyes, taking in the decor and the carefully assembled mass of treasures that meant a great deal to her but which probably looked austere to a stranger. The walls alternated between naked brick and a combination of wood panelling and painted plaster. There were few pictures or soft touches. The love seats were elegant but uncomfortable, not designed for relaxation. Then again, Lois didn't have much time for relaxation. For her, work had always come first. It was her home, but it wasn't homey.

To Lois's surprise, CJ said, "Nice place you've got here," in a tone which suggested genuine approval.

"Thank you. Make yourself comfortable. I'll just put these in water." Even though it was unnecessary, she raised the roses in a vague salute to make it clear what she was talking about.

CJ nodded and moved off in the general direction of the love seats while Lois went into the kitchen alcove.

When she returned she placed the flowers, now carelessly arranged in a glass vase, down on the coffee table. Then, her back rigid with nervous anticipation, she sat down opposite CJ. "So…" she said, getting down to business. "Luthor, huh." It was a vague opening, but it would serve to get the conversation started.

CJ took a deep breath and rubbed his hands on his thighs. "Yeah. Luthor." Then he stood up, ran a hand through his hair, and sat down again. Lois could see he was nervous. Finally he said, "I'm not sure where to begin, here. I mean, I don't have any proof, but…" He trailed off, at a loss as to how to continue.

"But you have ideas, right? Hunches?" asked Lois hopefully.

CJ nodded. "Actually, it's a bit more than that. At least, I think it is. But… You know that stuff I said you wouldn't believe earlier?"

Lois nodded.

"Well, it has to do with that. Maybe if I tell you the story…"

Lois nodded again, this time almost smiling. There was something oddly beguiling about the edgy man in front of her. He was almost skittish, she mused. In an attempt to give him a chance to relax and compose himself, she said, "I'd like to hear it. But, if this is going to take some time, perhaps I'd better make some coffee first."



CJ watched Lois carefully, searching for any signs of scepticism, as he told her about Mr Wells and his visit to another dimension, to another Metropolis. Once or twice he saw her mouth open, only to snap closed again as she forced herself to keep from protesting at the absurdity of his tale. He was certain that, had she not witnessed the fact of his powers at first hand, she would not have practised such restraint. Heck, if their positions had been reversed, he doubted that he would have shown any restraint at all!

Bearing that in mind, CJ was determined to convey the full import of his words to her as convincingly as possible. In his desperation to do so, he leaned forward, punctuating all his explanations with hand gestures as he spoke.

He told her that, in the other world, there was another Clark Kent and another Lois Lane, and that they were partners in every sense of the word. When she heard that, she looked at him with an expression on her face he was unable to interpret. Was the look she gave him scepticism or cynicism, or was it something else? he wondered. He wasn't sure.

He explained how the brighter sun of the other world had given him his powers. For a minute, he considered telling her about his extra- terrestrial origins, too, but he could see that Lois was already struggling to take in all the information that he had given her; that last piece of information could, he decided, wait for another day. After all, he had come to her apartment to discuss Luthor, not himself, and he had yet to address that particular issue. So he didn't tell her about Krypton. Instead, he moved on tell her that the other world also had a Lex Luthor, only that Luthor had died.

Finally he drew to a close, saying, "Their Luthor killed himself about three years ago. This material, even if it's accurate on this world, will be out of date, but it's a place to start. Right?"

Lois said weakly, "Right."

"And we both want the same thing here? I mean, I would like nothing better than to see Luthor behind bars. Forever. And you want that too?"

Again Lois agreed but CJ could see caution in her eyes. Nonetheless, she said, "Okay, so show me precisely what you've got."

CJ nodded and swung the briefcase effortlessly onto his thighs. Then he undid the combination lock and popped its catches open. Lois shifted along the love seat so that she could peek inside as soon as he lifted the lid.

Did she realise, CJ wondered, that their thighs were now almost touching? That he could feel the warmth of her body beating against his own? Or that the scent of her citrus shampoo, underlain by the scent of *her*, was filling his nostrils? He felt pleasantly light-headed and wondered whether this was what being tipsy felt like.

He resolutely pushed the thoughts away, determined to stick to business. That was, after all, why he was there. He began lifting things out, stacking them neatly into piles on the glass coffee table. "Okay. The computer disks contain every article Lane and Kent have written about Lex Luthor. This pile contains biographical notes on Luthor's known associates. I've got a summary of who they are somewhere."

"Let's see it," said Lois. CJ scrabbled around, found it and passed it over to her. While he continued dealing files into each of the stacks, she scanned the list, mumbling names under her breath. "Nigel St John; Asabi… No, never heard of them… Alan Morris, Dr Fabian Leek, Dr Mamba, Miranda…" She glanced up. "This Luthor really had a thing for scientists, didn't he?"

CJ glanced across at her and nodded. "I got the impression that if anyone was doing any unethical research, Luthor either was funding it, or wanted a piece of it."

Lois grunted an acknowledgement, then went back to her reading. "Women: Ariana Carlin; Gretchen Kelly; Mrs Cox; Miranda again… Oh, here's one you can cross off the list immediately."

"Which one? And why?"

"Toni Taylor. She's dead."


"Yeah. I wrote a story about it for the Planet a while back."

CJ's hands stilled temporarily and he said, "What happened?"

"Ever heard of the Metro Club?"

CJ's brow furrowed as he tried to remember the name. "No… I don't think so? Should I have?"

"It was a club down in the West River district before everything got bulldozed to make way for Lex Harbour."

CJ nodded. Over the last year or so, he, like everyone else in Metropolis, had seen the area undergo a startling transformation from a rundown neighbourhood into a Mecca for big business interests. The regeneration project was widely reported to be providing a boost for the city, both economically and in terms of the image Metropolis projected to the rest of the world. Only the Daily Planet had seen fit to criticise the project on the grounds that the area's original community had been decimated in the process.

"Go on," he said.

"Her father used to run the club, along with all the rackets. When he died, her brother Johnny inherited everything. Toni Taylor didn't like the way her brother was running things — she claimed that he was trapped in the past, and that he couldn't see beyond all the nickel and dime stuff. She said that organised crime had moved on, that to be a player you had to move in corporate circles."

"Any idea what she meant by that?"

Lois shook her head. "Not really. I just assumed that, like the economy more widely, organised crime has changed over time. Anyway, she staged some sort of *coup d'etat*, and Johnny was ousted. She took over the Metros until she was killed, execution style."

"So, who runs the gangs now?"

Lois raised her eyebrows. "No one, as far as I know. The whole area was cleared not long after that. No club. No gangs. Just lots of big business."

"Okay," said CJ. "Cross her off."

Lois nodded, reached for a pen, and did exactly that. Then she looked at the other piles CJ had created and said, "What's the rest of this stuff?"

CJ began doling out the information again and explained as he did so. "This one is Luthor's business interests. That one is bank accounts. That's investments and that one is hobbies and pastimes. And these last two are, respectively, random bits of information that don't neatly fit into any of the other categories and my own, pitifully thin, files on Luthor."

CJ was conscious that Lois's eyes were growing ever wider as the piles of information laid out in front of her grew. Rather than looking delighted, she was beginning to look dismayed — overwhelmed, even — at the sheer quantity of material. He watched as dismay segued into resolve. "So, where do we begin?" she said.

"I thought," said CJ, "that we should start by seeing how much of Lois and Clark's information matches up with our own world."

"In that case," said Lois, "I suggest we start by comparing lists of LexCorp's holdings. All that information is in the public domain. We should be able to get what we need quite easily from Dun and Bradstreet and from Who Owns Whom. I'll do that: we have all that information at the Planet. Tracking down share holdings, private investments and bank accounts is going to be trickier, though."

CJ nodded. "We ought, also, to look at the people. Some of them, at least, will be in the phone book — we've got last known addresses for most of them."

"Agreed. Now, how are we going to divide up the people?"

CJ shrugged slightly. "Alphabetically?" he suggested.

Lois opened her mouth to answer but was forestalled by the phone, which chose that moment to ring. CJ watched as she scrambled to her feet and crossed the room. Not for the first time, he noticed that she had long legs and an attractive figure, and she moved with the grace of a dancer.

Lois grabbed the receiver and answered the call with a brusque, "Yes?" Her face quickly grew serious; for the most part she simply listened to whatever the person at the other end of the line was saying, though, at one point, she grabbed for a notepad and pencil and began scribbling furiously, occasionally asking her caller to repeat something, or merely grunting to indicate she was still listening.

When Lois finally put the receiver back in its cradle, she turned around to CJ and said, "I guess you heard all that?"

CJ shook his head.

"But the police were miles away from you in the square this morning, and you heard them okay," she said. "How could you not have heard this?"

CJ shrugged. "I don't like to eavesdrop. Not if I can help it. But sometimes the hearing just… switches on. I can't always control it. That's what happened this afternoon."

Lois raised her eyebrows, though whether it was an expression of surprise, approval or disapproval, CJ wasn't quite sure and he didn't like to ask. He was simply grateful that she wasn't pursuing the matter any further because he was all too aware that he'd only given her a partial explanation. He hadn't told her that just now he'd been too caught up in watching her for the thought of eavesdropping to even enter his head.

"Then I'd better tell you what that was about," she said. "Since it involves you."

"Me?" he asked blankly.

"Yeah, you. That was Jack. He works at the Daily Planet. He does a lot of the research. Stuff like that."

CJ nodded. "And?"

"And… After our conversation earlier — the one about the jury? — I asked him to look into a few things for me." She looked very pleased with herself as she went on to say, "Did you know that all the jurors for the Allen trial have paid large quantities of cash into their bank accounts over the last couple of days? Fifty thousand dollars each, to be precise."

"Fifty thou—" CJ could feel his mouth fall open in surprise. He forced it shut with an almost audible snap. "How did you find that out?"

She shrugged. "Jack hacked into their bank—"

"Lois!" he exclaimed, instinctively outraged by what she was saying.

Lois stared at him. CJ got the distinct impression that his reaction was not what she had been expecting. Her eyes narrowed slightly, her stare turning into a glare. Then she said, "Don't tell me that you're not pleased about my information because I won't believe you."

"Well, sure, I'm pleased! But that's not the point!"

Lois's enthusiastic good humour shifted into something with a harder edge. "Oh?" she said sharply, "and what is the point, then?"

"The point is… What you did? Hacking into bank records? It's illegal! If you'd told me what you had in mind, I'd never have- -"

"And that's precisely why I didn't tell you, Kent!"

That brought him up short. His mouth flapped once or twice before he managed to get any words out. He hadn't considered the fact that Lois, an apparently honest person, might not be above flouting the law to suit her purposes. Shocked, he finally managed to say, "You mean you knew what you were doing was illegal, but you did it anyway?"

"Well, yeah," said Lois. CJ thought she seemed a little bemused and a lot angry by his attitude. If so, that made them quits because that was pretty much what he was feeling about hers.

"Why?!" he asked.

Lois shook her head and raised her eyebrows in disbelief. She muttered, loud enough for CJ to hear, "And to think I thought you were dishonest!" Struggling to sound reasonable, she continued, reverting back to a more normal volume. "What did you expect me to do? I mean, you had no hard evidence to go on, so you weren't going to get the warrants you needed to investigate the jury. I, on the other hand, work in a profession where…" She searched around for appropriate words.

"Where you think the law is an irrelevance? You cut corners?" suggested CJ sharply.

"Well," said Lois, sounding slightly embarrassed, "I wouldn't have put it as crudely as that, but, essentially, yes. And, when you get down to it, you got what you wanted: a mistrial. And hopefully next time you'll get an honest jury."

"So," said CJ, "what you're saying is that the end justifies the means?"

"Yes. No! Well, maybe." She thought for a moment, then said, "Okay, let's look at this another way. The jury had been bought off, right?"


"The legal process was being corrupted. Right?"

"Right," said CJ again, more hesitantly this time.

"So, whose crime is worse? The one that sought to pervert the course of justice, or the one that would see that justice gets done?"

CJ stared at her. Then, very carefully, he said, "I can see where you're coming from, but I'm not sure that I like it. I stand — try to stand — for the truth."

"Oh, and I don't?" The bite was suddenly back in Lois's words. "I got you the truth!"

"Yes, you did," conceded CJ. "But through dubious means."

"Don't be such a pompous idiot, Kent!"


"Yes. Pompous! You know what your problem is?"

"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"Your problem," said Lois, accentuating "problem", "is that you want to live in a black and white world." Miming the weighing up of contrasting concepts in her two hands, she continued. "Good. Evil. Guilty. Innocent." Then, leaning in towards him, she pointed an accusatory finger at him, "But it's not a black and white world, CJ! It's shades of grey!"

"In an ideal world—"

"It's not an ideal world! And until you realise that, you're going to find it a damned difficult one to live in!"

It was the vehemence of her reply as much as her words that make him pause. She was right: theirs wasn't an ideal world and he did find it incredibly difficult to live in. Wasn't that, after all, at the root of his recent depression?

They sat in a stunned and strained silence for a few minutes. Finally, CJ said tentatively, "Lois, about the jury…"

"Yes?" She sounded wary.

"I'm sure you meant well, but I can't use your information."

"Why not?"

"Because… The information you gathered, because of *how* you gathered it, is inadmissible."

"Oh," she said softly.

Her voice was small and disappointed, and he couldn't resist saying, "Sorry," sympathetically.

She nodded her head jerkily. "I'm sorry, too, CJ. If only…"

"Yeah," he murmured. "If only."

They lapsed into silence again. This time, however, it was more thoughtful than uncomfortable.

"CJ," said Lois eventually, "how long did you say those powers of yours will last for?"

He shrugged faintly. "I'm not sure. A few days. A week at the most."

Lois nodded. "Then we've got no time to lose."

CJ frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Luthor, of course. If we're going to bring him down, we need to get ahead of the game, and the best way we can do that is to use your powers. The more evidence we can gather now, the better. We'll build up a dossier; we can go through it later and build our case then. After your powers are gone; you won't need them for that. Just your keen legal brain."

"And your imagination."

"Yep. So… Just before the phone call, we were wondering just now how to split up the tasks…"

"I suggested we might do it alphabetically."

Lois shook her head. "Not a good use of resources. I suggest we do it geographically: you take all the out-of-towners. I'll take the Metropolis residents." She smiled at his look of questioning surprise. "Come on, CJ. It makes sense. After all, you're the one who can *fly*."

He nodded. She had a point.


Thursday, 1 May 1997

Lois closed the door after CJ, bolted it, then leaned against the cool wood for a few seconds. Eventually, however, she levered herself upright and padded into the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of orange juice, returned to the living room and sat sideways, with her feet up, on one of the love seats. She sipped her drink and idly glanced across the room at a little clock on a side table.

It was five past midnight. She hadn't realised that it was so late; time with CJ had certainly passed quickly. Did that mean that she'd been having fun? On balance she decided that, yes, it probably did. Certainly, the evening had been most… illuminating.

It wasn't just because of the information that CJ had provided; it was also because of CJ himself. The person she had met tonight, she thought, was the person he must have been back in his more carefree Harvard days. Certainly, the congenial, almost laid back, man who had just left was very different to the one she had met on previous occasions. It had been quite a revelation to discover that CJ, when he forgot to be uptight, could be excellent company. He also was as quick as she was at exchanging banter; inside that gorgeous body, she realised, was a mind that was just as appealing.

There it was again, she thought: the stomach flutter that told her she was attracted to CJ Kent. This time, however, she didn't find the realisation quite as unsettling as before. Instead she felt… excited? More alive than usual? What? She shook her head, unable to explain better, even to herself, just what it was that she was feeling. All she knew for sure was that it was a peculiarly pleasant, almost heady sensation.

She found herself wondering what the other Clark Kent was like. It was obvious from the things CJ had told her that the other world's Lois and Clark were married. She wondered what that meant exactly. Did it mean that she and CJ…? Were they supposed to be together? Was that why she felt so attracted to him? Was that why he'd come to her for help? Because it would force them together?

Did it mean that he wanted them to be together, or that he was going through the motions — bringing her flowers and dressing up — because he thought that they had to be together?

She shook her head, not wanting to believe the latter. She hated the idea of predestination, of fate. For Lois, who wanted nothing less than to be in full control of her life, the very idea of preordained destiny was anathema.

Maybe she was worrying over nothing, anyway. Spending a pleasant evening in the company of some gorgeous eye candy was a whole lot different from walking down the aisle.

Besides, hadn't CJ also told her that there were differences between the two worlds? That the material he had brought back with him might not be reliable? If they were working together, it was because they were choosing to do so, not because they were being forced into it.

If she got involved with CJ on a personal level, she vowed silently, it would also be because she chose to do so, not because he, fate, or a dapper little Englishman in a bowler hat decreed it.

She was too keyed up to sleep. Her mind was too full of wonders for her to be able to relax. However, there was work to be done; she might as well get on and make a start with it.

Lois pulled out her laptop, plugged it into the wall socket and switched it on. As soon as it was ready, she accessed her ISP, loaded her browser software, and accessed the phone companies' databases, looking up numbers for Luthor's associates.


CJ pummelled his pillow in frustration then rolled onto his back and stared wide-eyed and alert at the ceiling. He couldn't sleep.

It wasn't just that his thoughts were full of Lois and how much he had enjoyed his evening with her or because of the task ahead of them, although those things were churning around in his mind, demanding his attention. It was also because the sounds of the city kept intruding upon his consciousness.

As he'd explained to Lois, his super-hearing switched on from time to time of its own volition. If there was a way for him to stop that happening, he hadn't found it yet. He suspected that there *was* no way to stop it; he remembered the way he'd seen Clark tilt his head once or twice and vanish in response to something he had heard. Surely that meant that Clark, too, had been alerted to happenings across the city when his hearing had switched on.

CJ gave up the idea of sleep as a bad job. He groped around on the night stand for his glasses, put them on, climbed out of bed and, dressed only in his sleep shorts, wandered out onto the balcony. Although it was a chilly night, CJ, protected by his invulnerability, didn't feel cold.

The wail of a siren cut through the darkness, causing him to flinch. Back on the other world, he'd decided not to create a Superman for his own planet. He hadn't wanted to offer his people a symbol of hope only to be forced to snatch it away from them in a week's time. The decision he'd taken was logical. It was also, in a way, considerate.

What he hadn't realised, however, was how difficult it would be for him to live with.

Even though he'd felt frustration back on the other world, he'd never felt as bad about it as he did now. Back there, while he hadn't been able to help, Clark had, and that, although CJ hadn't been aware at the time, had undoubtedly done much to relieve his anguish.

Here, though, there was no Clark and, because of the decision CJ had taken, there was no Superman, either. CJ could tell himself that the things he could hear now had always been there and always would be — that the world had somehow managed to muddle along without a superhero to meddle in its affairs before he'd developed his powers and that it would be forced to do so again when he lost them — but it didn't help. Each siren was a cry for help, tearing at him, demanding his involvement.

"Help! Fire! *Fire!*" The cry, coming from five blocks away echoed through the night. The accompanying screams of "Call 911!" and "Gabby! No! Gabby! Stay with me! Don't go back inside! *Gabby!*" made CJ shudder.

Decisions, resolutions and logic notwithstanding, he could not ignore the pleas for help. How would he be able to live with himself afterwards, if he did?

CJ sped into the apartment and, less than a second later, dressed in the jeans and shirt he'd worn to Lois's earlier, flew out.

The fire was easy to spot from the air. It was in an old apartment building, probably made of too much wood to be safe. Certainly, the flames were spreading fast, licking the exterior of the building as they curled out of the windows and doors. Beyond the panicked screams of the residents gathering in the street, CJ could hear the cracking of timbers and the shattering of over-heated glass. And beneath *that* he could hear the whimpers of a trapped child.

I'm coming, he thought. I'll save you. It'll be okay. Everything will be okay.

He cut through the air, diving into the inferno. The smoke billowed around him, thick, black and acrid, blinding him. He focused his hearing and allowed himself to be guided by the sound of the child's voice. "Mommy… I want my mommy… Mommy will save us, Suzie… Mommy…"

It was a young child, he realised, probably a girl, though sometimes at that age it was hard to tell. He wanted to call out to reassure her, but he dared not because he wasn't sure he had time to do so. It was more important that he concentrated all his energy on finding her before she succumbed to the smoke. He could already hear her spluttering as she struggled to breathe.

And then… as the smoke cleared for a split second, he saw her. She was right in front of him, curled into a tight, panic- stricken ball in one corner of the room. She was crushing a puppy in her arms as she tried to prevent it from escaping.

"Come on," said CJ, reaching down to pick up the child and her beloved pet. "Let's get you out of here."

The child turned her head towards him and said, "Mommy always told me not to go anywhere with strange men."

Under the circumstances, the comment was absurd, and CJ had to suppress a desire to laugh. He forced himself to sound reasonable and said, "At any other time, I'd agree with your mom. However, I don't think it would be a good idea for you to stay here, do you?"

The girl shook her head emphatically and coughed. Time, CJ realised, was running out fast. He gathered the girl and the dog into his arms, prayed his aura would protect them, and levitated, flying them to safety.

An almost deafening sound of tearing alerted him to the imminent collapse of the building. Then there was a rumble worse than any Mid West summer thunder CJ had ever heard as the roof caved in.

In the eerie hush that followed, CJ heard a woman suddenly cry out to the heavens: "Gabby!" Then, almost hysterically, she began explaining to anybody and everybody. "We were almost out. I was carrying Mickie and she went back inside… I told her not to, but she said she had to get the damned *dog*! Oh… Gabby…"

"Mommy!" The girl in CJ's arms wriggled in response to the woman's voice. "Mommy!"

Wonder warring with hope, the woman's' voice echoed towards CJ. "Gabby? Oh, my God… Gabby?! Where are you?"

CJ landed lightly at the back of the crowd and called, "She's right over here, ma'am."

Heads turned in his general direction then passed over him as their owners searched for the little girl. As Gabby's mother, holding a baby — Mickie, he guessed — in her arms, pushed her way through the crowd, looking for her daughter, CJ shrank back into the shadows. By the time anyone thought to look for Gabby's saviour, he had disappeared.



CJ dug himself a little indentation in the snow then sat down. He watched a group of penguins waddle down to the edge of the ice sheet then leap into the frigid water beyond and he smiled ruefully. It felt like a profligate use of his power reserves to have wantonly flown to the South Pole on a whim — surely he should have saved them for something more worthwhile — but he'd needed to go somewhere where he could think without being disturbed. That wasn't going to happen as long as he remained in Metropolis.

After saving Gabby, CJ had flown home, only to leave again almost immediately so that he could deal with a crashed car. The driver, who had veered off the carriageway and into a lamp post, had remained unconscious as CJ, using his super breath, cooled the fuel in the tank, preventing it from igniting. By the time CJ had made everything safe, an ambulance was already pulling up. Knowing that the paramedics could do their jobs better than he could, CJ had left the driver to their care.

He closed his eyes and found an image of Lois floating behind their lids. His smile shifted from rueful to something more genuine and uncomplicated. She was, he thought, bright, beautiful and quick-witted. Moreover, when she forgot to use her sharp tongue to its fullest effect, she was also fun to be with.

The evening with Lois had gone… He searched for a word. Well, he supposed. It had gone well.

He'd known before his visit, of course, that the jury had been rigged and he had, before his sojourn to the other world, told Lois that much. What he hadn't realised — hadn't expected — was that she would take him seriously enough to pursue the lead. She'd been right, of course; he *had* been pleased with her discoveries, even if they were of only limited use. He didn't think that even Judge Diggs would allow a mistrial on the grounds of illegally obtained evidence. However, if he could convince her to issue a warrant so that he could get duplicate information legally… At least he knew now that the evidence was there for him to find.

More than that, though, CJ and Lois had argued and talked and they'd come to some sort of understanding. They'd even forged an alliance, at least temporarily. Given Lois's less than orthodox techniques for getting information, he found that almost surprising. If he hadn't spent so much time with the other Lois, he wasn't sure that he would have tolerated this one's behaviour. Or maybe he was tolerating it because this *was* his Lois, and he would accept from her behaviour that he would find unacceptable in others. Or maybe, given that he was fighting Luthor, he was settling for expediency over what was legally acceptable. Did that, he wondered, mean that he was a hypocrite? Or did it mean that, under some circumstances, there was a good greater than the letter of the law? And, if so, did that mean that he was fighting for justice — for what was right in the greater scheme of things — when he flouted the laws he had, for so many years, struggled to uphold?

How far along that path was he prepared to go?

His thoughts drifted slightly. The two rescues he had performed had left him feeling exhilarated. He felt… empowered, he thought, grimacing at the pun. Suddenly he realised just how long it had been since he'd felt needed, of value. It had been a long time since he'd achieved a similar level of satisfaction from his actions in court. Still, if he and Lois succeeded then one impediment to his feeling that way again would be removed. CJ had no doubt that bringing Luthor down would do much to enhance the value of the role he served as a lawyer.

Luthor, he thought. How easy it would be to just crush the man! With his powers, CJ could do almost anything. Rather than doing things the proper way, why shouldn't he do things in the quickest and easiest manner possible? No more playing Luthor's power games, just fly to his penthouse, break in and kill… CJ felt bile rising in his throat. It *was* tempting, he conceded, but it was wrong. Wrong. *Wrong*!

And yet… If Lois was right, and the world was painted in shades of grey, at what point did the grey shift into black? He could bring himself to accept the idea of hacking into others' bank accounts. Could he likewise bring himself to commit a murder? Both were wrong, he thought. Maybe so, but killing Luthor simply because Luthor was a worse evil than the crime of murder went several steps too far for CJ. He realised that went a long way towards answering his earlier question of how far was he prepared to go.

CJ pushed the disconcerting thoughts away, returning to think of other problems — ones which didn't carry with them such ethical dilemmas. Tierney had said that the jury — all twelve members — had fallen under the influence of the defence. CJ found himself trying to work out when that could have happened. Surely there hadn't been enough time since their selection for the defence to get to everyone on the panel! Besides, was it na<ve of him to find it incredible that all twelve would willingly be bought? He would have expected that at least a few of them would have had more scruples than that.

So, what if…? He stood up and began to pace, the ice crunching beneath his feet. What if the defence team had got to the jurors before selection? What if the defence had known who it was *safe* for them to select? Of course, that would mean trying to bribe the whole pool of jurors, approaching each of them on the off- chance…

It seemed like a huge task. Impossible for anyone to even contemplate, at least anyone without the ability to achieve the impossible.

CJ's pulse quickened.

Luthor, he thought. Maybe he was stretching here, but Luthor had the kind of power such a task would require. He was, as far as CJ was aware, about the only person in the city who did.

If the alternates had also been in receipt of a payment, might that not suggest that they too had been "got at" pre-selection? CJ would need to know about the people who both he and the defence had vetoed also. Had they been paid, too? And if not… Someone upstanding enough not to have accepted bribes might also be prepared to go on record and talk, thus providing another way to collect the evidence he would need if he were to ask for a mistrial.

He nodded to himself, promising to look into matters tomorrow — - or, rather, later on today. First thing in the morning, he thought, he would go back to Lois and ask if she would mind checking out the other people he'd just added to his mental list.

Meanwhile, however, it would now be just after nine a.m. in England, and CJ had some detective work to do.


From the Antarctic, CJ flew north, back to his apartment. There, he turned on his computer and began to investigate.

According to Lois and Clark's information, Nigel St John had originally hailed from London and, even while he'd involved himself with Metropolis's underworld, he'd retained ownership, albeit under an assumed name, of a flat in Cadogan Square. A quick consultation with British Telecom's on-line directory suggested that in this world St John still owned the flat, this time under his own name. That bothered CJ a little: did the fact that St John felt no need to obfuscate his presence in London mean that he had nothing to hide? CJ feared so. Nonetheless, St John still had to be investigated, just to make sure. CJ went to another website and called up a street map so that he could locate Cadogan Square on the ground. Then, on a last minute impulse, CJ routed around inside his desk for a handful of coins he had left over from a European tour he'd gone on about four years previously. Who knew? Maybe a little currency would come in handy.


CJ landed behind some shrubs in Green Park. He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and reread St John's address, reminding himself of precisely where it was that he needed to go. Then he began to walk in a southerly direction. The roads were busy, he noticed, but the pavements fairly quiet. Presumably, the local work-force were already in their places of business, and the tourists and shoppers were yet to emerge for the day.

Used as he was to the gridiron layout of North American cities, CJ found the irregular pattern of London's streets confusing and he quickly discovered that he was, if not lost precisely, then at least disoriented. He shook his head, irritated with himself. He should have printed out the map, rather than trusting the information to memory. Oh, well, he thought philosophically, if he couldn't remember how to reach his destination, he'd just have to ask someone.

Five minutes later, after being pointed in the right direction, he found himself at the entrance of what he hoped would be St John's building. Now that he was here, though, he suddenly wondered what he was going to do. He shrugged the doubts away, hoping that something would occur to him, and looked at the names next to the bells. St John's was not there. In its place was the name M. Pollack.

Hesitantly, CJ reached out and pressed the bell. There was no response, so he tried again, pressing slightly harder and longer this time.

After a minute or so, a sleepy woman's voice echoed through the intercom's speaker. "Yes?"

"Hi. I'm looking for Nigel St John?"

CJ could have sworn that he heard the woman yawn at him before she said, "Doesn't live here any more. I bought the flat off him two months ago."

"Do you have any idea where he went?"

"No, not really. I think he mentioned something about Docklands, but I could have got that wrong. Now, if you don't mind, I want to get back to sleep. I was working all night."

"Okay. Thank you for your help," answered CJ, but the sudden silence from the speaker told him he was already talking to himself.

Docklands, he thought. Where was that? He was, he realised, going to have to ask for help again. He therefore walked into a newsagents, located in a side street. There was a short queue of people waiting to be served, so CJ idly began to browse the shelves while he waited.

And there, staring back at him from the front cover of the latest edition of Hello, was the face of the very man he'd come to London to investigate!

CJ's mouth opened in mute astonishment. He grabbed the magazine off the shelf and scrutinised the cover. St John was seated on a sofa next to a younger man, who the magazine identified as Mark Bromley. Their hands were clasped together in a very telling way. Overlying the picture was a caption written in large white letters inviting CJ to "…join us inside their new penthouse home". CJ rifled through the pages until he found the article. He began to read.


CJ hesitated for a moment, his finger poised lightly against the door bell, wondering whether six thirty was too early to call on Lois. However, after a few seconds, he decided that he could hear sounds of movement. She was, he concluded, already up. He smiled as he heard her singing softly under her breath as she walked around the apartment.

CJ caught himself guessing what she might be wearing and how she might be moving, perhaps swaying her hips in time to the music she was creating, and he felt himself flush guiltily at the images his brain was conjuring up for him. Fantasising about a beautiful woman wasn't what he had come here for!

Quite why he had come, however, he wasn't sure. While it was true that he had a lot to tell and ask her, he wondered whether that was an excuse. Did he *need* to be here so early, or was it that he wanted to be? Was he making excuses for himself, just so that he could see her again? He shook his head, told himself sternly that time was of the essence in this investigation; every hour counted, if they were to make any significant progress before his powers failed.

Pushing his doubts aside, he committed himself to one course of action and pushed the bell.

"Yes?" Her tinny voice sounded a little harried and suspicious as it came out of the speaker.

"Lois?" he asked tentatively, as if there were actually any doubt.

"CJ?! What are you doing here?"

"I've been doing some thinking, as well as some investigating, and I wanted to talk to you."

"Um… Okay…" The door released and he found himself retracing the path to her door, which now was almost familiar.

She was standing on the threshold of her apartment, waiting for him. Dressed in a brown towelling dressing gown that was an anti- fashion statement, her appearance was at odds with the pictures his imagination had been painting. Her hair was damp and, in her left hand, she held a hair dryer. She should, by rights, have looked unattractive, even dishevelled. However, to CJ, she looked as beautiful as always, and he was forcefully reminded of the first time he had seen her, four years earlier. That particular memory was an uncomfortable one. "Come in," she said, gesturing.

Rendered ill at ease by his intrusion at what appeared to be a less than convenient time, CJ automatically apologised.

Lois had, by now, swallowed the last of her surprise and asked wryly, "You didn't bring any flowers with you this morning?" She looked, he thought, almost as awkward as he felt. Perversely, he drew strength from that and found himself beginning to relax.

CJ shook his head. "Sorry. No. But I have brought breakfast, if you've got time for it?"

"Breakfast?" She quirked an eyebrow.

CJ held up a paper bag. "Patisserie. From France. *Pain au chocolat* to be precise."

The slightly wary look around Lois's eyes dissipated into a warmer and more open expression of welcome. "How did you know that I can't resist chocolate?" CJ opened his mouth to try to frame a reasonable-sounding response, but Lois continued before he had a chance to do so, and he realised that the question had been rhetorical. "Okay, you'd better come in. I'll tell you what: you make the coffee while I get dressed."


"So," said CJ fifteen minutes later as they finished the last of the food and sipped from their mugs, "Nigel St John is a gay hairdresser—"

"Which is, in itself, a major clich,," interrupted Lois.

"True," acknowledged CJ, before continuing. "He's cohabiting happily with someone called Mark Bromley, who, apparently, is one of Britain's most popular actors and who can be seen four times a week on some prime time soap opera. Anyway, I brought you a copy of the magazine, if you want to read more."

"How could I resist?" asked Lois in a slightly mocking tone that warned CJ that she was verging on being sarcastic.

He reached over to his jacket, which he'd taken off before sitting down, and pulled the copy of Hello, along with a buff- coloured envelope, out from one of his pockets. He laid both items on the kitchen counter then pushed the magazine across in her general direction. "Here," he said.

Lois slid it to one side, giving the cover a cursory once over as she did so, and said, "Maybe later, after you've gone." She picked up her mug and sipped. "Right now, though, I have things to tell you, too."

"Oh?" asked CJ curiously.

Lois made a thoughtful sound in the back of her throat. "H'm. After you left last night, I tried running a few names through the computer. I've still got a heap of work to do, but I made a little progress. Want to hear about it?"

"Sure!" said CJ.

"First, Asabi is neither mystical *nor* mysterious. In fact, he's married, has three kids and runs a restaurant downtown. Ever heard of The Eastern Star?" There was a curious note in her voice that somehow blended rueful with playful as she asked the question. CJ understood why: just about everyone in the city had heard of The Eastern Star. It was one of the most fashionable places around.

"Yeah, of course," he answered. "Who hasn't? It's supposed to be excellent. Pricey, but excellent."

"Just so. And it's Asabi's. You'll have to take me there sometime."

CJ looked at her sharply. She'd spoken lightly, making it difficult for him to gauge precisely what she meant by that last comment. Had she really almost asked him out? And, if she had, was it intentional or a slip of the tongue? Or was it a light-hearted comment that meant nothing at all? He hoped fervently that it wasn't the latter.

So busy was he trying to deconstruct her comment that he almost missed the next part of the conversation. "Miranda, your perfume expert, is dead. A couple of others… Jules Johnson and Mrs Cox… They apparently *did* live at the addresses you've got, but neither does now. In fact, they both seem to have disappeared. I'll keep digging."

CJ nodded his appreciation then said, "And while you're digging up information on them, I was wondering…" He trailed into an uncomfortable silence.

"Yes?" asked Lois.

"There's something else. In fact, it's the main reason I came over this morning."

"Oh? Sounds intriguing."

"I was thinking some more about the jury." Briefly, CJ ran through the line of reasoning he'd developed on the ice-flow. Then he held the envelope out to her. However, before releasing his hold on it, he said, "I'm sure I shouldn't be giving you any of this information, but, under the circumstances, it seemed like the best thing to do."

"What is it?" she asked, tilting her head towards the envelope, which they were now holding between them. She tugged lightly on it to reinforce the question.

"The voir dire questionnaires the prospective jurors were asked to fill in, as well as my selection chart."

"The voir what?" asked Lois, sounding confused.

"Voir dire." He paused thoughtfully, then said, "How much do you know about jury selection?"

Lois shrugged. "Not a lot. I mean I know that there's a selection process before swearing in, but that's about it. What else *is* there to know?"

CJ grinned and almost chuckled. "Quite a bit, actually. Okay, Jury Selection 101. How this is done varies slightly from case to case, but this is what happened with the Allen trial, okay?"

Lois nodded and let go of the file. CJ put it down next to him again. "Go on," she said.

"First of all, I was given — as was the defence, a list of all the prospective jurors. It doesn't really give that much information: only their names and the towns they live in."

"So you know in advance who might be involved in the trial?" asked Lois. CJ noticed the way frown lines etched themselves across her forehead and between her eyes as she thought about the implications of what he was saying.

"Yes. That's right."

"So anyone could get access to that list?"

"Not anyone, no. But anyone connected with either the defence or the prosecution could. Mind you, we don't get to see it very much in advance, so I would have thought the information, to be of any use, would have had to come from the person who draws up the lists in the first place — and that would be the Clerk of the Court."

"Interesting," murmured Lois. "Go on."

"On the day of the jury selection, all the prospective jurors were gathered together and Judge Diggs talked to them. She introduced herself, and us — by that I mean the lawyers for the defence and the prosecution. Then we questioned the prospective jurors individually — that's called voir dire questioning." Lois nodded, but with little conviction this time, so CJ elaborated. "The purpose of voir dire is to try to ensure that there are no biased people on the jury. Anyone who knows the attorneys, the parties involved in the case, the victim or any of the witnesses will be automatically eliminated from the panel. Then anyone who looks as though they won't be impartial — and that gets picked up through the judge's questions as well as our own — is disqualified from being part of the jury."

"Impartial, how?"

"Oh, for example…" CJ scrabbled around for a suitable example. "Say, if a potential juror says something like, 'The defendant obviously did something wrong; he wouldn't have been arrested otherwise'. Similarly, potential jurors who have a moral objection to the death penalty will be excluded from any trial where a death sentence might be passed. During the selection process, attorneys can challenge any number of jurors on the basis of cause, as it's called."

"I see," said Lois.

"Sometimes the questioning is done verbally. Sometimes there is a pro forma questionnaire. In this case, we used a mixture of both. What's in there," said CJ, waving his hand in the general direction of the envelope, "are the questionnaires the prospective jurors had to fill in, as well as my personal selection sheet. In addition to excusing jurors on the basis of cause, attorneys can make a limited number of what are called peremptory challenges. With those, they don't have to give any reason for excusing a juror. As you'll see, the defence in this case used nearly all the challenges they were allowed in this case — seventeen out of a possible twenty. At the time, I wondered why they'd used so many; now, of course, I think I can guess. They were working to their own agenda. Anyway, that's about it. After the jury was selected, they were sworn in and we were able to start the case."

"I understand now, I think. And, yeah, I'll take a look for you."

"Thanks, Lois. I appreciate it."

This time, when he held out the envelope to her, he let her take it. She didn't open it immediately, however. Instead she held it to her chest, in her right hand. She rested her left elbow on the counter, cupped her chin in her left hand, and gazed at him speculatively. "What?" he asked, discomfited by her scrutiny.

"Nothing much," she answered, her eyebrows rising slightly. "I was just thinking that your attitude this morning is rather different to last night. Did you have a change of heart about what is acceptable behaviour or something?"

"Maybe," said CJ awkwardly, still uncertain about the choice he had made. It was incredible how she could get to the crux of an issue. Beautiful *and* intuitive, he thought. It was a heady combination.

CJ was grateful then, when Lois leaned back and turned her attention to the envelope, allowing the awkward moment to pass. She opened it, pulled the contents out and began leafing through them.

CJ saw her frown as she reached a point half way through the papers, her attention snagging on something she had just seen. Noticing her distraction, CJ asked eagerly, "What is it? What have you found?"

Thoughtfully, Lois said, "Maybe nothing. But one of the names here…" She frowned then shook her head. "Nah, it's just a coincidence. I thought for a moment that this one — Judith Myerson — might be Clive Myerson's wife."

"Myerson? As in the guy who shot at you?" CJ sounded incredulous.

"Yeah. But I just remembered: his wife is called Hannah, so it has to be a coincidence." She shrugged, then tapped the list for emphasis and said, "I'll look into it for you, anyway."

"Thank you, Lois. Now, I'd better get a move on. Corrupt jury or not, I'm expected in court in a couple of hours and I need to do some preparation first."



Lois found her thoughts turning towards CJ as she hurried to work. In part, this was because, thanks to CJ's visit, she was running late. Mostly, however, it was because she was concerned about the ramifications of everything he'd told her. To begin with, she thought about what he had found out. She was wryly amused at the idea that the Nigel St Johns from the two worlds could be so different; at the same time, she felt a nebulous sense of regret that their investigations apparently were not going to be resolved easily. Beyond that, there was little for her to dwell on, and her thoughts quickly turned towards the favour he had asked her to do.

She wasn't bothered by the thought of snooping into the backgrounds of yet more people — it was what she did on a daily basis, after all. She was, however, astounded that CJ had been prepared to ask her to do it. Clearly, after their… discussion… he must have given some thought to the position she'd taken and decided that she had a point. If he had not done so, he would not have taken this step.

Lois found herself approving of his behaviour, not only because she liked to be right, but because it showed that CJ, for all his moral rectitude, was capable of being flexible and of listening to — and learning from — points of view other than his own. CJ, then, was a person who would talk *with* her, not just to her. She liked that; in Lois's opinion there was nothing worse than a wilfully stubborn person who believed in the rightness of their own opinions at the cost of anyone else's.

Finally and inevitably, her thoughts turned towards CJ, himself. She'd been wrong-footed by his visit; she would never have chosen to let him see her dressed in what she could only describe as a shlumpy robe. Clearly, he had not been entirely comfortable with the situation either; he'd seemed almost as uncomfortable about seeing her dressed like that as she had been about being seen.

However, once they'd navigated around the awkward moment, she'd found herself relaxing in his presence. The rapport they'd shared — not just this morning, but also last night — had been unexpected. Lois had never chosen to work with anyone before, but she was enjoying working with CJ. What was it about him, she wondered, that disarmed her usual impatience? There was something about bouncing ideas around with him that felt right, but she had no idea why that should be. After all, she hardly knew the man. Besides, why had she never before noticed any sense of connection when she'd bumped into him?

Because, she realised, she'd never given herself the chance *to* notice it before.

She glanced down at her watch. Perry would forgive her for being late if he thought she was working on a hot story, but she knew she couldn't tell him about Luthor — not yet, anyway. Maybe she could drop a few hints about the jury, though. She just hoped that would be enough to satisfy him.

And thinking about the jury… Lois remembered the rueful way CJ had talked about having to spend the day in court. How would she feel, she asked herself, if she had to waste precious time pretending to see that justice was being done, while knowing full well that it wasn't? Frustrated, angry and impatient, she guessed. She found herself hoping fervently that she would find some way of helping him.

Lois was still thinking about CJ as she sidled through the conference-room door. Although Perry didn't say anything, his stern and disapproving glare told her that her tardy entrance had not gone unnoticed.

As she made her way to a vacant seat, she heard Jack say, "… and the police investigators said that there were signs of damage to the engine and bonnet of the car, but somehow the fire had failed to spread. It was as though it had been put out, but there were no signs of an extinguisher having been used. No foam. Nothing. It was really weird." Lois wondered vaguely what Jack was talking about.

"There was another weird rescue last night, Chief," said Jimmy. "Fire in a downtown apartment block. A child and her dog were rescued by a flying man. Apparently he went into the burning building and flew them to safety. I was wondering… could they both be the work of Lois's rescuer from yesterday?"

Lois glanced across at him sharply. Then, worried that her interest might be noted, she turned her eyes downwards towards the table top.

So, CJ, you were busy last night! she thought.

Why hadn't he bothered to mention his nocturnal activities to her when they'd talked this morning? Surely he must have known that she would be interested! She resented being kept in the dark… and it wasn't, she was disconcerted to realise, mere curiosity that made her feel that way. No matter that she told herself sternly she had no right to be so upset, the fact that he hadn't said anything rankled.

She quickly pushed the unsettling train of thought away, just in time to hear Perry protest. "Aw, Jimmy… Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"

"Well, do you have any better ideas?"

Perry nodded, not because he did, but because he was conceding the fact that Jimmy might actually have a point. "Okay," he said thoughtfully. "Got any witnesses, either of you?"

Jack simply shook his head.

In the face of Perry's question, Jimmy suddenly looked a little reluctant. "Only the little girl, Chief."

Lois recognised the expression on his face and the tentative tone in his voice; she'd experienced them enough times in the past, herself. Jimmy was venturing well beyond publishable facts and into the realm of speculation, and he knew Perry wouldn't like what he was about to hear.

"And she's how old?" Perry asked.


"Not credible. Anything else, Jimmy?"

Jimmy shook his head and looked decidedly uncomfortable. "A few people said that there was a man hanging about when the little girl turned up outside the building, but no one could give any description of him, beyond the fact that he was wearing dark clothing. Nobody paid him any attention until later, by which time he'd vanished."

"Or maybe he was never there in the first place. Or maybe he had nothing to do with any of this… Your material's not usable, Jimmy — you know that — but keep an eye out in case our 'friend' tries anything else. Meanwhile, I want you working on the Portman Electronics story."

"Okay, Chief."

"Rodriguez?" said Perry. Then he did a double- take. "Where's Rodriguez?"

"Sick," answered Jack.

"What? *Again*?"

"Uh, huh. Called in about half an hour ago."

Perry's eyes narrowed. "I swear that man has had more sick days since he bought that new house over in Arcadia than the rest of the staff combined! What is it this time? Headache, vomiting or unexplained rash?"

"He didn't say," answered Jack.

Lois could hear Jimmy whisper something to his neighbour that sounded like, "Let's hope he finishes decorating the new place soon!"

Perry, too, had heard Jimmy's joke. At least, Lois thought it was a joke; Perry didn't seem to think it was funny. "He'd better, else he'll be the next to go. This paper can't afford to carry freeloaders. Y'all know that."

Then Perry abruptly turned his attention towards Lois, making her jump as she suddenly found herself at the centre of everyone's attention. "So what do you have planned for today?"

She shrugged infinitesimally and said, "The Allen trial. I got an interesting lead yesterday."

"This have anything to do with the jury?" Then, when Lois looked askance at him, Perry said, "Jack told me already you had him looking into their backgrounds. You think you might be on to something there?"

"Yeah, Perry. I think so. I hope so, anyway."

Perry grunted something, which Lois gratefully took to be approval, then, to her relief, he said, "That's it, folks. Meeting adjourned. Go get me those stories, guys and gals!"

Lois led the stampede out of the door.


CJ plonked his briefcase down on the coffee table, shucked off his jacket and flung it across the arm of the sofa, and padded into the kitchen. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. It hadn't, he supposed, been a bad day, but it hadn't been a good day, either. He knew that he hadn't really achieved much in the courtroom. His performance had been polished and professional; if he hadn't recognised the futility of it all, he might have believed he'd done a good job. The spectators in the gallery had hung onto his every word, leaning forward in their seats, knuckled fists resting against their cheeks in poses that specialists in human behaviour always claimed indicated interest in and evaluation of what was being said.

The jury, though, had been quite a different matter. He'd paid careful attention to the jury. Like most lawyers, CJ had developed the skill of being able to tell when a witness was lying or when his audience was engaged with whatever he was talking about. Today the jury had been far from engaged. Its members had tried to look as though they were paying attention, but the way they had slumped back in their seats, the way they — albeit discreetly — had propped their heads up in their hands and the way their eyelids had fluttered as they struggled to stay awake… They had, to a person, been bored. CJ knew their boredom had stemmed from the fact that they didn't have to be there or to pay attention to know what decision they would eventually make.

He hoped Lois would find something out that would help him.

Just as the steam began to pour out of the kettle's spout, there was an imperious rapping against the glass of his front door. Curious, he jogged across the sunken living area, up the few steps that took him to the door level and the door itself. He pulled the lace curtain aside a few inches so that he could see who his visitor was, then smiled as he recognised the object of his thoughts.

How, he wondered, had she managed to track him down? In all the excitement of last night and this morning, he'd not thought to give her his address, only his phone number. Clearly, though, her sources had come through for her again.

He opened the door, his smile broadening into a delighted grin and said, "Come in, come in! I've only just got in myself, and I've put the kettle on, if you want a cup of tea."

He turned back, expecting her to follow. The brief curious glance she cast over his apartment was not lost on him, but she made no comment to indicate whether or not she approved of what he'd done with it. "We don't have time for tea," she said, all business. "I need you to come with me."

CJ turned around, his expression a question. "Where to?"

"I'll explain on the way."

CJ shrugged, but didn't protest. Instead, he rushed over to the kettle, switched the gas underneath it off, and jogged back to the front door, sweeping up his jacket from where he'd left it hanging over the banisters en route. Pausing only to lock his front door after him, he followed her back down to the street.

He didn't know what he would have expected her to drive, but the navy blue Jeep Cherokee, which she'd parked illegally immediately in front of his building, wasn't it. Something smaller, sportier and more ostentatious, perhaps? He was less surprised to notice, however, that the Jeep sported a set of vanity plates bearing the legend "LL". He fleetingly wondered what Lois and Clark drove in the other world; he'd never had the opportunity to find out.

Although she had promised to explain things en route to wherever it was that they were going, CJ found that he had to wait for her to volunteer any information, her conversation restricted to muttering disparagingly about other drivers. He found, however, that he didn't mind; he was perfectly content to watch the road and occasionally glance across so that he could see her profile as she drove. She hunched slightly over the wheel, her chin thrust forward almost aggressively. Despite her preferred posture, CJ quickly concluded that Lois drove well, if a trifle impatiently.

They'd reached the suburbs before the congestion on the roads had eased enough for Lois to relax back in her seat and decide to give him the explanation she'd promised. As he listened, he had to admit it had been worth waiting for.

"I've had a pretty productive day," she said. "Jack ran your list through several databases; of the first twenty names, thirteen of them have had lump sums added to their bank accounts in the last week."

"Interesting," said CJ. He twisted slightly in his seat so that he was sitting at an angle, making it easier to watch her as she talked.

"Not half as interesting as the seven who haven't. Of those, three refused point-blank to talk to me and four have had… Well, one of them called it 'spectacularly bad luck'."

"All of them?" asked CJ.


"What kind of bad luck?"

Lois flashed a grin, clearly finding satisfaction in the discoveries she had made during the last few hours. "The kind where a woman and a man come to your house late at night and offer you a choice between making some easy money or having something unfortunate happen to you."

"Unfortunate, how?"

"Unfortunate like, maybe, your husband, who is a LexCorp employee, suddenly being made redundant. Or LexBank decides to call in all its loans, just when your new business venture needs the money most. Or where your boss tells you that you're being fired because you've been misusing your office computer and you find that someone — and you swear it's not you — has filled your hard drive with porn."

CJ silently whistled his astonishment. "You're right. You *have* been productive, haven't you?"

"Oh, it gets better," crowed Lois. "Everyone who *has* spoken to me says that they are prepared to go on the record with this. I've got tomorrow's front page and you, CJ, will most definitely get your mistrial."

CJ shook his head in disbelief. "Lois, I don't know what to say, except that you are a genius!"

"Oh, I know," she said in a self-mocking tone and she laughed.

"I mean it," he said sincerely. There was a brief pause before he said thoughtfully, "You said that there were seven people who hadn't received payments, but you've only told me about six of them."

CJ watched as Lois's expression suddenly changed to something more sombre. She took a deep breath, appearing to gather courage for whatever was about to come. "We're going to see the seventh person now. She didn't want to speak to me, either — in fact, she put the phone down before I had a chance to even tell her what I was after. I can't say that I blame her for that, though. You see, I have a nasty feeling that I might be part of her bad luck story."

"So, she's not expecting us?"


"And you think you're involved somehow? *How?*"

"This morning, when I told you I thought I recognised one of the names…?"

"Yes? You said it was just a coincidence."

"Yes… Well… I thought it *was* a coincidence. You see, Clive Myerson's wife is called Hannah, so I didn't think they were connected in any way. However, Judith Myerson is his *sister*. I can't help worrying that all the evidence that so conveniently came my way this week might have been falsified. I think I might have been *used*."

"You think Myerson was framed and you were duped into helping set that up?"

"Something like that, yeah. And I have to tell you that I don't feel very good about it, particularly because…" She broke off, her throat closing around the words.

"Because…?" CJ prodded gently.

Lois tried to be discreet about it, but CJ could hear her sniffle. "I heard earlier that Myerson's wife tried to kill herself yesterday morning. Apparently she's always been a bit… unbalanced… and it sounds as if my story pushed her over the edge."

"And that's why Myerson saw the need to come after you with a gun?" asked CJ. "Because his wife couldn't cope with what you wrote?"


"Oh, Lois… I'm sorry."

"Not half as sorry as I am. Anyway, if I *was* used, I've got, somehow, to make things right."

CJ watched the way Lois's hands gripped the steering wheel too tightly, her knuckles showing white. He wanted desperately to reassure her, to tell her that everything would work out. But he was too much of a realist to tell her such falsehoods; all too often things *didn't* work out, and they weren't likely to this time. Even if Lois could clear Myerson of all the corruption charges, the murder charge would still remain. Nothing could change the fact that he had taken the trouble to find a gun, to secret himself in an empty flat and aim it at Lois. That smacked of premeditation — no less than attempted murder in the first degree, even if he had done it within mere hours of his wife's suicide attempt. The best Myerson could realistically hope for was a lenient sentence.

Rather than dwell on the subject, he turned the conversation slightly. "You said that there were two people going around to visit the victims?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Do we have a description for either of them?"

Lois calmed noticeably at the more neutral topic of conversation. "Not one that is of any real use. I got the impression that people were only prepared to go on record so far. Actually, I'm pretty sure that one of the people I talked to might actually have *known* one or other of them, but there was no way I could persuade him to ID anyone. He was pretty scared, and, given what had already happened to him, I can't say that I blame him. In fact, I'm pretty amazed he told me as much as he did." She shrugged lightly. "That's the power of righteous indignation, I guess." She paused for a moment, then she added, "As far as I can make out, they were using a black car with heavily tinted windows. One of the woman said that her car-mad ten year old had seen a Lincoln Town Car parked on the street outside the house. That kind of car doesn't go with the neighbourhood; I doubt its presence was any kind of coincidence."

"A Lincoln, huh?" CJ stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Luthor has a Lincoln. I've seen pictures of it in the Sunday papers."

"Sure he does, but so do hundreds of other people," said Lois. "And Luthor also has a Mercedes, a Lexus, a couple of sports cars, a couple of stretch limos and undoubtedly several other vehicles. It doesn't prove anything. Anyway, would he do his dirty work himself?"

"I don't know," answered CJ. "It seems a little unnecessary for him to do so. But equally, I think he did on the other world."

Lois grunted something unintelligible by way of reply, then pulled the Jeep in tight against the kerb and said, "We're here."


As soon as Lois switched off the engine, CJ moved to climb out of the Jeep. However, when she didn't follow suit, he paused, his hand poised on the door handle. "What is it?" he asked, already guessing the answer.

She stared straight ahead, through the windscreen and along the street beyond. CJ doubted that she was taking in any of the details, however. "I don't think I can do this," she whispered flatly.

Lois's sudden loss of self-confidence struck CJ forcibly. He'd never before seen Lois less than self-assured about anything, and her current lack of poise affected him deep down. He let go of the door handle, twisted around in his seat and reached towards her. He brushed his fingers lightly over her right hand, prising it effortlessly away from the steering wheel. To his surprise, he felt her turn her hand over and lace her fingers through his. His skin tingled pleasantly where it touched hers. "Yes," he said. His voice sounded unnaturally quiet and hoarse to his own ears, as though it had caught somewhere in the back of his throat. "You can do it. You can do anything you want, Lois."

She shook her head, denying the truth of his words. "She must hate me for what I've done."

"You made a mistake. Actually, we don't even know that for sure. Not yet. If you explain, she'll forgive you."

"Will she?" Lois sounded in need of reassurance.

"Maybe not immediately, but she will eventually. Besides, I'll be with you. It'll be okay, Lois."

"I hope so, CJ. I really do." Her fingers tightened around his for a moment before she let go, a wordless gesture of thanks for his support. "Well… Here goes nothing, I guess."

They exited the vehicle. CJ waited patiently on the pavement while Lois locked it up and walked around from the driver's side. She didn't protest when he laid his hand lightly against her upper back, again offering her what support he could. Indeed, she turned her head towards him a fraction and smiled weakly at him.

Together they walked up to the house. It was slightly more rundown than the others in the street, but CJ thought it only needed a lick of paint to brighten it up.

There was no answer when CJ leaned on the doorbell, but lights were on, windows were open and the sound of a television blared away somewhere towards the back of the house; they had to conclude that someone was home.

CJ watched as Lois reluctantly walked along the porch and began to peer through all the windows. He knew instinctively that her hesitancy stemmed not from his presence or from a distaste for snooping around more generally, but from the circumstances surrounding this particular visit. After a moment or two, he joined her and together they looked into the living room. There was no sign of life in the room, unless life was a couple of opened wine bottles, several mugs and an ash-tray of barely touched cigarettes. The furniture was drab brown, the television and radio old and the curtains faded. The only touches of colour came from the paintings hung on the wall. They were bright, cheerful landscapes which depicted a wooded landscape — New England perhaps? thought CJ — through the changing seasons.

"Well, she can't be far away. Come on," he said. "Let's try round the back." Then, glancing behind him once or twice to check that Lois was following, he led the way down the narrow footpath that separated this house from its neighbour.

As soon as he went through the gate and into the back yard, he spotted Judith Myerson. She was sitting out on the deck, staring at nothing. Her face was blank, but he could see that the skin beneath her eyes was bruised with worry or fatigue and that she hadn't bothered with make-up. In fact, looking at the state of her hair, he wasn't sure that she'd bothered with much of anything for several days. What bothered him most of all, however, was her lack of response at his intrusion; he doubted that she'd even noticed that he was there.

He waved silently at Lois, indicating that she should come alongside to see what he had seen. Then he pointed in Judith's direction. He exchanged mute glances with Lois, whose mouth had opened in an unconscious expression of sympathy for the woman's plight.

They approached her slowly, not wanting to startle her. They called out her name softly, but it wasn't until they began to climb the decking's steps that she gave any indication that she was even capable of responding to them. She turned her head slowly in their direction and said incuriously, "Who are you?"

CJ pointed to himself and said, "I'm Assistant District Attorney Kent. And this is Lois Lane."

Judith's eyes slid past him and narrowed slightly as they came to rest upon Lois. When she spoke again, it was to CJ. Without rancour, or indeed, any noticeable emotion at all, she said, "I told her I didn't want to see her."

"I know you did," Lois said, speaking up on her own behalf. "But I'm hoping you'll change your mind when you hear why we've come."

Judith shook her head without conviction.

"We want to talk to you about the jury selection for the Allen trial," CJ said.

Whatever she'd been expecting him to say, CJ could tell that it wasn't that. Judith's eyes slid back towards him and regarded him carefully for several seconds before she said, "Not out here. You'd better come in." Then, moving as though every movement was an effort, she levered herself up out of her chair and led the way indoors.

There were dishes stacked in and around the sink and garbage waiting to be taken out to the dustbin. A jam jar of upended paint brushes and a palette on the windowsill made CJ wonder again about the pictures in the living room. He glanced around and noted several portraits hung around the kitchen. Surreptitiously, he lowered his glasses so that he could read the signatures. Sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed. Judith Myerson had talent.

As if sensing her visitors' scrutiny, she said, "I'm sorry the house is such a mess," but she didn't sound as if she actually cared much one way or the other.

Lois and CJ both tried to make soothing comments in an effort to show that it was unimportant, but she talked across them, heedless of their reassurances. "Trouble is, the house is the last thing on my mind at the moment. All I can think of is Clive and the business and the shooting and how it's all my fault."

CJ raised his eyebrows. "Your fault?" he asked sceptically. How could someone else's criminal actions possibly be her fault?

"Oh, yes. All my fault." She began to cry, showing the first signs of any real emotion since they'd arrived. "If only I'd done what he'd asked, none of this would have happened. If only…" She sniffed loudly, then continued. "All I want is for the pain to go away, or at least to ease a little, you know?" She looked at CJ and he nodded. "I want to take the edge off," she said. "Calm my nerves. I tried drinking, but I don't like the taste. Cigarettes make me want to throw up… What am I supposed to do to make myself feel better?"

There was an uncomfortable pause during which all three of them stood frozen, unsure what to do next. Lois looked slightly helplessly and CJ and mouthed, "Do something!"

Galvanised by her prompt, CJ nodded an acknowledgement to her. Then he gently took Judith Myerson by her elbow and guided her over to the kitchen table. CJ noted the way that Judith groped blindly for one of the chairs, pulled it out and collapsed into it. Then she rested her elbows on the table and hid her head in her hands. Her shoulders twitched as she sobbed.

Lois perched herself on the chair next to Judith's and reached into her purse. She pulled out a lacy scrap of cotton, almost certainly too small to be of any real use. "Here," she murmured, shaking out the handkerchief and dangling it in front of Judith. "Use this." Her voice was gentle and compassionate, so much so, in fact, that it took CJ by surprise. If, he thought fleetingly, she could show that much caring for a stranger, what might she show for someone she was close to? He pushed the thought away and coaxed Judith into relaxing just enough to tell him where she kept the tea things.

By the time he'd made them all a drink, he'd managed to focus his thoughts back on the case in hand, and Judith had begun to hiccup, having sobbed herself dry.

CJ sat opposite Judith, reached across the table and lightly touched her left hand with the fingers of his right to attract her attention. She jumped, as if stung, and stared at him, wild-eyed. Gently he said, as though she were a skittish witness about to take the stand, "Do you think you could tell us what happened to you from the beginning?"

"What makes you think there's anything to tell?" Judith muttered defensively.

"Because," said CJ, "you've already hinted as much yourself. And because similar things have happened to other people."

Judith's only response was a fragile-sounding, "Oh…" Her voice was high-pitched and small, a timid mouse-like squeak.

"Besides," added Lois, "you had to refuse to see me for a *reason*."

"Isn't the fact that you got my brother into trouble reason enough?" This time her voice sounded almost forceful, at odds with the way she'd spoken just moments before. Lois's involvement, CJ realised, didn't frighten her. It angered her. The cause of her fear lay somewhere else.

Lois looked away, uncomfortable, and CJ knew that she had just had her worst fears confirmed. As much to comfort Lois as to placate Judith, he said, "Ms Myerson, we know that something is seriously wrong with the Allen case, and we've already got enough evidence to get a mistrial, even if you don't want to talk to us. But we'd like to try to put things right for you — and your brother — if we can. But in order for us to do that, you'll have to tell us what happened."

Judith's resolve to keep quiet was wavering, but the lingering fear in her eyes was echoed in her voice as she said, "What happens if they find out?"

"You stood up to them before," said Lois, not answering the question. "You must have done for them to go after Clive. Can't you find it in yourself to stand up to them again?"

Judith turned her head in Lois's direction and stared at her for what seemed like an age to CJ. When she finally spoke, it was in a low thoughtful tone. "So you now believe that Clive is innocent?"

"I don't know," said Lois softly. "But maybe. I have a terrible suspicion that I was used and, if I was, I want to make things right."

"Even though he tried to kill you?"

Lois nodded. "Even though. He wouldn't have done that if not for…" She let the thought trail off into silence.

Another few seconds passed. Then Judith said, "What *did* happen to you, anyway?" CJ recognised the tactic. The question was born more from a desire to buy more time while she made up her mind what to do for the best than from any real curiosity.

Lois flicked a glance towards CJ then shook her head fractionally. "Nobody really knows."

"Oh," said Judith. She jiggled her mug between her hands. It scratched against the table top, an irritating sound that set CJ's nerves on edge. He resisted the urge to ask her to stop, knowing that she needed to release some of her tension somehow, and waited for her to say something more.

Finally, she sighed and, committed, said, "All right. I'll tell you."



Even after resolving to tell her story, it took Judith several minutes to begin. CJ and Lois waited, hiding their impatience behind their mugs as they worked their way through their drinks. Finally, however, Judith began to talk. "I was working on a Christmas card design," she began.

Lois frowned and couldn't help interjecting, "Christmas in April?"

"Yes. For next season. I design greetings cards. Did you know that?" Judith looked up just long enough to see both Lois and CJ shake their heads mutely. "Stupid job really," she elaborated, "but someone's got to do it, and it might as well be me. I do other stuff too — what I like to think of as 'proper' work. Portraits. Landscapes. Stuff like that. But the greetings cards are good bread and butter work. Anything else is just icing on the cake." She glanced at CJ and Lois and, seeing their nods of encouragement, she proceeded with her story. "So, anyway, I was working late when I heard a car pull up outside. I didn't think much about it: my neighbours do a lot of entertaining, so I just assumed it was something to do with them."

"Any idea of make?" interrupted Lois.

Judith shook her head. "I'm no good with cars. They've never held much interest for me, to be honest. All I ever notice is the colour, and not always even that." That was a pity, thought CJ. However his ears pricked up as she said, "If you want to know more, you could always ask Mrs Sissman whether she noticed anything. She's always peering out of the windows and writing things down. She co- ordinates the Neighbourhood Watch — says it's her civic duty to be vigilant, but, to be honest, I think that's just an excuse for her to pry into everyone else's business. She's a real curtain-twitcher, that one."

CJ was interested to note that the criticisms were made more with affection that rancour. Lois, clearly, had also picked up on the apparent paradox, because she said, "And you don't mind that?"

Judith shook her head. "No. Why should I mind? It's not as though I've got anything to hide. Plus Mrs Sissman doesn't have much else to keep herself interested, poor woman. If it keeps her happy, where's the harm?"

CJ wasn't sure that he agreed with her line of reasoning; even under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have been happy being under constant surveillance, no matter how well intentioned, and now was far from normal. A glance towards Lois told him that she, too, was sceptical. Scepticism or disapproval aside, he found himself grateful for Mrs Sissman's existence, and he found himself saying, "All right. We'll check with your neighbour later."

There was silence then. Lois reached across and gently touched Judith's forearm. "Go on," she said softly. "The car pulled up outside…?"

Judith nodded and closed her eyes, casting her mind back to that fateful night. "There was a knock at the door, and when I opened it, there was a woman there. She was dark. Attractive. It was odd, really. She was dressed in…" She frowned. "It looked like a chauffeur's uniform, I suppose. She was even wearing driving gloves and a peaked cap. It looked pretty good on her. There was a man with her, too."

"A man?" asked Lois carefully. CJ could tell that she was being careful not to let her excitement show. However, the way she leaned forward in her seat told him that she was interested in what was being said; it was the kind of stance he hoped to see in the courtroom whenever he was performing for the jury.

"I never got a good look at him," Judith said. "He hung back a few feet. In any case, he was wearing a fedora, which meant that his face was in shadow. I heard him speak, though."

"Oh?" asked CJ. "Anything distinctive about his voice?"

"No… Not unless sounding well-bred counts as distinctive. Although, it was odd. I remember thinking that it sounded vaguely familiar." Judith shook her head. "The woman… If you want, I could draw her for you."

CJ and Lois exchanged glances once more, silently agreeing that they could not turn down such an offer. Speaking for both of them, CJ said, "That would be great, if you could."

"Hold on a minute then, while I get my sketch pad."

CJ and Lois waited in expectant silence as Judith disappeared from the room. She returned a few minutes later with the assorted paraphernalia of her craft.

She sat down and began to sketch deftly. Before their fascinated eyes, she blocked out the outline of a woman. Then, with the practised ease of a skilled artist, she began to fill in the features. She obviously had both an eye and a memory for detail.

CJ could tell that Lois did not recognise the woman in the picture, but then she wasn't as familiar with the Luthor files as he, himself, was. He determinedly hid his excitement behind what he thought of as his courtroom mask as the face of Monique Kahn came to life before him.

Monique was on the list of people Lois was going to investigate; CJ wondered if she had made a start on her yet. Was the Monique on this world employed as some sort of enforcer for Luthor, just as she had been on the other? Or was she working for someone else? CJ hoped fervently that he had found his common link, but that remained to be seen.

Judith sat back, surveyed her handiwork critically, tilting her head to one side and narrowing her eyes. "That's the best I can do. There's something about it, though… Something about her… She was… I don't know… a bit creepy. I can't capture that."

"How do you mean 'creepy'?" asked Lois.

Judith shook her head fractionally. She put the sketch pad down and began to talk with her hands, letting them convey her frustration at not being able to adequately articulate the reasons for her unease. "She was too smooth. I don't mean sophisticated. Just… cold… somehow. As if there was something missing. She seemed to enjoy what she was doing too much. She was getting enjoyment from it. I could tell. But it wasn't a normal kind of enjoyment. She wasn't *happy* exactly. I mean, she didn't laugh, or anything like that. It's just… There was something in her eyes — they looked almost *sated*, I suppose, as though she was getting off on what she was saying."

CJ nodded thoughtfully. That accorded with what he had heard about her otherworldly counterpart. "What did she say, exactly?"

"First, she asked me if I was Judith Myerson. Then, when I said I was, she said she was going to make me an offer I couldn't refuse. I thought that was quite funny. I mean, whoever says things like that? I told her that, if they were selling anything, I wasn't interested, and, in any case, wasn't it a bit late for them to be going door to door. She said they weren't selling. In fact, they were there to give me the chance to make some easy money. Well, then I knew something wasn't right. I mean, there's no such thing as easy money. What's that phrase? There's no such thing as a free lunch?"

CJ nodded.

"Anyway, she said that she would give me twenty-five thousand dollars for doing nothing, with the possibility of getting another twenty- five if I was prepared to do this one little thing for them."

CJ leaned forward in his chair. He'd known from what Lois had told him earlier how the system worked, but to hear it for himself… He was spellbound by Judith's recitation.

"To get the fifty thou, I had to agree to find Sean Allen not guilty *and* I had to be selected for the jury."

"And to get twenty-five thousand?" asked Lois.

"I'd get twenty-five thousand if I wasn't selected. They even said that, if I didn't want to go along with the idea — if I felt uncomfortable about rigging the vote — they would give me twenty-five thousand if I made myself unselectable during the vo… voi… something process."

"Voir dire," said CJ.

"Yes," said Judith gratefully. "That's it. During voir dire."

"But you didn't go along with that idea, either, did you?" said Lois.

"No. I mean, that would have been wrong, wouldn't it?" There was a beseeching undertone creeping into her voice that suggested she needed reassurance for some reason.

"Yes," murmured CJ. "It would have been very wrong."

"I thought so, but now…"

"Now you're not sure?" asked Lois.

Judith nodded miserably.

"Just because bad things happened, that doesn't make your decision to do what was right a bad one," CJ said.

"I wish I could believe that."

"Believe it," he said. There was a conviction in his voice that he couldn't remember having heard there for a long time, if ever. "There are three things in the world that I believe are worth fighting for. They are truth, justice and love." For some reason, as he said the last word, he found his eyes flicking across to Lois. "Without those, there is nothing. Those things are worth believing in. They are worth fighting for."

"Truth, justice and love," Judith repeated thoughtfully. Then, slightly helplessly, she asked, "What do you do when fighting for one means you neglect one of the others?"

"How do you mean?" asked Lois.

"It was the man," she said. "He told me I'd misunderstood. He said — and I remember his words exactly — 'My… assistant… told you that we're making you an offer you *can't* refuse.'" She glanced between them, willing both CJ and Lois to understand. "'Can't'. Do you see? It was a classic carrot and stick scenario. They didn't tell me, and I didn't see how they could, but they left me in no doubt that if I didn't do exactly what they wanted, I would suffer. And I have. Oh, God! I *have*!" She placed her face in her hands as her shoulders began to shake again. Her words were muffled as she moaned, "I have, but not as much as Clive!"

Lois, CJ noticed, was looking decidedly uncomfortable. Her eyes were wide with tension and the skin was pulled taut across her cheeks. She was chewing nervously on her bottom lip as she reached jerkily towards Judith and pulled her into a stiff embrace, offering what little comfort she could. CJ was impressed by that; here was Lois, in need of comfort herself, but nonetheless finding it in herself to care about and offer what sympathy she could to another.

CJ's voice was soft as he asked, as gently as he could, "Why did they go after Clive instead of you?"

"Why?" Judith asked, startled by his question into an almost eerie calm. "I would have thought that was obvious."

"Not to me," he answered.

"Clive is the only leverage they'd got. I own the house. I don't have any debts. I don't have any family, other than Clive. I never thought they'd go after Clive, not just to get back at me. I didn't see the danger. Couldn't even imagine any danger, really… And now I don't see any way to put things right again…" Her voice was small. Lost. Desolate, and it touched CJ's heart.

Lamely he said, "Things'll work themselves out. You'll see." He hoped his words weren't just empty promises.


By the time Lois and CJ had finished talking to Mrs Sissman, who'd spend a very long time telling them nothing that was useful, the sun had already set and the sky was brushed a rich yellowy turquoise at the horizon through to a deep almost-black purple high above them. The first stars were beginning to glitter against the backdrop of night.

Lois noticed that CJ paused for a moment to look speculatively at the sky. She fleetingly wondered what he was thinking about. Was he thinking about flying? About the things that he could see and do, things nobody else could do? That line of thought reminded her of something she had been meaning to ask him ever since the staff meeting earlier that day.

She climbed into the Jeep. She pushed the key into the ignition and turned it just far enough for the lights on the dashboard to come to life. Then, while she waited for CJ to get in, make himself comfortable and fasten his seat- belt, she leaned back and sighed, wondering how best to tackle the questions she wanted to pose.

Finally, he smiled at her, signalling that he was ready to go and, for some reason, she felt her stomach flip at his expression. When had she begun to notice how beautiful his smile was? How straight and white his teeth? How perfect the angles of his cheek bones? How unruly that tuft of hair that hung down across his forehead?

She shook her head slightly, pushing the distracting thoughts aside. She turned the engine over and concentrated more than was strictly necessary on the manoeuvre that was needed to get her back onto the carriage way, and homeward bound.

"CJ?" Her voice, breaking into the silence sounded too loud to her ears. It also sounded tentative, almost tremulous. Cautious.

"Yes?" His tone almost matched the one she had selected as though he was sure he wouldn't like what she was going to ask him. However, that was no reason for her to hold back, she told herself. Another's reluctance had never stopped her asking questions before — but this felt different for some reason, perhaps because this was personal, not professional, and the rules were different here.

Still… Nothing ventured, she thought. No time like the present… "There's something I've been wanting to ask you. About last night…"

"Yes?" he said again.

"Where were you just after midnight?"

"What do you mean?"

"I think you know," she said, immediately regretting the almost harsh edge that was creeping into her voice. She wanted this to be a conversation, not an interrogation. "But in case you've forgotten, maybe I can remind you: a young child, a dog and a car crash? That do anything for you?"

"Oh. Those. Um. Yes." He sounded uncomfortable, almost as thought he'd been caught out in a lie.

Feigning a nonchalance she most certainly didn't feel, Lois said, "I thought it was you. But why didn't you mention anything earlier? Or even at breakfast?"

"I guess…" he said, "with everything that was going on, it simply didn't cross my mind to."

"So it wasn't that you didn't trust me?"

"No! Of course not! You *know* I trust you!" His exclamation sounded genuine to her and she found herself releasing a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "Lois, I've already told you more than enough for you to destroy me ten times over, if that was what you wanted to do! Whatever have I done to make you think I don't trust you?"

Put like that, Lois realised he had a point. Uncomfortably, she said, "Nothing, I guess. I'm sorry. There's no reason why you should have said anything…" But she'd felt excluded that he hadn't. It was irrational on her part. She found herself wondering what it meant.

"Maybe not, but I'd like to talk about it now, if you don't mind. I could do with talking to someone."

A warm glow seemed to infuse her. He *wanted* to talk to her? Why did that make her feel so good? She didn't let her pleasure touch her words, though. Instead she said, "Sure. Talk. After all, you listened to my troubles earlier. It seems only fair that I should listen to you now."

"Thanks, Lois." It took him a couple of seconds to find the words he needed to continue. "When I was in the other world," he eventually said, "I decided that I would keep my powers a secret." He then told her about his resolve not to create a Superman for this world and the reasons for it. She found herself nodding thoughtfully as he talked, thinking about how his actions were at odds with the decision he had taken.

"So, what was last night about, then?" she asked, when he paused.

"That's just it," he said. "Logic is one thing. Emotion is something else. I *couldn't* ignore those people. I still don't want people to know that it's me doing these things, but I can't *not* do something. I just wish I knew whether I did the *right* thing."

"What do you think?" she asked as she stopped for a red light.

"That's just it. I don't know," he said softly.

"Okay," said Lois. "Then tell me, what do you *feel*?"

"That's easy," CJ replied. "I had to save them. I had no choice."

"Then that's your answer." Her lips quirked into a wry smile. "If you ask me, logic is overrated, anyway. Go with what your intuition tells you to do."

She glanced sideways at him and noted the expression on his face. It was obvious that he was giving careful thought to her words. She turned her attention back to the road, pulled away as the lights changed, and kept quiet, giving him some time to mull over what she'd said.

Soon, however, her thoughts left his dilemmas behind, preferring to settle on those that were facing her. After about ten blocks she broke the silence and blurted out. "I'm just as much to blame for what happened to her brother as Judith is, so why does she blame herself?"

"Why does anyone ever blame themselves?" Lois didn't need to turn to know that he had shifted fractionally in his seat so that he could get a better look at her profile. Oddly, his scrutiny did not disturb her; in fact, she found it perversely reassuring. "Neither of you is to blame. There's only one person responsible for this whole mess, and that's whoever is trying to get Allen acquitted."

"You sound very certain about that. I wish I was so sure."

"Lois, do you trust *me*?" he asked, referring back to her earlier question.

"Sure," she said uncertainly, wondering where he was going with this. "I mean, I had my doubts. You know that. But not now."

"Then trust me on this. I'm right, you know. And if you could look past the guilt you're feeling just now, you'd be able to see that, too."

"Guilt? How do you know I'm feeling guilty?"

"Besides the fact that you told me so earlier this evening, you mean?"

She took her eyes off the road for just long enough to check that he wasn't laughing at her. However, he looked sincere enough, so she said, "Yes."

"Because," he said ruefully, "I'm an expert on guilt in all its weird and wonderful forms." She supposed he would be, given the fact that he was a lawyer. However, she had the impression he meant something more than that. His next words went a long way towards confirming her suspicions. "Guilt isn't logical. That's why it's so powerful. It's always easier to see other people's misplaced guilt than it is to see our own."

She glanced across at him again. As her eyes caught his, he looked down and away, as if embarrassed about something. "That sounds a lot like the voice of experience," she said invitingly, intending it as a question, even though it wasn't worded as one.

"Maybe," he replied, but he volunteered nothing further and she didn't feel comfortable pursuing the matter.

Lois drove for a few more minutes in silence, letting CJ's other comments sink in. She still wasn't sure that she believed his reassurances, but she found herself unaccountably grateful for them, nonetheless. Then, seemingly out of the blue, she found another question popping fully formed out of her mouth. "*Do* you think Luthor's behind this?"

"We've no evidence of that. And, unless we can link that license plate Mrs Sissman gave us to him, which I doubt, we're not going to get any."

"That's not an answer," said Lois. Then, unexpectedly, given her current state of mind, she found herself teasing him. "Or, rather, it's a lawyer's answer. You don't want to be accused of libel, is that it?"

"Slander," he said. She could hear a smile creeping into his voice to match the one in her own.


"Slander. Libel is written, slander is spoken."

"I knew that," she muttered. Then, recovering her bantering note, she continued, "So your answer, were you to give one, would be slanderous, would it?"


"CJ! C'mon! It's just you, me and the Jeep, here. I won't tell anyone and the Jeep can't talk, so you might as well say."

He sighed, then, seemingly changed the subject entirely. "Did you have a chance to look into Monique Kahn's background yet?"

"Monique…?" Lois sifted through her mental filing system and came up empty. "No. Why?"

"On the other world, Monique Kahn was one of Luthor's… henchmen, I suppose for want of a better word." Then after a beat, he said, "What *is* the politically correct term for a female henchman? Henchwoman? Henchperson?"

"Sidekick," she said firmly, and was unaccountably pleased to hear him laugh in response. She didn't know why or precisely how he was doing it, but she found her mood lightening. Her problems hadn't gone away. They hadn't even receded, but she found that the gloom they carried along with them was held at bay by CJ's support and humour. A hint of a smile still in her tone, she said, "You were saying…? Monique Kahn?"

"Oh, yes. That was the person Judith Myerson sketched. I recognised her from the drawing."

"Really? Interesting…" Lois concentrated as she navigated her way around a particularly tricky intersection then drove for a few more blocks before she ventured to ask, "Why would they offer to pay Judith for not getting selected?"

"H'm? Oh… I would guess because counsel are only allowed to dismiss a few potential jurors without cause. I guess, the defence didn't want to run out of their quota before the jury was selected."

Lois decided that it made sense.

As they turned into Clinton Street and Clark's building came into view, CJ broke the silence that was, once more, hanging between them. "Lois?" he said. She wondered what had got him sounding so worried this time.

"H'm?" she grunted as she scanned up and down the street, looking for somewhere to pull in.

"I was wondering…"

"H'm?" She braked, spun the wheel and parallel-parked expertly. She pulled on the hand-brake, put the Jeep into neutral and turned to look at him.

There was a nervousness about him that touched something inside her. "I was wondering," he said again, "whether you'd like to have dinner with me." The words cascaded out, tumbling one over the other. He ducked his head and she was sure that, if it hadn't been dark, she would have seen him blushing. "I mean, it'd not be anything fancy. Just takeout. But… it might be fun. You know, just to sit and talk… like friends do…"

She stared at him for a moment. Working together with him was one thing. Dinner was quite another, and yet… She found herself nodding, a jerky motion. Her voice caught as she replied, "Yes, I'd like that."



CJ busied himself in the kitchen, stuffing cartons in the trash and making coffee, while Lois waited for him on the sofa.

Lois, he'd been startled to discover, was an expert on Metropolis's delivery services. Not only could she recommend places that did Thai, Chinese, French, Italian, Indian and plain old American, she also had their menus and telephone numbers memorised. He shook his head with remembered disbelief; most people kept that information ready in the form of a sheath of fliers tucked away in a kitchen drawer or under the phone. Lois kept the information in her head.


The food, when it arrived, had lived up to Lois's glowing recommendation. Even now, after they'd eaten the last scraps, the enticing smell lingered in the apartment.

They'd shared a bottle of red wine, and as they'd eaten and drunk, they'd found themselves relaxing. They'd talked a little about the law, journalism and education. They'd talked more about their favourite books and films, and as they'd talked, they'd discovered a number of interests they had in common. They'd teased one another and laughed.

Now, as he set the last dish on the rack to drain, CJ realised that he was in no hurry to see the evening end.

The coffee had finished filtering. As he poured it out into two mugs, he knew, even though he couldn't see her, that she was watching him. He could feel her eyes drilling into his back. Sure enough, when he turned around, Lois was looking at him, an abstracted expression on her face. Discomfited by the speculative glint in her eye, CJ asked, "Is something bothering you?"

She shook her head and her cheeks reddened — from embarrassment at having been caught staring, he guessed. "It's nothing," she muttered. "I was just… thinking."

"What about?"

She looked down at her hands and muttered, "Nothing."

CJ picked up the coffee mugs, carried them over to the sofa and held one out for Lois to take, which she did wordlessly. He sat down next to her then gently said, "It's obviously *not* nothing. You might as well tell me what's on your mind. I'd like to help, if I can."

"I was… I was thinking…" She paused.

"Go on?"

In a rush she said, "I was thinking how much I've enjoyed the last couple of evenings, and how surprising I find that to be. You… You're nothing like I thought you'd be."

"Oh?" CJ's eyebrows rose.

Lois chewed on her lower lip then ventured, "You remember at Elyse's memorial service…"

CJ nodded. It wasn't something he could easily forget, for all sorts of reasons.

"You tried to talk to me."

CJ nodded again; he remembered that, too.

"I thought you were the worst kind of pig. I mean, chatting someone up at a funeral is kind of tacky, don't you think?"

He muttered an uncomfortable affirmative. "I'm so sorry about that," he whispered. "It was wrong of me, but you looked…" He shook his head. "I couldn't help myself."

"I guess, looking back on it now, I should have been kind of flattered but at the time…"

"I know. My timing wasn't the best, was it?"

A chuckle forced its way out of Lois's throat. "That's quite an understatement, CJ. Let's face it, your timing *stunk*!" Then, serious once more, she said, "In any case, Elyse…" She stopped and bit her lip, and CJ knew that she was uneasy about bringing up a potentially explosive subject.

He glanced away, staring into the middle distance for a moment. He didn't want to talk about Elyse either, but he knew that they would have to sometime. When would they have a better moment than this? he wondered. They'd already been mellowed by food and wine. This was the next logical step… wasn't it?

Still staring into the distance, he said, "It's okay. Say whatever it is that's on your mind."

He had a mental image of Lois pursing her lips as she thought about the precise words she needed to frame her ideas and braced herself to voice them, but he didn't look across to see if his imagination matched reality.

Finally he heard her take a deep breath and say, "Elyse never gave me the impression that you could be so…"

Now he did risk turning to look at her. Lois's brow was furrowed as she searched for a suitable description. She tried again. "She never suggested that being with you could be so enjoyable." She flicked her gaze his way, obviously trying to gauge whether it was safe to proceed, then ventured, "She said you were a nice enough guy, and that your heart was in the right place, but that you never seemed… happy. She said you two argued a lot."

Now it was CJ's turn to look down at his hands. He plaited his fingers together several times before he said sombrely, "We did argue. All the time, towards the end. I liked her, but we just… I don't know. We brought out the worst in each other."

Lois nodded. "I always admired the way Elyse knew what she wanted and would just go for it. But I guess that must have made her pretty hard to live with at times."

CJ frowned. "We didn't live—"

"I know that. I meant get along with." Lois's comment was more uncompromising than he would have expected.

"Oh, I see," he said. "No. She wasn't always easy to get along with, but then I guess neither was I. Neither one of us seemed able ever to compromise. I guess we just didn't… mesh. Didn't complement one another. Not like—" He broke off abruptly, not quite able to find the courage to finish his thought.

"Not like?" asked Lois.

His voice was hushed, a husky whisper, as he took his courage in both hands and said, "Not like this." He reached out and, with the tips of his fingers, he brushed the skin of her cheek.

She inhaled sharply, almost a silent gasp. Was it pleasure or affront at his temerity that caused her to do so? He wasn't sure, but unless she could give him a more definite sign of pleasure than she had done, he dared not proceed. He pulled his hand away and slowly lowered it to his lap.

"CJ…" she whispered softly. "I…"

"I'm sorry," he breathed. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "I shouldn't have done that."

He wasn't looking, so the touch of her hand over his startled him. He looked up and into her eyes. They were rich and warm, and there was no hint of reproach in them. In fact, the way she was looking at him, the way her mouth was open a fraction… He could almost suppose that she was encouraging him to continue. Suddenly he felt a surge of hope burst upwards inside his breast but still it was not enough.

Her next words, however, were. "You don't have to be sorry, CJ."

Then they were reaching for each other, shyly. Almost tentatively. Their lips brushed together. He could taste echoes of their meal and the wine, and beneath that, the taste of her as they kissed.

Nervously he drew away from her, needing to see what was in her eyes — pleasure, approval or disappointment? So much depended upon her reaction now.

She was smiling at him.


Lois could feel the warmth of CJ's body through his shirt as she leaned against him. It reminded her of basking in the sun on a summer's day. It was soothing, in a way, as were the arm he'd wrapped around her and the gentle huskiness of his voice as they unhurriedly talked. Right now she needed soothing because the kisses they had shared had had the power to shake her to her very core, which was odd, she thought, because she'd always associated the kinds of turbulent emotions she was feeling now with passion, and the kisses hadn't been passionate so much as gentle and tender — a hint of what perhaps could be. They had been chaste — almost tentative, uncertain, shy — but at the same time, wonderful, arousing in her feelings of greater depth than she could ever remember feeling before. She'd already realised that she was attracted to CJ. What she *hadn't* realised was just how deep that attraction ran.

She needed time now to get used to the idea that he was, apparently, just as attracted to her as she was to him. But she'd been attracted to men before, and things hadn't worked out, just as she knew things hadn't worked out for him in the past, either. Who was to say that it would work out for either of them now?

And yet… There was something about him — about *them* — that her intuition was insisting was different. The attraction wasn't about lust, about two good-looking people lying together — at least not entirely. There was something about it that called to her soul, that told her this was as much about a meeting of hearts and minds as of bodies.

She snuggled closer, enjoying the feel of his body against hers. She smiled as she listened to the steady beat of his heart, and let the sound soothe the rampaging thoughts that were drifting around her head and easing her excitement and nervousness into a calmer acceptance.

CJ suddenly moved beneath her, startling her into an upright position. Her automatic questions died on her lips as she took in his expression. Horror and trepidation were etched on his face as he listened to something she could not hear. She watched as he swallowed convulsively, jumped to his feet, looked down at her, beseeching her with his eyes to understand what he was about to do, and said, "I've got to go."

"What is it?" Lois asked, automatically standing up and reaching out for him, offering in her gesture what comfort she could.

"Trouble," he said. "A cry for help."

"*Can* you help?"

CJ shook his head fractionally. "I don't know. But I can't ignore it."

"I know." And she did. His earlier explanations helped her understand what he was going through now. "I'll wait for you to come back."

CJ turned towards her, the wonder at her understanding writ across his face. He took a deep breath, smiled at her and said, "Thank you, Lois," and then he was gone.

"Wow!" she breathed, her amazement at his quick departure echoing around the empty apartment. True, she'd seen him fly once before, but that had been before she'd known who he was, and she'd barely had time for the details to register. Now though… Knowing about his powers and seeing him in action were, she realised, two very different things. "Wow!" she whispered again. She collapsed back onto the sofa and shook her head.

She leaned against the arm rest, lying in the warm patch his body had created, but the sofa seemed empty without him and she quickly grew restless. What, she wondered, was he doing? What was he facing? Was he all right? The strength of her concern matched the strength of her reaction to his kisses.

She got up and, for want of anything better to do, carried the coffee mugs over to the sink and washed them out. Then she moved around the apartment, looking at the things she hadn't had time to observe carefully before. There were books aplenty, a few knickknacks from, she guessed, assorted foreign holidays, a football from his student days and a few photographs.

The first one she picked up was a family portrait. CJ, she guessed, must have been somewhere in his late teens when it was taken. He was standing with — towering over, in fact — an older couple. His parents, she supposed. They looked nice. Happy. She wondered how long before their deaths it had been taken.

The next one made her pause. She didn't have to guess who the people in it were. Elyse and CJ were staring into the camera lens, fixed smiles on their faces. They were trying to look happy, she thought, but they were only succeeding in looking self-conscious.

Elyse, she thought. He'd talked about her earlier, but there was still so much that Lois wanted to know. She wondered how much CJ would tell her.


CJ rushed through the air, his thoughts divided on the task ahead and the woman he'd left back in his apartment. The image of her as he'd left her, telling him that she would wait for his return, warmed him. She was everything he'd dreamed of and more and, in that moment, he knew that he loved her.

By the time CJ reached the waterfront, the woman's screams had given way to a mewling high-pitched whimper emanating from the back of her throat. Two men were holding her by her arms, pinning her against the side of an abandoned dock-side warehouse. A third man stood in front of her, wielding a knife in front of her face. The pale moonlight glinted evilly on the twelve-inch steel blade.

Even from fifteen feet above them, he could smell the alcohol on their breath and hear it in their brash, slurred voices as they threatened her, promising to hurt her in ways that made CJ's blood boil with fury on her behalf.

He didn't stop to think. He pulled his glasses down, peered over the tops of the lenses and glared at the knife. Twin beams of energy lanced out to hit the blade. The bright reflection of the moon dulled to red then began to glow brighter again, turning to orange then to yellow as the metal heated up and then began to melt. The insulation the handle provided was inadequate protection against CJ's onslaught. Terrified, the attacker dropped the knife as he howled into the night air, shook his singed fingers and danced with pain.

Someone else must have heard her screams, because CJ could hear the sound of a police car in the distance, its sirens growing louder as it approached.

CJ poked the bridge of his glasses with his forefinger, pushing them back up his nose, then flew down to pull the other men away from the woman. She slumped against the wall, sinking down into a stunned squat on the ground.

Concern for the victim distracted him for just long enough to allow the men to run away. With the squad car turning into the next street, he was hopeful that they wouldn't get far. The sounds of several more sirens cutting across each other told him that more police would soon arrive. He landed in the shadows next to her and asked, "Are you all right, miss?"

"Who… Who *are* you?" she asked. It bothered CJ that she sounded almost as scared of him as she'd been of her three attackers moments before. Was that, he wondered, the price he had to pay for his powers? The automatic xenophobia of some people?

CJ stepped further back into the shadows and spoke. "Just a friend. This isn't a good neighbourhood to be walking around in on your own, especially after dark."

There was a slightly hysterical edge to her voice as she said, "Yeah. I think I just figured that out."

"What were you doing out here at this time of night, anyway?"

"Going home." CJ was relieved that she was beginning to sound slightly calmer now. "I'm a singer at Bibbo's. I don't finish until midnight, and I don't make enough money there to be able to always afford a cab home. It's a whole different ball game from when I used to work over in West River. Toni Taylor always made sure I got home safely…" She sniffed. "Those guys — the ones you rescued me from — they were in the bar earlier. I guess they must have liked my act just a little bit too much."

Toni Taylor, he thought. It was a small world; twice in two days, he'd heard the name. Given the story Lois had told him, CJ found it interesting that this woman remembered the dead gangster with evident affection. Clearly, despite the fact that she had been a criminal, Taylor had had some redeeming features.

"You… You saved my life, didn't you? Just now?"

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"If they hadn't killed me, they'd have… You know. Maybe that would have been worse."

She was probably right about their intentions, CJ thought, but he tried to reassure her, anyway. "You don't know that." He tilted his head, listening in on the sounds of scuffling and raised voices from around the corner. "The police have got your attackers," he said.

She didn't reply. She just stared at him, unheeded tears streaking down her cheeks.

"They'll come around here soon. They'll look after you," he said, suddenly feeling out of his depth, but wanting to reassure her.

Again, she gave no reaction to his words. It was shock, he supposed, as he considered her. Belatedly, he realised that she was pretty — or at least she would have been if she hadn't been roughed up and crying in a dark alley. She had a slender figure, a heart shaped mouth and blonde hair which cascaded down below her shoulders.

Then she startled him by speaking again. "I… Thanks… Did I say thank you? I don't think I said thank you…"

Running and footsteps told CJ that the police would be upon them within seconds. "I've got to go," said CJ. "But, before I do… Will you be all right now?"

"Yes." The woman jerked her head up and down and CJ could see, reassurances aside, that that was a lie. However, she was coping, and he wanted to be long gone before the police arrived. Soundlessly, he levitated, took one last look at her, and vanished into the night.


When CJ returned to his apartment, it was to find Lois looking at his shelves. He wondered what she made of his somewhat eclectic collection of books. He landed lightly on the floor. Then, in case that sound wasn't enough to alert of his presence he said, "Hi. I'm back."

Lois jumped fractionally, and he realised that he had startled her. "CJ!" she exclaimed, putting whatever it was she had been looking at down with a slight clatter and spinning around to face him. "How did you get on?"

He smiled, grateful for her concern. "Okay," he said. "It was a woman. She was being held at knife-point by some drunks. The police arrested them." Of course there was more to it than that, but he supposed the details didn't matter. What mattered more was the frown line marring Lois's forehead and the distraction he could read in her voice. "What is it?" he asked. "Something's troubling you."

"It's nothing really," she replied, but he could tell that she was lying.

"Lois," he chided her softly.

Lois sighed. Then, in a more natural tone of voice, she said, "I found this, and it got me thinking." She half turned so that she could pick up a photograph and turn it so that he could see it.

CJ nodded, understanding much.

"Tell me about her," said Lois. The words were a demand but her tone was gentle, transforming them into a request.

"Okay," he said hesitantly. "What do you want to know?"

"Did you… I mean… Why did you let her go on that mission to Prometheus?"

And there it was. The question he'd asked himself so many times. Why had he let her go? Only now, after his visit to the other world, he had found an answer that he was prepared to give. Or maybe it was the conversation earlier that evening in the Jeep. The guilt, the responsibility, he felt over her leaving was finally dissipating. "Because she wanted to. Because she gave me no choice."

"How do you mean?" There was a tentative quality about Lois's question that suggested that the answer mattered to her a great deal.

"She… gave me an ultimatum," said CJ, casting his mind back to their last evening together. Their last argument. "She said her not going was not an option. She said… either I let her go, and agreed to wait for her, or we split up then and there. It didn't matter which; she was going to go anyway." It was odd, CJ thought, that, even though he knew this Lois had a personal stake in what he was saying, he found it considerably easier to tell his story to her than it had been when he had told it the first time, to the other Lois and to Clark. Was it because this Lois and he were drawing closer to one another, and he was beginning to think that he could share everything with her? Or was it that the first telling had been some sort of catharsis, and that it would get easier with each subsequent telling? He didn't know.

"She said that?" whispered Lois.

CJ nodded.

"What did you do?"

How, CJ wondered, had Lois known to ask that particular question? "I… We…" CJ looked down at his hands then back up at Lois again, his expression one of fixed determination. "I said… I wouldn't wait for her. I was angry. And hurt. Because she wouldn't listen to me. And I took it out on her. I didn't even wish her good luck." His voice cracked. Yes, this telling was easier — but it still wasn't easy. "And I didn't get a chance to apologise, to put things right, before…" CJ stood up and started pacing. "I felt so guilty, you know? I guess I still do." Not, any longer, that she had gone. But that he hadn't said good-bye and wished her well, yes, most certainly.

"I know," Lois whispered under her breath; she was taken aback when Clark replied.

"You do?"

Lois nodded forlornly. "She… I…" A tear trickled down the side of her face and CJ had to resist the urge to reach out and wipe it away.

Lois swallowed. "I went to see her a couple of days before she left. After the Messenger blew up. She said… She told me that you were worried and didn't want her to go. And I…" Lois took a deep shuddering breath. "I told her that Antoinette Baines was dead. That she'd been the saboteur. That it would be safe for Elyse to go; there was no more danger. And I told her… I told her… she should choose what she wanted to do. Make up her own mind. That… that you didn't own her." Lois broke down. "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry! I killed her. I mean, not literally, but my advice… I might just as well have planted the bomb myself, and I…"

CJ couldn't help himself any longer. He reached across and pulled Lois to him. Cradling her against his chest, he said, "It wasn't your fault."


"No. You said it yourself, earlier — she was difficult to live with. She knew what she wanted, and she went for it. Your conversation wouldn't have made her go."


There was something about the way she said his name that sent a shiver up his spine. "Yes, Lois?" he said trying to match her tone.

"It wasn't your fault, either."

"I know that. It's taken me a long, long time to begin to accept that, but I know." He rocked her gently as she continued to cry. Then he ventured, "If you didn't think that it was my fault, why did you blame me?"

"I never blamed you for that! But I blamed you… I blamed you…" Lois couldn't say the words, but suddenly CJ knew what she was trying to say.

Sadly he said, "You blamed me for letting Luthor walk free."

Lois nodded, the tears now coursing down her cheeks as she stepped back out of his embrace. CJ couldn't blame her for not wanting to be held; neither of them could deny that he had been to blame for that. His face was anguished as he cried out, "Oh, God, Lois! Don't you think I haven't gone over that time after time in my head? He got off on a technicality. And if I hadn't been in such a rush to punish him, I wouldn't have been so sloppy! And I've been trying… for years…"

But she didn't blame him because she said, "I know… You've been trying, just like I've been trying to find the perfect Luthor expose." She reached out and lightly touched his cheek and said, "At least now we're working together."


Lois had given him a lot to think about. It was more than that, though, he thought. He wasn't just thinking about the things she had said. He was thinking about her.

He moved restlessly around his living room, fingering and straightening the various objects as he went. His eyes caught on the photograph Lois had been looking at earlier. He picked it up, ready to put it back in its usual place, but then his attention caught. He found himself setting it down on the dining table. He pulled out one of the dining chairs and sat down. He folded his arms, rested his chin atop them and stared at the picture.

He was standing behind Elyse's wheelchair, leaning forward so his cheek was resting against the top of her head. His arms were loosely wrapped around her shoulders. They were both looking at the photographer wearing fixed smiles.

CJ didn't like the photograph very much, but it was the best one he had. At least they were making an effort to look happy together, an interlude between the arguments. However, even before his sojourn to the other world, he'd wondered whether the picture was more revealing for what it didn't show than for what it did. Now, having seen the way Lois and Clark interacted, the collection of photographs that showed them looking into each other's eyes, he was sure of it. There had been more genuine affection in every one of their snapshots than there was in this photograph. That, of course, made sense; they had been very much in love whereas he had never loved Elyse, and she hadn't loved him. They'd been friends who had been stupid enough to pretend that they'd had something more.

He didn't know what had happened during his stay on the other world, but somehow it had allowed him to gain a little perspective over the events of four years ago. And not before time, he thought ruefully. Or maybe it was simply from spending time with his Lois. His Lois, he thought, a faint smile creeping around his lips. He liked the sound of that; he wondered how she might feel about him. He prodded the wound that was the remnants of his relationship with Elyse, like a small child exploring an old scar, wanting to see if the skin underneath was healed or if it would begin to bleed anew. For the first time in years it didn't hurt.

Until tonight, it had never crossed his mind to wonder if there had been other players in the tragedy. He'd been so consumed by his own guilt, it had never crossed his mind that others might also have had a role to play in the events leading up to Elyse's death.

Now though… He felt cleansed by the conversation. By sharing their feelings of guilt with one another, Lois and CJ had somehow managed to expunge them. Now he was finally at peace and ready to move on.

With Lois, if she would have him.



Friday 2 May, 1997

Lois twiddled her pencil between her fingers, managing only with great difficulty to restrain herself from tapping it against the table top. They were half an hour into the Friday morning staff meeting and Lois just couldn't focus her attention on what was going on around her. Instead, she found her thoughts returning again and again to the previous night, to the kisses she and CJ had shared, to the things that they talked about, to the fact that she was falling in love with—

Love… she thought. Where had that thought come from? This was, after all, CJ Kent she was thinking about — the same CJ Kent who had tried to chat her up at Elyse's memorial service, and how tacky was that!

No more tacky, she supposed, than the fact that she'd wanted to respond to him. Of course, she hadn't. She'd snapped at him instead. Since then she'd kept him at arms' length, both by the use of her body language and the articles she'd written.

Now, though… Fate had cast them together and given her the time to get to know CJ better. She was seeing beyond the face he presented to the world (although, she admitted to herself, it was a very handsome face) to the person behind it. She'd known about his intelligence, but the self-confidence she'd always attributed to him was belied by a diffident shyness. That, along with his good humour and unfailing honesty… Those were new territory. Terra incognita, she thought, which she wanted to explore.

But love! Wasn't it still too early to be thinking about *love*? And weren't there more important things to be worrying about at the moment? Things like Luthor and Monique Kahn and…

Besides, loving someone shouldn't be as simple as CJ seemed to be making it for her!

Lois had always imagined that falling in love would require a lot of hard work on her part. She would have to make allowances and compromises, to squeeze herself into a mould that would be acceptable to an erstwhile partner. She'd often supposed that the reason she hadn't managed to sustain a relationship in the past was because she wasn't prepared to make those kinds of compromises. Having been belittled by her father throughout her childhood, then let down several times by boyfriends as an adult, it had never before crossed her mind that someone might like her as she was, for who she was.

CJ seemed to like her, though.

It felt as if loving CJ was meant to be.

She shivered, remembering the first evening she'd spent with CJ. She'd vowed then that she would only become involved with CJ through choice, and not because fate demanded it of her. Did that mean that she should now be fighting the ease with which she was slipping into her new relationship, or should she embrace it? She wanted to do the latter, but she couldn't help feeling uneasy.

But now, she decided, was neither the time nor the place to think about it. She determinedly pushed the issue aside, knowing that she'd come back to it another time.

For a couple of seconds she managed to tune back into the discussions going on around her but quickly tuned out again when she saw who Perry had got to: Douglas "Doug" Pearson, one of the Planet's business correspondents.

Lois began doodling on her notepad. Lois tried — not very hard — to smother a yawn, and wished that Pearson's voice wasn't quite so loud and penetrating. Why couldn't his voice match his writing? she wondered. Why couldn't it also be soporific and instantly forgettable?

She'd always found Pearson to be fearfully dull, both as a person and as a reporter. His articles were usually heavy on detail but extremely light on interest; his current story — something to do with lots of share movements in ExTel and MaxiComm stock — didn't look as though it would be an exception.

"Any idea who's behind it?" asked Perry, sounding almost interested.

Pearson shook his head. "No. Seems to be lots of little buyers. Nothing corporate. No pension funds. But the companies haven't been doing well recently, so there's no reason why anyone should want to invest in them. The only possible reason for all this activity would be if someone wanted to make a take-over bid, in which case whoever is behind it is going to a lot of trouble to hide their tracks. Plus, you'd expect the share price to be going up, if there was a take-over in the offing. If anything, though, the price is going down."

"Okay," said Perry. "Stick with it for a little while longer."

She was suddenly aware that Perry's eyes were on her. He was radiating disapproval as he let his gaze slide between her face and her hands and she realised that her impatience and inattention must have been more obvious than she had realised. She sucked on her lips, pretended she didn't feel her face burning with embarrassment and, with exaggerated care, she laid the pencil silently down on the table. Then she pulled her eyes away from his, glancing down and to the left. Then, without really realising what she was doing, she pulled at a strand of her hair and began to twine it absentmindedly around her index finger.

Jimmy, panting heavily, burst noisily into the conference room.

Perry turned his head towards him and said balefully, "Nice of you to join us, Olsen."

Jimmy's arrival had diverted Perry's attention away from her and Lois felt a tension she hadn't been aware of ease from her shoulders.

"I'm sorry I'm late, Chief, but there's been another one," said Jimmy, as though that explained everything.

"There's been another what, Jimmy?" asked Perry. Lois noticed that his tone had been rendered more forgiving by the curiosity Jimmy's statement had aroused.

"Another unexplained rescue. Last night, a woman — Tessa Michigan — was attacked by three men down by the docks. It looks as though our mysterious rescuer saved her. And this time he left some clues."

That grabbed Lois's attention in a way that Perry's previous announcements and discussions had so spectacularly failed to. What, she wondered, her heart climbing into her throat, had CJ done wrong? She disentangled her fingers from her hair, lowered her hand and looked towards Jimmy. "Clues?" asked Lois, feigning a dispassionate curiosity.

"Yeah. Don't know how he did it—"

"Oh, so he's a he now, is he?" Perry asked.

Jimmy nodded happily. "That's one of the clues. He spoke to the woman he rescued. Didn't say much, apparently, other than to check she was okay, but she said that it was definitely a man's voice."

Lois nodded and pursed her lips. "You said 'clues'. Plural. So what else did he do?"

"Apparently, one of the men had a knife. The police found the weapon. Get this: our 'ghost' had managed to *melt* it."

"Melt it *how*?" demanded Perry.

Lois glanced down at the table and began playing with her pencil again, determined to keep her guesses to herself.

"No-one knows." Jimmy shrugged. "Freaky, huh?"

"Do we have a description of this 'ghost'?" asked Perry.

Jimmy shook his head. "No. Tessa said that it was pretty dark and he kept to the shadows."

"Okay, Jimmy. I want you to keep on this story. Sounds like our good Samaritan is going to slip up sooner or later, and I want you there when it happens. Capiche?"

"Capiche," grinned Jimmy.

Lois's stomach twisted, an odd sensation not just because it felt peculiar but also because of its cause. Her relationship with CJ cast her in the role of the hunted, if only by association. As an investigative journalist, she was used to — relished even — the role of the hunter. Now, though, she thought she could see what her prey felt like, and she found she didn't like the feeling one little bit. All her protective instincts came into play and she knew that, at the very least, she needed to warn CJ that people were after him. If only she could think of some way to help him…


She jumped as she realised that Perry was talking to her and she snapped out of her reverie in an instant. Apologising automatically, she said, "Sorry, Chief."

He shook his head slowly, focusing concerned eyes on her. "Something on your mind?"

"No…" she said. Then feigning more conviction, she said determinedly, "No! Everything's fine. Really."

"You barely listened to a word anyone said all through the meeting. And you didn't even notice when it ended."

Lois, all set to protest, opened her mouth. Then she snapped it closed again as she realised that she and Perry were alone in the conference room. When *had* all the others left? How could she not have noticed? Now it was her turn to shake her head. She hadn't noticed because she was caught up in her worries about CJ, worries that, if she used them carefully, might get Perry off her back.

"I'm sorry, Perry," she said, actually managing to sound genuinely contrite. "There's nothing really the matter. I'm just… It's, well, it's…" She found herself blushing. Embarrassing as the realisation was, she knew that it would lend force to the half-truth she was about to tell her boss. "There's this man… I think we might be, you know, *dating*, and…" She trailed into silence.

She could see that Perry's expression had softened. He knew her well enough to realise how unusual it was for her to allow herself to get involved with anyone who might have a romantic agenda. At the same time, though, she knew he believed such a relationship would be good for her. She could see concern and approval warring for ascendancy upon his face.

Approval won. "Well, good for you, Lois. This one had just better treat you right, that's all. If he doesn't…" His expression darkened into something dangerously protective. That he cared so much about her welfare made Lois feel guilty. CJ, she decided, was a bad influence on her; twice in three days she'd hidden the absolute truth from Perry on his account. Still…

Lois forced her lips into a watery smile. "I'm pretty certain he will, Perry," she said softly. "I'm almost sure. It's all just so… unexpected."

Perry raised his eyebrows. "Anyone I know?"

"Not really. And you wouldn't believe me even if I were to tell you."

"So, you're not going to tell me who it is?"

Lois shook her head. "Not yet, no. Just… I want some time to get used to the idea myself before I tell anyone else." That, at least, was the truth. "You don't mind, do you?"

Perry shook his head. "Nah. I just hope he's worth it."

Then, with more confidence than she had mustered at any point thus far in the conversation, she said with a grin, "Oh, he is, Perry. He is."


By the time Lois got down to the courthouse, the Allen trial was over. From what she could gather from the excited chatter of her media colleagues as they left in almost unseemly haste, Diggs had called the defence and the prosecution into her chambers first thing. That, and the front page of the Daily Planet, had alerted the spectators to the fact that something major was about to happen.

Ten minutes later, Diggs, Kent and Tierney had re-emerged, Diggs looking serious and resolute, CJ Kent looking as though he was trying very hard not to whoop with joy, and Tierney looking shell-shocked.

Diggs' announcement was brief; due to new information calling into question the impartiality of the jury, she had no choice other than to declare a mistrial.

Lois found herself grinning, and she discreetly punched the air, hissing a heartfelt, "Yes!" under her breath. She knew, given the evidence she had assembled, that there hadn't been much doubt about this outcome, but it was still remarkably satisfying.

She looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of CJ, but her gaze alighted upon Roberts instead. He was standing on the courthouse steps, speaking into his microphone, his camera-man standing close by, recording. Lois edged nearer, in time to catch the end of the report he was filing.

"… Allen has been remanded in custody. A new trial date will be announced in due course. This is Robby Roberts, for LNN, at the Metropolis Courthouse."

"Hi, Lois," a voice whispered in her ear, startling her. She spun around, but instead of being irritated by the intrusion, she found herself welcoming it. Her grin widened. "Hi, CJ." Then, remembering why she'd been looking for him in the first place, she sobered. "I was hoping I'd run into you. We need to talk."

"Sure, Lois. How about we go for a coffee. For some reason, I have an unexpected gap in my diary because of a mistrial." He winked. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

Lois chuckled by way of an answer. She tucked her arm in his, and together they made their way over to the same caf, that they'd visited — had it really been only two days before?

"You said we needed to talk," prompted CJ five minutes later, after their coffees had been brought out to them. "What about?"

"Two things, really," said Lois. "The first is, can I get a few quotes from you, so that I can write the mistrial up for my editor? The second is… I need to warn you."

"Warn me? What about?"

How could a frown look so adorable? wondered Lois, even as she answered his questions. "Your exploits are news, CJ. And Perry has assigned a reporter — Jimmy Olsen — to track you down." She told him about the staff meeting, and everything that she'd learned from Jimmy.

She'd expected CJ to be alarmed by her news. Instead, to her surprise, he showed no reaction beyond a kind of weary resignation. She frowned at him, and there was an irritated bite to her words as she said, "What's wrong with you? I thought you wanted to keep… everything… a secret, but you don't seem to care!"

"Of course I care!" snapped CJ, who calmed immediately afterwards. He sighed. "I don't want to be caught. You know that. But I'm not sure whether I'll be able to prevent it. The rescues are more important than my anonymity, and if I end up in a position where I'm forced to make a choice…" He shrugged.

Lois's frustration slipped away as she realised that CJ's lack of apparent reaction had nothing to do with apathy and everything to do with the pressure he was under. Too many things had happened to him in a very short space of time — the visit to the other world, the powers… Even making peace with her must have been stressful. Plus, he'd been, apparently, on the verge of a breakdown before it had all begun.

Under similar circumstances, her response would have been to scream and shout, possibly even to throw things, but, she was beginning to see, that wasn't his style at all. His way of coping was far more restrained; he simply rolled with each new punch. When she thought about it, she realised that he was actually coping surprisingly well. Softly she said, her voice rich with concern, "Just … try to be careful, okay? Then maybe you'll stay lucky, and you won't *have* to choose."

He nodded in tentative agreement. Lois smiled at him, and sipped her drink. Then she put the cup down, routed around in her purse for her tape recorder, and said, "Now, about those quotes…"


Although CJ had been telling the truth when he'd said that he now had an unexpected gap in his diary, his time wasn't entirely his own, at least not yet. First he needed to call in at his office and file some paperwork, reporting on what had happened in court. Only when he'd done that, checked his email, answerphone messages and post, and had had a quiet word with a couple of people about the Myerson case, could he knock off for the day, or, given that it was a Friday, the weekend.

As CJ jogged up the front steps of the office building and across the foyer, a thought crossed his mind. He had vacation time due — a lot of vacation time, as it happened, because it had been so long since he'd taken any time off. Friends, colleagues and superiors regularly told him that he needed a break; maybe it was time he took their advice. The notion coalesced rapidly into a concrete intention.

He was lucky for once: an elevator was waiting for him. As he punched the button for his floor, he smiled to himself as he tried to picture their probable reactions when he announced his intention to take a break from work. They would almost certainly run the gamut from surprise to consternation and on to disbelief.

Of course, he wouldn't tell them what, precisely, he intended to do with his impromptu vacation.

As the elevator climbed, he mentally reviewed his "to do" list. Dr Fabian Leek, he remembered, now topped his list of people to investigate. CJ's preliminary research had turned up nothing about the man, helpful or otherwise. If Leek had come to Metropolis, he had not lived at the same address as his other- worldly counterpart. Any current telephone numbers were unlisted.

CJ decided that, if Leek's most recent address was yielding nothing useful, then he was going to have to search further back. Lois and Clark's biographical notes indicated that Leek had worked in Oregon before Luthor had enticed him away, so it was to Oregon that CJ would have to go.

The elevator came to a halt. There was a loud ping as the doors slid open, alerting CJ to the fact that he had reached his floor. He stepped out into the corridor.

"Kent! What are you doing here? I thought you were in court this morning."

CJ turned towards Mayson. "I was. Diggs declared a mistrial."

"A mistrial," Mayson repeated, her eyes narrowing. "Why?"

CJ couldn't help it. He raised his eyebrows and smiled faintly as he said, "I take it that you aren't a Daily Planet reader, then."

Mayson shook her head. "Only the Sunday edition; great supplements. During the week, though, I'm more of a Metropolis Star person, myself. But what's that got to do with anything?"

"It's all over the front page." Well, all except Judith Myerson's story, CJ amended silently. "Turns out that the jurors were being bribed to return a not guilty verdict."

Mayson stared at him for a couple of seconds, her mouth forming a small "o" of shock. Then she appeared to swallow her surprise and asked, "Did the defence know anything about this?"

CJ considered how best to reply. He knew the answer, but if he said a simple yes, Mayson would want to know why he was so sure. His information would be based solely upon an overheard conversation, which was, he realised, less that compelling evidence. Tierney was Mayson's friend; would she accept his word against her friend's integrity? Then again, if Mayson was on Luthor's payroll, maybe she already knew the answer, herself, and was simply fishing to find out how much *he* knew.

"If they knew," he said finally, picking his words carefully, "they're not admitting it."

"I see." Mayson's expression was unreadable as she abruptly turned on her heel and stalked off down the corridor towards her office.

"Nice talking to you, too," muttered CJ under his breath. However, he was in too good a mood to be upset by her almost- rude departure. In actual fact, he found it almost funny.

He followed after her at a rather more sedate pace than the one she'd set. By the time he walked past her office, she had already picked up the phone and dialled. She was now waiting for someone to answer.

Then he heard her say, "Can you put me through to Rosemary Tierney's office?"

CJ felt bad about eavesdropping, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. He went into his own office, closed the door behind him so that nobody would suspect him of trying to listen in. Then he reached out with his senses until he could hear both sides of the conversation.

Tierney's extension rang three times before she took the call, answering with the sort of curt "Yes?" that would have sent any public relations officer into paroxysms of horror.

"Rosie? It's Mayson."

"Mayson. Look, now really isn't a good time. Can I call you back later?"

"No. Wait." Rather than the sympathy CJ had expected Mayson to show, there was a sombre urgency to her words that took him by surprise. He turned to face the wall, nudged his glasses down his nose and concentrated. The layers of paint, plaster and brick peeled away before him, allowing him to watch as Mayson held up her free hand, palm outward, in an imploring gesture that the other woman couldn't see. "I heard about the mistrial."

"I guessed as much."

"Look, Rosie… I hate to ask you this, but I have to know. Just how deep in are you?"

"I don't know what you mean." The words were a blatant lie. That much was obvious to both CJ and, he could see, Mayson.

Mayson stood up. She picked up the base of the phone and began pacing around her office as far as the cord would allow. "Don't give me that, Rosie. We've known each other too long; you know exactly what I'm talking about." Mayson then took a deep breath, forced her voice into some semblance of calm, and said, "Look. I'm your friend, and I'm worried about you. So, I'll ask again. How deep in are you?"

Tierney didn't answer, but she didn't hang up either. CJ could hear her laboured breathing through the connection.

Mayson tried again. "Did you know about the jury?"

"I had nothing to do with that." Tierney's reply was abrupt, immediate and defensive.

Mayson snorted faintly. "That doesn't answer my question. I didn't ask whether you were responsible, just whether you knew anything about it."

There was a pause and more laboured breathing. From the way Mayson chose to return to her chair and slump into it, her shoulders sagging in defeat, CJ knew she had taken Tierney's silence as an affirmative. Tierney, however, wasn't ready to admit culpability out loud. Instead she said, "Do you really expect me to answer that?"

Sadly Mayson replied, "It wouldn't be hard to answer, if you could honestly say no."

Rosemary sighed. "That's true, I suppose."

"*Can* you say it?"

This time the pause was longer than before. Finally, Mayson, unable to stand the tension any longer, broke the silence. "Rosie… I'm afraid I can't make the gym tonight." CJ could sense the disappointment Mayson was feeling; her sense of betrayal was almost palpable, and CJ found, to his surprise, that he felt sorry for her.

There was an air of finality about Mayson's "Good-bye". She replaced the handset and buried her face in her hands. Although they were muffled by her palms, CJ could hear her muttered words. "Rosie, how could you?" Her breath hitched on a sob.

He had, he thought, seen enough, enough to convince himself of Mayson's own innocence and of her need for privacy.

He also thought, perhaps for the first time, that he and Mayson might actually be fighting on the same side.

He switched off his supersenses and got down to work.



The fading light as dusk fell helped to hide CJ from view as he flew to Lois's apartment. Instead of touching down on the pavement and using the building's front door, CJ chose to land on the small balcony next to the fire escape. He peered through the window and smiled as he spotted Lois. He stood there for a while, head on one side and a smile playing around his lips, content simply to watch her — she was sitting sideways on to him, so that he could see her profile clearly — until he realised with a hint of embarrassment that his behaviour was voyeuristic. Her expression was one of such total concentration that CJ felt almost guilty at disturbing her as he tapped against the window.

Startled, Lois jerked upright and spun around in her seat. Her instinctive fright gave way to relief. She mouthed, "CJ! You almost gave me a heart attack!" at him. He wasn't sure whether he heard the words, or felt them, or was simply able to lip- read. Whichever it was, her meaning was clear.

He guiltily mouthed an apology back at her and waited for her to open the window, and let him in.

Once inside, he tried to apologise again, but Lois waved his words away with a vague gesture. Lois got straight down to business as she led the way through into the living room. She said, "I hope you've had a more productive day than me. I started out looking for Jules Johnson. Johnson lived in Metropolis, up until a few months ago. I can't find anything more recent than that. It's almost as if he fell off the face of the Earth. I did wonder…" She trailed off into a contemplative silence.


"Well, it occurred to me that maybe he'd died. But there's no record of that, either. Of course, if he'd been murdered and if his body had been buried or something there wouldn't be a record, would there?"

"Isn't that reaching just a bit? I know that this is *Luthor* we're talking about here, but even so… Aren't you being a bit melodramatic, assuming that he's been killed?"

"Possibly," said Lois. "Even probably. But I couldn't help but wonder, you know? Anyway, given the problems I'd been having with him, I decided to have a go at tracking down Monique Kahn. At least we know she exists. We know she was alive — she's been *seen* — in the last week or so. But I can't find anything on her, either!"

"Nothing?" frowned CJ sceptically.

Lois shook her head. She'd opened a bottle of red wine ready for his visit, and had set it out, along with two glasses and some peanuts on a tray on the coffee table. She poured him a glass. He took it from her with a mumbled "Thank you" and waited for her to elaborate.

"I don't get it," she said. "I mean, we know she's out there, somewhere. But she's not listed in any of the phone companies' databases."

"So? Maybe she doesn't want her number available to just anybody. It's common enough. My number's unlisted."

"No. It's more than that," Lois said, blushing a little.

The small part of CJ's brain that wasn't focusing on the conversation whispered to the rest of him, demanding attention, that she looked adorable. He allowed himself a moment to acknowledge the truth of the thought then ruthlessly quashed the little voice. He forced himself to turn his attention back to what she was saying.

"Unlisted numbers exist. They're in the phone companies' databases; it's just that the general public can't get access to those numbers."

"Ah," said CJ, with dawning understanding. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully and he remembered that his address was unlisted, but Lois had been able to find it anyway. "But you can get hold of them, right?"

"Yeah." She gazed at him uncertainly, as if unsure how he would react to her admission.

She needn't have worried, thought CJ. He thought he'd learned his lesson well and he wasn't planning on censuring Lois for her more… unorthodox… methods again. In fact, he was beginning to almost admire her for them.

Emboldened by his lack of reaction, Lois continued. "Either she's not on the phone, or the line rental is in another name. The second seems most likely to me. I mean, how many people do you know who don't have phones?"

"Not many," CJ said. "And she doesn't strike me as the kind of person who wouldn't have one."

"And then," said Lois, "there's no sign of her in any of the council's databases, she doesn't appear to have a bank account. The IRS have never heard of her… Do I need to go on?"

CJ sighed. "No. I get the picture. But, as you already pointed out, we know she's out there, somewhere," he said. "So what are we doing wrong?"

"I don't know. I'll keep digging, but, quite honestly, I'm not sure where else to look." She looked him straight in the face with an almost imploring expression on her own. "Please tell me you've had better luck!"

CJ sipped his wine and raised his eyebrows in mute appreciation before sighing again. "I wish I could," he said. "But, if anything, I've had worse luck than you."

"Worse? How could it be worse?"

"Well, at least you've been trying to track down a real person. Turns out that my man doesn't even exist."

"What? How's that possible?"

"We've been working on the assumption that all the people in the other world exist in this one, right? That, maybe, they're different, but that they are here, nonetheless?"

Lois nodded.

"Wrong assumption. Apparently some — well, okay, *one* that I've found so far — was never born in the first place. I couldn't find any information about Fabian Leek here in Metropolis, so I flew over to Oregon. I spent the entire afternoon going through various public records in Portland. Eventually, when I couldn't find out anything about him, I decided to look up his parents. They *did* exist. In fact, they're still alive. Apparently, they couldn't have kids, so they adopted a baby girl. Fabian Leek was never born, and the adopted daughter now runs a real estate business."

Lois slumped back against the stiff back of the love seat and scowled.

"Lois? Are you okay?" CJ asked, concerned.

"I guess," muttered Lois, but she sounded weary. "It's just… I can't help wondering how many dead ends we're going to find. Are we ever going to find anything useful?"

He wanted to give her some reassurance but he wasn't sure that he had any to offer. Instead he heard himself pleading with her. "Lois," said CJ. "Please… Don't give up just yet. Don't be disheartened."

"Why not? It's not as if we're getting anywhere, is it?"

"Not yet, no. But…" He wondered what he could say to make her feel better. Maybe a pep talk, something along the lines of the ones Lois and Clark had given him might help, he thought. He picked his words carefully, then ventured, "I've learned a lot in the last couple of weeks," said CJ. "Two things in particular."


He nodded. "First, nothing is impossible."

Lois chuckled dryly. "Well, I guess you're living proof of that. What's the second thing?"

"That whatever you can do, that's enough."

"What?" Lois seemed dumbfounded and, worse, appalled by his statement. "Of course it's not, CJ! Accepting that is like saying failure is okay, you know? I'll never be satisfied until Luthor and his kind are all behind bars!"


"What?" The prickly Lois of old was back full- force.

"I didn't mean it that way. I'm not saying that failure is acceptable — it's not. Not really. What I am saying is that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, things won't work out the way we want. And when that happens, if we can honestly say that we tried our hardest, then we shouldn't go around beating ourselves up over it. So, even if we haven't made any progress today, maybe that's okay, because we've tried our best."

"Oh," she said, her voice small.

"And, by the way," CJ said. "I do have *one* good piece of news for you, even though it doesn't directly help this investigation of ours."


"I talked to various people in my office. They're going to look into the charges against Myerson again. Most of the charges against him will likely be dropped. There's not a lot we can do about the attempted murder charge, though. No matter how much he was provoked, there's no justification for what he did there."

"And that's supposed to be good news?" asked Lois sadly. "It sounds more like a tragedy to me."

"It is a tragedy, but it wasn't one of your making. Nor was it one of Judith Myerson's. And you've both done what you could to make things better." He sighed. "I imagine that any judge or jury would be pretty lenient when it comes to sentencing. Especially," he added, correctly interpreting the look on her face, "given the situation with his wife and if you speak up on his behalf."

Lois exhaled slowly and shakily, then she lifted her chin and said, "I'll do whatever I can to help him."

CJ nodded; he knew she would. She was that kind of person. Would he be that generous, he wondered, towards anyone who had tried to kill him? He watched her as she took a sip of her wine and reached over to the nut bowl.

He was fascinated by the dainty way she picked the peanuts up, palming them, then used her other hand to pop them, one by one, into her mouth. It was a sharp contrast to the way he would normally knock them back, a handful at a time. He wondered what she would do if she were alone.

Lois straightened her shoulders then said, "Okay, so what do we do next?" CJ noticed that her frustration of only minutes before had given way to determination. He'd noticed how mercurial her moods were before, and, not for the first time, he wondered how she was able to run through such a gamut of emotions in so short a time.

It took him a moment to pull his thoughts away from Lois and back to the investigation. The change in tack was almost disorienting. He opened his mouth, but had to close it again when no sound came out. He had more luck on his second attempt, however. "I guess," he said, and he was surprised to hear an unfamiliar husky note to his voice, "that we should just keep going. I've taken a week's vacation, so I'll have a lot more time to work on tracking some of these people down. I thought I might get started on Dr Mamba, and, maybe, the Vale brothers next."

Lois nodded. "I have to go into the office tomorrow, but, hopefully, if I tell my editor that I'm working on something big he'll trust me enough to get on with things."

CJ knew that he looked sceptical; did she really have that degree of autonomy at work? Lois clearly read his expression accurately, because she said, "If we pull this off, CJ, it'll be a huge story. Best of my career, even. Perry won't mind, so long as there's a decent payoff in the end."

CJ nodded. He hadn't thought about it in those terms, but that had been an oversight on his part. Lois was a journalist. Of course she'd think of everything they were doing in terms of the headlines she could create.

Lois changed the subject abruptly. "Did you eat yet?"

CJ shook his head. "No. I came straight back from the West Coast."

"Me, neither," she said. "So… You want Italian or Thai?"


The wine bottle was empty, the cartons the food had come in were in the trash, and the plates were in the sink. Lois was leaning in against CJ's side, content to feel his arm around her shoulders as he held her in a light embrace.

CJ, she'd been pleased to note, had expressed neither surprise nor dismay as she'd dialled the number for Rama Thai. It wasn't often, she thought, that her acquaintances were so understanding of her kitchen habits, or, rather, lack thereof.

Over the course of the evening, their conversation had drifted away from the investigation, towards more general topics. Perhaps, Lois thought idly, they should have been concentrating on the task ahead of them, but she found herself content to leisurely discuss movies, books, music and food with her companion. They'd discovered likes and dislikes in common — both loved Lethal Weapon and hated Platoon — as well as things they decided to disagree upon. Lois, an ardent Ivory Tower fan, was dismayed to discover that CJ thought it "trite, escapist rubbish". CJ had been equally disappointed to realise Lois disliked country music, although she did share his liking for old crooners and blues singers.

They talked about travel, of which both had done a little, and both wished to do more. Lois listened in rapt wonder as CJ told her about his recent visits to Antarctica, Kamchatka and the Australian Outback. He listened with equal fascination as she spoke of her stays in France and Ireland.

Then the conversation flowed naturally onto more sensitive topics. Only, by now, they were so relaxed with each other that they didn't recognise the sensitivity. So, when Lois brought up the subject of Elyse, she did so with no hint of embarrassment, and she was delighted when CJ answered willingly and without reserve.

"You know what you were saying earlier, about realising that whatever you can do being enough?"


She sucked on her lower lip speculatively for a moment, then she said in an abrupt change of subject that took him by surprise, "Is that why you don't feel so guilty about Elyse anymore? Because you now realise that you did everything you could to prevent… what happened? Even if it didn't stop her being killed?"

"I guess that's a large part of it, yes."

"I'm glad."

"You also helped," he said softly, and she could feel his breath in her hair. "By telling me how you felt. By showing me that I wasn't the only one…"

"To blame?"

"No. Not to blame. I thought we'd already agreed that there was no blame in this. What I meant was that… that there were other people involved. Affected."

Lois nodded against CJ's chest. It felt good to know that he didn't blame her, just as it felt good to know that she held the power to help him.

They lapsed into silence then. Lois had temporarily run out of things to say, as, apparently, had CJ. yet they were equally reluctant for the evening to end. It felt so… right… to be sitting here, in CJ's arms! If there was one thing that could make the evening perfect, she thought, it was that CJ would kiss her.



The feel of Lois in his arms was almost enough to make CJ forgive her for the back-breakingly uncomfortable love seats they were settled in. It crossed his mind to wonder whether that was why they were called love seats; you had to be snuggled up to the one you loved to be able to tolerate their use for any length of time.

Lois's body felt warm against his, even through several layers of fabric. His nerve endings seemed to be hyper-sensitive to her presence. Was that because of his superpowered sense of touch, or was it because of her? Somehow he thought it was the latter.

Lois shifted slightly, snuggling closer. The movement sent tremors through his frame. He reached up and gently stroked her cheek with his finger tips. Without any conscious decision on his part, he guided her face around so that they were staring into each other's eyes. Hers looked huge in her face, a deep brown, framed by black lashes and cream coloured skin. Her pupils were dilated in the dim light, giving her expression an almost wanton edge, which was enhanced by a tinge of pink on her cheeks and the way her lips were opened a fraction, an unspoken invitation.

In that moment, CJ wanted one thing more than any other. He wanted to feel those lips against his, to explore the warm velvet of her mouth…

Was it telepathy, or just his imagination that put words to the silent communication passing between their eyes? ("May I…?" "Please do.") Then, Lois was inching her way up the length of his torso until their heads were mere inches apart. CJ leaned towards her as Lois tilted her head slightly, and lowered his lips to hers.

The kiss was everything he'd thought it would be and more. And it was nothing like the few kisses he'd shared with Elyse. He felt no awkwardness, no unease and no reservations with Lois. In fact, it left him with a sense of completeness, of fulfilment such as he had never known.

But he didn't feel comfortable about that feeling when there was one secret he had yet to reveal to her. It was a secret that, if she took it the wrong way, might spell the end for their nascent relationship.

And yet she had a right to know; he needed her to know. He didn't want to leave it any longer, because if she did react badly, he wanted to be able to escape with his heart intact…

Except, he thought, it was already far too late for that.

CJ pulled back, ignoring her quiet moan of protest as he gently withdrew his mouth from hers.

He looked into her eyes again, watching carefully as the worry he was feeling spread to her, pulling her forehead into a frown.

"CJ?" she murmured. Then, with that uncanny knack of hers, she guessed, "There's something you haven't told me, isn't there?"

CJ took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "Yes," he whispered reluctantly.

"Come on then. Out with it." Her words were brusque, but her tone was gently cajoling, offering him encouragement rather than making demands of him.

Despite her command, CJ found himself reluctant to comply. "I'm not sure," he said, "how you'll react. It's a little… bizarre."

One corner of Lois's lips quirked into an amused half-smile. "That from a man who claims to have visited another dimension and who flies! What could possibly be more bizarre than that?"

When put in those terms, CJ decided that what he had to tell her probably wasn't so very momentous after all. The old saying about mountains and molehills flitted across his mind; he suspected that he'd never personally experienced something that fitted the clich, quite as well as this.

Thus encouraged, he suddenly found it easy to say the words. "I'm not human, Lois."



"Pardon?" she said. "For a moment there I thought you said—"

Clearly, despite her previous reassurances, CJ's revelation nonetheless had the power to shake her. His momentary confidence vanished as quickly as it had come. Nervous once more, he swallowed and nodded. However, now that he had found the courage to tell her the truth about himself, he found that he couldn't back away from it again. He repeated his words, more slowly this time. Solemnly he said, "I'm not human."

Her eyes were wide as she stared at him. Then she said doubtfully, "How can you not be human? You look like a man to me."

"I am a man, Lois. Just not…" CJ squeezed out from beneath her, stood up and began to pace. After crossing the floor-space three times, he turned back to face her. To his relief he saw that the worst of the shock had already left her. There was no repugnance on her face, just an expression of expectant curiosity as she waited patiently for him to continue his explanation.

"Sit," she said gently. She patted the seat next to hers, reinforcing her invitation. "Tell me the whole story."

CJ smiled a thank you for her willingness to understand before condemning him. However, it was a weak affair.

Stiff with nervous tension, CJ sat down again and began to talk. He told her about his parents and how they had found him in a field near their farm, about how they had taken him home with them, deciding to raise him as their own. Then he explained about the various scenarios they had come up with to explain his presence in the tiny space craft, and why they had always assumed that he was human.

Finally he told her about the things he had learned from Lois and Clark. He explained about Krypton, about what he knew of Clark's globe, and how, now, he desperately longed to find his own. He was inclined, he said, to believe that his origins were much like Clark's but, until he had his own globe, he couldn't know for sure. After all, although there were similarities between their worlds, there were also subtle differences. The same was true of the two men.


Lois was uncomfortably aware of CJ sitting next to her, his head hanging low as he stared at his hands. He was waiting for Lois to say something, but Lois didn't know what to say.

CJ was an alien.

No, she amended silently. CJ was *probably* an alien. He believed he was, but nobody could know for sure unless this mysterious globe showed up to confirm the hypothesis.

It was a huge thing for her to take in, but, she supposed, no more incredible than any of the other things he'd told her.

Did it matter? It clearly mattered to CJ, but did it matter to her? She wasn't sure. She didn't think it did, but—

She heard CJ's voice as if it was coming from a great distance, not just two feet. "… I think I'd better be going now."

There was something wrong, but she couldn't quite work out what it was. Was it that he was saying that he was going, or was it something about the manner in which he was saying the words?

She didn't know, and with everything that was vying for attention in her head, she didn't think she was capable of figuring it out.

She felt herself standing up, heard herself say something about coming by his place as soon as she could in the morning, and found herself closing the front door after him.

Her apartment suddenly seemed large and uncomfortably empty now that she only had her disjointed thoughts for company, which was odd, because it had always seemed, if anything, to be a little on the small side.

CJ was an alien, she thought again.

She remembered something Perry had taught her early on in her time at the Planet. "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, chances are, it is a duck."

CJ was human in every way that mattered to Lois.

And she'd just let him leave without letting him know that! She felt terrible.

But something else was nagging at the back of her mind, demanding her attention, even as she felt a wave of guilt crash over her. Something about what he'd said, she thought.

She chased the elusive connection around in her head for a while before catching it and pinning it down.

CJ thought he was an alien because his counterpart was an alien, and he was writing himself a parallel history. This was one more parallel in a string of parallels that were being put in front of her as faits accomplis.

Yet again, she found herself wondering whether CJ's interest in her was another of these parallels, and nothing more.

Being with CJ felt so right, but she wanted to be with him because she chose to be, not because God, fate or destiny decreed it. Perhaps, at the end of the day, it didn't matter how they came together, so long as they could find happiness with one another, but that didn't stop her wanting to feel as though she had the ultimate say over her future.

She supposed her disinclination to trust fate had something to do with her past experiences. How could she willingly place responsibility for her future happiness into the hands of a greater power? Doing that would be to accept that such a power must have held equal responsibility for her dysfunctional childhood, for the death of her cousin, and for driving a good man like CJ into a pit of guilt and despair. She could accept all those things so much more easily if they could be attributed solely to the vagaries of chance.

More than that, though, she wanted to feel that there was something special — something unique, even — about her relationship with CJ. She didn't want to be trapped in some distorted mirror version of their counterparts' lives.

Put like that, Lois suddenly didn't feel so bad about the fact that she and CJ, within the context of the investigation, had found more differences than similarities between the two words. In fact, it was almost… reassuring.

And yet… Being with CJ felt so right, somehow.

It was odd, she thought, how her thoughts had found they way back to that point, as though it was the one safe harbour available to her in a maelstrom of uncertainty.


Saturday 2 May, 1997

CJ shifted position on his chair and stared down at the list he'd been working on. He screwed up his mouth thoughtfully. Then he straightened, placing a hand in the small of his back to help ease away some of the kinks in his spine. He stood up, took the two steps necessary to reach his fridge, and pulled out a carton of orange juice. He took a lengthy swig before returning to the dining table and sitting down again. He sighed.

Trying to reconcile Lois and Clark's Luthor information to this world was proving to be far more difficult than he'd envisaged at the outset. He was glad he hadn't known how hard it would be because, disheartened as he now was, he wondered whether he would have ever found the will to start on the project. Yet, having started, he knew that he wouldn't give up. It wasn't in his nature to abandon projects half way through. Plus, he clung to the words of encouragement he'd given Lois the night before.

*Whatever you can do, that's enough.*

If he wouldn't allow her to give up, how could he, himself, do so?

The trouble was that the differences between the two worlds were far greater than he had thought they'd be. Some people appeared to have completely different personalities, like Asabi and Nigel St John. CJ had, in the last few hours, managed to add several more people to that category. Emmett and Rollie Vale, no matter that the furthest east their ancestors had ever been was Scunthorpe, England, were apparently a circus act called The Flying Walenskis. Chip Peterson, who had been one of Luthor's minions in the other world, was doing a PhD in anthropology in this one. Apparently he was currently doing fieldwork in Amazonia, living as one with a native tribe. Other people were dead; Dr Mamba, for instance, had been killed in a plane crash in 1987. CJ was reasonably certain Luthor had had nothing to do with *that*.

So, yes, CJ was discouraged. But, he told himself firmly, he was not defeated. He would not admit defeat until every last avenue of investigation had been exhausted, and they were nowhere near that point yet. Each person he and Lois managed to eliminate from the investigation was progress of a sort. All he and Lois needed to find was one good lead. If they could just find that, all the dead ends he'd pursued would have been worthwhile.

And, thinking of Lois… CJ's superhearing had switched on again, alerting him to light footsteps running up the steps to his apartment. When, he wondered, had he become so attuned to her that he could distinguish her footfalls from everyone else's?

CJ felt his mood lighten immediately before it lurched downwards with sudden trepidation as he remembered just how the previous evening had ended, and the uncertainties that lay ahead.

There was a tap on the glass and an immediate call of, "Hey, CJ, open up! I've brought breakfast!"

She didn't *sound* angry or tentative, thought CJ, and that gave him a measure of hope.

CJ rushed over to open the door for her, and there was a moment's awkwardness as he realised, circumstances being what they were, that he didn't know how to greet her. In the end, he pecked Lois's cheek with his lips. His heart soared when Lois made it clear that this was not enough for her. She pulled away and said, "Nice to see you, too, CJ. Now kiss me properly. On the lips." Her words were light and carried with them a curious blend of impatient humour.

She didn't care! he thought joyously. He'd told her that he was an alien, and, after sleeping on it, she'd obviously decided that she didn't care! Or, if she did, she was doing a masterful job of hiding the fact from him. Certainly, she wasn't letting it hold back their blossoming relationship, and that was more than enough for him.

"With pleasure, ma'am!" he said, and did as she commanded.

She tasted of toothpaste, fresh and minty. He hoped he tasted as good to her, but he doubted it. He probably had stale- coffee-and-juice breath. However, she neither complained nor pulled away, so, maybe, these latest insecurities were for nought.

In any case, if she didn't care that he was an alien, how likely was it that a little coffee- breath would faze her?

Lois seemed as satisfied by the kiss as he was. He grinned at her. "Come on in. So what did you bring to eat?"

Lois's idea of breakfast turned out to be bagels, blueberry muffins and fresh fruit. CJ approved. He made coffee, then they sat down, sifting through more paperwork as they ate and drank, using the plates and mugs as paper weights as they worked.


"This is *hopeless*," said Lois, frustration hardening her tone. "I can't find anything useful here at all, and we've been at it for ages."

CJ looked up from his laptop and glanced at his watch. "Oh, my! We've been at this for almost two hours! Time for a break, I think."

"H'm," said Lois, but CJ wasn't sure she'd heard him because she was already re-immersing herself in her work.

CJ shook his head fractionally, his lips twitching affectionately as he looked at her. Then, stealthily, so as not to disturb her, he removed the remains of the breakfast things from the table, only to return a couple of minutes later with fresh coffee.


He could feel her jump as his fingertips brushed against the back of her hand, as he tried to get her attention. "Wha'…?"

"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He held out the mug to her. "Here."

He couldn't help but notice the way her hand shook as she took the mug from him, or how her fingertips burned his skin as they touched. A jolt of… something… coursed up his arm and through his body. The sensation was so strong that he almost jumped, too. He'd never felt anything quite like it before. It was powerful enough that he wondered why it was pleasant rather than painful.

In fact, it was more than pleasant. It was a pang so exquisite that it was pure delight.

He swallowed, suddenly feeling tongue-tied. How come he'd never felt anything like this around Elyse?

"Are you okay?" asked Lois. She was looking up at him, her face marred with concern, and CJ realised that he'd been staring at her.

"Y-yes," he stuttered. "I'm fine. I just…" He shook his head vehemently, shaking away thoughts of how he'd like to ravish her senseless. Now was not the time for that… although surely a little kiss couldn't hurt.

He leaned towards her. He saw Lois's eyes widen slightly as she realised what he was about to do. Hastily she put the mug down, slopping coffee over a couple of papers. She made a half- hearted move as though to mop it up, but CJ stopped her. Right now he couldn't care less about coffee stains on the Luthor files, or marking the table's polished wooden surface. "Leave it," he said, his words almost sounding commanding. Then, "Lois," he breathed. He touched her chin with the fingertips of his right hand, guiding her head around so she faced him.

Her lips parted fractionally, her dark eyes inviting. Then she reached towards him, her hands caressing the sides of his face and grazing his skin as they lowered to wrap around the nape of his neck. He shivered at her touch and his lungful of air seemed to get stuck in the back of his throat as he tried to breathe out.

She got up as she lowered his head, tilting it slightly so their noses didn't brush against one another. Then his lips met hers, sensitive skin against sensitive skin. Her lips were warm against his and, when she allowed him deeper access, her mouth was velvet and satin, a haven of heat and welcome. Nothing had prepared him for this. The kisses they'd shared before had been beautiful, but now seemed almost tame in retrospect. Maybe it was because he'd revealed his deepest secret to her, so he had no reason to hold any part of himself back any longer. Maybe it was simply that the time was right for them to kiss with their souls as well as with their lips. Whatever the reason, the kiss was wanton, passionate.

On Lois's part as well as his own, he noticed.

They pulled apart reluctantly. CJ's pulse was racing and his breathing uneven. Lois was gazing at him, her cheeks were flushed and her lips swollen, and there was an expression akin to awe on her face. He suspected that she saw something similar when she looked at him.

In that moment CJ knew with certainty that her feelings matched his own, that the kiss had been incredible — unbelievable — for both of them.

He'd never felt anything like it; he wondered whether she had. A selfish voice in the back of his head told him that he hoped she had not.

"Wow…" whispered Lois. Now she was brushing her lips with her own fingertips, almost as though she was trying to reassure herself that the kiss had been real.

"Yeah," whispered CJ. "Wow…"

Then Lois suddenly laughed. "Look at us!" she exclaimed. "We're like a pair of love-sick teenagers, mooning on about our first kiss!"

CJ nodded and joined in the laughter. "I know!" Suddenly the laughter left him. "But the kisses… They had been the first for me in a way — they've been the first that have really *mattered* to me."

"Oh, CJ…" Her arms tightened around him again, and she laid her cheek against his chest. "That's… that's so beautiful."

"And so are you," he whispered to the top of her head.


Lois found it hard to concentrate. That kiss had been unbelievable. Was it her imagination, or did her lips still tingle with its after effects? She felt her eyes drift closed with the languor of passion's echo and unconsciously she raised the finger-tips of her right hand to her mouth.

Who would have guessed that CJ's quiet demeanour masked such a depth of passion? Who would have guessed that she would be capable of reciprocating fully? Certainly, the power of her own response had taken her by surprise.

There had been other men in her life before CJ, of course. But with all of them she'd held something back. It hadn't been deliberate; she hadn't even been aware of doing so at the time. Now, though, with hindsight…

She'd never before kissed anyone like she'd kissed CJ today, with her entire body and soul reaching out and welcoming him in. It had been a completely instinctive act on her part.

Now, thinking back on it, she found the power of her reaction almost frightening.


She *should* be frightened, she told herself. Her doubts about where their relationship might be going couldn't be completely quashed by a single kiss, no matter how spectacular it had been. And yet… She should be frightened, but she wasn't. Rather she felt safe in a way she couldn't quite explain. The closest she could come to describing how she felt was that it was akin to that sense of happiness she felt upon arriving home after a long trip, the feeling of returning to a safe haven that was hers alone. Only this was a hundred — no, a thousand — times better than that.

She felt safe with CJ — comfortable, desired and desirable. She felt a plethora of positive emotions that drove doubts and fears away. If the latter weren't banished completely, they were at least shrunk into not-quite insignificance.

Lois risked a glance at CJ from beneath her eyelashes. He was focusing upon whatever was on the screen of his laptop, but Lois knew that his thoughts weren't with his eyes. Again, she couldn't explain it, but she could feel him looking at her, and if his eyes were elsewhere, then he had to be looking at her with his mind.

Or maybe her imagination was playing tricks on her.

She forced her attention back to her computer screen, and the work she was supposed to be doing.


"You're as discouraged as I am. You might as well admit it."

CJ shook his head, not so much her words weren't true but because he refused to give up. "I… admit," he said reluctantly, "that when I told you, back at the beginning, this was going to be a long shot, I hadn't realised quite how much of a long shot it was going to be. And I admit that we've managed to work our way through all the key players and we haven't found out anything useful."

He sighed, thinking about what they *had* found out, and all the dead ends they had encountered. Like Fabian Leek, other suspects had never been born: Jaxon Xavier, Aymee Valdes and Sheldon Bender fell into that category. Then there was a small number of people who had simply disappeared, apparently without trace.

While the latter group hadn't helped to advance the investigation any, CJ found them particularly intriguing. Jules Johnson and a Mrs Cox (no first name given) had once worked for LexCorp, until they'd vanished some four and twenty-four months ago, respectively. CJ desperately wanted to talk to them, but, like Lois, he feared that they were dead. Certainly, he'd discovered, having made discreet enquiries through his police contacts, missing persons investigations had drawn a blank on both people, and adverts in newspapers from their families pleading with them to get in touch appeared, similarly, to have yielded zero results.

But, if he could track down just one of them… Who knew what they'd find out? CJ was sure that they would discover something of value because nobody disappeared for no reason. That train of thought fuelled his determination, and he found himself saying resolutely, "But I'm not ready to give up quite yet. There are a few more names to go, and until we've done them all…"

"I've got to hand it to you, CJ," Lois said with grudging admiration. "You're pretty determined, aren't you?"

"Stubborn," he said with a grin. "That's what my Dad always used to say. I guess he was right."

"I guess." Lois smiled. "Well, if you're not going to give up yet, I'll be darned if I will. So… next on the list is…?"

"Dr Saxon."

"Did you say Saxon?" Lois frowned. "I know that name for some reason… But I can't think why." She shook her head fractionally, pushing the thought away as she typed, searching through her database.

"It says here," said CJ, glancing down at his notes, "that he was employed by LexPower, at their nuclear facility."

Lois's fingers stilled and she waited for the page of information she was accessing to finish loading. She began to read. "Well…" she said after a few seconds. She took a deep breath then turned to meet CJ's inquisitive gaze. "It looks as though we might finally be on to something."

CJ got up and moved to stand behind Lois, leaning so that he could read over the top of her head. He could smell her shampoo and the heat of her body warmed his own. Without thinking, he planted a kiss on her temple. She twisted around, finding his mouth with hers, but there was something absentminded about the act. She turned her attention back towards the screen. CJ, wishing that he could stay that focused, forced his gaze to follow hers.

"Says here," she said unnecessarily, "that Dr Peter Saxon worked at the power plant — wow, he was in charge of the engineering division — until two-and-a-half years ago, when he resigned. Since then, he's pretty much gone to ground, but he appears from time to time, campaigning on some environmental issue or other." She sat up so straight that the back of her head collided with CJ's chin. "Ow!" she exclaimed before continuing, immediately forgetting the pain. "Now I remember where I heard of him before! Perry's been on at me for a couple of weeks to write an article about the fish in Hobbs River and the Bay. I've been doing my best to avoid it — it's not my thing. But Saxon… He's the guy Perry told me to interview."



It was a pity, CJ thought, as he arrowed his way across the continent, that he hadn't had time to appreciate the sites of British Columbia while he was there. He'd never been before and this visit had been little more than a quick in-and-out.

He and Lois had been going through the material they had on Saxon when his super-hearing had kicked in, tuning into a radio broadcast playing in a neighbouring apartment. He'd heard the news that an oil tanker was sinking off the coast of western Canada, its hull having split in two. Oil was leaking into the sea, and, unless a miracle occurred, an ecological disaster seemed inevitable.

Performing that miracle was a much more ambitious task than any CJ had set himself before, but he knew that Clark did that sort of thing on a fairly regular basis. If Clark could do it, CJ had told himself stoutly, so could he.

So he'd left Lois in his apartment and had headed west. Now, flying back again at a more leisurely pace, he reflected on the job he'd done, and done well. An enormous wave of satisfaction rushed through him as he thought about the way he'd plunged underwater before anyone could catch sight of him, the way he'd swum around in ever tighter circles, pulling the oil towards, and then into, the ship's ruptured tanks. Then he'd welded the tanks closed with his heat vision.

He'd stayed in the area just long enough to be as confident as he could be that the disaster had been averted. Then he'd swum at superspeed through the water, cleaning the last traces of oil from his body and clothes, and making sure that his presence went unnoticed by coastguard boats and helicopters, and vessels chartered by several media companies.

CJ grinned to himself, high on the feeling that he, CJ Kent, had made a difference. It was a heady sensation, not unlike the rush he felt whenever he won a court case, but one hundred times better.

His grin widened at the thought that Lois was waiting for him at home. He could, he thought, get used to Lois being there for him. No wonder, he thought, that Clark loved his Lois so much! He hoped that the parallels between the two worlds were close enough that he and this Lois would stay together.

But then a thought crossed CJ's mind, which made him shiver. What if he and Clark were too dissimilar to guarantee him a future with Lois? And he and Clark *were* different. For one thing, CJ's powers were going to leave him. They weren't a part of him like Clark's were.

The realisation depressed CJ's mood. He had been feeling so good just now; what if he could never feel that way again? What if Lois wouldn't have him?


CJ landed lightly on his balcony. Then, still in a rather pensive mood, he walked through the door that led to his bedroom and on to the living room beyond.

Lois stood up as he came in, greeting him with a smile that warmed him. The warmth in her eyes and the welcome in her expression chased away some of his doubts. Maybe their relationship wouldn't last long-term, but they were together here and now, and that was cause for hope.


After believing for so long that hope didn't apply to him, it was dangling tantalisingly close, almost within CJ's grasp. But before he could decide whether he had courage enough to reach out and touch it, Lois pushed the question away by asking, "How did it go?"

"Good." Then more firmly, with conviction, he said, "It was very good. In fact…" He trailed off uncertainly.

"In fact… what?" asked Lois, frowning slightly. "If it was as great as you say, then what's wrong?"

CJ sighed. "It's nothing really. Just… I got to thinking, and…"

"Always dangerous, thinking," quipped Lois. Then, more seriously, she said, "Come on, CJ. You can tell me."

He nodded jerkily. She was right. He'd told her far more momentous things than this, and yet somehow this seemed more personal. What he was about to say had less to do with what he was than with who he was inside, and the thought of exposing himself in so personal a way was… not terrifying, precisely, because he could not be terrified of sharing anything with Lois, who seemed to take everything in her stride. But it was, he decided, somewhat unsettling. Disconcerting.

He began to talk without planning out what he wanted to say, and yet the words flowed surprisingly easily. He found them following a path of their own choosing, and he was rather surprised to realise that he was talking about Elyse again. It wasn't quite what he'd wanted to talk about, but it was a good place to begin.

"You know, I finally understand something that I didn't understand before."


"I think I finally understand why Elyse was so desperate to go to Prometheus. I thought that she was being so unrealistic. She was living in a fantasy land, wanting to walk again when realistically she knew that there was no chance of it happening…" He glanced down at his hands. "These last few days. They've been amazing. I've been able to do things I've only ever dreamed of and the thought of losing all that…" He sighed. "I'd do anything not to have to give up the flying, and I know when it's gone I'll be just how I always was, but there'll be something missing, you know? And I would do anything — and I mean anything — to be able to get it back again. And when I think of Elyse… She had lost something precious, something that had been a part of her. Me? I'm only losing something that was given to me for a brief time. If I feel that bad… So, yeah. I think I can understand at least a little of why she felt she had to go."

Lois smiled a very sad smile. "I wish I could understand that, too."

"I could…" said CJ hesitantly. "I mean… If you wanted, and you thought you could trust me… I'd like to show you."

"Show me?"

"How it feels to be liberated. How it feels to do something you think you'll never be able to do again. I want to show you why I'd do anything not to lose the joy of being freed from the ties of gravity." Then, with a faint chuckle he said, "I don't think you really got a chance to appreciate the flying before."

"No, I didn't," she agreed. "Could you? I mean, would you show me?"

Clark nodded.

"And you wouldn't mind?"

"No. In fact, I rather think it'd be my pleasure."

They both stood, feeling self-conscious and shy. CJ held out his arms, inviting Lois into his embrace. He lifted her up, cradling her into his chest, and then he levitated.


They'd hugged before, and they'd cuddled up on the sofa. They'd even kissed. But nothing had prepared Lois for the intimacy of the flight. CJ was carrying her in his arms like a child, as though she was the most precious thing in the world. Her face was next to his as they rose into the sky.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked.

Lois wasn't prepared for that question. She thought for a moment, then decided that she didn't want to go anywhere particular; as far as she was concerned, it was the journey that mattered, not their destination.

Floating high above the earth, Lois felt safe in a way she couldn't articulate, because there was no way that she should be able to feel safe in the arms of a man who was defying the very laws of nature.

Air brushed her face, blowing her hair. But it wasn't the harsh blast of a gale-force wind, which she thought it should have been, given the speed at which the ground was passing by beneath them. Rather, it was more like a light summer breeze caressing her skin. She watched as they passed over Metropolis, and she gasped as she recognised famous landmarks below: Centennial Park, the Daily Planet Globe, City Hall, a couple of museums, Lex Tower…

Thank goodness, she thought, that she was wearing loafers rather than pumps! She'd hate for a shoe to slip off and brain some poor, unsuspecting pedestrian on the ground. Then she found herself grinning and laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the thought and the exhilaration of the ride. She turned her head to look at CJ's face to find that his eyes were shining with delight and he was also grinning.

CJ climbed higher, carrying her through wisps of cold, wet cloud. Then they were flying into the open sky, and she saw that dusk was falling. The sinking sun in the western horizon painted the sky above and the clouds below with a dazzling array of pinks and lilacs and tinged their skin a rich orange. The sky directly above them segued from light blue to a dark, almost black shade in the east. But, most striking of all, were the myriad points of star light, each one more vivid than any she'd ever seen before.

CJ slowed, then came to a halt, just letting them float. Lois didn't think that she'd ever been anywhere so calm, so absolutely silent.

"It's beautiful," she breathed.

"It is, isn't it?" His words were as quiet as her own and he spoke with a reverence she had never heard outside of the few church services she'd attended. She could understand that; there was something about being up here that inspired awe, and if anything was going to make her believe in God it would be being up here, seeing heaven stretched out above her in all its glory. "There's something so… peaceful up here," he said. "And everything is so big that it makes our problems seem…"

"Insignificant?" ventured Lois.

"Not quite," he answered, his mouth quirking into a wry smile. "I was going to stay that it makes our problems seem manageable. It helps put things into perspective, somehow."

Lois nodded. She could understand what he meant, but she knew that once back on the ground, the tasks they'd set themselves would seem as difficult as ever. She feared that there was a real risk of any perspective they gained up here being lost. Problems, Lois thought, didn't go away. All that coming out here did was give them a chance to put them aside for a little while.

And yet… for the moment it felt so good to be untouched by the strife on the world below. She hoped that she'd be able to cling on to the memory for days, months, even years after they returned.

Lois sighed softly.

"What is it?" asked CJ, immediately concerned.

"Nothing important," said Lois. "I was just thinking." She looked at him so that he could see, and be reassured by, the soft smile that was playing around her lips.

"Good thoughts I hope?"

"Very," she whispered. "I was thinking that I want to remember this for ever. This is a once in a lifetime experience; I don't ever want to forget how this looks. How it feels." Her smile widened and she shifted in his arms so that she could kiss his cheek. "Thank you for bringing me up here."

"You're very welcome," he answered.

They didn't speak for a while, content to watch the sun sink below the horizon. The sky darkened and more stars came out.

It was only when the last of the sun's rays had disappeared from view and the celestial dome above them was painted in shades of midnight blue, dotted with glittering points of light that Lois spoke again.

The atmosphere between them was easy up here, and there was no chance of being disturbed. Plus, after all the doubts he'd shared with her, she thought it only fair that she share one of her own with him. She wanted to do so, not as some sort of vindictive tit-for-tat, but rather because his honesty and sharing demanded to be matched by her own. As yet, she thought he'd given more to their nascent relationship than she had done, and she wanted to redress that balance.

The question was how best to begin.

"Do you," she asked tentatively, "think that the other Lois and Clark come out here, too?"

"I don't know," answered CJ quietly. "But I can't help thinking that they'd be mad not to."

It took Lois a few seconds to try to find the right words for what she wanted to ask next. "So," she said eventually, "you didn't bring me up here because you thought you had to?"

"Of course not!" CJ's confusion was evident. "Why would I think that?" Lois felt CJ's arms tighten around her in surprise.

"Because…" Lois paused again, then she said, "When you told me about Lois and Clark and how they were married… It made me wonder whether we would end up being together, and if we did, whether it would be because we were being forced together or because we chose to be." Her voice dropped in pitch as she said miserably, "I don't want to be with you because of some sort of divine coercion." She fell silent, hoping that CJ would make the next move.

"I… I don't know what to say, Lois. I mean, I saw how they were together, and I want that for myself. They were *happy*, happier than I think I've ever been, you know? And, okay, I confess, when I came back to this world, maybe that made it easier for me to see you. The real, you, I mean." He paused, then continued, even more softly than before. "I confess, before I went to the other world, I didn't like you very much but, Lois, even then I'd… noticed… you. I mean, I'd noticed that I was attracted to you, but I thought… I thought the attraction was all one sided." He took a steadying breath and continued. "Now, though… Tell me, was I wrong to think that?"

Lois heard the quiet need for reassurance in his voice and she knew that there was only one answer that she could give. "Yes, you were wrong. I felt it too." She ducked her head, unable to look at him as she made so personal a confession but, for some reason, she didn't need to see him to feel the joy he felt at that revelation.

Her admission seemed to have given him courage. Thoughtfully, he said, "I don't think we could be together if we didn't want to be, Lois. But…" He cut off the thought before it took form.

"But?" she prompted, wanting to know what he was too scared to say, because, somehow, she knew that he was scared. She could feel it.

Slowly, hesitantly, he said, "I've been wondering whether I'm too different from Clark for us to be together, and I… I want us to be together. And if the only way for that to happen is for the worlds to be identical in this one respect, then…"

"Then?" prompted Lois again.

"Then I really don't care if it's destiny, coercion or fate that brings us together, rather than our own free will. Just so long as we're happy."

Lois said nothing for a couple of seconds then she chuckled. "We're quite a pair, CJ. You've been hoping that the worlds are similar, and I've been hoping that they're different, because I want to be in control of my own life. But, when you get down to it, we actually want the same thing, which is to be together."

"You *do* want that, Lois?" asked CJ in wonder. "You're sure?"

"Of *course* I'm sure! I don't go around kissing just anybody, you know. That should tell you something about the way I feel about you!"

"Yes," he answered. Then, contritely, he whispered, "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," said Lois, more out of politeness than anything else. but once she'd said it, she realised she meant it wholeheartedly. CJ, she was discovering, was in many ways even more insecure than she was. She supposed that was understandable, in a way. After all, none of her past "federal disasters" had died.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "so far we've found so many more differences between the two worlds than we've found similarities that I don't think we can guarantee our future together, no matter what Mr Wells said."

"And what did Mr Wells say?"

"Not a lot, really. Only that I was to save your life, marry you, and found Utopia."

"Oh, is that all!"

"Would you… I mean… Do you mind knowing that?"

"Not as much as I thought I would. The more time I spend with you, the less I care about why."

"Me, too," whispered CJ huskily. Then he was adjusting his hold on Lois so that his arms were wrapped around her waist. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, and they floated together, their bodies touching torso to torso, their lips touching, their tongues exploring…

Lois knew that soon they would have to recommence their campaign against Luthor and the machinery of his evil. But that was for tomorrow. Tonight was theirs.



Sunday 4 May, 1997

"Do you do this often?" asked CJ. They were standing on the corner of Lincoln and Fifth, next to the entrance to a subway station. There were few other people around, which made sense as the area was dominated by offices. On a weekday the area would have been heaving with suited insurance brokers, bankers and accountants, and the coffee stand, news stand and florist's stall would all have been open for business. On a Sunday, however, the area was almost deserted and the booths were closed up and silent.

There was a scruffy man, a backpack at his feet, leaning nonchalantly against a lamp post on the other side of the street, a homeless man asleep in a doorway three buildings down, and a couple, arms wrapped around each other's waists, was strolling away from them. Beyond that, the only other living things were a couple of pigeons intent on soiling the window ledges of the building behind them.

"Do what often?" asked Lois.

"Hang around on street corners, waiting for interviewees to show up."

"Well, yeah," answered Lois. "Usually they're anonymous sources, though. You know, snitches. Why? Does it bother you?"

"Bother me?" CJ frowned slightly. "I guess not. But I do feel as though I've fallen into a really bad spy novel. I mean, next you'll be telling me that you've got a pink carnation to put in your button hole so that he can recognise you."

"Well, actually…"

"You *haven't*?!"

"No. I haven't, b—"

"Thank goodness for that!"

"But I *do* have a copy of 'Silent Spring'." Lois rummaged around inside the satchel she wore slung over her right shoulder and retrieved a battered paperback from within. "And I'm wearing the scarf for him, too." She plucked lightly at the long, thin strip of green chiffon that she had wrapped loosely around her neck.

"You're kidding me. Please tell me that you're kidding me."

Lois shook her head, grinning all the while. She was enjoying his discomfort, he could tell. "Nope."

CJ glanced up and down the street, not quite sure how to react to this unexpected insight into Lois's professional activities. "How will you recognise him?" he asked.

"Maybe I won't," Lois replied. "The only picture I've got of him — or rather of his counterpart — is that old one from Lois and Clark's file, but that assumes it's accurate. He wouldn't give me a way to recognise him; he said that he'd know me and that was enough."

CJ's eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "Sounds a bit paranoid, if you ask me."

Lois shrugged one shoulder. "Maybe. Maybe not. But if we want to talk to him, we have to play by his rules. And his rules are—" She broke off abruptly and nudged CJ in the ribs with her elbow as the man who'd been watching them from across the street stopped leaning against the lamp post, picked up his bag, checked that the cross walk was clear, and strode towards them. "Heads up, CJ. I think we're on. But he looks nothing like…"

This man was dressed in faded jeans, plaid shirt and stout boots. A baseball hat — Toronto Blue Jays, CJ noted remotely — was pulled low over his forehead, casting his eyes in shadow. The hat, in concert with long grey hair and a tangled beard, hid his features as effectively as any mask.

The man drew to a halt next them and said, "Ms Lane?"

"Dr Saxon?" she asked.

He inclined his head. It was an understated gesture, but it nonetheless conveyed an affirmative. CJ couldn't see through the shadow, but he imagined that Saxon's eyes would be narrowing as he said, "I thought you'd be coming alone."

"This is Mr Kent. CJ Kent. He's my… partner," explained Lois, improvising rapidly.

It was odd, CJ thought. He and Lois had had plenty of time to discuss how they should explain away his presence, but they hadn't done so. He hadn't even thought about giving himself the title of "partner", or, rather, if he *had* thought about it, it would have only been in the vague, dreamy way of new love. Work certainly wouldn't have entered into the equation. Had it done so, he certainly would have rejected the idea out of hand. He knew that Lois worked alone. Now though, he realised that the term seemed right on all sorts of levels.

"Partner, huh?" Saxon sounded doubtful. For a moment, CJ wondered whether his presence was going to be enough to scare the other man off. Certainly, there was something nervous and slightly furtive about Saxon's manner.

Either that, or CJ had read too many bad spy novels.

"Yes," said CJ, taking the initiative and stepping forward. He held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you."

After a pause, Saxon slowly took CJ's hand and pumped it once up and down. CJ noticed that Saxon's grip was dry and strong. Callused skin on Saxon's palm and finger tips hinted at hard labour. Whatever Saxon was, he was no desk bound scientist, thought CJ to himself.

"Perhaps we could take this conversation somewhere more comfortable," said Lois. "It's just about lunch time, so…" She let the invitation hang incomplete in the air.

Long seconds passed before Saxon nodded, finally committing himself to a course of action. "I know a place," he said. Then, without waiting to check that they were following him, he turned on his heel and began to walk up the road.

CJ exchanged a glance with Lois, then in mutual accord they took off after him.


"M-m-mmm," whispered Lois into CJ's ear from her position behind him in the line waiting at Veggie Heaven's counter. "Buckwheat and bean sprouts, served with a side dish of self- righteous sanctimony. My favourite."

"Lois!" exclaimed CJ. He tried, not quite successfully, to stifle his laugh. Lois realised that he wasn't quite sure whether he should be amused or appalled by her comment, but amusement was definitely in the ascendance.

Her first impressions of the restaurant had not been positive. It was located in a rundown side street on the edge of the main office district. Unlike some of the neighbouring blocks, the process of gentrification had passed this one by and the exterior of the restaurant was marred by peeling paint, rotten windows and cracked masonry.

Lois had wondered what the interior would be like, and her stomach had clenched with trepidation. She wasn't in the mood for a tasty lettuce and salmonella sandwich. It had therefore been with no small amount of reluctance that Lois had followed CJ over the threshold.

While the inside was still unprepossessing, she'd had to admit it was better than the outside. True, the plaster on the walls was cracked, the d,cor dingy, and the wooden tables rickety and dented, but at least everything was spotlessly clean. Lois had looked around, reading the notices on the walls and the menu board, and had quickly realised that, for the regular clientele, vegetarianism wasn't just a food preference. It was part of a wider life- style choice, and one that was to be pursued with an almost missionary zeal.

It was that realisation that had prompted her sardonic comment.

Still, as uncomfortable as she found the atmosphere, it did have the advantage of putting their somewhat skittish interviewee at his ease, or as close to ease as he seemed capable of getting. Veggie Heaven had been his choice, and he treated both the restaurant and its staff with a telling familiarity. He wasn't here just for the food; he was here because he was one of them.

It took another twenty minutes of being served, eating, and making stilted small talk, before Saxon finally got down to business.

He leaned down and retrieved a stack of paper from his backpack. "Take a look at these," he said, "then tell me what you think."

"These", Lois realised, as she took the proffered pile, were a selection of ten by eight colour photographs. She quickly sifted through them, then wordlessly passed them on to CJ, who did something similar, although, Lois couldn't help noticing that he spend more time on each one than she had done.

"You have a thing for dead fish?" suggested Lois.

Saxon almost smiled at Lois's almost joke. "Not quite," he answered.

CJ glanced up. "They don't look very healthy," he said. "I mean, besides being dead. So what did they die of?"

Saxon's almost smile widened, although there was no humour in the expression. "Being caught by fishermen, mostly," he said. "But they were all suffering from poisoning of one sort or another when they were caught."

"Poisoning?" asked Lois. "What sort of poisoning?"

"I'm getting to that, Ms Lane," said Saxon. "Now take a look at this." He retrieved a second, thinner, stack of paper from the bag and held it out to her.

Lois did as she was asked and found herself looking at some type-written sheets with information laid out as a mixture of text and tables. She frowned slightly as she tried to make sense of what Saxon had given her.

Beneath the heading "State of New Troy: Fish Advisory" was a short introductory paragraph. Quickly, she read: "Given the way in which chemical pollutants (including heavy metals, PCBs, Dioxin and Chlordane) may accumulate in the fatty tissues of a variety of native fish species, the New Troy Department of the Environment and the Department of Health have found it necessary to publish the following advisories.

"Nutritionists agree that fish are a good source of protein, and its inclusion in the human diet is believed to offer a range of cardiovascular benefits. However, these advantages may be offset by the excessive consumption of contaminated supplies…"

Lois glanced at Saxon, who was watching her expectantly. She turned her attention back to the document. Below the text was a table with the title: "1997 New Troy Fish Consumption Advisories for the Hobbs River Catchment and Hobbs Bay". Then there was the table itself, split into four columns of data. The first gave more precise geographical information, dividing the river catchment into smaller geographical units. The second listed specific fish species, or groupings of species. The third gave details of contaminants of concern, and the fourth, and final, column gave details about how regularly it was safe to eat the fish species in question. Lois read along a few lines at random.

"GREEN LION CREEK TRIBUTARY — Channel Catfish — PCBs, Dioxin, Mercury — No more than one 8oz meal per year."

"HOBBS RIVER, FROM GREEN LION CREEK TO CAXTON CANAL — Striped Bass, White Catfish, American Eel — PCBs, Dioxin — No consumption."

"HOBBS RIVER AND ESTUARY — All Finfish — PCBs, Arsenic, Dioxin, Mercury, Chlorinated Pesticides — No consumption."

Lois handed the first page across to CJ. She didn't want to read any more — she'd seen enough to make her feel vaguely nauseous — so she simply flicked through the remaining sheets, paying just enough attention to realise that the advisories ran over several more pages. When she glanced across at CJ, she could see from the expression on his face that his reaction was a fair reflection of her own.

She took a deep breath, then looked across at Saxon, and said, "All right. I admit that you've managed to gross us out, but I'm not sure what we're doing here. I mean, this information is all in the public domain. Sickening though it all is, I don't see what you think we can do for you."

Again, Saxon smiled his humourless smile. "Ever heard of LexChem?" he asked.

"Of course," said Lois and CJ in unison.

"What about their Downriver and Green Lion Creek plants, more specifically?"

This time Lois shook her head, while CJ frowned and, to her surprise, said, "I've heard of Green Lion. It's a plastics factory, isn't it? I don't know any specifics, though."

"Plastics, yes. And, to be frank, I would have been surprised if you had known any more than that, Mr Kent. Employees are sworn to secrecy, and no-one else seems to take much interest in what goes on there, besides me, of course. But the fact remains that those two plants are major polluters. LexChem is dumping PCBs and dioxin into the Hobbs River catchment. It's common knowledge that the chemicals are there — hence the advisories — but nothing is being done about it. In any other state, the EPA would have shut those plants down years ago. Here, nothing."

"So you've come to the Daily Planet," said Lois. "You want us to launch some kind of environmental campaign, is that it? See if we can get something done?"

Saxon nodded.

"Wouldn't you have done better going to one of the environmental agencies?" asked CJ.

"And why did you choose the Daily Planet?" chimed in Lois. "Why not one of the TV companies, or, for that matter, some other newspaper?"

"You think I didn't try?" Saxon snorted derisively. "Of course I did! First I went to the New Troy Pollution Control Board, where I filed an informal complaint. The person I spoke to there said that the information would be passed over to the NTEPA — that's the EPA's New Troy regional office — who would review it and investigate, then get back to me to tell me what they were going to do." He leaned back in his chair, pulled off his cap, which he'd insisted on keeping on throughout lunch, and raked a claw-like hand backwards over his forehead and through his hair.

"And…?" prompted Lois.

Saxon put the baseball cap back on and leaned in again. "And I didn't hear from the NTEPA, so I contacted them directly. I was told…" The anger in his voice was rising. Lois watched as Saxon deliberately stilled himself, closed his eyes for a few seconds and took a deep breath, dampening the excessive emotion into more reasonable levels. Only then did he continue. "The person I spoke to at the agency said that there was no record of the complaint having ever reached them."

"I see. So, do you think it was a genuine oversight, or had someone buried it?" asked Lois.

Saxon shook his head. "I honestly don't know. At the time…" He shrugged. "Now, though, I suspect it was buried. But, as I said, I don't actually know one way or the other."

She nodded. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw CJ do the same.

"Anyway… So I filed another informal complaint. And some time later I did hear back from the NTEPA." There was something almost calculated in the way Saxon paused then, and Lois wondered whether it was to calm himself once again or whether it was for dramatic purposes. Maybe Saxon was just a naturally gifted raconteur. However, it proved to be neither because Saxon used the silence to lean down and root around in his bag again. After a few seconds of ferreting about, he pulled out a letter. He passed it over to Lois, who took it and began to read.

"What does it say?" asked CJ curiously.

"Basically," said Saxon, "it says that the pollution problem wasn't solved, but the NTEPA was unlikely to be able to bring any kind of enforcement action before the New Troy Pollution Control Board within the foreseeable future. In other words, yes, LexChem had undoubtedly been polluting the river and contaminating the groundwater, but they weren't going to do anything about it."

"What?" asked Lois in consternation. CJ glanced up from his reading in time to see her frown and say, "Can they do that? Do nothing, I mean?"

"Apparently, yes," said Saxon.

"It says here," Lois observed, "that if you weren't satisfied with the NTEPA's decision, you could lodge a formal complaint…?"

"Oh, yeah." Saxon sounded bitter. "But you know what that means?" He didn't wait for an answer before he continued. "In an informal complaint, the EPA does all the investigating and brings charges. In a formal complaint, the complainant — that would be me — assumes responsibility for proceeding with the case. In other words, I wouldn't get any help from either the New Troy Pollution Control Board or the NTEPA. I'd have to do all my own investigating — well I've been doing some of that, anyway. But I'd have to do all my own paper work… make a formal presentation at the hearing… What kind of chance would I have against the might of LexCorp? Against Luthor, himself?"

"There are lawyers who specialise in this kind of thing," suggested CJ tentatively.

"Yeah. Lawyers." Saxon sniffed dismissively. "What good do you think they are, really? I couldn't afford to pay, and all the pro bono attorneys I approached said they wouldn't touch the case. In fact, only one — a Constance Hunter — was polite enough to even give me the time of day.

"I was beginning to get desperate by then. I thought, okay, so if I couldn't do anything through official channels, at least I could make people *listen* to what I had to say. I went to LNN first. I mean, they're supposed to have independent control over programme content, right?"

"That's the official line, yes," said Lois placing careful weight on the "official". "Luthor's on record as saying that much."

"Well, it's not true. LNN weren't interested. The Star's not interested, but I hadn't realised when I approached that paper that it was owned by LexCorp."

"Yeah," said Lois. "Preston Carpenter sold it about eighteen months ago."

"So, then I came to you. And, if I might say so, you've been pretty slow in getting back to me, too."

"Yeah, well…" Lois ducked her head, feeling uncomfortable. "I'm afraid that's mostly my fault. I'm sorry, Dr Saxon, but when Perry — that's my editor — suggested that I might like to write an article about fish… Well, it just didn't… grab me. I took the other option and covered the Allen trial."

Saxon scowled at her, probably, Lois thought, condemning her for her prejudices. She was grateful when, with a remarkable degree of tact, CJ smoothed over the uncomfortable moment by saying, "But we're here now. That's the main thing. So tell us what you want us to do."

"I did that already," answered Saxon. "I want you to take this stuff and write about it. Create as much of a stink as you can. I want Luthor punished for what he's doing. I want him to pay. Can you understand that?"

Lois and CJ both nodded. Oh, yes. They understood perfectly.

"Write the story," repeated Saxon. "Like I said. Write about LexCorp's culture of disregard for the environment."

CJ interjected a cautionary note into the conversation, "Isn't that a bit strong? Two plants is hardly a culture."

"Oh, there's more," said Saxon. "Lots more. For example, I could tell you how LexConstruction recently got permission to build a subdivision on top of one of LexChem's old dump sites. And then there's LexPower…"

"More?" whispered Lois, feeling a little overwhelmed. "LexPower? Dump site?"

When Perry had first suggested the story to her, she'd dismissed it, assuming that Saxon would be a crank. Now, though, she was beginning to see just how wrong she'd been. She was beginning to suspect that this story might turn out to be even bigger than Love Canal. Her stomach twisted at the thought, an odd mixture of repugnance and morbid excitement.

"But," said Saxon, "all that'll have to wait. I want to see what you do with this lot first. If I'm happy you're playing straight with me, I'll think about giving you the rest. It's up to you. Deal?"

Lois's eyes narrowed. Saxon, Lois was beginning to realise, was a shrewd operator. He had hooked her, good and proper, and now he was reeling her in. While she would have preferred to be in control of the situation, in this instance, she was prepared to allow herself to be reeled. It was worth the loss of a little control, she decided, because she could see her one-off expose turning into a series, and that series turning into a Kerth or a Merriweather… or maybe even into a Pulitzer.

She wanted his information. She wanted it all now. But she was realistic enough to know that the world didn't always work the way she wanted it to, and if she played her hand right the payoff would be worth it in the end.

She nodded, held out her hand towards him, and said, "Deal."


"This is great, CJ!" Lois crowed triumphantly. They were back at Lincoln and Fifth and had just watched Saxon disappear down into the bowels of the subway station. "I know I didn't want to do it, but it's a great story. It's got it all: political intrigue, corruption, some juicy photos of dying wildlife… Pity it's just fish though. Something cute and furry would have been even better, but I guess we can't have everything. And best of all, we must be able to get Luthor on just about every environmental law going."

"Yeah, great," muttered CJ sounding remarkably unenthusiastic. His tone diffused Lois's exciting babbling, calming her down as quickly as it raised her curiosity and concern.

"You don't *sound* as though it's great," she said. "Why not? I thought this was all good stuff."

"Yeah, it is. It's just not *enough*!"

"Not enough? Why not?"

"Because environmental law is civil law, not criminal. All the courts can do is get Luthor — or more likely LexCorp — to pay compensation for all his breaches. But Luthor is the third richest—"

"Second, these days," interjected Lois.

"*Second* richest man on the planet. What are a few million dollar fines — or even multimillion dollar fines — going to mean to a man who's worth *billions*? It's like pocket money to him. Like I say, it's not enough. I want to see him *pay* for his crimes. I want to see him in jail, and so far we simply don't have anything that's going to make that happen."

"CJ…" She reached and took his hand in both of hers. She gently stroked his skin, desperately wanting to make him feel better. "I know you want more, and so do I, but we need to be patient and persevere. Isn't that what you keep telling me? And at least we've now made a start. Let that be enough, just for today."

He smiled, but it was a feeble effort and it didn't reach his eyes. Lois could tell that he was having to force it. "You're absolutely right, of course," he said. "After all, Rome wasn't built in a day."

"No," answered Lois, tightening her grip on his hands and smiling impishly at him. "As I understand it, Rome's still a work in progress. So far it's only taken a few millennia."

Just as she'd hoped, he laughed abruptly. This time his smile was genuine, and it outshone its fake predecessor as the sun outshines the moon. "So long as it doesn't take quite that long to bring Luthor down," he said.



A discordant symphony of street noises drifted through an open window and into Lois's living room. They were less frenzied than they would have been during daylight hours, but the night imbued them with a hollow quality, and they seemed to be magnified as they echoed up from below.

Without conscious thought, Lois tuned the sounds out, just as she was ignoring the majority of the television programme that was playing softly in the background. Occasionally a word or phrase would register, and then she'd look up to see whether the item being discussed was of any interest. So far none had been, and so she had invariably turned her attention away again.

Lois wished she could have as much success at controlling her other thoughts. She wanted to focus single-mindedly on her story, but her mind had other ideas, wont to wonder hither and thither. Two things in particular were nagging for her attention.

The first — and she no longer found this surprising — was CJ. Indeed, if anything about the CJ situation surprised her, it was how quickly she had stopped being surprised at finding him intruding on her consciousness.

She'd sent CJ home soon after their meeting with Saxon broke up because she'd known that his presence would be a distraction, and she'd wanted to get the story written up this evening. The only problem was that his absence was distracting her as much as, if not more than, his presence would have done. She missed him almost as if a part of herself were gone.

When she searched for an analogy to explain how she felt, the best she could come up with was that it felt a little like it had when she'd chipped a tooth. It had been a tiny chip, to be sure, but it had felt huge, and she'd kept probing the gap with her tongue, unable to ignore it. CJ was so much more than a fragment of tooth, though, and her sense of his absence was magnified correspondingly. His absence was a hole somewhere deep in the core of her being.

How had he got so close to her, so quickly? She wondered whether she should be worried by that. Her affection — love — for him made her vulnerable. That's what her head was trying to tell her, but her heart disagreed vehemently.

And, probably for the first time in her life, Lois knew that her heart was right.

The second thing that was nagging at her was more worrying in so far as she didn't know what it was exactly, just that it was there. She felt as if she were missing something obvious, something that was staring her right in the face.

She sighed, pushed the nagging sensation to one side and read through what she'd written so far. Just one or two concluding sentences, she thought, then she'd be done. She typed quickly then sat back and grinned.

Wriggle out of that one, Luthor, she thought with satisfaction.

The story was good, she thought. Very good, and it made all the right people look bad. Plus it was backed up with enough evidence that not even the Planet's squeamish lawyers would block its publication.

Perry would be pleased.

But still… She still couldn't dismiss the thought that she was missing something. Indeed, if anything, the niggling feeling in the back of her head was growing stronger, not weaker.

It was something Saxon had said, she realised for the first time. She didn't know where that realisation had come from, but the sudden revelation would not be dismissed. She knew it was correct with a certainty that she could not have justified to anyone else, but it was a certainty that had always stood her in good stead in the past. She'd learned to trust that kind of feeling; she had to trust it now.

Something Saxon had said…

She frowned, scanned the article, then scanned through her notes yet again. Nothing leapt out at her, and yet she was sure that it had to be there somewhere.

She'd been more meticulous than usual in taking her notes. She'd realised that the facts about the EPA were going to be complicated, and she'd been determined to get all the details down, to make sure she made no mistakes. If there was nothing in her notes, she reasoned, then it had to have been something else he'd said, maybe over dessert.

Frustration at her failure to pin the matter down clawed at her.

Lois leaned back in her chair, turning her face to the ceiling as she closed her eyes and ran her hands through her hair as she tried to play through the conversation in her head. Again she drew a blank.

But still. It niggled. If only she could work out what "it" was!

Fretting was getting her nowhere, she thought. Maybe, if she took a short break and came back to it later… Certainly, doing that sometimes worked for her. Yes, she thought. She'd keep her consciousness occupied elsewhere for a while, and leave her subconscious to struggle with whatever it was on its own.

She clambered to her feet, stretched, and went off in search of the tub of chocolate ice-cream she'd stashed away in the freezer and her well- worn Ivory Tower video.


Across town, CJ was also feeling frustrated. He was investigating a couple more names from what he had come to think of as the Luthor lists and, as he'd come to consider usual, he was drawing a series of blanks, one against each name. The number of people remaining to be checked was diminishing rapidly, a fact that he found disquieting, to say the least.

He kept telling himself that he had to stay positive… that whatever he could do was enough… that he would strike lucky one of these times… But the platitudes were wearing ever thinner, and as the evening drew into night, he found it increasingly difficult to retain his optimism. Only thinking of Lois and of the pep talk she'd given him earlier seemed to help keep his spirits up. Clinging to the memory, he forced himself to soldier on.

When, just after his neighbour had switched off the ten o'clock news headlines, he heard footsteps approaching his front door, he found himself welcoming the distraction.

He cocked his head to one side and concentrated. The footsteps belonged to a woman, he decided, and for a moment he hoped that Lois had come over to see him. The depth of his disappointment when he realised that the footsteps were too heavy to be hers was almost shocking in its intensity. In any case, he realised belatedly, there were two sets of footsteps, which also seemed to rule Lois out. As far as he could determine, Lois, her willingness to work with him notwithstanding, was one of nature's loners. The idea that she would come to visit him with someone else in tow was almost inconceivable.

CJ frowned. There was something familiar about the footfalls, and about one set in particular. However, he couldn't match names to the sounds. Whoever the visitor was, he concluded, it was someone he was familiar with, but not overly so.

Out in the vestibule, there was a whispered exchanged between his erstwhile visitors, but he missed the most of the first speaker's words because he was still focusing on their feet. The first voice was quiet, little more than a whisper, but held a distinct note of panic. Again, CJ felt a tug of familiarity, but the speaker's identity stayed just beyond his grasp.

The reply was louder, clearer. "Come on. If anyone can help us, it'll be Kent. Besides, what have you got to lose?"

That speaker was easy to identify. But what, he wondered, perplexed, was Mayson Drake doing coming to his apartment so late on a Sunday night? Indeed, why was she there at all?

Any reply the other woman gave must have been non-verbal, but CJ knew that there must have been at the very least an acknowledgement of her words because, moments later, there was a rap on the glass of his front door.

"Coming!" called CJ. Then, galvanised into action, he quickly shut down his computer's browser, tucked the sheaf of papers he'd been working on out of sight, and got up. No matter that he now had reason to trust Mayson's honesty, he didn't want her stumbling upon his work. Files on people who did not exist, or whose histories were twisted differently from this world's reality, would be hard to explain away. True, he'd gone through the whole thing with Lois, but that had been necessary. Besides, he doubted Mayson would be similarly broadminded.

CJ jogged up the steps that led to the front door. He released the catch and pulled it open.

He tried to look surprised at finding Mayson Drake on the other side of the threshold. He didn't have to try too hard, either, because this wasn't a Mayson that he knew. For a moment, CJ thought she'd tried a different style of make-up, but then he realised that was because she hadn't bothered with any make-up at all. Her clothes and her hair were slightly unkempt, and dark, almost bruised, skin around her eyes suggested that she was running short of sleep.

"Mayson?" CJ said, as though there might actually be some doubt. "What are you doing here?"

"I…" Mayson trailed off as though she wasn't sure how to answer him. Either that or her resolve was failing her, and despite her earlier encouragement to her companion, she was having second thoughts about having come here in the first place.

Then someone else stepped out of the shadows and into his line of sight — someone unexpected, someone he had known was involved with Luthor but who, because she had no counterpart in the other world, CJ had overlooked in his investigations. That, he thought as he stared at her, had been a foolish oversight.

"Could we… May we come in?" asked Mayson.

CJ stepped backwards and pulled the door open wide so that they could pass. Mayson Drake and Rosemary Tierney crossed over the threshold and into his apartment.


The last of the credits had finished rolling and the television screen turned from black to snow. The fading music, replaced by the quiet hissing of white noise, jolted Lois out of a light stupor that bordered on sleep. Lingering drowsiness made her fingers clumsy as she fumbled with the remote control. She set the Ivory Tower tape to rewind, and LNN popped onto the television screen.

There was Robby Roberts again — didn't LNN *have* any other reporters?

And then it hit her. Just like that. Abruptly, with no warning.

Saxon had told her that he'd gone to LNN and to the Star, and neither media outlet had wanted to touch his story. That alone wasn't enough to cause undue alarm; after all, she hadn't thought the story worth her time either. But, now she thought about it, it wasn't just the Saxon piece…

Her mind raced, all lingering drowsiness banished in an instant.

The Allen trial, she thought. Roberts had filed a report on the steps outside the courthouse, but it hadn't made the evening news. At the time, she'd supposed LNN had found a better story to run with, but what if…

Excited, she jumped out of her seat and began to pace.

What if the story had been pulled because it wasn't the story Luthor wanted told. It certainly hadn't been the story Luthor had expected to be told. Dropping it from the schedule might have had nothing to do with its newsworthiness at all, or, if it did, it had been dropped because it *was* newsworthy, not because it wasn't.

And if Luthor was manipulating the news… If she knew which stories had been dropped, then she and CJ would know where to direct their investigative efforts.

But she was jumping ahead of herself. She needed more evidence. She needed to be *sure*.

She sat down again, grabbed her laptop, pressed the keys to connect to her ISP and cranked up her browser. Minutes later she was searching through the Star's website, looking through all the archived stories there.

There had been stories posted almost daily in the two weeks leading up to, then during, the Allen trial, all except for the last day. There was nothing whatsoever about the mistrial.

Lois found herself grinning wolfishly. She was on to something here. She knew it. She could feel it in her bones.

So, she knew about two stories — Allen and Saxon — that had been dropped. What else might there be?

Step one, she thought. Identify the most important news stories of the last few years. Well, that was easy enough; she'd covered most of them herself, for the Daily Planet, so all she needed to do was go through her files. Step two: match her stories with coverage in the LexCorp controlled media. That would be more time-consuming, but it would not be difficult to do. Thanks to the rapid growth of the Internet, all the stories from LNN and the Star, plus from more minor outlets, should be available on-line. A few hours spent with the computer and she'd have evidence to prove that her hunch was right.


While tonight's incarnation of Mayson Drake was at odds with her usual self, CJ decided that the contrasts in Mayson's demeanour were as nothing compared to her friend's. True, CJ had rarely, if ever, seen Tierney outside a courtroom — maybe at a couple of dinners — so he could hardly claim to know her well, but he had always perceived her as being confident, assertive and, in an odd way, even intimidating. The woman currently sitting on his sofa, shoulders hunched, head lowered, and hands clenched into fists, was a complete stranger. The coffee CJ had offered her on their arrival stood on the low table in front of her, untouched. CJ wasn't sure that she'd even noticed it was there.

He wondered what he was supposed to do now and he found himself glancing across at Mayson, who was seated next to Tierney, seeking her help or an explanation. He wasn't sure which.

Mayson opened her mouth soundlessly once or twice before she managed to squeeze any words out. "I'm sorry, Kent," she finally said. "Maybe we shouldn't have come." But, CJ noted, she made no move to leave. In fact, she picked up her own mug, took a sip from it, and stared at him over its rim.

Then Mayson glanced sideways towards Tierney. CJ followed her gaze and noticed that Tierney hadn't reacted to Mayson's words. CJ doubted that they had even registered.

"No, no. It's okay," said CJ absently. "But I still don't understand *why* you've come."

"Because we didn't know who else to turn to. You…"

Mayson stood up abruptly, paced two steps, turned around and paced two steps back. Then she sat down again, her back stiff with tension. She stared at CJ, and the only word he could find to describe the manner in which she did so was beseechingly. "I know we're not exactly what you'd call close, Kent. And I can't say that you've had my complete trust in the past. But you've made me think, these last couple of days. You and Rosemary, both. *She* says you're not one of Luthor's… people." The "and she would know" hovered, unspoken, between them. "So, unlikely as it may seem, I'm willing to take a chance that your anti- Luthor rhetoric is honest."

CJ wondered how much of his amusement showed, even as he struggled to keep his expression neutral. The phrase "damning with faint praise" skittered around the edges of his consciousness even as he listened to Mayson.

He didn't comment on her assessment of his character. Nor did he take offence. How could he, when he'd entertained similar doubts about her? Instead, he reflected on the irony of the situation. He and Mayson had distrusted each other too much to realise that they could have been allies.

Until now.

Knowing Luthor's reputation as he did, and how far his influence extended, he realised just how big a risk Mayson had taken, coming to him. He wasn't sure whether it was a measure of her new found confidence in his integrity that had driven her to him, or her desperation. Probably both, he guessed; certainly, taking her current mannerisms into account, there had to be a fair proportion of the latter in the mix. That she'd decided to take the risk at all spoke volumes about the strength of her friendship with Tierney.

Mayson, he realised, had stopped talking and was waiting for some kind of response.

"I understand that we've got a common… interest… in Luthor," he said pensively. "But I still don't see why you've come to me. And I don't understand what she's doing here, either." He gestured vaguely in Tierney's direction. "What, precisely, do you want from me?"

"I…" Mayson floundered. It seemed to CJ that Mayson didn't know what she wanted, almost as if she'd thought only as far as seeking him out and no further.

To his surprise, it was Tierney who answered his question, speaking for the first time since she'd arrived. "I need help," she said weakly, her voice rasping. "I went to Mayson, but she didn't know what to do, either. But she said…" Tierney's words trailed off into silence.

Mayson picked up the thread of thought Tierney had left hanging. "We need — Rosie needs — advice, at the very least."

Tierney tried again. "Maybe you can't do anything. I sure as hell can't see a way out of the mess I'm in, but… You got a mistrial for Allen, though goodness knows how you pulled *that* one off, and Mayson seems to think you're okay. And, to be frank, I'm desperate, and I'll try anything. I…"

To CJ's horror, he realised that Tierney had begun to cry. She was quiet about it, burying her head in her hands, but the way her shoulders quivered was telling.

CJ half stood and dug a handkerchief out of his trouser pocket. He reached over, gently pulled one of Tierney's hands just far enough away from her face so that he could put the handkerchief in her palm. Then, watching as she dabbed at her eyes, he sat down again and sighed. "I don't know what I can do, besides listening. But I'll help if I can."

Tierney looked up at him, hope warring with disbelief. She smiled a very faint, watery smile, and said so softly that he almost missed the words, "Thank you."

Even after expressing her willingness to talk, it took a while for CJ to persuade her to say anything that was useful. It soon became obvious that Tierney was not going to offer up information of her own volition, though whether this was because her current state of mind rendered her incapable of putting the necessary thoughts together or because a more deep- rooted reticence CJ wasn't sure.

Then again, maybe her reluctance to talk was understandable. He'd already said he didn't know if he could help, that maybe all he could do was listen.

If he wanted information, it looked as though he was going to have to work for it.

If he gave them something first, would that work in his favour? If he told them that he was already working on ways to lessen Luthor's hold over the city, would that give Tierney the push she needed to talk? He didn't know, but it was all he could think of to do. Did he dare to do so? It was a risk, to be sure, but no greater than the one Tierney and Mayson had taken in coming to see him.

CJ took a deep breath and said, "There is something you should know, before we start."

Something in the way he said the words attracted Tierney's attention in a way that nothing he had said previously had managed to do. It also served to calm her, or perhaps it simply numbed her sensibilities. Leastways, she was looking at him and, while her eyes were red and watery, the tears had ceased to flow. He wondered what it was about his words that had provoked such a reaction and decided that it must have been the deep, sombre tone he'd used. It gave weight to the words that his usual speaking voice might not have done. It was the tone he used on juries in particularly gruesome murder trials. Usually he used it in a calculated manner; this time he'd done so unwittingly. He was surprised it worked on Tierney, though. He would have thought that, familiar as she was with his courtroom manoeuvres, she would never have been impressed by it.

"What?" she asked, her serious tone going some way to match his. CJ found himself being reassured by that; he knew, whatever Tierney decided to do next, the decision would not be taken lightly. She would weigh her options carefully, thinking before committing herself.

"I… I am carrying out an investigation into Luthor's activities. I'm looking for evidence that will bring him down. If you can help me in that…" He let the unfinished thought drift between them. The implication was clear, however. The more Tierney could help him, the more inclined he would be to help her. Indeed, the more reason he would have to help her. He reinforced the message by adding, "You help me and I'll help you."

He wondered whether he should have mentioned that he was not working alone. The thought of a single person trying to wage war on Luthor's empire was ridiculous, even laughable. Maybe showing that he had help would make his actions seem more plausible, more convincing. Not, he supposed, that two people were much better than one. The problem was that he still wasn't entirely confident of Tierney's trustworthiness, and, while he was prepared to risk himself, he was not prepared to put Lois in the firing line. If word got back to Luthor about what they were doing, he didn't want her placed in any unnecessary danger.

Then he almost smiled at his protectiveness. He was being absurd, he thought. He'd seen enough of Lois — both Loises, in fact — to know that danger was seldom, if ever, a serious consideration for her. She'd probably *laugh* at his concern, he thought wryly.

Still… In case word did get back to Luthor… At least at this early stage, it was only sensible to give out as little information as possible.

Tierney stared at him for long seconds, then, finally committed, she nodded once and said, "Okay. Where do you want me to begin?"

CJ ran his fingers backwards through his hair as he marshalled his thoughts.

This wasn't like a trial. He hadn't had time to prepare; he hadn't had time to map out his questions and to plan for all contingencies. He felt out of his element, as though he was floundering in uncharted waters.

Then again, at least he wasn't in Tierney's position of having been cast into the role of witness, or even defendant.

He wished Lois was here to help him. She probably did stuff like this every day.

Thinking about Lois gave him confidence. Odd, he thought, how he could draw strength simply from the thought of her.

He took a deep breath then began to talk.



Wanting to put Tierney at her ease, CJ started by asking easy questions, ones to which, thanks to Lois's article, he already knew the answers. That his chosen course of action allowed him time to feel his way into the conversation and assess Tierney's sincerity and willingness to provide information were added bonuses. Mayson listened in silence as, in response to his gentle probing, Tierney confessed to her part in the jury- rigging of the Allen trial.

Then CJ ventured into slightly less familiar territory and asked whether Luthor's people had corrupted juries before — whether that particular technique was employed often.

"Not often, no," Tierney said, shaking her head briefly. "At least, I don't think so. It's complicated and risky, and if it was used too often, people would notice. Mind you, you noticed anyway, didn't you?" Without waiting for an answer, she continued. "It's only used occasionally, and only for special clients. You know, favoured individuals. The ones Luthor values. And against particularly troublesome judges and prosecutors." CJ thought he caught a glimpse of the faintest hint of a wry smile as she added, "You know, one's like Diggs and like you," before her features locked back into an immobile and desolate expression.

CJ raised his eyebrows, filing away the backhanded compliment. Luthor thought he was troublesome, did he? He found that knowledge very satisfying. Then, pushing the personal matter aside, he concentrated on the rest of Tierney's statement. "So Luthor thinks Allen is important?"

"Sure." Tierney said the word as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

CJ had known, or had suspected very strongly, which was almost the same thing where Luthor was concerned, that Allen was one of Luthor's lieutenants, but he had had no way of knowing what his precise role within Luthor's empire was. Allen held a high rank within the corporation — that much was obvious — but his official job title, Senior Vice President (Procurement and Expenditure) was not particularly informative. Bearing that in mind, CJ's next questions were natural. "Why? What does Allen do for Luthor that's so special?"

To his surprise, CJ saw that Tierney had to think about that, and he was left with the impression that, like himself, she had accepted the fact of Allen's involvement with Luthor's criminal activities without understanding the whys and wherefores attached to it. "It's silly," she said finally. "It's not just, or even mainly, because of anything Allen does, I don't think. It's because he's the brother of one of Luthor's mistresses. Actually, Allen was lucky the case came to trial when it did because when she falls out of favour so will he, and Luthor never keeps his mistresses for long. It's not as simple as Allen having a key role in the organisation, although I gather he *does* work for Luthor."

There was bitterness in Tierney's voice, and it crossed CJ's mind to consider whether Tierney had, herself, been one of Luthor's women, or whether her reaction stemmed from a more general disapproval of his brand of philandering behaviour. However, Tierney's next comments called both suppositions into doubt.

"It's the strangest thing, though," she said, veering off at a tangent. "Luthor's women all remain loyal to him for months — sometimes years — after he's thrown them aside. He treats them like trash, but it just makes them even more determined to prove themselves to him."

CJ nodded, realising the truth of that statement. Nowhere in any of his files had the matter been articulated quite so clearly as Tierney had just managed to do, but the evidence was nonetheless there. He recognised the pattern of behaviour Tierney was describing: two very obvious examples — Gretchen Kelly and Ariana Carlin — from the other world came to mind immediately.

"And you know this because…?" he asked.

Tierney shrugged. "Observation," she said. "Nothing more than that." Then, apparently deciding that more explanation might be in order, she added, "One of our senior partners dated him for a while, a few years ago. It was all over the tabloids at the time." At CJ's look of surprise, she said, "You didn't know? Barbara Benton went out with Luthor for about six months. His affair with her lasted longer than most, and some gossip columnists even hinted that they might get married." Somewhat unnecessarily, she added, "They didn't though."

"Am I to gather from what you just said that Benton's still doing whatever he wants," inquired CJ, "even though they're not together any more?"

Tierney nodded. "She'd go back to him in a heartbeat, if he'd have her."

CJ marvelled for a moment at Luthor's power over women then backtracked, returning to Allen. "What kind of stuff is Allen involved in? For Luthor, I mean."

Tierney indicated that she wasn't sure but that she'd heard rumours about drugs and money laundering, protection rackets and take-overs. CJ could see that he wasn't going to get anything definite about Allen from Tierney, but he made a mental note to investigate him further when he had the opportunity.

Then, in response to CJ's quiet interrogation and Mayson's encouragement, Tierney spoke of other trials gone awry, some in which she'd been involved, and others about which she'd heard rumours. CJ recognised some of them because he had been an unwitting actor in them. Most he had realised had been tampered with in some way, but some came as a surprise, even to him. Guilty parties had been acquitted and innocents had been convicted.

CJ, realising that his brain couldn't hold the flood of information it was receiving, fetched a bright yellow legal pad and a pen, and frantically began to scribble down names. He frowned as the full extent to which Metropolis's legal system had become corrupted emerged. This was worse than he had ever imagined, and what he had imagined had been bad enough. People at all levels from janitors up to judges were implicated. It would take months — possibly years — to put it right.

Mayson, CJ couldn't help but notice, was looking shell-shocked at what they were hearing. From her expression, CJ realised that most of what Tierney was telling them was new to her, and he felt compelled to say, "You two hadn't discussed any of this before?"

"No. I had no idea. I mean, we…" Mayson shook her head, aborting the thought. "Rosie turned up on my doorstep last night. I admit I was surprised because last time we talked…"

"We argued," interjected Tierney. CJ kept his face carefully neutral; he'd known about their disagreement already, but there was no way he was going to let on that he'd overheard that particular conversation. "I don't think Mayson expected to hear from me again. And it took a while for me to convince her that I was on the level."

Mayson chewed on her lower lip, looking slightly embarrassed, presumably at having doubted her friend. "Once she *did* convince me, we spent hours discussing what she could do to… you know… try to dig herself out of the hole she's in," Mayson said. "We never got into the details of what she actually knew."


Monday 5 May, 1997

Lois, fuelled by a potent mix of adrenaline and caffeine, had worked steadily as the clock's hands nudged towards, then past, midnight. The material she'd put together was good, no doubt about it.

She eyed the telephone, wondering whether it would be inappropriate to call CJ at three a.m.. True, it was an antisocial hour, but she didn't think that CJ would want to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to hear her news. Certainly, she didn't want to have to wait until morning to tell him. Then, realising that it already was morning, she amended the thought; she didn't want to wait until daylight.

Just on the basis of the articles she'd written, she'd managed to identify five stories that had not made it into other papers. What, she wondered, would she uncover if she looked into the articles written by other Planet reporters?

True, three of the stories she'd identified had been tagged with the ever-desirable label of "exclusive", so no comparable pieces should have appeared on the same date as her originals. But exclusives seldom stayed that way for long; rival papers frequently picked up a story after its initial appearance, running follow-ups and op ed pieces that built upon material presented in the original article.

That had happened in none of the examples she'd identified, the first of which related to the corruption of police officers in the Metro South precinct. The second dealt with organised prostitution in Suicide Slum, the third with vote rigging in the Mayoral elections, and the fourth with the involvement of baggage handlers at Metropolis Airport in a drugs running operation.

It was the fifth, and final, case that intrigued her most, however.

She'd mentioned Toni Taylor to CJ on the first evening they'd spent together, right here in her living room, in fact. She'd remembered, and had told him, that Taylor had been killed, but time had blunted her memory, and only as she'd reread her original article, along with the draft of another that the Planet's lawyers had pulled before it could reach print, had she recalled more specific details.

Toni Taylor had been seen in the company of Lex Luthor in the weeks running up to her take-over of the family "business", and then during the period leading up to her death. As ever, the tabloids had taken a great interest in Luthor's putative love life. Although he'd consistently denied being intimately involved with Taylor, paparazzi, furnished with long lenses, had managed to snatch photos of the couple sunbathing together on Luthor's yacht on more than one occasion.

When questioned about their relationship, Luthor had moved from "No comment" to "We were discussing business. I have an interest in the real estate of the West River district. Ms Taylor owns some property there, which I would like to acquire."

Maybe there hadn't been any romantic connection between Luthor and Taylor, although Lois doubted that was actually the case — she didn't think that Luthor knew the meaning of the word platonic, let alone how to apply it in practice — but the fact remained that they had known each other. Taylor had had something Luthor wanted, and she'd wound up dead.

More than that, though, Lois had wondered at the time whether there had been a heavy-weight bankrolling Toni Taylor's coup. How else had she managed to get brother Johnny's business associates to switch their allegiance to her? Certainly, it hadn't been on account of her experience, because at that time she hadn't had any. No matter what Toni Taylor had thought of Johnny's activities, they had been profitable — old-fashioned but effective. Why would anyone give up on a proven money- spinner to take a risk on someone as unknown as Toni Taylor?

Taylor must have got her guns and her ideas about how the rackets should be run from somewhere, and Lois was sure that it wasn't from the straight-laced Metropolis School of Business, where Toni Taylor had been an MBA student. And they certainly hadn't come from anyone within her immediate family.

But, and Lois knew she was reaching here, they *might* have come from Luthor. Certainly, corporate crime seemed very Luthoresque. And that was the story the Planet's lawyers had pulled.

Lois made a mental note to investigate the lawyers' activities. Were *they* in Luthor's pocket, too, or was their cowardice actually the real thing?

In the article the lawyers had scuppered, Lois had demanded that the police should consider motives for the killing that went beyond revenge for the ousting of her brother, the explanation they had favoured. Lois's take, which had been at odds with that adopted by the police, had been that someone — Luthor? — from outside the organisation had taken Toni Taylor out.

Certainly, once Taylor had been killed, nobody from the original Metro Gang had come forward to take her place. That there had been no heir-apparent to the Taylor crime empire certainly cast doubt on the idea that Toni Taylor had been killed to aide the succession.

No, the only person to benefit from her demise had been Luthor, who'd bought her real estate holdings from the executor's of her will at rock-bottom prices, and who had subsequently, through LexConstruction, started work on the waterfront development.

Lois had written extensively about the decimation of the West River community, but, as with her coverage of Taylor's death, there had been no matching coverage in the other papers.

Lois had told CJ that he could scratch Taylor's name off his list of suspects, but now she thought that she'd been premature to do so. True, the dead didn't make good witnesses, but what if Taylor hadn't just been one of Luthor's accomplices?

What if she had been a victim?

Lois eyed the phone again, then picked up the handset and began to dial.


CJ eyed the phone, wondering whether it would be inappropriate to call Lois at three in the morning. True, it was an anti- social hour, but he didn't think that Lois would want to wait to hear about Tierney.

Although he and Mayson had finally persuaded Tierney to go to bed, they had stayed up a while longer, thrashing the implications of what she'd told them around. Finally, Mayson had also retreated into CJ's bedroom, leaving him alone in the living room. Yet again he went through the things he'd learned this evening.

First, everyone in Tierney's company, from senior partners down to typists, was suspect. Only a couple of recently appointed interns appeared to be above suspicion, but Tierney had made it obvious that they would be indoctrinated in the company's culture if they stuck around for more than a couple of months.

Second, he had a long list of miscarriages of justice that needed to be explored. As frustrating as the incorrect not- guilty verdicts were, he doubted he could do much about them, because of the state's double- jeopardy laws. The unfair guilty verdicts, however… Their recipients could take those to appeal and maybe a few of them would be overturned.

Third, he had another long list, this time of people within the justice system, who were on the take. CJ shook his head at that. As jaded as he'd become, even he found some of the names surprising.

Fourth, and finally, he had a list of Benton, Miller, Nowak and Associates' clients, who, in light of the company's activities, were also under suspicion.

The question was, what should he do next with all the leads that had suddenly, and fortuitously, fallen into his lap?

What CJ really wanted was another perspective on everything, one that he believed Lois could give him because she looked at the world differently to him. He looked at it with an eye for legal detail; she, he'd begun to understand, looked at the broader picture. She saw the whole wood, when sometimes he was still lost in the trees.

He could hear the slow and even breathing of both his guests, and he knew that they were both asleep. It would be safe for him to phone.

He picked up the handset and dialled… and got the busy signal.

CJ frowned. What on earth could Lois be doing at 3 a.m.? Then he shrugged the nebulous feeling of disquiet away. Why was he fretting over such a tiny thing? Hadn't he, just minutes ago, been worrying about the possibility of waking her up? At least he hadn't needed to worry about that, because she clearly was up already… or was that still?

But who, he wondered, could she possibly be calling at three a.m. in the morning?


Lois put the handset down. She'd wondered whether CJ would be put out at being woken up, but it hadn't occurred to her that the line would be busy.

True, she suspected that, thanks to his powers, he might need less sleep than other people, but who could he be talking to at three in the morning? Maybe he was on the computer, she thought. Yeah, that made more sense.

Seeing that he was already awake, she decided that she might as well go over to his place. She threw her notes into her satchel, picked up her laptop, and headed out to her Jeep.

Her stomach rumbled. Had she actually had supper? she wondered. Then she realised that she hadn't. She'd eaten some ice-cream, but that didn't really count.

She knew of an all-night takeaway that wouldn't take her too far out of her way, and she decided to pick up a couple of pizzas en route.


This time, when CJ heard footsteps outside his apartment, he recognised Lois immediately. He grinned, delighted at her unexpected arrival.

His nose twitched. Was that *pizza* he smelled? Pizza with extra pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers and chillies? That woman, he thought, was amazing. She thought of everything, anticipating his needs even before he, himself, recognised them. He suddenly became aware that it had been hours since he'd eaten, and his stomach was aching to be filled.

He lowered his glasses and concentrated. Yes, there was Lois, laden down with her satchel, her laptop and not one, but two, pizza cartons.

For the second time that night, he jogged up to the front door and pulled it open.

Lois, caught in the act of juggling her various burdens so that she could knock, looked up at him. "How did you know I was out here?"

"I… uh… heard you coming," he said, unaccountably embarrassed.

"Oh, of course," said Lois, brushing the comment aside as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. CJ marvelled at the way Lois appeared to be more blas, about his powers than he, himself, was. "Here. Take these." She thrust the pizza boxes into his arms.

"Lois," he said, beginning to salivate, articulating his earlier thought. "You are incredible."

"Oh, I know," she said, feigning nonchalance, but CJ could tell that she'd taken his comment as it was meant, as a compliment, and she was pleased by it.

Together they walked into the apartment, CJ pausing just long enough to close the door behind them.

They put everything down on the dining table. Then, as CJ fussed around, finding a roll of kitchen towels and a couple of cans of drink from the fridge, Lois opened the first box, sat down and made herself comfortable.

As she reached to take a slice, she said, "I've got a lot to tell you."

CJ glanced at her as he, too, sat down. He could see the light of excitement in her eyes. He smiled, popped his can open, took a swig, then said, "And I've got stuff to tell you, too."

A new voice, heavy with sleep, joined the conversation. "Kent? What's going on? I thought I heard voices?"

"Yes, CJ, what *is* going on?"

Lois's light-hearted enthusiasm had given way to something more wary — as well it might, CJ thought. Mayson, tousle-haired and clad only in a borrowed T-shirt, was standing in the archway that led through to his bedroom, and Lois was eyeing the other woman with suspicion.

Mayson, now that she was beginning to wake up, was staring back at Lois with something like incredulity on her face. "CJ? What's going on here? I thought you two hated each other!"

"Um," said CJ.

Lois turned to face him. Flatly she said, "What is she doing here?"

"That's part of what I had to tell you," said CJ.

Mayson still seemed to be trying to reconcile the arrival of Lois in CJ's apartment with what she knew about their relationship. Her eyes narrowed shrewdly, then she said with a leap of logic that was almost worthy of Lois, herself, "You're working together, aren't you." It wasn't a question. "On this Luthor thing, I mean. Hey, is that pizza? I'm starving!"

Oddly, it was Mayson's willingness to eat Lois's food that diffused the awkward situation.

By the time they'd finished their first slices, Lois had been made aware of Tierney's, still- sleeping, presence in the next room, and the reason for Mayson's visit. By the time they'd eaten their second slices, Lois had outlined her suspicions about LexCorp's manipulation of the media. As they started on their third slices, they moved on to speculation, and tentatively began to plan out future courses of action.

By mutual, but unspoken, agreement, however, they concentrated on Tierney's predicament, Mayson's presence inhibiting any wider discussion. CJ had to curb his impatience and wait to find out what had brought Lois over in the middle of the night, just as Lois had to curb hers and wait to tell him.

"What we need," said Lois, with the dispassion of a person not directly acquainted with the subject, "is for Tierney to lead us to bigger fish. Yes, what's she's done is terrible, but it seems to me that who we want is that senior partner of hers. What was her name, again?"

"Barbara Benton," said Mayson.

"Yeah, Barbara Benton," agreed Lois. "Do you think Tierney'd help us with that?"

"Probably," said Mayson. "What, exactly, do you have in mind?"

Lois's calculating expression did nothing whatsoever to reassure CJ; the last time he'd seen that look had been when she'd hacked into the juror's bank accounts. He therefore took little comfort from her next words. "I have an idea, but I'd like to work on it a little before I tell you guys—" which CJ took to actually mean Mayson "—what it is."


The grey pre-dawn light was beginning to nudge its way through the slats in the kitchen blinds as Mayson said, "We were at Law School together. That's where we met. There were three types of law students. Ones who liked the subject for its own sake, the idealists who were in law to make a difference, and the ones who were in it to make money."

"Which were you?" asked Lois without heat. Over the last couple of hours, their conversation had become relaxed, almost cozy.

"The second, I guess. Though a little money'd be nice, too, you know?" She glanced at CJ. "No prizes for guessing which group you'd have belonged to."

CJ smiled at Mayson's comment, which he took to be a compliment.

"Rosie… She wanted money. Not that you can fault her for that. Not really." Mayson sighed softly. "She's never told me much about her background beyond the fact that there was never any spare cash when she was growing up. And I know Rosie depended on scholarships, loans and part-time jobs to get through school. She got where she is today through determination, hard work and sheer pigheadedness, and I admire her for that."

Lois opened her mouth to speak. Mayson anticipated her, however, and said earnestly, "I know she's made some bad choices, but she's not a bad person."

"If she's such a good person," said Lois, unable to stop herself, "how did she get involved with Luthor in the first place?"

CJ had been wondering about that, too, and he was glad that Lois asked, even if the tone she'd adopted was a little antagonistic. He, himself, had been too polite or inhibited to do so.

"You'd have to ask her that," replied Mayson stiffly. "But, from what little I can gather, it was the result of a mixture of ambition, naivet,, and good, old-fashioned blackmail."


"Yeah. Once she'd crossed the line that first time, her company had something on her to make sure she'd do it again and again. And each time she did…"

"She made the situation that much worse," finished CJ, understanding much.

There was a lengthy silence. Then Mayson said, "She's going to get struck off, isn't she?"

CJ sighed. "I would imagine so. Yes."

Mayson nodded. "I knew that really. I just needed someone else to say it. Rosie knows, too. I think that's one reason why it took her so long to come forward. It's hard to willingly lose everything you've worked so hard to achieve." She chewed her lower lip, then said, "I guess… the situation finally got to be so intolerable to her that losing everything seemed like a good choice to make."

CJ could understand that. He thought about how he'd felt at the bottom of his pit of depression, of how he'd wanted nothing more than to put distance between himself and work. Of how tempted he was to simply run and never come back.

Mayson said, "For her, now, it's simply a case of seeing how many people she can take with her. That's her path to redemption, do you see?"


Sometime after six, they heard noises from the bedroom that indicated Tierney was awake at last.

No matter what Tierney ended up doing in the long-term, she and Mayson still had to be at work that morning, so, half an hour later, dressed and gushing with gratitude that CJ didn't feel he'd yet earned, they left the apartment. CJ's promise that he'd be in touch with them soon floated after them.

As soon as he'd closed the door behind them, Lois said with satisfaction, "Good. Now they're gone, we can talk properly."

CJ inclined his head in a gesture of agreement. "So talk," he said.

The problem was, so much had happened over the last twenty-four hours that Lois barely knew where to begin. In fact, she was having problems keeping everything straight in her own mind. "Can you pass me some paper?" she asked.

CJ tore off the top few pages of the legal pad he'd been using the night before and, with a now blank sheet on top, he handed it over to Lois, along with a pen. Then he sat down opposite her.

He watched, fascinated, as she began jotting random names and ideas down, scattered all over the page, then drew lines between them, ending up with an untidy web of interconnected names and ideas. It was a far cry from his neater habit of using linear lists.

Finally, she said, "Okay, let's recap." Then, without waiting for any acknowledgement, she continued. "Starting with what I was up to last night."

"You said you'd been looking into manipulation of the media."

"Uh, huh," grunted Lois by way of agreement. "I've got a number of leads to pursue there, but the most interesting one relates to Toni Taylor."

"Taylor…" CJ frowned. For a woman he hadn't heard of until last week, she certainly seemed to be turning up a lot in conversations lately.

"Yeah. I think that I was wrong to say we didn't need to investigate her." Lois quickly explained her reasoning and CJ found himself nodding. "The question, though," she said finally, "is where to begin, after all this time."

"I think," said CJ thoughtfully, "that I can maybe help there. That woman… The one I rescued the other day?"

"Tessa Michigan, yes. What about her?"

"She mentioned that she used to work for Toni Taylor."

Lois's eyebrows rose. "Really?"

"It's a longshot, but she seemed to like her. Could be a place to start, anyway. And she said that she's working at some place called Bibbo's now, so she shouldn't be too difficult to find."

"Great!" said Lois with a fleeting smile. "Now, moving on to Tierney. We know she's working for Luthor, but there's no direct link between the two. Everything appears to be done through the intermediary of her firm, so we can't get him just through her." She glanced up, waited for CJ to nod, then returned to her notes. "But we know that there was — and probably still is — a direct link between Benton and Luthor. Right?"

"Right," agreed CJ. "So what we need," he said, picking up and running with the idea, "is to find evidence that links Benton to Luthor."

"Exactly. The question is how."

"Easy," said CJ. "With a statement from Tierney, we go to the police, get a warrant to search—"

"Too risky," interrupted Lois.


She looked at him again, and again there was that glint in her eyes that made him feel decidedly uneasy. "I said that's too risky." Then, reacting to his open-mouthed disbelief, she said, "Oh, I know we'll have to go through all the proper channels eventually. I'm just saying that it's time consuming to do that, and it involves too many people. The risk of Luthor getting wind of what we're up to, and of someone cleaning house before the police get there — always assuming that the police are straight — is too great. I want to take a look around before that happens."

Warily, he asked, "So what *do* you have in mind?"

"Tell me, CJ," she said sweetly, "what would you say to a spot of breaking and entering?"



"For a moment there, I thought you said something about breaking and entering," said CJ. "I must have heard you wrong."

"No, you didn't," said Lois, grinning mischievously and highly entertained by his reaction to her suggestion. "Besides, how could you not hear me? You've got the best ears in the world, remember?"

CJ either chose to ignore her teasing or he failed to notice it altogether; Lois wasn't quite sure which. "Tell me you weren't being serious," he begged. "Please tell me that you aren't honestly considering—"

"Of course I am, CJ," she said lightly, and she laughed again, delighted to have managed to shock him so profoundly.

"It's *not* funny!" CJ's emphatic response finally registered, and Lois realised that, while she might find her suggestion amusing, CJ was about as far from being amused as it was possible to be. In fact, if she had to choose a word to describe him, it would have to have been "appalled". "How can you even talk about committing a crime so… so *cavalierly*!" he demanded, his arms akimbo.

"I'm not being cavalier," replied Lois, a hint of steel colouring her words. "I'm being practical!"

"'Practical?!' You're talking about wanton disregard for the rule of law!" Lois noticed the way CJ's voice rose in line with his indignation. He got to his feet. "Lois, we have rules for a reason; without law we have anarchy! How can you even think about—" He was almost shouting now.

Lois could feel her anger rise, like bile in her throat, to match his, and she, too, stood up. She crossed her arms, scowled, and snapped, "Get off your moral high-horse right know, CJ Kent! We've had this argument once before. I won it then, and I'll be damned if I'm going to lose it on the rematch!"

"*When* have we ever discussed breaking and entering?" he demanded.

"You think this is only about breaking and entering? No, this is about your black-and- white view of the world!"

"Just because I try to live my life according to a set of ideals that—"

Lois was surprised to notice that the worst of her ire had begun to dissipate, leaving behind it a desperate earnestness. Usually when she disagreed with somebody, she had enough confidence — or was it callousness? — in herself to not care about the fact that her opponent's opinions conflicted with hers. All that mattered was that she get her own way.

This time was different. She wanted desperately to reach an understanding with CJ, even if they couldn't actually agree with one another. That realisation pushed her towards a more conciliatory stance.

Still, her desire for conciliation didn't mean that she was going to give in. "Ideals are all very well, CJ, but they don't always result in justice. You, of all people, should have learned that by now. Remember Allen? Remember the jury? Can't you see that getting the mistrial was the *just* thing to do, even if it did compromise those precious ideals of yours?"

CJ opened his mouth, but no words came out. Then he sat down heavily, as though his legs could no longer support his weight. He planted his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. To Lois, he looked completely deflated. Defeated.

She had reduced him to this, and instead of feeling victorious at having vanquished him, she felt a kind of hollow nausea clawing at her stomach. She'd taken the values he lived by, ripped them to shreds, and thrown them back in his face, more or less telling him that they were worthless.

That had to hurt, she thought miserably. Winning an argument — any argument — could never be worth the pain she'd just inflicted on him.

And the worst of it was that the ideals that he tried to live by were ones she could sympathise with. In fact, they were ideals she *also* wanted to live by. They weren't unreasonable, just impractical in a city where right and wrong had been twisted into unrecognisable shapes by Lex Luthor.

They were ideals worth fighting for, she thought, even if they had to get their hands a little dirty in the process, and that, in turn, brought her back to the start of the argument — the same argument that she had just won.

If she was so sure that she was in the right, then why did it feel so horribly wrong?

With a jolt she saw that it was because she hated being in conflict with CJ. She cared too much about him to want to raise her voice and hurl her opinions at him. She wanted to find more peaceful ways to resolve their differences. She'd never felt that way with anyone else and she wondered precisely what it meant.

Lois tentatively took the few steps required to bring her alongside his chair. Then she laid her right hand lightly on his hunched back. He flinched at her touch as if it burned. "CJ?" she asked quietly, uncertainly. "Are you okay?"

He must have found something reassuring in either the question or the tone of her voice, because he uncurled and twisted his head in her direction. He still wasn't looking at her face, though. Rather, his eyes seemed to have settled somewhere around her navel.

Lois pulled out the chair next to his and perched on its edge. Her hand drifted from his back to his upper arm. "CJ?" she said again.

"I… I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to shout at you."

"That's okay. I didn't mean to shout at you, either. Well, actually I did, but that's only because that's what I usually do when I get upset or when I want to win an argument."

"And now?"

"I still think I'm right." Great, she thought sarcastically. Those weren't quite the words she'd needed to make her peace, were they? However, to her surprise, her admission provoked a dismal chuckle from somewhere deep within his throat. At least he'd found some humour, rather than anger, in them. "I am genuinely sorry that I upset you, though," she added. Yes, she thought. That was better, closer to what she wanted to say.

He nodded fractionally, acknowledging her apology. Then softly, almost brokenly, he said, "It's not that I think you're wrong. Not exactly."

"But you wish that I was. And in the kind of world we both want, I would be."

"Yes!" Now she had his full attention. His stare, as he turned to look straight into her eyes, was intense as he grabbed on to her understanding of the situation. "That's exactly it!" He took a deep breath and then continued in a rush, almost as if he was unburdening himself of some terrible, dark secret. "After we had out last… discussion about my…"

"Moral superiority?" suggested Lois quietly, the earlier teasing note edging back into her voice.

He nodded again. "Well, after that, I spent a lot of time thinking about what you'd said, and I realised that most of it made sense. But, the question I was left with — the question I couldn't answer — was how far can you push the envelope before you cross the line of acceptable behaviour?"

"The envelope?" frowned Lois. "What are you talking about?"

"I could live with the fact that you'd hacked in to the computers to get the information we needed, but I couldn't kill Luthor."

"What? You actually thought about killing—" Lois was shocked. In fact, she suspected that her reaction was twin to the one CJ had displayed at her suggestion about breaking and entering. "CJ! You couldn't!"

"No. Of course I couldn't. But, at the same time, it would be so easy for me. I mean, I have these amazing powers, and…" He sighed. "I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't tempted. So, anyway, I spent a long time thinking about where the line lay between what I was prepared to do and what I wasn't. How far I would go. What activities were so bad that I couldn't go through with them?"

"And what did you decide?"

"I didn't. I kind of… shelved the issue. And that probably accounts for my behaviour just now."

Lois thought about that for a moment, then said tentatively, "So, what you're saying is that hacking is okay, but snooping around someone else's office would take you across that line of yours?"

CJ shook his head. "No. I think what I'm saying is that you touched a nerve, that I know now more or less where that line *is*. I'm just not sure which side of it breaking and entering falls on."

"Are you saying that you don't want to get involved?"

CJ sighed. "Whether I like it or not, I *am* involved, now that you've told me what you've got in mind. I'm just not sure that I want to have any part in it. I guess I'll have to think about that one."

Lois patted his arm lightly. "I think I can live with that. Meanwhile, I want to tell you what I was up to last night, and then there's someone I'd like you to meet."


When Lois, so soon after suggesting that they break into Barbara Benton's office, said that she wanted him to meet someone, CJ had supposed that she'd had in mind a source or a consultant cat burglar. It hadn't occurred to him that she might want him to meet Perry White, editor- in-chief of the Daily Planet, and Lois's immediate boss.

Perry, she told him, was one of the good guys, anti-Luthor to the bone and completely trustworthy. More importantly, he had power over the allocation of assignments at the paper, and, if Lois was going to be a full partner in CJ's efforts to bring down Luthor, she would need to have her employer on their side. She would need him to give her permission to pursue stories complementary to their investigative activities. As she and CJ had gone, in the space of just a couple of days, from having no leads worth mentioning to having too many to keep track of, she hoped it would be easy enough to win Perry over. In fact, if she could present a strong enough case, maybe he'd even allocate someone to help them.

For some reason, Lois seemed to think that CJ's presence would be helpful. He wasn't quite so sure.

Although he was a regular reader, CJ's history with the Daily Planet was not a particularly happy one. Four years ago, he'd written a stiff letter in response to some particularly libellous comments that had found their way into print; he would have been well within his rights to sue. He had long since forgiven Lois for writing the article, of course, but the memory of that particularly public mauling was still surprisingly raw. It was, therefore, with a certain amount of trepidation that CJ accompanied her to her place of work.


CJ had known that Lois was good at her job, but he hadn't fully appreciated the implications of that. He hadn't expected the man on the coffee stall outside the Daily Planet building to greet her with almost an ingratiating politeness that Lois accepted as her due. Nor had he ever seen someone behind a confectionery concession, like the one in the Planet's lobby, go quite that extra mile to make one of his customers happy. The people waiting for the elevator stood back to allow her to pass ahead of them into the car, and the hubbub in the news room stilled for thirty seconds when she arrived.

Lois Lane was, in short, a star.

CJ tried to take everything in as he trailed after her, the tail to her comet.

The news room, he saw, was split into two levels. It seemed a rather impractical arrangement to him, with the lift on the upper level, and a ramp leading down to a sunken pit. Each of the desks there was half-hidden behind a screen and had its own computer. He wondered vaguely which, if any, was Lois's.

He noticed a small group of people — reporters, he assumed — clustered around a counter on the upper level, and when one of them moved away, he realised that they had been gathered around a pair of elderly coffee machines.

Most of all, however, he was struck by the noise, a chaotic chorus of overlapping conversations, underlain by the tapping of nibble fingers dancing across keyboards and the clatter of printers off in one corner.

CJ's attention was distracted by Lois calling, "Jimmy!" across the news room at a colleague. "Is Perry in?"

"Uh, huh," answered Jimmy, waving a stack of printout at her in greeting. "Jack's with him. Great piece on the fish, by the way. Perry's ecstatic."


Then they were outside an office. Lois knocked and, without waiting for a reply, she opened the door and strode confidently inside. CJ caught the door as it began to swing closed behind her, and he found himself holding on to it, hovering on the threshold, unsure whether he should follow her or wait to be invited in.

There were two people inside. One was middle- aged. He was sitting behind a desk and haranguing a second, younger, man, who was standing up and looking a little bored and a lot put- upon.

"—and I don't want any of that diet stuff, either," the older man was saying in a noticeable southern accent. So that, CJ thought, was the famous Perry White. "You remember that, y'hear, Jack?"

The young man — Jack — nonchalantly chewed on some gum and replied, "Sure, Chief. Frosted doughnut and real Coke, complete with caffeine and sugar. Got it." His accent placed him as a Metropolitan, born and bred. He'd probably never strayed beyond the city limits.

"You'd better," Perry warned him. Then he acknowledged Lois's arrival. "Well, well, if it isn't the fish woman, in the flesh."

"Hi, Perry," she said, with a smile. "Jimmy said you were pleased with the piece."

"Sure, honey. I'm just wondering what you've got in mind for an encore."

"Well…" She glanced back at CJ and beckoned him towards her. "That's what I — *we* — wanted to talk to you about."

CJ wondered how often Perry White was struck dumb. From the smirk on Lois's face, he suspected it didn't happen a lot. Perry's mouth flapped open once or twice.

"Hey," said Jack, "aren't you…?" He pointed at CJ.

"Aren't I what?" asked CJ. He looked at Jack, at the pierced ear, the frayed clothes and the intelligent eyes, and he knew that while this young man dressed and acted like a street punk, he was nobody's fool. Then he remembered that Lois had said that someone called Jack had done the actual hacking into the jurors' bank accounts. Nobody's fool, indeed, he thought.

"That lawyer guy. Kent," said Jack, popping his gum.

"Yeah. Assistant District Attorney CJ Kent." CJ held out his hand. Jack didn't take it. Instead he inclined his head, looked CJ up and down, chewed some more and then looked away, his judgement temporarily suspended.

Perry appeared to have recovered from his initial shock. "Great shades of Elvis!" he exclaimed. CJ had never realised that people really said things like that. "How many miracles can this city take in one week? I mean, we've had a flying man, almost-justice in the Allen trial, and now you two come in here talking to each other as pleasantly as you please?"

"Uh, actually, Perry, that's what I wanted to see you about. CJ and I have been doing more than just *talking* together."

"Really," said Jack, managing to imbue the two syllables with speculation and innuendo, and displaying far too much interest in any extra- curricular activities that he might be engaged in for CJ's taste. Then he realised that Jack probably didn't care two cents about him; probably all that speculation was for Lois's benefit. "You and the lawyer have been out playing tonsil hockey, eh, Lois?"

"That's not what I meant," snapped Lois. "I was referring—"

"You mean, you're not playing tonsil—"

"Jack!" The name was fired at its owner from two directions simultaneously, as both Perry and Lois tried to make him shut up.

Their efforts didn't appear to have any noticeable effect because Jack continued, "You know, you're going a spectacular shade of red for someone who isn't up to anything, and your pal here…" Jack waggled his eyebrows.

CJ knew that he was blushing without Jack needing to point it out — he could feel his neck, cheeks and ears burning with embarrassment — and he was relieved when Jack didn't complete the sentence. With a huge effort, he managed to squeeze a question out of his suddenly constricted throat. "Is he always like this, Lois?" he asked.

"Pretty much, yeah," she admitted resignedly.

"Lois, honey," said Perry, "perhaps if you just told us what you and Kent here have been doing together…?"

Jack spluttered with barely controllable laughter. "Just what I was trying to find out, Chief!"

"Jack… What are you still doing here? Why aren't you getting me my doughnut?"



Jack got.

Perry glared at his departing back and the door that slammed shut behind him, then huffed. "Lois, let me rephrase that. Just tell me, what the *heck* is CJ Kent doing in my office?"


It took a lot of explaining, convincing and wheedling, but three-quarters of an hour later, Lois, with CJ and her task- force of one (Jack), was installed in the smallest of the Planet's conference rooms. In reality, this was little more than an office with a defunct overhead projector in one corner. It did, however, have two telephone jacks and a network connection and, in a building where open-planning was the norm, a modicum of much-valued privacy.

They got to work immediately, Lois giving Jack the tasks of finding an address for Bibbo's and, much to his disgust, pulling files out of storage deep in the basement. ("Do you know what's down there, Lois? Have you ever *been* in that basement? Dust and filth and rats, that's what's down there — or would be if the place wasn't full of rat-traps the exterminators left when they visited last week. Hey, Kent, that reminds me: why have scientists begun to use lawyers instead of lab rats in their research? Because there are some things a rat won't do!")

It was almost peaceful… at least when Jack was out of the room. When he was in the room, he plagued CJ with a steady stream of lawyer jokes, each one as uncomplimentary to the profession as the last. ("What do you call five thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start." "Did you hear that the Post Office had to recall its series of stamps depicting famous lawyers? People were confused about which side to spit on.")

Lois kept finding new excuses to send him back down to the rat- infested basement. CJ thought it couldn't happen to a nicer guy and decided that he would be eternally grateful to her. He wished he could show her how grateful he was.

Lunch, which they ate in the conference room, took the form of hours old coffee, drained from one of the communal coffee-pots CJ had spotted earlier in the news room, and leathery sandwiches bought from a vending machine.

Lois looked remarkably relaxed as she leaned back in her chair and put her feet up, ankles crossed, on her desk. They were very shapely ankles, CJ thought to himself, with a private smile.

Lois made a few pithy comments about the food but ate it anyway. CJ was more circumspect, peeling back the slices of bread so that he could inspect the cheese and salad between. Only after satisfying himself that the cucumber and tomato were merely a little shrivelled and the cheddar was free of mould, and picking out a flaccid brown lettuce leaf, did CJ follow Lois's example.

"Is Jack always so…" He struggled to find a word.

"Unbearable?" Lois asked.

"Intense," corrected CJ.

"Pretty much." She shrugged. "I didn't know he knew so many lawyer jokes, though. Heck, I didn't know there *were* that many lawyer jokes!"

CJ sighed. "Oh, they're the tip of the ice- berg, believe me. And I've heard 'em all before."

"Poor you," said Lois almost sympathetically. She slid her feet onto the floor, leaned forward and eyed him in a decidedly calculating manner. CJ wondered fleetingly whether or not he should be alarmed. "How can I make you feel better."

She stood up and glided over to his side, then slid onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. Then she pecked him on the lips. "How are you feeling now?"

He looked up at her, smiled, and said, "Oh, very miserable."

She leaned in again, lingering over his mouth a little longer this time. "And now?" she asked, as she pulled back.

He tried to make puppy-eyes at her, and hoped that he looked pathetically endearing rather than simply pathetic. "A little better. But I might feel a lot better if…"

She grinned.

If CJ had been capable of coherent thought over the next few minutes, he would probably have reflected on the fact that dessert was much more pleasant than the main-course had been. Lois tasted *much* better than stale bread and cheese, and she felt warm and pliant in his arms.

They were still exploring each other's mouths when the door to the conference crashed open.

Lois and CJ broke apart abruptly, and the newcomers — *both* of them — earned a stern glare from Lois. "Don't you guys ever *knock*?"

Jack shook his head, grinning at the same time.

Jimmy merely settled for saying something incoherent, in which the phrase "I see it, but I still don't believe it!" could just about be discerned.

Jack held out his hand in Jimmy's direction and fluttered his fingers. "Told you, didn't I? That's five bucks you owe me."

Lois stared at them. "You had a *bet* on us?"

"Well, yeah," admitted Jimmy, a little bleakly, CJ noticed, something he put down to the fact that he'd obviously lost the wager. "I mean, you and CJ Kent working together is unbelievable enough, but… doing that… together—"

"Kissing, you mean?" said Lois, eyes narrowed, daring him to continue.

"Yeah," said Jimmy heedlessly. "I mean, how far-fetched is *that*?"

"I don't see why," she said icily.

"Oh, come on, Lois! This is *you*, unapproachable Mad Dog Lane. Men are terrified of you!"

"Men are *not* terrified of me," she said.

"Yes, they are," corrected Jimmy. "Ever since you did that thing with the duct tape when Ralph hit on you, no-one around here will even offer to buy you coffee, let alone invite you out on a date."

"I sure am terrified of you," said Jack. CJ raised his eyebrows. If Jack *was* terrified of her, he thought, he did a remarkably good job of hiding it. In fact, of all the people he'd encountered at the Planet, Jack was probably the person who was least in awe of Lois's star status, and that included Perry White.

Lois rolled her eyes.

"You kissing is bad enough, Lois, but with CJ Kent?! Aren't you the person who once described him as 'fly-dirt on the face of humanity'?" said Jimmy.

CJ felt his eyes widening, and he looked at Lois in astonishment. "You didn't, did you?" he asked quietly. The insult was colourful enough to be almost poetic, he thought. Not that that meant he actually appreciated the sentiment, though.

Lois's face abruptly acquired a distinctly rosy hue. Thanks to his heightened senses, he could feel her blush like a warm sun against his skin. CJ assumed from her guilty countenance that she really had called him that, although she didn't actually come straight out and admit it. His eyebrows rose some more. He'd known that, for a long time, she hadn't liked him very much, but until that moment he hadn't fully appreciated how deep that dislike had run.

It made the fact that she was with him now that much more remarkable.

"And, let's see if I can get this right," Jack was saying, "a 'bottom-feeding toady'?"

"No," Jimmy corrected him. "I think Lois was referring to lawyers as a species, when she said that."

"No I wasn't," said Lois automatically. "That was about one of the management's lackeys from upstairs."

"Oh, right," said Jimmy. He turned towards Jack. "What was it she said about lawyers generally, then?"

"Something about pocket lint?"

"No, that was me. Oh, now I remember: 'tape worms in the belly of humanity' and 'the kind of slime that makes dog mess smell good'."

"I never said that last one!" snapped Lois. "I'd never say anything so… so…"

"Crude?" asked Jack. "Crass? Vulgar?"

"Yes, all those things."

"Okay, okay," said Jimmy. "I confess; I just made that one up, myself. And you're right, it's not as good as some of yours, Lois. I've got to admit it; you have a real way with words. No wonder you've won all those Kerth awards."

Lois had had enough. "Jack, unless you've got something useful to give us, get out of here. You, too, Jimmy."

Jack dug into his pocket, drew out a scrumpled piece of paper, and said, "The address you wanted, Lois."

"What?" she asked blankly.

"Bibbo's?" he reminded her. "It's down on the waterfront. *Real* attractive neighbourhood."

"Oh, right. Thanks," she muttered with bad grace. "Now go!"

"We're going," Jimmy and Jack chorused.

Just before the door clicked closed after them, CJ heard Jimmy say, "Hey, what's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?" He tuned them out so that he couldn't hear any more. In any case, he'd heard that particular joke before.

CJ and Lois looked at each other for a few moments in the sudden peace. Then Lois said softly, "I'm sorry about that."

"Doesn't matter," said CJ, equally softly.

A few more seconds passed, then CJ said, "Did you *really* say that lawyers were 'tape worms in the belly of humanity'?"

She nodded guiltily.

"I'm impressed," he said, and to her amazement, she realised that he was laughing.

"Really?" she said tentatively.

"Really. It's not often that a lawyer gets to hear a truly original insult."



Lois pulled up outside the address Jack had given her and eyed the bar with distaste. To call Bibbo's a dive, she decided, was to pay it a compliment. Lois suspected that the only reason it hadn't been closed down by public health inspectors was because the inspectors were too squeamish to enter the neighbourhood. There was litter scattered along the street, concentrating into soggy heaps that did not bear close scrutiny at the entrances to blocked storm drains.

She sighed and glanced across at CJ, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the beaten up Ford Taurus, and said, "Come on then. Let's get this over with."

They got out of the car, and Lois fumbled with the unfamiliar keys for a moment before she managed to get the central locking to engage.

She'd insisted on taking something from the Planet's car pool, saying that there was no way she was going to risk bringing her Jeep Cherokee into the waterfront district. Even the car she'd taken — as old and battered and smelling as strongly of stale cigarettes as it did — looked almost too smart for the neighbourhood.

Maybe it was her imagination — she hoped so, anyway — but, as she picked her way through the litter towards the pavement, she thought she could hear the scrabbling and squeaking of a family of rats.

Bibbo's was flanked on either side by derelict tenements. The bar, itself, didn't appear to be in much better condition. There was more bare and rotting wood visible on both the window frames and the sign above the entrance than there was paint. Several panes of glass were cracked; one was missing altogether, and had been replaced by a sheet of chipboard.

"Nice," said Lois sarcastically.

"Uh huh," agreed CJ. "Great view over towards the nuclear facility, too." He gestured vaguely towards a long abandoned dock, the murky water of the Hobbs estuary and the buildings on the opposite bank, which were barely visible through a haze of industry- induced fog. "Did you know that this part of the city has the poorest air quality of anywhere in New Troy?"

Lois shook her head. "Did Dr Saxon tell you that?"

"No. I heard it on the radio this morning. The weather forecaster added that little gem to his bulletin. Kind of makes me want to hold my breath for as long as we're here."

"Oh, and I thought that was just the smell. Do you reckon the sanitation department ever gets out here?"

CJ glanced around. Lois noticed him fiddle with his glasses for a moment before he said, "Judging from the contents of that dumpster over there, I'd say probably not."

Lois suppressed a grimace and asked, "Are you sure this is the right place?" She took a closer look at the bar. "I mean, I can't imagine this place having a *cabaret*."

CJ shrugged. "I'm sure Tessa said she was working at Bibbo's, and this is Bibbo's." But he also sounded doubtful.

"Well… Let's take a look." And, with that, she strode up to the front door and pushed her way inside.

Given the state of its exterior, the interior of Bibbo's came as something of a pleasant surprise. True, the decor was basic and the fittings were battered and worn, but everything was spotlessly clean. It was rough around the edges but welcoming all the same, a fair reflection, as they quickly discovered, of Bibbo, himself.

The bar's few patrons glanced up at CJ and Lois as they settled themselves on bar stools, then they turned away again, intently minding their own businesses or, more likely, given the hour, their drinks. Only borderline alcoholics, the dispossessed, or a pair of amateur detectives would be schmoozing against the counter at three thirty in the afternoon.

A deep voice, tinged with a hint of second or third generation Metropolis Irish, asked, "What can I get you folks?"

Lois turned to look at the speaker. His appearance matched his voice: bluff, open and, outwardly at least, honest. "Diet coke, please," she said.

"Beer or whiskey only. Don't get no call for nothin' else round here," answered the barman.

"Then… beer, please," answered Lois. It was too early in the day for her, but she couldn't sit in the bar without buying anything.

The barman looked across at CJ, who said, "Same again."

"Two beers. Gotcha."

As he quickly and efficiently got their drinks, Lois took in the barman's clothes with a practised eye. They were cheap, she noted, but not tatty. This man, she deduced, was poor, but respectable.

He put their glasses down and, as CJ pulled out a couple of notes from his wallet to pay, said, "Ain't seen you round here before."

Lois and CJ exchanged glances, then Lois said, "We're looking for someone. We… heard she works here. Tessa? Tessa Michigan?"

His eyes narrowed, not so much with animosity as with shrewd calculation. "Whatcha want with Tessa? I hope she ain't in trouble."

"No," said CJ hurriedly. "Nothing like that. We just want to talk to her. A friend told us that she worked at Bibbo's, so, here we are."

"Look, she's a good kid, and I don't want no hassle, okay?"

"No hassle," promised CJ. "Uh, who are you, anyway?"

"Bibbo, o'course. It's my place." He considered them for a few moments, then apparently decided to give them the benefit of a very small doubt. "Tess won't be long, I shouldn't think. She usually turns up round three thirty. Helps me out back before doing her act, later on." Then, in case there was any doubt about what she might be doing "out back", he said, "She does the washing up. Stuff like that."

Another customer came in, diverting Bibbo's attention. This one, from the look and the pungent smell of him, was a homeless man. Lois and CJ discreetly picked up their glasses and moved, finding themselves a table tucked away in a corner that had a good view of the bar and entrance.

Lois watched with barely concealed fascination as Bibbo invited Mr Odoriferous to sit down then disappeared through a door marked private. A few minutes later, he reappeared, carrying a tray of food, which he set down in front of the bum.

Bibbo said little during the whole sequence of events, and the other man said nothing at all, and no money changed hands. Lois was left with the impression that this was a matter of routine between them.

She looked around the bar again and noticed that several other people also had trays in front of them. Amazing, she thought. Bibbo seemed to be filling the gap that the neighbourhood social services apparently couldn't or wouldn't. It was almost a pity that she didn't write human interest stories; there was definite potential for a touchy-feely piece on the bar-cum-soup kitchen.

She glanced across at CJ. She hadn't felt remotely touchy-feely before he'd come on the scene. Her face warmed as she acknowledged the double-meaning attached to that thought, and she was grateful that she hadn't voiced it out loud.

With nothing to do but ignore her beer, nibble on the bowl of peanuts that had been set out on the table, and wait, Lois found her thoughts meandering. They finally settled on something that had been troubling her on and off throughout the day.

She turned back to CJ and abruptly said, "I'm sorry."

"What for?" asked CJ, sounding genuinely puzzled. "It's not your fault we're having to wait around here. Besides, Bibbo said Tessa wouldn't be long."

"Not for that," Lois muttered. "For… for being so horrible to you in the past."

"You don't have to worry about that! Lois, that's behind us now."

"Is it?" she said.

CJ creased his brow. "Isn't it? I mean, I thought we were getting on pretty well these days… this morning's argument notwithstanding."

"We are!" she said. "I didn't mean to suggest that we weren't. It's just…" She hung her head, discomforted.

She felt CJ rest his hand on top of hers, squeezing it lightly, and she looked up as he said, "It's just what, Lois?"

"It's just… I feel really bad. I mean, the way everyone has reacted to us today. Mayson, then Perry… Jack… Jimmy… They *all* reacted the same way, thinking that we hated each other, and I know that you wouldn't go around spreading stuff like that, and the guys at the Planet hadn't ever met you before, anyway, which means that it must all have been coming from me and that means that I must have really been unfair to you and now I—" She gasped for air, her need for oxygen suddenly overcoming her power to spew forth words. "Why would you even want to give me the time of day after all that, let alone…?" She glanced down at their joined hands.

"Why?" asked CJ. "Why would I want to spend time with the brightest, most vivacious, intelligent, kind, wonderful woman in the world… who, incidentally is also rather gorgeous, too?" He shrugged. "Gee, Lois. I've got no idea."

"I'm serious, CJ."

"So am I. Lois… You are all those things and more. You're… unique. Special. And I was serious about all that other stuff being in the past. If other people can't adjust to our new relationship, then that's their problem, not ours. As for us? I think we're just fine the way we are. Don't you?" He lifted her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles.

Lois felt his feather-light caress throughout her whole body, as a tingle of nerves shot down her spine and into her toes. How could he affect her so profoundly with so simple a gesture? She looked at him unblinkingly. *Did* she think they were fine? Then she nodded slowly. How could she not, when, even with a history as complicated as theirs, they were capable of arguing without holding grudges, of disagreeing while respecting each other's values, of kissing with passion and of laughing together over the tiniest things? And, she thought wryly, the fact that he was extremely handsome didn't hurt matters, either.


CJ's beer glass was empty and Lois was picking the last three peanuts out of the bowl when CJ heard the front door open again. He glanced around in time to see a young woman enter.

While his previous impression that Tessa Michigan was pretty had been right on the mark, CJ nonetheless almost failed to recognise her. She was young, something he had failed to notice in the dark. Indeed, she looked too young to have ever set foot inside a bar, let alone to be working in one. If she was a day over twenty, CJ would have been very surprised… which meant that she had been barely more than a child when she'd got caught up in Toni Taylor's world. What had Taylor been thinking when she'd put Tessa Michigan up on the stage in her club?

"She's here," he said softly to Lois, remembering that he wasn't supposed to know what Tessa looked like and trying not to draw attention to the fact that he did.

Lois turned discreetly so that she could see what Tessa Michigan looked like for herself. Then she murmured softly, almost in disbelief, "That's her?"

CJ could understand her surprise. The woman who'd just entered, didn't look like someone who sang in a down at heel bar in one of the city's worst neighbourhoods. In fact, she looked as clean-cut as they came, like everyone's idea of the perfect daughter, cheerleader, and all-American girl. How on Earth had she come to be working in a place like this?

Tessa walked with a cheerful bounce in her step, glanced around incuriously, her gaze passing quickly over everyone, halting only when it alighted on Bibbo. She waved at him, grinned, and said, "Hey!"

"Hey, yourself," replied Bibbo. "Good day?"

She shrugged. "Same old, same old." Her voice lowered as she approached him so that, by the time she was bellying up to the bar, CJ was having to concentrate to hear anything. Lois, he knew, wouldn't be able to make out any of the words.

Bibbo leaned in towards her. "Them two," he said, jabbing a thumb in CJ and Lois's direction. "You know 'em?"

Tessa glanced in their direction, shook her head and said, "No." Her intonation made the negative into a question.

"They're here, looking for you. Been waiting 'bout a half hour."

"Why? What'd they want with me?"

"Dunno, unless it's about the weirdo from the other night. They don't look like cops, though. They *say* it ain't trouble, but… Thought I'd warn you before introducing you."

She smiled at him gratefully, appreciative of his efforts. "Thanks, Bibbo."

He shrugged away her gratitude as if it embarrassed him. "You want I come over with you?"

Tessa hesitated for a moment before responding. Then she nodded, slightly jerkily, uncertain.

CJ and Lois rose from their seats as Bibbo came out from behind the counter and led Tessa towards them.

"This is Tess," he said, by way of a laconic introduction.

CJ held out his hand towards her and said, "Hi. I'm CJ Kent. And this is Lois Lane. We wondered if we might have a word with you."

Tessa glanced at Bibbo, who shrugged. "Your choice, kiddo. You don't have to tell 'em nothing if you don't want." He glared warningly at CJ and Lois, then took a couple of steps back — enough to put Tessa in charge of her own affairs, but still close enough to intervene if need be.

Tentatively, Tessa took CJ's hand and shook it, almost as if she had little experience with the gesture. And maybe, CJ thought, she didn't. He suspected that polished manners were a little thin on the ground around here.

When Tessa had released his hand, he pulled out a chair for her and gestured for her to sit down. She did so, perching uncomfortably on the edge of the seat, and gripping its edges with her hands. Her eyes flitted nervously between CJ and Lois.

Lois, trying to be friendly, said, "Do you want a drink?"

Tessa frowned as she answered, "I don't drink. Bibbo won't let me."

"Too right I won't," he said. His tone was stern but affectionate, almost paternal. "I run a respectable place."

Something appeared to occur to Lois then, and, almost accusingly, she blurted out, "How old are you?"

Tessa's face hardened into an expression of teenaged belligerence as she replied, "How old are *you*?"

"Old enough to order a beer without being carded."

CJ knew he was going to have to try to make peace. They needed Tessa's help, and they wouldn't get that if she thought that Lois was making fun of, or sniping at, her. Plus, they were reliant on Bibbo's hospitality, so it didn't make sense to antagonise him, either. Holding up his right hand in an appeasing gesture, he said, "Sorry. We didn't mean to suggest—"

To his surprise, Bibbo grinned at him. "I know you didn't. You was just a bit shocked, right? I mean, she *is* young."

This time Lois addressed her question to Bibbo. "If she's so young, why is she here? Shouldn't she be in school or something?"

Lois was looking at Bibbo as she spoke, so she missed the way Tessa's chin tilted defiantly upward and her eyes narrowed. CJ didn't, however, and so he wasn't surprised when Tessa said, "Hey! I'm right here, you know! You want to know something, ask *me*. He isn't my father, even if he acts like it sometimes."

Bibbo shrugged good-naturedly. "She's got you there," he said. "And she's right. I ain't her dad. I just try to keep an eye out for her, that's all."

Lois turned her attention to Tessa. CJ was mildly alarmed to see the way that the two stubborn gazes locked. Somehow he suspected that these two were more similar in temperament than either realised.

Lois tried again, this time directing her question at Tessa. CJ doubted that the others noticed, but he could tell that she was forcing herself to sound calm. "What are you doing, working here?"

"It's better than being on the streets, isn't it. And I've got to eat."

Fair enough, CJ thought. But surely there were better life- style choices than being a high- school drop-out, which, given the age at which she'd apparently been working in the Metro Club, she must have been, and being hit on by drunken louts at chucking-out time. "Where are your parents?" he asked gently.

"Michigan. Where else?"

"Michigan?" asked Lois. "As in Tessa *Michigan*?"

"Yeah. It's a, what do you call it, a stage name. When I came to Metropolis there was no way that I was ever going to use my real name. Last thing I wanted was to be shipped off back home by some well-intentioned cop — not that I've ever met a well- intentioned cop in this city, but, hey. Now I'm over eighteen, I guess I'm past that stage, but I've kinda gotten used to the name. I like it, so it's mine."

CJ wanted to ask what had been so bad about her home life that she'd felt the need to escape it, but that wasn't what they'd come for. Besides, he'd read enough articles about runaways in his time, and he'd seen enough of them in court, to make a fairly intelligent guess. Nobody left home so young, unless they were desperate. Fathers abusing sons, mothers' boy-friends hitting on daughters… and once on the streets, the runaways getting into drugs and prostitution…

That Tessa had managed to avoid that fate was a kind of triumph.

From the sound of her, she'd probably had a respectable middle- class upbringing and had received a decent education… until life had become unbearable enough to drive her away.

She'd been lucky, he thought, to have met up with Bibbo, who clearly meant her no harm.

"So Bibbo looks out for you," he said.

Tessa nodded.

"And Toni Taylor… Did she look out for you, too?" Lois asked quietly.

Tessa's tough mask slipped and CJ caught a glimpse of the young girl hidden behind it. "How'd you know about Toni?" she whispered.

"You mentioned her the other night," said Lois. "When you were saved from those would-be rapists."

"How'd you know about that? There wasn't anything about Toni Taylor in the paper afterwards. I only—" CJ could see the precise moment when Tessa put two and two together. "You know him, don't you? The freaky guy who saved me. You spoke to him. You must have done, if you know that! Who is he?"

"A friend," said CJ. "Just a friend."

Tessa thought about that for a moment, then said, "You do me a favour? You tell him from me, thanks."

CJ opened his mouth to tell her that she'd thanked him already, but managed to catch himself before the words slipped out.

Tessa chewed on her lower lip and worried nervously at the hem of her T-shirt for a few seconds, then she said, "He's really a friend of yours?"

"Uh, huh."

"For real?"

"For real," said CJ.

"Well, I guess I owe him one, and since he's friends with you… For him, then. What do you want to know?"

"To start with, how well did you know Toni Taylor?" said Lois. "And how did you meet?"

"I'd run away from home. Took all my savings and jumped on a bus to Metropolis. I had enough cash to stay in a flop-house near the bus terminal for a few days, but when it ran out…" Tessa shrugged again, attempting to make light of what must have been a terrifying situation. "I hung around the terminal for a few days, begging off the passengers. It was okay for a while, but then… Then the police came to move me on."

"Go on," prompted CJ, sensing that Tessa was tempted to renege on her earlier promise.

"They…" For a moment she seemed scared, but then her timidity metamorphosed into retrospective anger. "It wasn't *right* what they did! They told me that I was on a prime site, and that if I wanted to stay, I had to pay protection! *Protection!* I couldn't get enough money to eat, and they wanted a cut of whatever I could get?

"They told me they'd been watching me. That they'd continue to watch me, and if I didn't do exactly what they said… Well, they made it clear that whatever happened, it wouldn't be good. And then… And then they said that if I wanted to make some real money, a pretty girl like me, they had connections. If I knew what they meant." She shuddered. "I knew what they meant, all right. The way they were leering at me. They'd pinned me against a wall, and one of them… I can still feel his hands."

"They didn't…?" asked Lois.

"No. They didn't. But I thought they were going to." Tessa grimaced, her mouth twisting into ugly shapes as she sought to master the memories. "I sometimes wonder what would've happened if I'd been a little more desperate — you know, if they'd waited a couple more days before approaching me. Or if they'd been just a little bit nicer to me. If I hadn't been so scared of them, maybe I'd have listened, and what would I be now?"

CJ couldn't think of anything to say to that. He hadn't considered the possibility that Tessa was positively grateful for the life she currently led, but that, he supposed, was presumptuous of him. After all, Tessa had seen even worse might-have-beens. Maybe she had ambitions for better things, maybe she didn't. But she knew that what she'd currently got was better than some of the alternatives, and she found it in herself to be grateful for that.

CJ found that remarkable. He found *her* remarkable. She was unfailingly grateful for any help she received, and she'd retained some shreds of optimism, even when life had tried to throw the worst it could offer at her.

He vowed not to underestimate her again.

"Anyway," said Tessa, continuing with her story. "I still had enough self respect — or fear, maybe — not to do what they wanted, so I moved on. I didn't know Metropolis, so I didn't know where I was going. But somehow I found myself in West River."

CJ nodded. It made sense. West River, as it then was, was close to the bus terminal, and the street between the two had been direct. It was an easy walk, and one which anyone wandering aimlessly about was likely to take, unwittingly being guided by the configuration of the buildings and roads.

"One afternoon, I saw some business men going into this club. They were dressed better than most people around there, so I thought maybe they'd give me money. Maybe I'd get more from just one of them than I'd make in a whole day otherwise. I mean, it was obvious they could afford it, right?" She snorted derisively. "Boy, was I wrong about them! They came out a couple of hours later. They were… horrible, I guess. Not frightening horrible, like the police. Just really, really rude. They called me names, then threatened to call the cops on me."

CJ didn't need Tessa to tell him how frightening that threat must have been, given her previous experiences. The way she shivered was enough to convey the message.

"But it was an empty threat, surely," said Lois. "I mean, the last thing the Metro Club would have wanted was attention from the police."

Tessa nodded, but the gesture conveyed her doubt. CJ guessed that her distrust of the police was too ingrained for her to suppose that they would have been on the side of the law, and want to close the Metros down. "I guess so. But at the time… I was about to move away when Toni came out.

"I still don't know why she helped me. I think, at least to begin with, it might have had something to do with wanting to undermine her brother. But, anyway, she invited me inside, gave me something to eat, and then we got talking. She let me use the bathroom to clean myself up, gave me some clean clothes, and then next thing I knew, she was showing me around the club.

"Johnny was auditioning some singers for the cabaret. When he saw me, he didn't recognise me from outside. He just assumed that I'd come to try out. Toni thought it'd be a laugh if I had a go. Anyway, she'd done so much for me, so I thought, why not, if it amused her?

"Neither of us expected me to make the cut, I don't think." Tessa shrugged. "After that, Toni always kept an eye out for me. Made sure that Johnny and the rest of the guys left me in peace."

"She protected you," said Lois.

"Yeah," Tessa nodded. "She let me stay at her place for a few weeks, until I got enough money together to put a deposit down on a room of my own."

"So, she was good to you," suggested CJ.

Again Tessa nodded, her eyes growing misty. "She was my friend. I know what the papers said about her when she died — that she was a mob boss — but she was a good person, you know?"

"A criminal with a heart of gold?" suggested Lois.

CJ wasn't sure he bought that. Nobody could run the rackets without being prepared to put the frighteners on people. Running the prostitution rings, drugs operations and numbers games required a certain ruthlessness. Maybe Taylor had been good to Tessa — he couldn't deny that all the evidence pointed that way — but that certainly didn't make her a saint.

Then again, Taylor hadn't lasted very long at the head of the family business, so maybe she hadn't been hard-hearted enough to be a success.

"I still miss her," said Tessa. "She was my first friend in Metropolis, and she helped me when I needed help most." A tear crept down her cheek, and Tessa swept it away absentmindedly with her hand. "I wish I could have helped her."

"Maybe you still can," said CJ.

Tessa frowned, genuinely confused. "How?" she asked. "She's dead. He killed her."

"Who, Tessa?" asked Lois. "Who murdered Toni Taylor?"



"Well, that was interesting," said Lois ten minutes later, as they headed back to the Daily Planet. She was in the process of executing a particularly tricky manoeuvre and was cursing the car's manufacturers in terms that made CJ want to blush.

CJ waited until she'd finished wrestling with the gear level and the steering wheel, then said, "It wasn't very productive, though, was it?"

"Oh, I don't know, CJ."

"What? I mean, what did we learn from that, that we didn't already know."

Lois didn't answer for a moment, and CJ wasn't sure whether the pause was because she had to think about her reply or because she was concentrating on changing lanes. Once she'd found a gap in the traffic, and had manoeuvred into it, she said, "We learned that she knows something about Taylor's death."

"Something she wouldn't tell us. And with Bibbo acting as bodyguard, there was no way she was going to, either."

"We also learned that she trusts you."

"No, she doesn't," answered CJ. "If she trusted me, we might have got something useful out of her."

"Not you, you," said Lois. "She trusts the you that saved her life the other night."

"But that *was* me."

"You and I know that, but she doesn't, does she? And the only reason she agreed to talk to us at all was because we told her that we were your friends. Oh, does this sound as confusing as it feels, trying to talk about you as if you were two separate people?"

"Yes, it does." He laughed. "Okay, so she trusts me. Where does that get us?"

"Maybe nowhere, but maybe, if you talked to her…"

"You mean, dress up in black, go back to Bibbo's tonight, hang around in the dark until she gets off work, hope she doesn't recognise me and talk to her?"

"Yeah. I mean, what's the worst that could happen?"

"Besides me giving her a heart attack, you mean?"

"You won't give her a heart attack, CJ. Seriously, though, what *is* the worst that could happen?"

"Nothing, I guess. She mightn't talk to me, but that's about it."

"In which case, we'll be no worse off than we are now. And if she does talk to you, then we could be a whole lot better off."

"I still don't see why she would *want* to talk to me."

Lois rolled her eyes, something that CJ found particularly alarming as Lois was in the process of overtaking a truck at the time. Exasperated, she said, "She'll talk to you because she trusts you, CJ!" Lois reined in the worst of her irritation, then said, "Look, she talked to us simply because we know you, and she has no reason to trust *us*. But if *you* ask her questions directly, or ask her to talk to us…"

"I guess it might work," said CJ, but he wasn't convinced. Then again, it wasn't as if they had anything to lose by the endeavour. "Oh, what the heck! I'll give it a go."

Lois smiled with approval. "That's a good boy," she said, and CJ felt a rush of pleasure at her praise, even if it had been patronisingly given.


CJ cast a critical eye over his reflection and decided that he didn't much like what he was seeing.

Who — what — was he supposed to be, anyway?

He wasn't Superman, but he had no clue as to what he was. His alter-ego seemed to be morphing into some bizarre blend of superhero and renegade private detective. Apart from making use of his flying skills to get him to the sites of his investigations, all his other appearances had been spontaneous, arising from the need to rescue someone or something. This time though… this time his appearance was going to be premeditated, and that, CJ felt, was putting a whole new slant on his activities. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

He wondered whether Clark had ever done anything similar, as Superman. He couldn't quite imagine it, somehow. He couldn't see his gaudily-clad counterpart ever skulking in the shadows, trying to extract information from an unwilling informant.

But CJ was going to have to skulk tonight, if he was to retain his anonymity. Tessa had seen him in both his incarnations and, without a costume, he knew he was pushing his luck by seeking her out again.

If he was going to make a habit of this sort of thing, he was going to have to buy a new wardrobe of black clothing because the articles he had didn't really lend themselves towards vigilantism. What he really needed was an effective disguise, which was something he most definitely lacked at present. Then he remembered that, once his powers faded, he wouldn't be able to do this any more, anyway, so fretting over whether he looked good in this shade of black, or whether the baseball cap he'd decided to wear looked childish was a rather redundant activity.

The baseball cap was the least unacceptable way he had found to hide his features. He had experimented with putting a bandanna over his hair and eyes, but he couldn't figure out a way to get that to work. He'd need to cut holes in the material so that he could see, and the cloth couldn't accommodate his glasses, anyway. A balaclava might have been better, he thought, but as he didn't own one, that put paid to that particular idea. Besides, like the bandanna, a balaclava couldn't be worn comfortably with spectacles.

He'd tried putting a scarf across his nose, mouth and chin. That had worked slightly better, but he'd felt incredibly stupid wearing it; he wasn't Zorro or some outlaw-wannabe from an old black-and-white western.

So, in the end, he'd gone with the baseball cap, with the peak pulled down low to cast his eyes and nose in shadow. He was going to have to rely on that, luck and the lurking to keep himself hidden from view.

He just hoped Tessa Michigan wouldn't recognise his voice.

He glanced at his watch and realised that it was time to go.


CJ crouched on the rooftop of the building next to Bibbo's, pulled his glasses down, and concentrated. Through the walls of the bar, he could see the patrons, in various stages of inebriation, chattering, drinking, belching and, in a few cases, trying to listen to the entertainment.

Tessa was singing and accompanying herself on the guitar. He didn't recognise the song, which was about unrequited love. It was pretty decent, he decided, if you were into maudlin ballads, but it wasn't really pub music. For one thing, it was too soft to make headway against the rest of the noise. He wondered whether she'd ever thought about trying out for one of the shows or clubs downtown; she was certainly good enough.

CJ glanced at his watch: ten minutes to midnight. The bar would be closing soon, and then he could catch Tessa on her walk home. In the meantime, he just needed to be patient.

A gaggle of men got up and lurched out of the bar, arms lacing their shoulders together. The burst of sound, through the open door, assaulted CJ's ears and he scowled. Sometimes those powers of his were a real pain — literally.

He wondered whether Clark ever found them irritating. Probably not, thought CJ with a tinge of jealousy. After all, he'd had years to acclimatise to them. CJ had had days.

Tessa finished her song, was rewarded by a smattering of applause and a couple of wolf- whistles, and she started on another.


Tuesday 6 May, 1997

At five past twelve, CJ's patience was rewarded. Tessa exited the bar onto the street, turning left, and heading north. He'd give her a few minutes, wait until they were clear of the last of the customers, who were also heading out, and then he'd float down to the street.

"Hey! Tess! Wait up!" CJ recognised Bibbo's voice from earlier.

Tessa turned round and waited for him to catch up. "Wait while I lock up, then I'll walk you home."

"Bibbo," she said with a smile in her voice. "I appreciate it, but it's not necessary. And it takes you out of your way."

"Course it's necessary. I toldja already, after last week I'm taking no risks with you. You got that?"

Tessa ducked her head slightly, and CJ wondered whether it was his imagination or whether he could really feel a grateful blush grace her cheeks. "Got it," she murmured.

CJ cursed inwardly. Bibbo's white-knight act complicated matters. He sighed, resigning himself to the fact that he was going to have to follow them, and hope that he got a chance to talk to Tessa after Bibbo had left.

Tessa followed Bibbo back inside the bar, and waited while he emptied the till, put the meagre takings into a well-hidden wall safe and made his final rounds, checking that the back door and all the windows were closed and bolted. Finally, she came out of the front door again, closely followed by Bibbo.

Bibbo juggled his keys, locking the door securely. CJ noticed that he had even more locks on his bar's door than Lois had on the entrance to her apartment. Then they took off in the direction Tessa had turned earlier.

CJ levitated, following them high above the street lamps, confident that he was invisible in the darkness.

Bibbo and Tessa didn't talk much, he noticed, but theirs was the comfortable silence of friends who were at ease with each other. Just as telling was the relaxed pace that they adopted, neither in a rush to leave the other's company.

Ten minutes later they stopped in front of a five storey walk- up. Like much of the rest of the neighbourhood, it had seen better days, but it looked, at least, sound. Tessa waved Bibbo good-bye, then ran up the steps, disappearing into a pitch black corridor beyond.

CJ had to concentrate to follow her progress after that, drawing more on his auditory powers than on his strange visual abilities, which couldn't penetrate the gloom, even if they could penetrate the walls.

He heard a lock turn on the top floor and saw a light flick on. Tessa was home.

CJ wondered how to approach her now. He decided to take a closer look, then play it by ear. No pun intended, he thought wryly.

He landed lightly on the fire-escape, which started outside her kitchen window. Tessa entered the room. When she turned on the light, it flooded all but the corners of the escape with light. CJ could see that it had obviously once been a robust structure, the turn in the stairs almost large enough to double as a balcony. Now, though, it was rusty, worn and, quite possibly, dangerous. Judging from the nylon lines draped across it, Tessa used it as an area for drying clothes.

He shrank back into the shadows and leaned against the wall, listening as Tessa moved about inside, putting the kettle on to boil and, from the smell of it, making a jam and peanut butter sandwich.

He was still wondering precisely what he should do when he heard the flick of the light switch and the whole of the escape was plunged into darkness once again.

It was now or never, he decided. He turned to face the window and peered in. He rapped on the glass, just as Tessa was about to close the door behind her.

She jumped. Who could blame her? CJ thought guiltily. Nobody would expect visitors to come up to the fifth floor via the fire escape.

Tessa turned around slowly. She reached almost blindly and picked up a saucepan by its handle. "Who's there?" she asked, almost hiding the tremor in her voice. "I warn you, I'm armed."

"I mean you no harm," called CJ. "I just wanted to talk to you."

"Who are you?"

"A friend," he said. "Just a friend."

Tessa started, and CJ wondered what it was about those particular words that had been so successful at grabbing her attention.

"You… You're the one from the other night. Aren't you? Kent said you were a friend."

So that was it, CJ thought. He'd unwittingly used the same words as he had done earlier to describe himself. Thank goodness Tessa hadn't jumped to the conclusion that he was Kent, instead! "Yes," he agreed. "You didn't want to talk to Kent and Lois Lane earlier. I was hoping that, maybe, I could persuade you to talk to me."

Tessa lowered the saucepan, but she didn't put it down.

"Prove to me that you're him."

"How?" asked CJ, taken aback by her suspiciousness.

"I don't know," she said. "Melt something. Fly. Do something!"

"Oh…" CJ felt foolish. "This do?" He lifted about six feet off the ground and hovered.

Tessa moved to switch the light back on for a better look, and he darted backwards. "No," he said instinctively. "Please leave the light off."

"Okay," she agreed, though somewhat reluctantly, he noted. "But you stay right where you are. I want a better look."

CJ could live with that, he decided. After all, while he was sure that she'd be able to make out his silhouette, she wouldn't be able to get a good look at his face.

Tessa approached the window and stared out. Then she slid the sash up and, to his surprise, she climbed out onto the escape. Apparently satisfied with what she was seeing, she put the saucepan down on the floor, straightened, then said, "Okay. So it really is you. You can come back down if you'd like."

CJ smiled, lowered himself back onto the escape, and carefully moved back into the darkest of the shadows.

"What do you want from me?" she asked.

"Information," CJ said. "That's all."

Tessa looked at him, or, at least, she was looking in his direction.

"Can you tell me," he asked, "what happened the night Toni Taylor died?"

Tessa moved over to the railings around the top of the escape and leaned against them. They groaned, making CJ wonder about metal fatigue. Tessa, CJ noted, didn't seem particularly concerned by the sound, but then she was probably used to it. She stared out across the city, contemplating the answer she should give him. CJ forced himself to let her take her time.

"Why do you want to know?" she asked finally. "What difference will knowing make now, after all this time?"

"Justice," said CJ softly. "I want justice."

"I see," she said, equally softly, and maybe she did.

There was another lengthy pause, long enough for a cloud to pass completely across the face of the new moon. Then, committed, Tessa said, "Okay. I'll tell you."

"Thank you."

Tessa closed her eyes, as if to see the memories more clearly, and she began to speak in a detached, almost dreamy fashion. "I'd stayed behind after the club had closed," she began. "Toni said she had some business to see to first but, if I waited, she'd give me a lift home. I thought she just meant that she wanted to finish some accounts or something, count the takings, maybe. But then she said I should make myself scarce, so I knew it was more than that." Tessa lapsed into silence.

"Please… go on," he said.

"I went into the kitchens. I was hungry, so I fixed myself a sandwich and a drink. Then I realised I needed a plate, so I went into the store room, which was off to one side of the main kitchen. And I could hear voices."

"Did you recognise any of them?" CJ asked.

Tessa nodded absently. "Toni, of course. She was almost shouting. She was angry, you see. And no, before you ask, I don't know what she was angry about." She sighed softly. "The others were quieter, but they sounded like a man and a woman.

"I was curious, I guess. I mean, Toni had told me to keep away, so whatever was going on had to be something big, right? And I could hear them anyway. So I decided to stay and listen." She glanced in his direction as if seeking, if not approval exactly, then at least an understanding of the choice she'd made.

CJ nodded. Then, in case Tessa hadn't been able to make out his gesture through the shadows, he said, "I understand."

Encouraged by his lack of censure, she said, "I decided to move some of the plates and stuff out of the way, so I could press my ear as close as possible to the wall, and when I did I found a kind of knot in the wood. I'd never realised before, but the walls in that place were really thin: just one layer of wood thick. And this knot… I could see right through it."

CJ could feel his pulse race with anticipation. "So you saw…?"

"Yeah," she said. "I saw them. I knew him. I mean, he'd been hanging around a lot. I'd teased Toni about it, and she'd told me that there wasn't anything going on between them. But I could tell that she fancied him something rotten. I mean, you can tell, can't you?"

CJ ignored the question, preferring to ask one of his own. "Who was it?" He thought he could make a guess, but he needed to hear it to be certain.

Tessa hesitated, as though frightened to give voice to the name. Then she took the plunge and said, "Luthor." Then, more strongly, almost defiantly, she said, "It was Lex Luthor."

CJ let go of the breath he hadn't been aware of holding, a long, slow exhalation of released tension. "And the woman?"

"I hadn't seen her before, but I heard him call her Mrs Cock… something like that. No, wait. Mrs Cox. That was it." She nodded firmly. "Mrs Cox."

CJ had to force himself to feign calmness. "Can you describe her for me?"

Tessa shrugged. "Tall. Slim. Black. Kind of striking, with this really sultry voice." It wasn't much of a description, CJ thought, but it was good enough.

"Then what happened?" he asked.

"They argued. Toni said something about them having had a deal, and Luthor said he'd changed his mind. Toni started going on about how he couldn't do that, whatever 'that' was, and then—"

"And then?" prodded CJ.

Tessa shook her head, and CJ knew that he'd got to the climax of the story, the part that was for Tessa almost unbearable… The part he so desperately needed to hear. "Please," he said. "Tell me."

"If I tell you, can you promise me something?" said Tessa, suddenly intense.

"I'll try," he said.

"Not good enough. You've got to promise me!"

"Tell me what it is first," he said. "I can't promise you anything until I know what it is."

Tessa seemed to accept that. "I want you to promise me that he'll pay. I couldn't do anything before because I never knew who I could rely on. I mean, several of Toni's people went to work for him afterwards. I've never even told Bibbo, and I trust him, but what can he do? He's almost as unconnected as me. But you… You can do anything. I saw what you did to those creeps the other night, and you were holding back. I could tell. You're an okay guy, and you've got the power to do anything you want. So you promise me that Luthor will pay for what he did!"

"Very well," said CJ at length. "I'll promise." But he wondered whether he should be crossing his fingers behind his back as he said the words. He'd vowed he would bring Luthor down, and he tried to convince himself that was close enough to what Tessa wanted to satisfy her conditions. He knew, though, that he was twisting her meaning to satisfy his conscience, and that made him feel dirty, as though he was a liar, because she wanted something more specific than general retribution. She wanted Luthor to pay for Toni Taylor's death.

She hadn't said it out loud, but he'd also understood the hidden subtext to her plea. She wanted street justice, an eye for an eye, and he'd already determined that he could never sanction that, even where Luthor was concerned. That would make him feel even more tainted than his current half-truths did.

Tessa took his agreement at face value, and he didn't know whether he felt relieved or guilty about that.

She picked up her story where she'd left off. "Luthor said he could do whatever he liked. Then he just nodded at Mrs Cox, and she pulled out a gun. She pointed it at Toni. And that was when Toni started to panic. She was screaming. And then I… She…" Tessa swallowed and forced herself to continue. "Luthor told Mrs Cox to give him the gun. He said something like 'I want to do it'. Mrs Cox gave it to him and he… He shot her. Twice, I think. It might have been three times."

CJ didn't need to see them to know that tears were running down Tessa's face. Tessa straightened up, hugged her arms tightly around herself, and swayed slightly.

He couldn't stand to see anyone in so much pain, so he took two steps towards her and pulled her gently against his chest.

She was trembling, and he could feel her tears dampening his shirt, sticking it against his skin. She stood stiff in his embrace, and he wondered how much experience she'd had with being held, with being comforted. Given her likely background, he suspected not much.

CJ wasn't sure precisely how long they stood like that, but he thought it was probably a few minutes. Eventually she began to relax. Her crying diminished to the occasional sniffle and she allowed herself to slump against him. "Are you okay?" he asked. It was a stupid question. Of course she wasn't okay, but he couldn't think of a better way to work out what he wanted to know.

He felt her nod her head against his torso, then she pulled out of his arms. She walked past him and sat down on the top step of the escape, her back turned towards him. CJ moved back into the darkest shadows and waited for her to make the next move.

"I should have done something," Tessa said. "I should have helped her. Instead… It was like… You know those nightmares little kids get where they want to run, but they can't move? It was like I was caught in one of those.

"And when it was over, Luthor laughed. He was joking, although I don't think that Cox woman was particularly amused. Luthor was going on about how it was good to keep his hand in, and do the actual dirty work for himself once in a while. I felt like puking. And I just stood there, frozen to the spot, trying not to barf and hoping that they wouldn't hear me." She shook her head. "I was a coward."

"No," said CJ. "You did the right thing. If you had tried to help, they would have killed you too."

Tessa twisted to look in his direction, trying to penetrate the gloom that surrounded him, wanting to gauge the sincerity of his words. "I know that really," she said. "But I wish…"

"I know," he said sombrely. He thought about Elyse, and about how he'd felt after she'd died. How many times had he second- guessed his actions subsequently, wondering what he could have done to save her? He looked at Tessa, sympathy that she couldn't see in his eyes, and said thickly, "Believe me, I know."

They remained frozen in that tableau for several minutes before CJ ventured to speak again. "Tessa… Just one more thing before I go. You said that some of Toni's people went to work for Luthor after she died. Can you tell me their names?"

"Oh," said Tessa. "Jules Johnson and Monica Carnes. Last I heard, though, was that Jules had had enough of Luthor and ran out on him. Took a whole load of his money with him. The rumour was that he went to Bolivia, I think it was, and that there's a contract out on him, so he can't come back. Monica, though… The street says she's still working for him. I think she's some kind of enforcer, or something."



"… so the reason we couldn't find anything about Monique Kahn is because that's not her name in this world. She's actually Monica Carnes, born in New Jersey. Moved to New Troy when she was seventeen. College educated — that's probably where she met Toni Taylor. The dates match, anyway. Currently living in a penthouse apartment in LexHarbour."

It was eight thirty in the morning, and Lois and CJ were back at the Planet, sitting around the table in the borrowed conference room, sipping coffee.

Lois listened to the end of CJ's briefing and grinned. "Not bad, CJ. If you ever fancy a change of career, you might just cut it as a journalist. That's pretty good investigating."

"Thanks. I'm still working on trying to find Johnson. I spent ages on the Internet last night. Do you have any idea how many Jules Johnsons there are out there? I couldn't find any in Bolivia, though, and none of the others seem to match the profile."

Lois shrugged. "Well, these things sometimes take time. I'll put Jack on it, when he finally turns up." She thought back over everything he'd just told her, which was everything Tessa Michigan had told him. "So, we've got a witness to a murder, which we know Luthor committed. Where does that take us, CJ?"

"I'm not sure. It'd be a heck of a lot more convincing if we'd got the murder weapon and if Tessa had come forward at the time. And, even though she's told me what happened, I doubt she'll ever be willing to stand up in a court of law and tell anyone else."

"So, what you're saying is that we know he's capable of murder, but we've still got nothing we can use."

CJ nodded. "'Fraid so." He stood up and began to pace. "It makes me so mad," he said. "I was up most of last night, just thinking about all the lives he's ruined. It's not just all the people he's killed or deliberately set out to ruin. It's also all those people whose lives get touched by his evil. People like Tessa. She's never done anything to him. He probably doesn't even know that she exists, but look at what he's done to her!

"And then there are all the Judith Myersons of this world. And people like Elyse and you and me. Even Tierney…"

"CJ…" said Lois uselessly. "Is there a point to all this, or are you just venting?"

"Yeah, there's a point. He's evil, Lois. And we've got to stop him, and if that means that I have to help you with a spot of breaking and entering, then so be it."


It was a little before half past five when CJ, dressed in one of his business suits, entered the tower block where, on the twentieth floor, the law firm Benton, Miller, Nowak and Associates had its offices. He walked over to the elevator as confidently as he could, given that his heart was beating at over a hundred beats per minute and he was about to commit a crime. He entered, pressed the button for the twenty-second floor and chewed on his lip as he felt the car zoom up the elevator shaft.

Despite the fact that he had prosecuted any number of burglars over the years, CJ had never fully appreciated the amount of planning that went into the act of breaking and entering. A few hours with Lois and a lunch with Rosemary Tierney to make arrangements for this evening's clandestine operation had gone a long way to put CJ right on that score, however.

For one thing, despite his familiarity with the criminal fraternity, CJ had never given much thought to the clothes burglars wore. His mental image didn't stretch much beyond the black band across the eyes, the black and white striped shirt and the swag bag of cartoons. If he had ever thought beyond the stereotype, it was to dress the criminals in jeans and sneakers.

He'd never imagined that burglars might practice their art dressed in Armani.

Then again, maybe burglars didn't. He reminded himself that, as he wasn't planning on stealing anything, raping anyone, causing grievous bodily harm or damage, technically speaking he wasn't about to commit the offence of burglary, "merely" one of trespass. Maybe that made a difference to the dress code.

And maybe he was going insane. That would not only explain the way his thoughts were rambling, but also the fact that he was actually going to go through with this act of madness.

The elevator drew to a halt and made a pinging sound as the doors slid open onto an empty corridor. Although Tierney had told them earlier that the offices on the twenty-second floor were currently vacant, and so the chances of running into anyone up there was minimal, CJ was nonetheless relieved that there was nobody around to witness his arrival.

He stepped out into the corridor and wandered over to a window. The view from so high was fairly spectacular, and he amused himself for a few minutes by watching the workers flood out through the front doors of the building far below.

The plan, which Lois had come up with, was that she and CJ would enter the building early enough not to draw attention to their arrival and wait. Tierney, on the pretext of working late, would stay in the office until the last of her colleagues had gone home for the night, and then give them the all clear. She could, and had agreed to, get them into the offices, but it would be up to them to do the actual snooping around.

CJ still wasn't sure how they were going to do that; Lois hadn't gone into details.

The elevator pinged behind him, making him jump. He spun around, then held his hand to his heart with relief when he realised that the newcomer was only Lois.

She looked the part of an anonymous office drone, he thought, albeit a very pretty one. She was dressed in a sombre grey suit with a white blouse and flat pumps, and she carried a briefcase in her right hand. He knew, however, that the briefcase didn't carry files or paperwork, but latex surgical gloves so they wouldn't leave any fingerprints, a miniature camera and film, and what Lois had unhelpfully described as a few tricks of the trade.

Lois walked over to him, showing none of the signs of nervousness he was feeling, stood on tiptoe and made to kiss his cheek in greeting. He leaned down to allow her better access, then caught her shoulders in his hands and quickly kissed her on her lips.

"All set?" she asked.

"As I'll ever be," he replied. "I suppose."

Something in his voice gave him away. "You nervous?" she asked, clearly expecting the answer to be yes.

He nodded. "Aren't you?"

"Yes. A little, I guess. Actually, it helps to be a little nervous. Makes you careful."

"That sounds like the voice of experience," CJ observed. "You make it sound like you do this a lot."

"And you make it sound like you don't approve."

"I'm not sure that I do."

She patted him on his arm and said, "Don't worry. You'll get over that. I did, after about the tenth or eleventh time."

CJ stared at her then asked, "Um, Lois… Just how many times have you done this sort of thing?"

"I don't know. I've never kept count. But, working on the basis of once every couple of months, which seems like a fair estimate, and that I've been in the business for ten odd years, that would make it about—" She shrugged. "You do the math."

"I'm not sure that I want to," he answered frankly. "You know, in some ways, you're rather frightening."

She smiled. "Why, thank you, CJ!"

"That wasn't a compliment!"

For some reason he didn't understand, his protest just made her smile even more widely.


They were sitting down on the floor in the corner of the corridor, using the walls as backrests as they sat at right angles to one another, when, fifteen minutes later, Lois's cell phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket and answered with a laconic, "Lane." Then she listened for a few moments, said, "Okay, talk to you later," then cancelled the call.

Lois turned to CJ and said, "That was Tierney. She says that Benton is working late tonight, and probably won't be leaving for another hour or two."

"So what do we do now?" asked CJ. "Call the whole thing off?"

Lois shook her head. "We've invested too much effort in this operation to give up that easily. No. We wait."

"But she's going to be ages! You said so, yourself. And it's not like there's much to do up here, is there? And the longer we hang around, the more likely we are to get caught, and—"

Lois shifted her weight forward so that she was kneeling. Then she leaned in towards CJ and halted his words with her lips. She didn't succeed in silencing him entirely, though, because she heard a distinct "Mmmmpfff" of almost surprise, followed by a more contented moan.

CJ, it appeared, liked her method of getting him to shut up. That was good, thought Lois, because, not only did it mean that she'd managed to curtail his whinging, but that she was getting to do something she enjoyed, too.

It also answered the question of what they could do for the next few hours, until Tierney called again.

CJ moved, lowering his knees to the floor and splaying his legs so that Lois could shuffle into the space between them. For once, because of their relative positions, she appeared taller than him, almost looming over him.

Almost as if she were the aggressor in the encounter.

CJ didn't seem to mind that, at all. In fact, she found that he was responding more boldly than he ever had before. There was no timidity in his actions, no gentle build up before he gave in to his passion-fuelled enthusiasm. His mouth sucked hungrily at hers, opening immediately, and his tongue flicked out, brushing against her lips, begging for access to the warm depths beyond.

Lois's mouth opened, welcoming him in, and their tongues jousted together playfully, hungrily.

His arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer to him, moulding her body against his. Then she could feel his fingers snaking underneath her jacket, pulling her blouse out of her skirt… brushing, stroking caressing the bare skin beneath.

She moaned as he began to move his hands upwards, toying with, then passing over, the catch on her bra.

His mouth disengaged from hers and she moaned again, this time at the resultant sense of loss. But that lasted only for a moment, because his lips were tracing a path southwards, fluttering over her chin, around her neck, pausing at the sensitive skin beneath her jaw-bone, near her ear. Then he moved on again, butterfly-kissing her collar bones and then the soft foothills of her breasts.

She gasped as his tongue lapped at her skin, and she lowered her head so that she could kiss the hair on his crown.

Her hands were exploring underneath his jacket, too, apparently having moved there of their own volition. She could feel the hard planes of his muscles rippling beneath her fingertips, his skin hot against hers. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest, and knew that his breathing was growing ragged, but she couldn't hear it over the sound of her own.

Then he shifted beneath her again, and he moved one of his hands. It dragged across her skin, leaving burning trails of sensation behind, making her feel as though she was one raw nerve ending, exploding with the agony of pleasure.

There was a whisper of cold air against her body as he pulled the hand out from beneath her blouse. Then she felt his fingers tangle in her hair. He raised his head just as she lowered hers so that their lips met again.

And then—

Someone behind them cleared his throat, and they both froze.

Laughter, then the gruff voice of a security guard said, "Knew it was only a matter of time before someone came up to this floor for some privacy. All I ask is that you remember to turn off the lights when you're done. Have fun, you guys!" And then he was gone.

Lois slumped against CJ. "Do you think he saw us?"

CJ laughed. "Oh, I think he most *definitely* *saw* us!"

"I meant…"

"No. He won't be able to identify us. All he could have witnessed was a lot of heavy breathing. And all he would have seen is your back, two lots of dark hair, and some tangled limbs."

They sat there for a few minutes, in silence. Then Lois said, "He was very considerate, wasn't he?"

"Broad-minded, too," agreed CJ.

"And… seeing that he told us to have fun—"

"And we were having fun!"

"And we've got some more time to kill—"

"You think we should have some more fun?"

"Uh huh."

CJ said, "You know, I like the way you think, Lois Lane."

They didn't say anything else for a long time, although they weren't entirely silent, either.


Lois's cell-phone rang some time after seven. She answered, listened, then nodded to CJ and said, "We're on."

They stood and spent a few moments tucking various bits of clothing into appropriate places. Then Lois reached out to straighten CJ's tie and to wipe some lipstick off his cheek. CJ, in turn, tried to straighten out some of the tangles in Lois's hair.

Then they took the elevator down to the twentieth floor.

If Rosemary Tierney noticed that their suits were looking a little crumpled and their hair looked as though they'd been out in a strong wind, she was tactful enough not to mention it. All she did was greet them laconically, hustle them as quickly as she could into the offices of Benton, Miller, Nowak and Associates.

Nice, thought CJ, as he glanced around. The deep carpet, leather-topped desks, and oak- panelled walls were a far cry from the chipboard and plastic world of the DA's office. The evening sunlight was shining through the west-facing windows, lending the comfortable decor an ambience that would send any interior decorator into fits of ecstasy.

Tierney gave them a quick guided tour: reception desk; waiting area (complete with coffee machine and water cooler); secretaries' offices; conference room; photocopier room; associates' offices; library; partners' offices and, finally, the senior partners' offices.

CJ shook his head in disbelief. He'd known that there was money in private practice, but this was ridiculous. He turned to Tierney and wryly asked, "Do a lot of pro bono work, do you?"

The irony in the question sailed over her head. "No. Not if we can help it. It's against company policy." She drew to a halt in front of a door, pulled out a master key, slipped it in the lock and turned it. "This is Barbara Benton's office," she said, pushing the door open to allow them to pass. "And if you get caught in here, I don't know you. Okay?"

CJ nodded, glanced across at Lois, and saw that she was doing the same thing.

"Let me know when you're done, and I'll lock up again."

"Thanks," they chorused.

Tierney closed the door behind her, shutting them in.

CJ was tempted to gape. The rest of the practice's premises had been luxurious, but Benton's room was frankly decadent. For one thing, the office was enormous.

Lois whistled. "You could get the whole of my apartment in here," she whispered. Then, almost intimidated, Lois took a few tentative steps towards an elegant bronze sculpture of a cherub holding a bunch of grapes. She reached out, but didn't quite touch. "Do you think that's an original? And the paintings on the walls?"

CJ crouched down to inspect the sculpture carefully. "I'm not art expert," he said, "but, yeah, I think that's the real thing. And that Degas? That looks pretty genuine to me, too."

"I chose the wrong profession," said Lois. "I never knew there was this much money in law."

"There isn't," said CJ grimly. "And, no, you didn't. You're too good at what you do to be in the wrong job."

Lois flashed him a smile. "Thanks," she murmured, accepting the compliment with bashful grace. Then she straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and said, "Well, enough of admiring the exhibits, already. Let's get down to work."

She knelt down, opened her brief case, and took out two pairs of latex gloves. She held out one pair to CJ and said, "Here. Put these on."

It took him a couple of minutes to get the gloves on, finding it hard to get his fingers to slip into the requisite holes, and he wondered how surgeons managed to do it so adeptly. Practice, he supposed. Lots of practice. And talcum powder.

He noticed that Lois wasn't having the same problems he had had. She'd presumably had plenty of practice, too, he thought wryly. How many times was it again? Every two months for ten years, wasn't it?

His mind was wondering again.

"Where do we start?" he asked.

Lois swept the room with a glance. "Filing cabinets," she decided firmly.

CJ walked over, pulled one of the handles, and said, "Locked."

"No problem," answered Lois. She reached into her briefcase again, and pulled out a bunch of lock-picks, which she waved in front of his now slack-jawed face.


Lois could feel CJ's disbelieving eyes burning into her back as she tried to jimmy the lock on the filing cabinet. "You know how to pick locks?" he asked.

"You don't?" Lois spoke absently, her words distorted because she was biting on her tongue as an aid to concentration.

"It's not something they teach in Law School," said CJ, "although, if you wanted, I could tell you precisely which laws we're breaking right now. They did teach us *that*."

"That's okay, CJ. I don't want to know."

"Then I guess that makes us even, because *I* don't want to know how to pick locks!"

"You say that now, but—" She felt the pins align and her makeshift key twisted. The lock clicked open. "Ah, hah! And we're in!"

"Okay, consider me officially impressed," said CJ. "Appalled, but impressed. Now, let's get this over with as quickly as possible."

Lois pulled out the top drawer, extracted a wodge of folders, and said, "Here, you can make a start on these. I'm going to have a look at her desk."

CJ nodded, took the paperwork from her, and then crouched down on the floor, spreading his loot methodically out in front of him.

"Tell me if you find anything," she said.

"Yes, ma'am," but there was a smile behind his answer that robbed it of all asperity.

Although CJ had the advantage of superspeed to assist him in his research, the power wasn't actually as helpful as he'd thought it would be. For one thing, there were too many loose and oddly-shaped pieces of paper in the files to allow him to flick easily through them. For another, he simply wasn't that adept at using it. Clark had taught him how to use his vision powers, how to control his hearing, how to fly and how to control his superstrength, but somehow they'd managed to overlook the more useful skill of speed reading.

CJ was regretting that now.

Still, he was managing to make rapid progress, at least by human standards. He supposed he had to be grateful for that, at least.

Although most of his attention was focused on his files, he couldn't help but be aware of Lois's movements across the room, where she was rifling purposefully through the drawers of Benton's desk. Eventually, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked, "What are you looking for?"

"Diary," said Lois. "I want to know who she's meeting, when and how often." Then, triumphantly, she exclaimed, "Ah, hah! Found it. And… Oh! This is good!"

"What?" he asked eagerly.

"She hasn't just got her current diary here," Lois crowed. "She also got ones for the last three years, and they've all got a list of telephone numbers and contact names in them. Could be useful…"

CJ had barely turned his attention back to his next folder when Lois said, "Oh, now this is interesting. Benton met with Monica Carnes on the twenty-fifth of April, right around the time that the jurors were being threatened, and then again on the evening before the Allen trial started, on the thirtieth."

"Could be coincidence," said CJ doubtfully.

"But you don't think so."

"No. And neither do you. Hold on a minute." CJ pulled his own slimline diary out of the breast pocket of his jacket, flicked through the pages, then said, "Who was Benton meeting with around January twenty-second and February seventeenth?"

Lois worked her way backwards through Benton's desk diary, then said, "Nothing obvious on the seventeenth, but… lunch on February thirteenth at Giorgio's with — well, well — Monica Carnes and… meeting at four thirty on January twentieth — with Monica Carnes!"

Lois turned the diary over so that it lay face down on the desk, bookmarking her page. Then she went to her briefcase — CJ had now ceased to be amazed at the marvels Lois carried there — and extracted her miniature camera. She pulled it open with her teeth as she returned to the desk, turned the diary over again, and squinted through the view finder. Before she pressed the shutter, however, she asked, "What's so special about those dates?"

"One of the trials Tierney told us had been rigged was about then. People versus Finnigan. January twenty-second was the arraignment. We, the prosecution, objected to bail, but it was set anyway. Tierney said that the judge had been bribed to allow it. Then the trial was due to start on February seventeenth. However, our key witness vanished over the previous weekend. Her body turned up a few days later, washed up on a beach a few miles north of the city."

"And I thought being a lawyer was all about living the life of the urban underbelly one step removed. I never realised that you got to experience it all first hand."

"Now you're teasing me."

"Just a bit," admitted Lois. "But now that we have a possible connection between this law firm and a murder victim…"

"Can you make a note of any other meetings between Benton and Carnes? Then I'll check them against the court diary when we get back to the Planet."

"Will do," said Lois, who began taking pictures.

Five minutes later, CJ looked up from yet another file as she spoke again. "CJ. Benton and Carnes have got a meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. If we can be there… This could be exactly what we need."



CJ found it difficult to sleep that night. He tossed and turned, his thoughts filled with the enormity of what he and Lois had done. It wasn't just, or even mainly, because of their encounter in the corridor, although there was enough material in that to fuel any number of insomnia-inducing fantasies.

No, it was because he, CJ Kent, proud upholder of the law, had committed a crime… and he'd *enjoyed* it. He hadn't expected to. He hadn't wanted to. But the fact remained, snooping around Benton's office had given him a buzz better than any roller- coaster ride he had ever been on.

It was a pity that the paperwork had yielded nothing useful. In fact, the paperwork was so meticulous, CJ thought that it had yielded a *suspicious amount* of nothing useful. He'd found client accounts that, if they were to be believed, wouldn't have even begun to pay for the cherub's pinky finger.

No, wherever the real accounts were, they were carefully hidden.

At least they'd found the diaries… The evening hadn't been a complete waste of time.

And he *had* enjoyed it, as much as he hated to admit it, even to himself.


Wednesday 7 May, 1997

On Wednesday morning Lois and CJ arrived at the Planet to find Perry White lying in wait for them, wanting an update on their progress.

Sixty-five minutes, several cups of coffee and a lot of explanations later, Perry firmly decreed that: "This has gone far beyond anything the paper can handle on its own."

"But Perry—!" protested Lois.

"Don't you 'But Perry' me, young lady," said Perry, sounding for a moment like a curmudgeonly high school principal. "I know how your mind works. I know you want to deliver all the evidence in a Planet exclusive, all wrapped up and delivered with a nice pink bow, and making Metropolis' finest look like flat-footed fools in the process, and usually I'd be right behind you. But not this time. This time we've got to do this right. We've got to do this by the book, you hear me?"

Lois's mouth opened again, and it was obvious that another "But Perry" was on the tip of her tongue. However, CJ forestalled her with a "He's right, Lois."

To CJ's surprise, Perry shot a grateful look in his direction. "Listen to the lawyer, Lois. I don't remember *ever* being this close to Luthor before, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you screw this up because you want to keep all the glory. You know the paper's going through hard times at the moment. I'd like nothing better than to get Luthor off my back, but all it would take is one good lawsuit to finish us. You get this wrong, and Luthor'll crucify us."

"So you're telling me to drop it?"

"No. I'm telling you to be very, very careful. I want kid gloves here, Lois, not your usual bull in a china shop act."

Lois bit down on her lower lip, looking for a moment like a petulant five-year old, but then she recovered herself. "You're both right, of course," she said, shrugging away her disappointment. "This is bigger than any of us. So what do you suggest, Chief?"

To CJ's surprise, Perry didn't answer. Instead, Perry turned to him, and asked, "Kent? You know the law. If we want this case to stick like chewing gum on a sidewalk, what do we need to do?"

"Well… If we're going to do this properly, we'll need access to equipment we haven't got. We need someone to stake out the meeting between Carnes and Benton, and we need it all to be done legally. So… I guess what we need most urgently is an honest and discreet policeman."

Lois laughed sarcastically. "Honest and discreet, CJ? Here in Metropolis? Who do you suggest?"

It wasn't CJ who answered. Before he could think of a reply, Perry said, "I'd suggest you start with your pal, Henderson."

Lois opened her mouth a few times before any sound could come out. It seemed to CJ that Perry had somehow hit a nerve, and he wondered why. When Lois finally managed to speak, he began to get some slight insight into the problem. "But Henderson *hates* me!"

"Lois, everyone in the Metropolis PD hates you, because either you—" and he began counting things off on his fingers— "step on their toes, accuse them of being on the take, expose them for being on the take, or make them look like flat-footed fools."

CJ couldn't help himself. He laughed and earned a potent Lane glare as a result.

"And," continued Perry, "seeing as, as far as I know, Henderson only hates you for the first and last of those reasons, I'm betting he's your man."

Lois rolled her eyes and protested some more but was eventually forced to agree.


The precinct building in which Henderson worked was a left-over from the pre-depression 1920s. Solid and ostentatious, it was almost attractive. Once it might even have been intimidating, but design styles and cultural attitudes had moved on over the subsequent decades, making it more of an architectural curiosity than a temple to law and order. CJ remembered having read somewhere — probably in one of the Sunday supplements — that a preservation order had been slapped on it a few years ago, and it now had the distinction of being Metropolis Historic Landmark number seven hundred and… something. Commentators had been complaining ever since about the building's obsolescence and the need to demolish and rebuild.

The collection of police cruisers, uniformed officers and the occasional hooker or informant, trying to slouch away unremarked from the station, added clutter and noise to its forecourt, and CJ and Lois had to work their way through it all to get to the steps that led up to the front door.

CJ couldn't help but notice a makeshift ramp, a creaking affair of bent and battered metal, that obviously served as disabled access to the premises, and he found himself wondering if the commentators might have had a point.

Inside the building, disorganisation ruled supreme. There were people jostling with each other, all trying to get somewhere fast, but getting caught up in the human gridlock. There was a frenzy of activity but it didn't appear to be achieving very much.

Two voices cut through the general buzz, catching his attention and activating his super-hearing. "Well, will you look over there! There's a match made in hell, if ever I saw one."

CJ glanced around, pinpointed the source of the conversation as the first speaker's companion — his partner, most likely — attempted to talk around a mouthful of doughnut. "What?"

They were uniformed cops, CJ saw. The first speaker was older, with a pronounced belly that cascaded over the top of his waistband and a grey moustache that needed trimming. The second officer was skinny with gaunt cheeks and claw-like hands. If the way he was devouring doughnuts was anything to go by, he hadn't eaten in about a week.

The sergeant was talking again. "Lois Lane and ADA Kent." He jerked a thumb in CJ's direction, and CJ quickly averted his eyes, not wanting to be caught staring at them.

It was interesting, he thought, that the cop's vitriol was split evenly between Lois and him. He'd already learned that nearly all cops hated Lois, but the only ones who bore him a grudge were ones working for Luthor; nobody else had reason to. And that automatically made both the paunchy sergeant and the walking skeleton suspect.

Lois, heedless of the exchange, had walked up to the high counter that served as a reception desk and was now leaning across it, trying to get the duty officer's attention. "I want to see Bill Henderson."

The officer, a huge black man, whose blue shirt stretched tightly across rippling shoulder muscles, pointedly ignored her, and picked up a ringing phone.

Lois scowled, turned towards CJ and mouthed, "You try."

CJ nodded silently and leaned against the counter. He waited, aping patience, while the officer completed the call and hung up. Then he said, "Is Inspector Henderson in? We'd like a word with him, if he is."

His conciliatory approach worked better than Lois's more bombastic one — or maybe the desk jockey simply liked the look of CJ more. Whatever the reason, after staring at CJ for a few seconds and weighing up his options, the officer answered in a deep voice, "I'll see."

He was just at the point of tapping in the number for Henderson's extension when Lois said, "No need. There he is." And she was off, weaving her way through the morass of people, retracing her earlier steps, heading towards the entrance.

CJ threw a hurried thank-you at the officer, then followed after her. By the time she got to Henderson, CJ was again at her side.

Henderson didn't look too thrilled to see Lois, but he did at least acknowledge her, albeit with only a laconic "Lane" that was barely more articulate than a Neanderthal's grunt.

"Can we have a word?" Lois asked, waving a hand vaguely in CJ's direction to make it clear just who the "we" referred to.

Henderson looked CJ up and down with well- concealed surprise, then turned his attention back to Lois. "What is this? A citizen's arrest?"

"What?" she asked impatiently.

"What other reason would you have for bringing him along? After all, I seem to remember reading somewhere — in the Daily Planet, maybe — that Kent's just about as crooked as they come." For one nasty moment, CJ thought Henderson was being serious; then the faintest whisper of a wheezy chuckle told him otherwise.

Lois's cheeks reddened, and CJ wondered whether she had caught on to the fact that Henderson had been joking. "Yes, well… I… I mean the *Planet*… has had a change of heart about CJ."

Henderson's eyebrow's rose at the use of the nickname.

"And they did print a retraction," interjected CJ.

"Huh. Guess I must have missed that." Henderson narrowed his eyes balefully at Lois and said, "Okay, so what do you want?"

Lois perked up at his question, glad to be approaching the purpose of their visit. Before they got down to business, however, she had to ask, "Is there somewhere more private where we could talk?"


CJ didn't know Henderson well, although he'd put him up on the witness stand once or twice. The impression he'd always had of the policeman was of a lugubrious and jaded individual. CJ had long suspected that Henderson's propensity towards cynicism was fed by an acute awareness that the world was disinclined towards fairness. What CJ had never quite been able to work out was whether Henderson was using that fact to his own benefit, or whether it genuinely frustrated him.

Now, meeting him with Lois was providing him with a range of new insights. First, Lois clearly antagonised Henderson in a way that CJ had never been able to do. Then again, CJ knew first hand that Lois could have that effect on people; he'd simply been fortunate to get past that stage.

Henderson hadn't been happy to see Lois, but it had taken remarkably little effort to persuade him to listen to her, and he seemed to treat everything they had to say with all due seriousness. He'd quickly shown them into his office, wanting to take them away from any prying eyes or ears, and had offered them coffee. Lois had declined, but CJ had accepted. Now, as he held the resultant plastic cup and sipped on a black, oily substance that seemed to have nothing in common with coffee whatsoever, he devoutly wished that he hadn't.

Henderson's office was a small and depressing room about the size of a broom cupboard and had a view of a brick wall. The furniture was battered and there was only room for one guest chair, so CJ spent the entire conversation propped up against a dented metal filing cabinet that had a bent key permanently stuck in its lock, and which, consequently wouldn't close properly. Although he repeatedly tried to nudge it shut, one of the lower drawers kept drifting open, jabbing irritatingly into his leg.

CJ decided to let Lois take the lead in the conversation. He listened as Lois and Henderson sniped at one another and quickly came to see that, while it was obvious that no love was lost between them, they nonetheless valued each other's opinions. They didn't like each other, but their mutual antipathy was tempered with a healthy respect and trust and CJ found himself reasoning that if Lois trusted Henderson, that was recommendation enough for him.

Lois started by saying, "We came across some evidence that—"

"Came across, how?" CJ thought it interesting that Henderson knew enough about Lois to need to ask that question.

"Does it matter?"

"And the fact that you've just asked me that suggests to me that you… found… this information at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a locked office somewhere."

Lois looked at him but remained tactfully silent.

"I'll just take that as a yes, shall I?" asked Henderson. He huffed. "I expect that kind of behaviour from you, Lane, but I'd have thought a lawyer would know better." He glanced pointedly at CJ, who opened his mouth to reply, then thought better of it, and shut it again.

CJ couldn't help but recognise the irony of the situation, though. Henderson didn't seem too happy about Lois's rather idiosyncratic attitude towards the rule of law. Until recently he would have shared Henderson's misgivings — perhaps he still did — and yet, here he was, tarred with the same brush as Lois.

"Oh, come on, Henderson! Just hear us out, and then if you don't like what we've got to say, you can bawl us out. Okay?"

Was that a twitch of Henderson's lips? CJ wondered. It could almost be described as the beginnings of a smile. "Seems to me," the detective said, "that you're the only one talking. Kent doesn't seem to have much to say." He sighed. "Oh, very well. Tell me what you've got. But it had better be good."

Lois grinned. "Oh, it is. Believe me." She explained about Tierney, and the defence attorney's recent change of moral heart. She glanced once or twice at CJ to check that he had nothing to add, but he preferred to leave her to blur the edges of the truth. She didn't lie, but by leaving out certain details, she left room for interpretation. If Henderson believed that their leads had come directly from Tierney, then neither he nor Lois would contradict him. It did cross CJ's mind, however, that the astute detective might be *choosing* to interpret the facts that way.

Lois went on to talk about Monica Carnes, about how a woman fitting her physical description had been implicated in the rigging of the Allen trial, and that the same Monica Carnes had a meeting scheduled for that afternoon with one Barbara Benton.

Henderson pointedly did not ask how Lois and CJ had chanced upon that particular bit of information. He did, however, ask whether either of them had any inkling as to what the meeting might be about.

"None," admitted Lois. "But since they also met around the time of at least one other trial that went wrong, I'm betting that it won't be a social get together."

"But it could be," suggested Henderson, adopting the role of devil's advocate.

Reluctantly, Lois agreed. "Yes, it could be." She paused, then added, "I don't think so, though. If they were friends, there would have been other entries in Benton's diary—"

"Stop!" Henderson held up his hands. "You've looked at Benton's *diary*?"

CJ saw Lois hesitate then start to nod. Henderson stopped her before she could even complete the first downward tilt of her chin. "I don't want to know!"

Henderson stood up and tried to pace, a task rendered impossible in the tight confines of the office. He gave the attempt up as a bad job, sat down again, and settled for drumming his fingertips on the desktop instead. The resulting staccato rhythm grated on CJ's nerves.

Finally Henderson said, "So what, precisely, is it that you think I can do?"

"Stakeout," said Lois immediately.

Henderson looked sceptical.

"Look, Henderson, we can tie this woman into bribery, threats, perverting the course of justice… I'm sure CJ could give you a list of the proper names for all these crimes—"

"No need for that, I'm sure," said Henderson dryly.

"Wouldn't you like to get her for some of these? And who knows what else she's up to? Word on the street is that she works as some kind of enforcer for Luthor. Wouldn't you like to know what *he's* up to?"

Henderson looked resigned as he capitulated in the face of Lois's onslaught. "Okay," he said grudgingly. "A stakeout it is. Is there anything else you want?"

CJ sensed that the conversation was about to draw to a close, so he shifted his weight so that he was standing upright. However, he had reckoned without Lois.

"Yeah," she said.

"What?" grunted Henderson.

"I want in."

"No," said Henderson firmly.

"It's my tip," protested Lois. "I deserve to be there and I will be, one way or the other! After all, the meeting is in a public place and I—"

"You *deserve* to be in the holding cell!" snapped Henderson. "But short of that…" He rubbed his hands across his face then said, "I'll not have you jeopardising the operation. If we're going to do this, we've got to do it right, and I don't want you ploughing straight in to the middle of a delicate situation."

"What? Are you related to my boss? Because you're beginning to sound just like him!"

"Do I look like an Elvis-loving southerner to you?"

CJ watched, fascinated, as Henderson and Lois stared each other out. He wasn't particularly surprised when Henderson broke eye contact first. "Okay, Lane. I'll do you a deal. You can come with me, but you do exactly what I say, when I say it. One false move, and I'll have you clamped in irons faster than the speed of light."

Lois smirked, satisfied. "And CJ?"

Henderson shook his head. "One of you is bad enough, and I'm only going along with that so that I can keep my eyes on you. So, do we have a deal?"

"Deal," she said and held out her hand to shake on it.

Henderson shook perfunctorily as if it was the last thing he wanted to do. "Now," he said, "before I throw you both out, is there anything else I should know about?"

CJ took both Lois and Henderson by surprise when he spoke. "Yes," he said. "I'm assuming that you'll have a team working on this stakeout?"

"Of course," said Henderson.

"Then do us all a favour, and make sure that these two guys aren't anywhere near it," and he proceeded to describe the two officers he'd overheard earlier.

This time, when Henderson laughed, there was no mistaking it. "Oh, I know about those two!" he said.

"And they're still working here?" asked Lois incredulously, beating CJ to the question by the shortest of margins.

"At least I *know* those two are bent," said Henderson. "If I got rid of them, Luthor'd just get someone else to do his dirty work. I like knowing who I have to look out for."

The sad thing, CJ thought, was that what Henderson was saying made complete sense.



CJ had now spent so much time at the Daily Planet that he was beginning to feel at home there, especially since Jack had finally run out of lawyer jokes and Jimmy had stopped staring at him as though he was some bizarre form of alien life.

Of course, CJ probably *was* some bizarre form of alien life, but Jimmy didn't actually know that… Perhaps the fact that CJ was a lawyer was enough on its own to make Jimmy stare. After all, an awful lot of Jack's jokes suggested that lawyers weren't quite human.

What was it about journalists and lawyers, anyway? Were reporters taught to hate lawyers as part of Journalism 101? Perhaps not, CJ decided, because Lois had mentioned in passing that Jack, at least, hadn't been to university. Maybe it was just instinct.

The staring aside, CJ had had little to do with Jimmy, something for which he was grateful. It wasn't so much that CJ didn't like him — he seemed a decent enough guy — as that Jimmy was fixated on CJ's alter ego, and that made CJ uneasy.

That Jimmy hadn't found anything new since CJ had rescued Tessa Michigan seemed to make matters worse, rather than better. Perry was assigning other stories to Jimmy now, but everyone in the newsroom knew that the reporter was obsessing over the one that had got away. He would tell anyone who was prepared to listen just how much he wanted that story. And he would get it. Somehow.

While CJ felt that Jimmy was dangerous, most other people — Jack included, who said so at great length — thought that Jimmy was turning into a bit of a bore. That was helpful in a way, because it gave CJ the perfect cover for avoiding him.

Overall, though, CJ liked the Planet and its staff. Maybe CJ's wasn't a normal vacation, but it was a change from his routine and, largely thanks to Lois, he was having a surprising amount of fun. Really, what more could any vacationer ask?

Right now, CJ and Lois were back in the conference room, where they had been working steadily for the last hour or so. CJ looked up from the pile of computer print-out in front of him and said, "Lois, I've been thinking."

Lois cocked her head and sniffed the air. "Ah, hah! That's what it is. I thought I could smell burning."

"Hah, hah. Very funny, Lois," said CJ without heat. "Seriously, though, I've been thinking about prostitution."

"What, don't they pay you enough at the DA's office?"


"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Go on, CJ."

"It's something Tessa said to us, the other day. She told us that the police at the bus terminal made it clear that they could get her a job as a hooker, right?"

Lois cast her mind back to the conversation. "Right," she said. "So what?"

"Doesn't that suggest organised prostitution to you?"

"Maybe. But that still doesn't get us to Luthor. I mean, somehow I doubt that he's running a brothel."

"Not himself, no. But we might be able to get him on a charge of conspiracy."

Suddenly Lois was all ears, leaning forward across the table in her enthusiasm to hear more. "What? How?"

"There's precedent," said CJ. "I just can't believe he'd be stupid enough to not hide the connections, but looking at these papers—"

"CJ! Just spit it out, will you?"

He nodded. "Have you ever heard of Charles 'Lucky' Luciano?"

"No. Should I have done?"

"Probably not. He was a mobster, back in 1930s New York."

"And the history lesson is relevant how?"

"If you can keep quiet for a minute while I explain, you'll see."

"Well, I'll try, but it'll be difficult," said Lois, then perhaps thinking that CJ's tolerance for jokes might be wearing thin, she sobered and said. "Go on. I'm listening."

"'Lucky' Luciano had a couple of hundred prostitutes working for him. They worked out of apartments, which he owned. He had people who directed the hookers to areas where trade was good. He moved the women around, so that clients could get fresh faces at regular intervals. He had enforcers who made sure that they turned over an agreed percentage of their takings to him, or at least his agents, at the end of each month. He had people who were paying off the police and the courts — well, we already know that Luthor is doing that for some of his other business activities. He even had doctors who looked after the girls' health."

"Health plans for hookers? Pretty forward thinking, for a guy operating sixty odd years ago."

CJ nodded, acknowledging Lois's comment, and continued. "Luciano also had an interest in a linen firm, and it supplied all the sheets and towels for his prostitution business."

"You're kidding me, right?"

CJ shook his head. "Nope. Luciano ran a highly organised operation. Anyway, this crusading DA—"

"Sounds familiar."

"—managed to piece all the component parts of the operation together, and made a successful prosecution on the grounds of conspiracy. Luciano wasn't involved in any of the businesses day to day, but he was convicted because detectives used the theory of conspiracy to prove his guilt."

"And you think Luthor is doing something similar?"

"Maybe. There's a laundry service in the East River district that seems to be doing an awful lot of business with three massage parlours in Suicide Slum."

"But East River is nowhere near the Slum. That makes no sense at all."

"It's a LexCorp subsidiary, Lois."

"You do know that massage parlour isn't always a euphemism for brothel, don't you, CJ?" The excitement in her eyes was at odds with the caution in her words.

"Sure I do," he said. "But it's worth looking into, wouldn't you say?"

Lois didn't answer immediately. She looked pensive for a moment, then nodded. "When I was checking out which stories the other papers hadn't picked up on… You know, when I came across the Taylor story the other day?"

"Yes?" CJ said, prompting her to continue.

"One of the others was about organised prostitution in the Slum. So, yes. I'd say it's *definitely* worth looking into.

"By the way," Lois asked abruptly, "what are you planning on doing while I'm on the stakeout this afternoon?"

CJ shrugged. "Check out these massage parlours, I guess." Then seeing the look on Lois's face, he hurriedly added, "Not like that!" But then he saw the way her eyes were dancing, and he knew that he'd just been had.

Jack chose that moment to reappear, putting a premature end to the teasing. With a flourish, he presented Lois with a single piece of paper and announced, "I found him." He sounded particularly smug for some reason.

"Who've you found?" asked Lois.

"Johnson." On hearing that, CJ had to admit that Jack had good cause to be pleased with himself.

"How?" "Where?" Their excited questions overlapped each other, and Jack did his best to answer them both.

"Where is Bolivia. You told me he was there, yourselves. To be more precise, he's in prison in La Paz. How? I just did a little ol' web search and, hey presto, there he was."

"Wait a minute," said CJ. "I spent ages looking for Johnson on the Internet, and I didn't find anything. So how come your search turned up something useful when mine didn't?"

Jack's pride gave way to something a little more sheepish. "If I tell you, you've got to promise not to laugh at me."

"Right now," answered CJ, "I'm too impressed to laugh." And he honestly was.

"Well, then…" Jack licked his lips and said, "I spelled his name wrong."

"What?!" chorused Lois and CJ.

"I've never been much good at spelling, so I… Well, I missed out the 'h' in Johnson. And I found him through a Bolivian newspaper article. Obviously their reporter couldn't spell either."

"Unbelievable," muttered CJ, marvelling at the way luck could sometimes work.

"What's he in prison for?" asked Lois.

"Drugs," answered Jack. "I'm not too sure about the details, though. My Spanish isn't that good. Does the word 'narcotraficante' mean anything to you?"

CJ thought for a moment, made a decision, then said, "Jack. I'm going to be out for most of the afternoon, and so is Lois. While we're gone, could you check something else out for us?" Lois raised her eyebrows at CJ, and he could tell that she was as curious to know what precisely he wanted Jack to do as was Jack, himself.

CJ pointed down towards one of the pieces of paper in front of him, said, "We're interested in some businesses in Suicide Slum," and rapidly filled Jack in on their prostitution theory.

When CJ finished, Jack grinned, grabbed hold of the addresses, and said, "I'm on it." He rushed towards the door, but turned when he reached the threshold. "Oh, and before I forget, Lois, some guy — Saxon? — called. Said to tell you that he liked what you did with his information, and that he wants to talk to you again." Then he was gone.

CJ looked at Lois and, stating the obvious, he said, "I changed my mind about working on the brothel thing. Jack can do the legwork here in Metropolis."

"While you…?" she asked, though he suspected she'd already guessed the answer.

"While I go to Bolivia."

"But… You heard Jack. Johnson's in prison! They're not just going to let you waltz in there, even if you do get lucky and it's visiting hours!"

"Ah," said CJ. "But that's where you're wrong."

"Wrong?" Lois said sceptically, as if the idea that she could be wrong about anything was a foreign concept.

CJ explained. "There was an item about La Paz in the Planet's travel section a few weeks ago. Fascinating place, by the sounds of things. Anyway, one of the city's more unusual tourist sites is the National Penitentiary where, for a nominal fee, one of the inmates will give you a guided tour."

"You're kidding."

CJ shook his head. "No, actually I'm not. So, all I need to do is pick up a few bolivianos and, uh…" He made the flying motion with his right hand that he'd learned from the other world's Lois and Clark. "In fact, unless you've got anything else in mind for me, I might as well get going now."

"Anything else in mind…" Lois seemed to give that careful thought, then said, "You can wait another five minutes, can't you? I think…"

She didn't need to say what she was thinking. He could read it in the gleam in her eyes and the way she sashayed towards him, raising her arms, ready to wrap them around him.

As her lips met his, he decided that he could, indeed, wait for five minutes before leaving. Maybe he could even wait for ten or fifteen.


It was a perfect day for flying.

The sky was an almost turquoise shade of blue above him and the water below glittered with the reflected fragments of the afternoon sun. To CJ's left, the open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean stretched into the distance. To his right lay the eastern seaboard of the United States.

He passed over scattered freckles of land, sparking a memory of a childhood geography lesson: the Bahamas, he thought, and then the larger blob of Haiti. He spotted the long cigar of Cuba off to the west.

Then he was back over land again. From so high up he couldn't be sure where the borders between Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil lay, but he could make out the mighty Amazon flowing through its basin.

As he flew nearer to his goal, CJ flew lower and began to pay closer attention to the landscapes below. He could see the high Andean peaks to his right, which meant that he was too far east.

CJ turned and flew due west, a trajectory that took him over the low alluvial plains, swamps and gently rolling forests that made up some sixty per cent of Bolivia's total surface area. Then the relief changed abruptly, metamorphosing into a densely forested region of high ridges, deep valleys and precipitous gorges — the Yungas — and then he was over the Andes.

He paused to orientate himself. Below him lay the monotonous flat-floored expanse of the Altiplano, which lay between the two parallel ranges of the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Occidental. It stretched for hundreds of miles, barren and bleak, and almost inaccessible through more conventional means.

CJ wished he had brought a camera with him, knowing that he was seeing something unique. On second thoughts, though… It would be hard to explain how he had come to take the pictures.

From there it was easy to find La Paz. All he had to do was fly along the length of the Altiplano, then continue north until he hit the city.


Lois had long since decided that there were three types of people: people that made things happen, people things happened to, and people who seemed to coast through life untouched by and disinterested in everything.

Henderson, Lois thought, most definitely belonged to that first group. Quiet and morose, he might be, but somehow he managed to get people to bend to his will, quickly and efficiently. How else could he have managed to get permission to plant microphones throughout the chic caf, where Benton's rendezvous was to take place? How else could he have persuaded the tenants of a second floor apartment in the building opposite to go out of town for a few days, leaving the police free to use it as the base of their operations?

She hated to admit it, but she was impressed.

The speed with which he'd managed to achieve everything was reflected in the lunch dishes the apartment's usual inhabitants had left unwashed in the sink, the half-drunk cups of coffee left on the table in the living room and the litter of half- read newspapers on the sofa.

The police had added their own layer of mess to the one the tenants had left behind. Electrical wires criss-crossed the stripped pine floor, and various pieces of high-tech recording equipment occupied nearly every flat surface. A dark-haired officer was setting up a camera at one of the two windows; the Nikon had an impressively long zoom lens and was balanced on a rugged looking tripod.

Beneath all the clutter, though, it was a smart apartment. Clean, too, Lois noticed. From the lack of dust on the shelves and skirting boards, Lois deduced that whoever lived there had a cleaning fetish and would probably be fretting until they returned about the mess they'd left behind along with the impression it would give. It wouldn't occur to whoever they were that the police might not care.

Lois wandered over to the window — the one without the camera — and peaked out through the slats of the closed blinds, trying to keep out of the way of the officer who was carrying out the final checks to the recording equipment.

"Everything working?" It was Henderson's voice, Lois realised.

"Yes, sir," said the sound recordist.

"Plotnek?" asked Henderson.

"Uh, huh," replied the cameraman with a grin. "All set up and ready to go."

"Good job, you two," he said. "Now all we've got to do is wait."

Lois glanced down at her watch. It was three o'clock; the rendezvous had been scheduled for four. Henderson looked at her and said, "Okay, Lane. Now, remember, don't get in the way and *don't touch anything*."

Lois looked at him reproachfully.

"And don't give me that butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, who-me? look, either. I *know* you, Lane, remember. And I know that you'll get into everything, given half a chance, so I'm warning you now: don't. You're here on sufferance. Don't you forget that."

The dark-haired officer with the camera turned around. There was a measure of amused sympathy in his eyes as he said, "Don't worry about him. He's a grump."

"Plotnek…" warned Henderson. "Mind your job, not our guest."

"Sorry, sir," said Plotnek, and directing a last flash of a smile in Lois direction, he turned back to the viewfinder and fiddled with the focus.


CJ managed to touch down unnoticed in a small alley that led onto a quiet tree-lined square. He stepped out into the bright sun, noting that there was a bite to the air that had less to do with the oncoming winter than with the altitude. The cold, however, was doing nothing to deter children from playing their games, or the women — their mothers? — from selling sweets from small kiosks.

Along the opposite side of the square stood a large building. It lacked the faded splendour of the grander structures left behind centuries ago by the Spanish conquistadores, but it was imposing nonetheless. The yellow-ochre coloured walls hid behind them the notorious National Penitentiary, CJ's current destination.

CJ made his way towards the jail and, as he approached the gate, a prisoner waved at him, beckoning him closer. "I am Felipe. You come with me, and I give you tour. Yes? Bargain price, yes?"

There wasn't much CJ could say to that, other than to agree.

Felipe's tanned face split into a wide smile, revealing straight yellow teeth.

A lethargic guard allowed CJ to enter the prison and went through the most cursory motions of searching him. His disinterest was quickly explained, however, when Felipe, who proved to be very talkative, revealed that he only kept half of the tour fee for himself. The remainder went to paying off the guards and paying for his other expenses. It took CJ a while to realise that this meant giving the head of the prison's own mafia his cut of the takings.

CJ felt as though he had stepped into an alternate reality — one, he ruefully mused, that was stranger by far than the *real* alternate world he had visited. La Paz's prison bore no relation to any prison CJ had ever visited, and, given his profession, he had visited more than most people.

For one thing, the only guards in evidence were stationed around the entrance and perimeter. Inside, the prison appeared to be governed by the inmates, or, more precisely, by those inmates with the most power and money.

CJ kept his eyes open, letting his eyes linger on everyone they passed. All the prisoners were dressed in casual clothes, but none looked anything like the photograph of the other world's Jules Johnson.

A look around showed CJ that, if you were rich, you could live surprisingly well inside the prison. "Here are the best rooms," explained Felipe, embracing the three floors and balconies that surrounded the interior courtyard where they now stood. "Here prisoners with much money buy the best rooms." He rubbed the tips of his thumb and fingers together to reinforce his words. "Even pay for family to live here, too."

CJ raised his eyebrows. It sounded unbelievable, but, indeed, there were a number of children running around. There were various facilities here, too: a pool hall, a restaurant… more of the kiosks that he'd seen in the square outside. If he hadn't known where he was, he would have thought that he was in the courtyard of a rather decent hotel.

Felipe led him further into the prison. The next courtyard they entered was less luxurious, but still quite pleasant.

The next area they passed through had nothing in common with the previous ones. This one, which Felipe described as being the "slums", was squalid, and the inmates looked appropriately dejected. "Here many people die," said Felipe. "They fight much. This is not a good place."

Maybe it wasn't a good place, but it was where CJ finally spotted his quarry.

Although CJ had been keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of Luthor's ex-employee, he almost missed him. The man, slumped against an outside wall, was almost unrecognisable. The Jules Johnson in CJ's pictures was a clean shaven and smartly dressed individual with a weakness for sharp suits and highly polished shoes.

This man's hair had been unevenly clipped, shaved close to his skull, and there was a couple of day's worth of beard on his face. He wore a simple once-white cotton shirt and frayed blue jeans. More telling, however, was the haunted look in his eyes, one of which was swollen half-shut, evidence of a recent beating, and the thinness of his frame. Prison clearly did not agree with Jules Johnson.

Johnson's eyes flickered incuriously over CJ, who he clearly saw as being yet another gringo tourist come to gawk at him and his ilk. However, when he saw surprised recognition in CJ's face, his whole demeanour changed.

CJ watched Johnson struggle to his feet. Then, hope warring with anger, Johnson said, "It's about time! I've been waiting for months for the big man to spring me!"

Felipe, who had drawn to a halt next to CJ, waiting impatiently for him to move along, threw out his hands and rolled his eyes. Then he jabbed an accusing finger at Johnson and spat, "Always with the big man. This big man, he no exist!" He turned towards CJ and said, more politely, "Excuse him, senor. He is…" He tapped his temple with his forefinger.

"Please, Felipe," ventured CJ, "could you give us a few minutes alone?"

"You and he?" asked Felipe, somewhat taken aback by the request. "You know him?"

CJ shook his head. "We've never met. But I think we might have some… acquaintances… in common."

Felipe didn't look entirely convinced — at least, not until CJ presented him with a few more bank notes. Then Felipe said, "Ten minutes. I come back for you in ten minutes." He faded from view.

"What took you so long?" hissed Johnson as soon as they had some privacy.

CJ didn't answer the question. Instead, he answered the question with one of his own. "How come you're in here?"

"I was caught," answered Johnson, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

CJ almost smiled. "I rather gathered that. I was wondering more about the circumstances of your capture."

"I made the connections, just like the boss wanted. Made the arrangements for Pablo Quintero to come to Metropolis for the meeting. Everything was good until… See, Pablo gave me some samples, and I thought we'd paid off the border guards. Seems, though, that Pablo decided not to deal. He wanted to set up his own cell in Metropolis — as if the boss would ever let him get away with that! — so he paid double for the guards to catch me."

That explanation seemed to have drained Johnson of all his energy, and he slid his back down the wall, until he was back in his original seated position. CJ squatted down opposite him.

CJ couldn't help but notice the way Johnson's right leg juddered, an involuntary movement Johnson tried to control by pressing down on his knee with both hands. It occurred to CJ to wonder whether it was a nervous tick or the more malign symptoms of withdrawal. Was Johnson a user as well as a pusher? It seemed likely; drugs, along with everything else, were undoubtedly readily available in the penitentiary.

He sighed, slipped off his glasses, and gently kneaded the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.

"Headache?" asked Johnson.

CJ nodded vaguely.

"Huh," said Johnson, by way of an acknowledgement. Then he returned to a subject that was of more direct interest to himself. "What are you going to do to get me out of here?"

"Do?" asked CJ. "Why should I do anything?"

"'Cause the boss owes me!"


"So you gotta do something! You don't know what it's like in here, day in day out!"

That much was true, thought CJ, but he couldn't find it in himself to care very much, either. He hated everything Jules Johnson represented. CJ had spent far too much time having to comfort the victims of drug induced crime, coaxing them to go on the witness stand as he prosecuted dealers and traffickers, for him to want to help Johnson more than he had to, to get what he wanted. If Johnson really had run out on Luthor, because he couldn't stomach the way Luthor did business, CJ would have sympathised with his plight but, from everything that Johnson had just said, it seemed as though the street had got it wrong.

The newspaper article Jack had found had been right. Johnson was a drugs runner, plain and simple.

CJ frowned, working through the implications of that.

"Word on the street," said CJ, "is that you ran out on Luthor. That you took off with his money."

"That isn't true! There wasn't any money! Just an agreement between two parties to—"

"So you claim that you were still working for Luthor when you were caught?"

"Of course I was! You know that! I mean, he sent you to help me!"

CJ shook his head in silent denial. "Luthor cut you loose a long time ago. Face it, he left you here to rot."

"But you said…"

Again CJ shook his head. "You just assumed."

Johnson ducked his head, wrapped his hands around the nape of his neck and muttered something obscene. "I'm a dead man," he muttered.

"How do you figure that?" asked CJ.

"You just said it. I've been dumped. And I haven't got any money to buy my way out. Heck, I don't even have enough money for a half-way decent cell!"

CJ remained silent for a while, letting the seriousness of the situation sink in. He concentrated on listening to Johnson's pounding and panicked heart beat, calculating carefully the moment when he could most effectively commute the trafficker's sentence.

"Of course," he said slowly, "there might be another way."

"Another…?" The speed with which Johnson reached out for the proffered straw was pathetic to behold.

CJ nodded. "It would mean making another deal."

"A deal," said Johnson dubiously. "What kind of a deal?"

"How about one with the DEA?"

This time, Johnson's expletive was almost shouted. "No! No way, man! I said I was dead before, but this… I'm not going to commit suicide!"

CJ shrugged his shoulders and stood up. "Your loss," he said, and turned as though to walk away.

One step.

Two steps.


Then… "Wait!"

CJ turned on his heel, a calculatedly slow movement. He looked down at Johnson, at his battered face, his beseeching eyes.

"What… what would I have to do?"



The silence in the small apartment was oppressive, Lois thought. Or maybe that was just her. After all, the dark-haired officer with the camera — Plotnek, she remembered — seemed to have no problems with waiting patiently. Since Henderson's warning, he had just kept his right eye pressed against the viewfinder of the Nikon and watched the world go by.

There was a rustle of paper as the officer with the tape recorder flipped over a page of the dog-eared novel he was reading. She couldn't quite make out the title from where she was sitting, but from the illustration on the cover, which was comprised of silhouettes of a gun and a body, with a profusion of red splatters over them both, she assumed that it was a particularly sensational thriller. It wasn't her sort of thing at all.

Henderson, himself, was concentrating on the Daily Planet's crossword. From the look of things, he seemed to be doing fairly well, although three down remained stubbornly blank. She was tempted to ask if he needed any help but decided against it. For one thing, she doubted that she could do any better. For another, even she wasn't that bored. Yet.

She had just begun to draft the opening paragraphs of an article in her head when Plotnek suddenly spoke. "Heads up guys. I think we're in business."

Henderson quickly put the crossword to one side, looked at his watch, and said, "They're early."

Plotnek grunted an affirmative. "It's just Carnes and a man in a black Fedora at the moment. Wait a minute… The man… It's Luthor!"

"What?" snapped Henderson. "Are you sure?"

"Come and see for yourself."

The officer in charge of the recording equipment, whose name Lois had either missed or forgotten, flipped a few switches, and a crackle of dialogue burst out from a speaker.

"… a table for three." The voice was female and rich with a patronising superiority. Carnes, Lois presumed, and she wondered whether the woman was looking down her nose at the waitress as she spoke.

If so, the waitress was doing a good job of refusing to be bothered by it. Perkily, she said, "Certainly. Would you like smoking or non-smoking?"


"This way, please."

Lois got to her feet, determined also to have a look. She hovered impatiently while Henderson took his own sweet time staring through the view finder.

Then he straightened and allowed Lois to take a turn.

By the time Lois got to see what was going on, Luthor and Carnes were seated at their table, one of about twenty inside a very chic caf,. The decor was modern, all white walls, hard chairs, chrome and stripped wood. That everything was visible through floor to ceiling glass windows was an added bonus, at least as far as the police were concerned. Clearly, it was aiming at the kind of people who put style above taste or value for money; Lois suspected that it served imported bottled beers, nouvelle cuisine and coffee at seven dollars a cup.

Behind her, Henderson cleared his throat. Lois took the hint; she was obviously pushing her luck, hogging the camera for so long. Reluctantly, she allowed Plotnek to return to his post, and she had to rely on mental images to accompany the live soundtrack.

The next few minutes of conversation was desultory and dull, although Lois supposed that it wasn't everyone who found out that Luthor didn't think much of decaffeinated coffee, liked extra cocoa on top of his cappuccino and preferred artificial sweeteners to real sugar. Carnes apparently liked her coffee thick and black, and ordered a double espresso.

After the waitress had set their drinks down with an alarmingly cheerful "Enjoy!" things began to get more interesting.

Luthor's voice lowered, making it difficult to hear, and the sound man had to work his dials and switches to boost the signal coming in from the remote microphones. After thirty seconds or so, words blasted out of the speaker so loudly that Lois jumped.

"… Allen. Someone from Benton's office must have talked, and I want to know who."

Lois had only ever heard Luthor talk at public functions or on television. She'd never realised how much menace he could put into his normally smooth tone. A shiver of trepidation crawled up her spine, making her fear for Tierney's safety because Luthor was quite right. Someone at Benton, Miller, Nowak and Associates *had* been talking, and he couldn't be expected to realise, or to care, that the leak had had nothing to do with the discovery of the plot to corrupt the jury.

"What are you going to do about it?" asked Carnes. There was something in the way she asked the question that was both sibilant and hungry, and that made Lois think of a snake poised to strike.

"Do? Nothing… at the moment. However, when I find out who has been talking…" Luthor paused for just the right amount of time to inject the silence with the maximum amount of menace. "Then I think we will have to pay whoever it is a visit."

"And I'll look forward to it," breathed Carnes.


By the time Felipe returned, CJ had extracted more secrets from Johnson on the pretext of needing the information if he were to approach one of his contacts in the DEA. If he had enough bait on his hook, he would be able to persuade an agent to come and rescue Johnson from this anteroom to Hell.

The Bolivian guide led CJ back to the prison entrance, waved him a cheerful good-bye and picked up another tourist to take around.

CJ tilted his head back, took a deep breath and sighed. Then he found a little caf,, sat down and gently massaged his temples. A pretty waitress came over to take CJ's order. In stilted Spanish, he asked for a coffee and, a couple of minutes later, she brought it over to him.

He drank it slowly, reflecting on his meeting with Johnson. The conversation had taken far more out of him than he'd expected, but the return had been worth it. Johnson knew more than CJ had believed possible about Luthor's illegal activities; he most certainly had had no moral qualms about involving himself in them as fully as possible. If Luthor had played straight with him, CJ had no doubt that Johnson would be refusing to help him now, but desperation made men do strange things, and CJ had no doubt that Johnson was a very desperate man.

CJ thought that Johnson was utterly despicable, but he had to admit that he was going to be a very useful weapon in the campaign to bring Luthor down.

CJ leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

"You okay, senor?" the waitress asked, more curious than sympathetic, and CJ realised that she had come over to clear away his cup and saucer.

"Yeah," lied CJ. "I'm just feeling a little…" He made a vague hand gesture, unable to quite describe his symptoms.

"Es el soroche," she said. Then at CJ's blank look, she tried again. "It's the… como se dice… mountain sickness. All the tourists have it. You must stay a few days to… aclimatarse?"

"Acclimatise," said CJ vaguely, noting but not voicing the impossibility of what the waitress was suggesting. How could he, who had flown up into the stratosphere, be suffering from altitude sickness at a mere twelve thousand feet?

He looked at his watch and decided that it was time he went home. He paid the bill, said a polite good-bye and headed out.


"Here comes Benton now," announced Plotnek from his position by the window.

His words were followed almost immediately by the sounds of high heels clicking and chairs scraping across the floor.

"Good afternoon, Lex." Although Lois didn't recognise the voice, she knew it had to be Benton. Then, with a noticeable chill, she added, "Monica." Lois wondered whether Benton's obvious dislike for the other woman was born of natural antipathy or jealousy over Carnes' close relationship with Luthor, or whether it was a mixture of both.

"Sit down," said Luthor abruptly, dispensing with small-talk altogether.

Another scraping of chairs indicated that Benton had done as commanded.

"So what can I do for you today?" Benton asked.

She sounded… Lois groped around for a suitable word and was torn between subservient and sycophantic. She seemed to have been cowed by Luthor's lack of welcome. Had Tierney been right about her wanting to resume an intimate relationship with Luthor? Lois wasn't convinced, because Benton seemed more fearful than lustful. She wondered what kind of hold Luthor had over her.

"First you can tell me how you managed to make such a mess of the Allen trial."

"Me?" Benton asked, incredulity temporarily pushing fear aside. "All I did was organise the list of names you wanted. It was you guys who were doing the actual dirty work!"

"It had to have been someone from your office who tipped off Lane."

"No," replied Benton flatly. "No-one in my office would be that… that…"

"Stupid?" suggested Carnes. "Lane must have had help. She might be intelligent, but I'm betting she needed to be told about the voir dire process, and only someone intimately involved with the legal system could have done that."

Benton ignored the second part of Carnes observations, but she did grudgingly admit that "stupid" was an appropriate word.

"Are you sure that nobody in your office could have talked?" That was Luthor.

"As sure as I can be," answered Benton.

"And how sure *is* that, exactly?" asked Carnes.

The silence that followed as Benton failed to answer was painful in its intensity. Maybe it was Lois's imagination, but she thought that there was an unspoken threat hovering in the air.

When Luthor next spoke, it was as if the exchange hadn't happened. He sounded friendly, almost warm, as he said, "Could you update me on the other matter?"

"The take-overs of ExTel and MaxiComm, you mean?" asked Benton, although Lois suspected that the question was unnecessary.

Maybe Luthor nodded, but as Lois couldn't see, she didn't know for sure.

"Would you care to order, ma'am?" The perky waitress was back.

Over the negotiations that followed, Lois mused, "ExTel and MaxiComm… I'm sure I've heard something about them recently."

Henderson chuckled dryly, more a wheeze in the back of his throat than anything else, almost as if his body wasn't used to producing laughter. "So you should have done, if you read your own paper."

"What do you mean?" asked Lois confused.

Henderson elaborated, uncharacteristically forthcoming in the face of Lois's lack of knowledge. "It's been all over the business pages for the last week. There are rumours of some secret buyer grabbing all the shares."

That description rang bells for Lois. "Douglas Pearson's column, right?" she asked, not bothering to disguise her lack of interest.

"His stuff's good, Lois. He's an expert on the stock market."

"You follow the market, Henderson?" Lois asked with unflattering surprise.

"Sure. It's a hobby of mine," he answered without rancour. "Plus it helps to supplement my income." He paused, then added, "What can I say? Some people take bribes. I dabble in stocks. We've all got to make ends meet somehow."

It occurred to Lois that, despite the dry, almost monotonic delivery, Henderson was making fun of himself. She found it rather endearing, and she chuckled appreciatively. Henderson almost smiled in return. Lois had never suspected him of having a self-deprecating sense of humour before; then again, she'd never spent time locked in a room with him before, either. Prolonged exposure to another, she supposed, could bring the strangest secrets out into the open.

Plotnek hushed them and said hurriedly, "The waitress is going."

"Now, where were we?" Luthor's voice echoed out of the speaker again. "Ah, yes. ExTel and MaxiComm."

"As you know, the matter is being handled through my brother- in-law's stockbroking company. He assures me that the ExTel shares will be in the hands of your agents by the end of the week. However…" She hesitated, then took the plunge, delivering news that she had to know would displease him. "They are having some difficulties with regards to the MaxiComm shares."

"What kinds of difficulties?" asked Luthor, and Lois noticed that the dangerous edge was back in his voice, nudging it down a tone or two in pitch.

"The chairman — a Beppe Pagliano — doesn't want to sell," explained Benton, "and since he holds fifty-one per cent of the stock…"

"Then he must be *persuaded* to sell."

"He won't be persuaded."

"Everyone," said Luthor, "can be persuaded. It's just a matter of finding the right… leverage."

"There isn't much in the way of leverage and he's stubborn."

"Explain," Luthor commanded imperiously.

"Pagliano loathes his two ex-wives. The feeling is entirely mutual, I might add. He has three kids, and he hates them, too. Quite honestly, if anything happened to any of them, he'd be more likely to thank us than anything else. He's beginning to tire of his current wife, too. She's already tired of him, but she hasn't walked out on him yet because she signed a prenuptial agreement and won't get a cent if she leaves. If we threatened her, he'd be quite likely to tell us to go through with whatever we suggested. However…"

"However?" said Luthor, a note of hopeful interest colouring the three syllables.

"I have it on good authority," said Benton, "that were anything to happen to him, she would inherit everything. His current will names her as sole beneficiary and, while he's been talking about changing it, he hasn't done so yet."

"And how, precisely, do you know that?"

"His wife and I belong to the same health club," answered Benton. Then, to make it clear that this wasn't simply a happy coincidence, she added, "I joined two weeks ago. Sylvia Pagliano spends most of her time in the members' bar. She gets quite talkative after a few spritzers. I gather," continued Benton, "that she would do more or less anything to get hold of some money."

The unspoken suggestion hung between them. Then Luthor said, "Hypothetically speaking, if Mrs Pagliano got hold of a few shares in MaxiComm, would she sell?"

"Yes, she would. Hypothetically speaking."

Luthor sounded thoughtful. "What else can you tell me about this Pagliano character?"

"Not a lot," answered Benton. "His wife described him as 'ugly and perverse'. She says he has an almost pathological hatred of taking advice or orders from anyone else. He'll argue that black is white, even when he knows he's wrong, just to exercise his autonomy. I gather his behaviour leads to lots of arguments. He likes arguing, but she doesn't. She says he's impossible to live with."

Sounding surprised, Luthor said, "He behaves like that, but he still manages to be a success in business? Even *I* have to take advice sometimes."

Lois thought she heard Carnes snort with suppressed laughter at that. Maybe she was wrong, though, because neither Benton nor Luthor gave any sign of having heard anything amiss.

Benton must have nodded then, because she didn't give a verbal answer to Luthor's question. "MaxiComm's board members might all hate him," she said, "but they know which side their bread is buttered on. They're all yes- men — no women on his board. And, when he's not being awkward, Pagliano allegedly verges on the brilliant." There was a pause, before Benton asked, "So what do you want me to do next?"

"Nothing yet," answered Luthor. "I think we can handle it from here."

There was another pause, then Carnes said in her silkily patronising way, "You may go now."

If Lois had been in Benton's shoes, she'd have wanted to claw Carnes' eyes out for dismissing her like that, so she wasn't too surprised when Plotnek commented, "Wow. Benton looks pissed."

"Lex?" Benton asked, seeking confirmation.

"I'll be in touch soon, my dear."

"I'll look forward to it," said Benton, seemingly mollified at having been thrown a crumb of politeness by Luthor.

Lois heard Benton get up from the table, receding footsteps, and then Carnes' voice again. "So?"

"So, I say we pay a visit to Mr Pagliano. Let me look at my diary…"

There was the faint rustling of fabric, and Lois imagined Luthor pulling something out of his breast pocket. Another couple of seconds passed, punctuated by the crackling of pages being turned.

"I can't make tomorrow at all, I'm afraid," he said. "I have to visit my Paris agent, and that's likely to take all day. I'm sure it will be very dull; he's a very dull man, and his breath reeks of garlic."

Lois felt faintly nauseous at the casual way in which Luthor was discussing… What was he discussing, precisely? The scheduling of a murder? He hadn't said so, not in so many words, but the implication was there, nonetheless.

"If you can't wait, I'm sure that I can handle this myself," said Carnes.

"I'm sure that you can, but, as you know, I like to keep my hand in. Friday… No, Friday is out, too. Meeting of the board of directors of LexChem and, given the crisis there, I can't afford to miss that one. Damn Saxon, anyway! Add him to my 'to do' list. Lane, too, come to think of it."

"To do?" Lois's lips shaped the words silently as her eyebrows climbed. She didn't like the sound of that. She hadn't got around to phoning Saxon between getting Jack's earlier message and meeting Henderson; she'd have to do it as soon as she got back to the Planet. Not only did she want to hear what he had to say, she also wanted to warn him that he might be on Luthor's hit list.

Luthor was still talking. "Then the rest of the day is taken up with that fund-raiser in New York, followed by an evening of opera at the Met." Lois could hear him turn over the page. "Saturday… No. Ah! Sunday looks good. I have a window between ten and five; see if we can schedule Mr Pagliano then. Oh, and tell Benton to find out whatever she can about Pagliano's domestic arrangements from his wife."

"She'd take the order better from you, Lex."

"I know she would, but that's why I want you to ask her. It'll make her so much more pathetically grateful when I talk to her the next time."

"Very well."

"Anything else we need to discuss before we get back to the… office?" The way Luthor said "office" made Lois think that it was a euphemism for something else, a supposition that was supported by Plotnek's exclamation. "He's got his hand on her thigh!" Lois noticed that Plotnek was suddenly taking a lot more pictures. "They're getting up," he said. "Luthor's got his hand on her butt."

"The limousine's this way, Lex," cooed Carnes.

"Then let's not delay." There was the sound of the front door opening and closing, and they were gone.

"That's it, then," said Henderson. "You can start packing up now."

"What?!" exclaimed Lois indignantly. "Aren't you going to arrest him?"

"Not yet," replied Henderson flatly.

"But you heard him! He told Carnes to kill someone!"

"No, he didn't. All he said was that they should pay a certain Mr Pagliano a visit. No mention of killing anyone."

"Well, then. He's implicated in… in perverting the course of justice, at the very least!"

Henderson nodded sombrely. "I know. And if it were anyone else… But this is *Luthor*. If we're going to get him, we need to be absolutely certain that we can make the charges stick."

"And despite having got him on tape, you think we can't?" asked Lois aghast. How much evidence did Henderson *need*? How much evidence did *anyone* need? Lois felt a surge of frustration, just as she had done on Sunday, when CJ had told her that Luthor's environmental wrongdoings weren't enough to bring him down. It wasn't fair! she thought. Just because Luthor had money, power and influence… "You mean he's going to get away with it?"

"No. I mean we continue with the investigation, then when we have enough hard evidence, we arrest him. The more evidence we can get, the better." Henderson's eyes narrowed. Lois could almost see his brain working. "Just out of interest," he asked carefully, "what else are you and your pal Kent working on? Anything else I might like to know about?"

"Nothing definite," Lois answered. "Not yet, anyway."

"But there might be?"

"Maybe. With luck." Lois held up her right hand with her first two fingers crossed.

Henderson frowned and said, "I'd be… grateful… if you could keep me informed."

To her surprise, Lois found herself promising that she would.


It was just after dusk, and the land below him was a grey and ill-defined blur. It was, CJ thought, just as well that he was heading home because the return to Metropolis should be a more easily navigable trip than the outward one had been. He wouldn't have liked to have made that flight in the dark. He shifted an uncomfortable crick out of his neck, allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes for a few moments and thought longingly of a long, hot bath.

Funny, he thought. He didn't seem to be making much headway, almost as if he were crawling along, not flying. It shouldn't be taking him so long to reach the sea, should it? But the undifferentiated landmass stretched endlessly below him.

It had to be his imagination, he decided. That the night-time view held little interest must be making time drag, and that was why this felt like such an effort…

Such hard work…

Gosh, but he felt *tired*.

And that was when he began to fear that something was seriously wrong.


Lois planted her elbows on the table in the conference room and massaged her temples. Since arriving back at the Planet, she'd talked to Dr Saxon, and had made an appointment for Friday afternoon. She'd written up her notes on the stakeout, but had then been forced to put that story aside. The final article could only be written when that particular part of the Luthor investigation was complete. Now, between trying to make some more progress with regard to past Planet exclusives, looking for angles that their original authors might have missed, and going through some papers that Jack had given her, she'd managed to work up a major headache.

Something was wrong.

Lois could feel it. It was similar to the sensation she got when she went out, certain that she had forgotten something, but had no idea what it was, only this current feeling was magnified a hundredfold. It was a nebulous sensation, with no discernible cause, but there, nonetheless. She could feel it as a prickling of the hairs on the nape of her neck and down her spine, a clamminess in her palms, a tendency towards light- headedness and an inability to concentrate.

Lois stared blankly at the papers in front of her, a summary, according to Jack, of Luthor's personal business accounts. She had to take his word for it, though, because the numbers were jumping around in front of her eyes, blurring and merging into one another.

Maybe, she thought, it was stress. After all, there had been an implied threat in Luthor's comments earlier, and she was wise enough to know that Luthor's threats were not to be dismissed lightly. Then again, she'd been threatened enough times in her life to know that she only really had to start worrying when she could see the whites of her erstwhile assailant's eyes or a gun pointed in her face. But, if that wasn't what was wrong, what was?

She didn't know. All she knew for sure was that she felt vaguely and continuously sick.


A burst of turbulence buffeted CJ, tossing him around. Funny, but turbulence had never been a problem before… and wasn't the ground closer to him than it had been earlier? It was almost as if he was losing height, as if gravity was dragging him down.

But gravity had never been a problem before, either.

CJ felt a tingle of panic crawl up his spine. What day was it? he wondered. Wednesday. Wednesday, May seventh, which meant… He counted backwards. It meant that he'd been back in his own world for a week, and in turn that meant…

No! His powers couldn't fail him now!

Please, please… he thought. I've got to make it back to Metropolis. At least last out that long!

CJ gritted his teeth, forced his body to stay afloat, and put every ounce of strength he possessed into carrying on.


Lois decided to take a couple of headache pills. If they didn't help, she was going to give up on work for the evening and go home. Maybe an evening of peace, quiet and mugs of warm milk might help.

She hated warm milk.

She wondered how CJ was getting on, and when he was likely to get back. For a moment, she felt dizzy and the room around her lurched unpleasantly, almost as if she was having an attack of vertigo.

"You okay, Lois?"

She must look bad, she thought, if Jack actually sounded concerned. She managed to nod, and said, "Just feeling a bit under the weather."

"Can I get you anything?"

"Please…" she murmured. Were her worlds slurring or was it her hearing that was playing up? "A glass of water would be great."

Jack got to his feet and said, "One glass of water coming up," and vanished through the door.


CJ had never imagined that it was possible to be so grateful to see land.

He'd felt particularly vulnerable flying over water. What would have happened if his powers had failed him, dropping him in the middle of the ocean? At night, and with nobody to know that he was lost, he would almost certainly have been doomed.

He veered west, so that he was flying over Florida, then north over Georgia. He spotted the raised line of the Appalachians and aligned himself above then, using them as a navigation aid, needing all the help he could get.

God, he felt dizzy!

He couldn't hold himself up much longer… He was never going to make it…

His mind was working sluggishly, his brain was fogged with fatigue. It took him several minutes to realise that if he didn't land now, his only choice might be to crash. However, he wanted to try to avoid landing over forest if he possibly could. If he couldn't make it back to Metropolis under his own steam, he needed to get himself to somewhere where there would be other people to help him, somewhere with good transport links.

And for that, he had to make it to a town.

Had to.

He could see Chesapeake Bay off in the distance, to his right. If he went east, he thought, away from the mountains, he would find towns and roads. He needed to go east.

It took too much effort, but he turned and flew on.


If the pills had helped, she couldn't tell. Her head thumped and her limbs felt leaden. She wondered whether she was going down with something, but she dismissed the idea quickly. First, she was determined not to be sick; she didn't have time for that. Second, there hadn't been anything going around the office recently, so she didn't see how she could have caught anything in the first place.

If she didn't leave soon, she thought, she wasn't going to be able to get home under her own steam. The only problem was that she wasn't sure that she could summon up enough energy to move.


His body was trembling with the effort of staying aloft. He had reached and passed his limits, and he had used up the last of his energy reserves.

A scream was wrenched from his lungs as he felt himself tumbling, plunging downwards. "*No*!!!!" He was going to die, he thought, but he couldn't die, not until he'd seen Lois again, and not even then, because they had too much to live for. They had a future together, and he couldn't give up on that now.

The ground rushed up to meet him.




Startled, Lois's head jerked up and she stared around her in a moment of absolute panic. "What was that?" she demanded.

Jack lifted his head and asked, "What was what?"

Lois felt her brow furrow. "You didn't hear it?"

Jack shook his head, disinterested. "Didn't hear anything."

Maybe she'd imagined it, she thought uncomfortably, but she didn't think so. She'd never *imagined* anything so terrifying as that heartfelt syllable. It had been filled with horror, anguish and something akin to disbelief.

It was odd, but it made her think of CJ, though she couldn't quite understand why. Was it because this was how he felt whenever he heard people screaming for help? People that nobody else could hear?

It must be, she thought, because there was no way she could ignore that cry. It had pulled at her, like her insides had been squeezed. Certainly, it had left her feeling shaky, drained of energy.

And yet, somehow, she felt much, much better than she had done in hours. She wondered what the heck had just happened.


He couldn't believe it.

He'd been plunging downwards. He'd known he was going to die. And then… Then, for a moment, he'd seen the conference room, almost as though he was looking through someone else's eyes. Jack had been there, working away, talking to… someone. Talking to… Lois?

Yes, he realised. Lois. He hadn't seen her, but he'd *felt* her, almost as though he was touching her mind. She'd been upset about… something. He wondered what. Whatever it was, it had disturbed her deeply, and he'd felt her reaching out blindly, wanting to help… something… pouring energy towards whatever it was.

And then he realised. They had touched — not physically of course, but with their minds. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised; he knew, after all, that he had some sort of telepathic abilities. He had to have, given that Clark did, too, but it was not something that they had explored together.

CJ and Lois had touched, and she had, without knowing what she was doing, poured her strength into him, giving him a few precious seconds of power to control his landing.

She had saved his life.


She couldn't understand it. After she'd "heard" that scream, she had begun to feel better. She still felt tired, but it felt like the healthy sort of exhaustion brought about by too much exercise, rather than anything more sinister. Her brain cleared and her stomach settled; it was almost as if nothing had been wrong.

She wished that she could put the matter out of her mind, but she found that it would not be easily dismissed. Then she wished that she could talk to someone about it. She thought about talking to Jack, but realised that she didn't want to talk to just anybody. She wanted to talk to CJ.

And speaking of CJ…

She looked at her watch and frowned. It was after nine o'clock. Surely he should have been back by now. She counted backwards; he'd left over seven hours ago. How fast could he fly anyway? Pretty fast, she knew; she'd seen how quickly he'd responded to the tanker disaster out on the west coast. Okay, maybe he'd been pulling out all the stops that time, but he'd managed to get to London, do some investigating, make a side trip to Paris, and get back to Metropolis, all in the space of just a few hours, and he hadn't been particularly pushed for time then.

It wasn't even as though he would really have had to *look* for Jules Johnson in Bolivia; CJ had already known where he was. All he had to do was talk to the man and come back to Metropolis.

It shouldn't have taken him this long, surely!

She bit on her upper lip and wondered what might have happened to him. Maybe Johnson had given him another lead to pursue on his way home, or maybe he'd been held up by some bureaucratic nonsense or other at the prison, or… Just because he was later coming back than she'd expected didn't mean that he was in any kind of trouble, she told herself firmly.

Maybe he'd simply gone straight home and hadn't thought to check in with her. They weren't joined at the hip, after all. He didn't have to tell her *everything*, even if she was beginning to expect him to do so. Or maybe he'd tried to call her at home. After all, it was getting late. Even stalwart Jack was packing up to go home, and the lights in the main news room had all been switched off.

Yes, she decided. That must be it. She'd get home and he'd either be waiting on her front stoop or there would be a message on the answerphone.

But when she reached her apartment it was to find the stoop stubbornly empty and the answerphone silent.

Her concern segued into fear.


Thursday 8 May, 1997

"Lois?" The telephone line was full of static and his voice was almost drowned out by the competing background noises of echoing announcements and passers-by, and Lois had never been so happy to hear from anyone in her life.

"CJ! Where are you? I've been worried sick! Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "But I couldn't help it. My powers… They gave out while I was flying—"

Unwelcome images of CJ plunging downwards, out of control, flashed through her mind. Were they *hospital* noises she could hear behind him? "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously. She heard the distorted and incomprehensible blare of a public address system in the distance and decided that, no, he was not in a hospital. It sounded more like a bus terminal, or maybe an airport lounge. Somewhere cavernous, anyway.

"Yeah," he said, "I'm fine," but he sounded tired to Lois. Still, if that was the worst of it, then she would be forever grateful. "I managed to land on the edge of a small town, and I hitched a ride to Richmond—"

"Richmond?" asked Lois in disbelief. "Richmond *Virginia*?!"

"Well, yeah." The way CJ answered made it sound as though he thought that Virginia was obvious. "That's where I am now. I'm going to have to take a train back to Metropolis, but it won't get in until just after two, so I thought I'd better tell you not to expect—"

"I'll meet you," interrupted Lois.

"You don't have to do that," he answered, and Lois thought he was speaking over a yawn. "No reason for us both to lose sleep. I'll come by in the morning."

"I know I don't have to CJ, but I want to meet you. I want to know how you got on, and I've got stuff to tell you, too." And I want — *need* — to see for myself that you are okay, she added mentally, but didn't say it. She had been worried about him; she had paced around her apartment for almost two solid hours — a better workout in its way than most she managed at the gym — but she couldn't quite figure out how to explain her worry to him. It hadn't been logical, and how could she justify her panic without sounding stupid.

Except… She'd known something was wrong somewhere, and then she'd fretted about CJ, about where he was, whether he was all right and… And she'd been right to worry.

There was a crackle on the line, then CJ's voice said, "Okay, Lois. I'll see you then. The train's due in at 2.07. And… thanks."

"You're welcome," she murmured automatically, before she realised that he'd already put the phone down.


The concourse of Metropolis Central Station was imposing, a relic from the glory days of steam. The walls were made of huge slabs of limestone. There were Ionic columns at all the entrances, and wide staircases led down towards the platforms. Lois had never before realised quite how creepy the station could be at a quarter to two in the morning.

Then again, she wasn't sure that she'd ever been there at that time; she wasn't really a train person. Given the choice, for local journeys, she preferred to drive and, for longer ones, she liked to fly.

Despite the hour, there were still a few people around, though nothing like the packed hordes of commuters that passed through at either end of the working day. Most of the ticket booths had long since closed for the night, and shutters had been pulled down over their windows, leaving them looking dark and forbidding. Only two were still open, the salespeople behind them lounging sleepily in their chairs, talking to each other in a desultory fashion and drinking coffee out of paper cups.

Three men in dirty blue dungarees were cleaning the concourse, two with long-handled brooms and dustpans and one riding around on a small vehicle with polishing pads attached to its underside.

About twenty homeless people lay on benches, trying to get what little sleep they could amidst the intermittent station announcements and the artificial yellow light, which rebounded almost painfully off the walls and the high domed ceiling, several storeys above.

Lois's sneakers sucked hungrily at the floor, the sound echoing noisily in her ears, as she walked towards the arrivals board. She found CJ's train and saw that it was showing as running ten minutes late.

Feeling a little uneasy, she moved to stand with her back against one of the closed ticket counters; hopefully, if anyone meaning trouble was hanging around, the two nearby clerks would act as some kind of a deterrent, and she felt better with something solid behind her. At least nobody would be able to sneak up on her.

In that paranoid state of mind, Lois waited.

Finally, five minutes later than even the board had indicated, CJ's train arrived and, a few minutes after that, she saw him wearily climb the stairs from the platforms.

Lois rushed at him, flinging her arms around him, her momentum almost pushing him over.

"Hey!" he said. "What was that for? Not that I minded, of course, but…" He yawned and muttered, "Sorry," from behind his hand.

"I'm just so glad to see you in one piece." And she truly was, though, now she was examining him carefully, she could see just how exhausted he really was. He looked ashen, almost grey with fatigue, and she suspected that he'd made light earlier of whatever had happened to him when his powers had failed.

She hooked her arm around his, trying to get him to lean on her, to let her be his strength, because she could see he needed whatever help he would accept. "Come on, CJ," she said. "Let's get you home."


The first thought CJ had upon waking up was that the mattress was too firm to be his, and there was an unfamiliar floral scent about the sheets. He panicked for a moment, wondering where he was. He couldn't remember much of what had happened after getting on the train.

A series of disjointed images flashed through his memory: a man snoring and dribbling across the aisle from him in the carriage; darkness, occasionally punctuated by the electric lights from isolated houses and towns pressing against the windows; the guard shaking him roughly awake so that he could check CJ's ticket; stumbling onto the platform at Metropolis Central, barely able to keep his eyes focused or to put one foot in front of the other; Lois…

He frowned, and struggled to remember more.

Lois, dressed in old sweats and sneakers, had sprinted at him across the concourse, and had flung herself into his arms. He'd talked to her, but he couldn't remember what he'd said, only that he'd never been so happy to see anyone in his life. Then… A blank.

He remembered nothing more until waking up in this unfamiliar bed.

He blinked his eyes open and rolled over.

And blinked again, startled.

He wasn't alone.

Before yesterday, he would have known that she was there. He would have heard her heartbeat, smelt her… But now…

Now that his powers were gone, he felt cut off from his surroundings. It was like trying to hear with earplugs in, to smell with a stuffy nose, to touch while wearing gloves… All sensation was muffled, blunted, and he realised that it would take a while for him to get used to being normal again.

However, he'd known that this was going to happen sometime, and he knew that he had to make the best he could of the situation.

Meanwhile, what better way was there for him to get used to his changed circumstances than by looking at the woman he loved most of all in the world.

The woman who, whether she knew it or not, had undoubtedly saved his life last night.

CJ lay still for a while, content to simply watch her — she was close enough to him that he could see her clearly without the aid of his glasses — and listen to the soft sounds of her even breathing.

He'd dreamed of waking up next to Lois, but he'd never imagined it happening quite like this. For one thing, he belatedly realised, he was still fully clothed, although at some point he had apparently lost his shoes, jacket and glasses. He wondered whether he had taken them off himself, or whether Lois had removed them for him. It was another thing he couldn't remember.

From what he could see, poking out from under the covers, Lois was also dressed. She was still wearing the old sweatshirt he remembered from the train station. Most of her brown hair was fanned across the pillow, but a few strands clung to her cheek and forehead.

Her eyes were closed, her mouth open a tiny fraction, and her cheeks were tinged with a healthy pink glow. She was, he thought, as beautiful asleep as she was awake.

He lifted a hand to her cheek and carefully brushed her hair behind her ears with his finger tips.

The gentle touch provoked a response from her, and even before she opened her eyes, she was smiling.


"Mmmm," she murmured.

There might be better ways to wake up than to find your favourite man gently stroking your cheek, but at that moment, Lois couldn't think of any.

She opened her eyes, smiled slowly and sleepily whispered, "Hi."

"Hi, yourself." His words were a gentle caress.

CJ looked surprisingly good, she thought, for a man who'd been so out of it the night before. He no longer looked grey with fatigue; his skin had regained its more usual sallow hue, and he looked as though he might actually be aware of his surroundings once more. He certainly hadn't known where he was when she'd hauled him into the bed. Then he'd been dead on his feet.

Now, his face was coloured with five o'clock shadow and, while she'd never been a fan of the Don Johnson Miami Vice look, she had to admit it looked pretty good on him. "How are you feeling this morning?" she asked.

He seemed to have to think about that for a few moments. Finally, he answered, "Okay." Then, he asked, "How did I get here?"

"You fell asleep in my Jeep last night," she said. "I didn't know what else to do with you, you were so out of it. It was all I could do to wake you up enough to get you up the stairs."

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to cause you any trouble."

She shook her head fractionally, dismissing his apology as an irrelevance. "It was no trouble. We're in this together, remember."

His lips stretched as his smile broadened. "I remember," he said. "And… thank you."

He leaned forward on his elbow so that he could reach her with his lips. They were warm and soft against hers.

She rolled towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck, stretching her body along the length of his. He drew her closer towards him, one of his hands snaking between her rib cage and the mattress, and the other moving around the other side of her body towards the small of her back.

Lois pulled back out of the gentle kiss for just long enough to breathe, "You're welcome," before touching her lips lightly to his once more.

And then they were nuzzling each other, exploring with none of the inhibition or constraints of their earlier encounters. His hands sneaked lower, seeking the bottom of her sweatshirt, gently coaxing it upwards.

She obliged him, pulling away from him so that she could kneel on the bed. She crossed her arms in front of her body, grasped the shirt's hem, then, with one fluid movement, pulled it over her head.

There was wanton warmth in his eyes as he watched her, but she didn't know if it was the grace of the movement or her body that he was admiring. Perhaps it was both.

She reached towards him and began to unbutton his shirt, gradually exposing the smooth skin beneath. She'd felt it before, but she'd never really seen it, not even in their more adventurous moments.

As she pulled away the creased cotton, she felt her breath catch. She ran the fingers of both her hands lightly across his chest, feeling the firm pectoral muscles, and then dragged her fingertips lower to his washboard-hard abdomen. He was everything she'd thought he would be and more.

The slight moan in the back of his throat told her that he liked the way she was touching him, and she felt herself smiling at him.

He shifted onto his knees so that they were facing each other, and he allowed her to peel the shirt back off his shoulders and down his arms and back. Between them, they eased the still- buttoned cuffs over his hands, then cast it lightly aside on the floor behind him.

They stared at each other for a few moments, each drinking in their view of the other and trying not to feel self-conscious about this new level of intimacy. Then, moving as one, they leaned into each other, capturing one another's mouths again.

Lois was aware of CJ fumbling with an endearing lack of expertise at the catch of her bra even as their tongues stroked each other, as her hands roamed his back, as she left his mouth to butterfly kiss along the line of his neck and shoulder…

It was only afterwards, as she lay snuggled in his embrace, warm in the afterglow of their love-making, that Lois realised that their first time had been nothing like she'd expected it to be. After the heated groping session in that abandoned corridor, the last thing she'd ever expected CJ to be as a lover was gentle, almost shy.

And inexperienced.

Oh, it was obvious that he'd had a lover before — maybe more than one — as, indeed, had she. But they'd both needed to explore each other, to find out how to please one another, and they'd both checked regularly with the other that what they were doing felt right. Nobody, Lois thought, could fake that degree of naivet,, and she felt utterly charmed by it.

She drifted off to sleep, lulled by the steady drumbeat of his heart against her ear.


He hadn't expected it to happen that way. He'd thought that they would plan for their first time, that there would be a band and fireworks, or at the very least flowers and soft music in the background. He'd expected to either seduce or to be seduced.

He hadn't expected it to happen naturally, by a silent and mutual agreement. And most of all, he hadn't expected it to be so relaxed… so easy.

So wonderful.

He held Lois, now asleep, close against his chest. If he concentrated, he could detect the faintest hint of yesterday's perfume in her hair, the tang of perspiration… But he didn't care that he couldn't hear her heartbeat anymore because, when he was touching her, he didn't care about the loss of his senses. When he was touching her, he could feel the world.

And when they were making love, the whole universe was his.


When Lois next awoke, it was to find rays of sunlight streaming through her bedroom windows. She could tell immediately from their angle that she had overslept. Given the night — and, for that matter, the morning — she had had, she supposed that wasn't altogether surprising.

Reluctantly, she eased herself out of CJ's loose embrace. Even in his sleep he must had felt her go, because he made an inarticulate grunt of disapproval before shifting his position slightly.

Lois looked down at him and smiled. He looked so peaceful, she thought. And beautiful. His dark hair gleamed, contrasting sharply against the background of a white pillow case. One arm stretched out across the bed, as if he was reaching out for her, and the top half of his torso was exposed. She could see the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

It was so tempting just to climb back under the sheets, to snuggle up against him, to inhale his scent, to run her fingers over—

But no. She had to get ready for work.

With a wistful sigh, she turned her back on CJ and headed for the bathroom, and a shower.

As, minutes later, she stood under the water jets, running her soapy hands across the contours of her own body, she found herself thinking. This is where he touched me… This is where he kissed me… She closed her eyes and her lips parted a fraction as she allowed the memories to play through her head, a pleasant echo of their love-making. Her thoughts drifted pleasurably for a while, before becoming more focused again.

She'd been so scared before CJ had phoned, and so relieved when she'd finally heard from him. What she couldn't understand, though, was how she'd been so sure that something had happened to him. She would have to ask him about that, she decided, and she would, right after she asked him what had happened in Bolivia.

By the time Lois had finished in the shower, CJ had woken up, too. As she went back into the bedroom, clad in a bathrobe with a makeshift turban fashioned out of a towel on her head, he rolled onto his elbow and softly, almost reverently, said, "Good morning."

"Good morning yourself," she murmured, feeling a moment of shyness, before remembering that she had nothing to feel shy about. Jerking her thumb in the direction from which she'd just come, she said, "Bathroom's free."

"Thanks, Lois."

Maybe he also felt that incongruous shyness because he hesitated, unwilling to flaunt his nakedness in front of her. In fact, he pulled the sheet up higher, almost to his neck. Lois felt herself blush, but managed to say, "It's okay, CJ. Remember, I've seen it all already." Then she covered the awkward moment by turning her back on him and rummaging around her wardrobe.

Her comment seemed to have diffused the situation, however, because he chuckled and she heard the slithering of flesh against cotton, and then the muffled padding of footsteps through carpet.

And then she felt the gentle touch of his hand caressing the back of her neck and the whisper of lips against her cheeks. She shivered at his touch, turned to meet him, and brushed her own lips against his, an acknowledgement of his presence and a promise for later.

They parted, both smiling fondly at the other. Then he turned away from her and headed towards the bathroom.

She dressed quickly, and by the time she was finished, she could hear the distant drumming of water against the sides and base of the shower stall as well as the vague splashing sound as he moved around. Her mind painted pictures of his hands lathering his body… of pristine white foam clinging against his skin… of water droplets beading and running over taut muscles, which rippled as he moved…

Had he imagined anything similar when she'd been getting washed?

She struggled to clear her throat, opened the bathroom door a fraction and raised her voice so she could be heard over the running water. "You'll find clean towels in the cupboard under the sink, when you're done."

Why did she feel guilty about the fact that her eyes lingered, despite the fact that she could see little more of him than a distorted shadow against the frosted glass of the stall? It was stupid to feel embarrassed by the thought of CJ in her shower, especially after the graphic images her mind had just painted and after their earlier intimacy. She supposed it had something to do with old habits dying hard, and the fact that the shift in their relationship was so very, very new.

She forced herself to go back into the bedroom where she sat down in front of her dresser and deftly began to apply her make-up.


CJ emerged from the bathroom, a fluffy pink bath sheet wrapped around his midriff, to find that Lois had made the bed and was in the process of tidying up his clothes, folding them perfunctorily and placing them on the counterpane. She acknowledged his presence with a tilt of her head, then said lightly, "Don't think I'm going to make a habit of picking up after you, buster!"

He chuckled.

Lois smiled at him and headed out into the kitchen, muttering something about breakfast.

When he joined her, a couple of minutes later, he found her staring balefully into the depths of the refrigerator.

He laid his right hand lightly on the small of her back and peered over her shoulder.

Ruefully, she said, "I can offer you ice or water. I've run out of coffee, and I ate the last of the ice-cream a few days ago."

CJ quirked an eyebrow, fascinated. Outside of a showroom, he'd never seen a completely empty refrigerator before. Usually, when someone said that their fridge was bare, they meant that it contained only a hunk of hardened and inedible cheese, a mouldy carrot or two and some sour milk. Lois, in this as in so many things, had gone one step further than normal people. With her, bare literally *meant* bare.

He didn't pass judgement, however. Instead, he simply said, "I take it we're eating out."

"Uh, huh," she answered. "Unless you think you can live on air." She pushed the refrigerator door closed and turned to face him.

"I'm beginning to believe," he said, "that with you anything is possible." And then he was leaning in towards her and they were kissing.

Who needed food, he thought, when they could have each other?


They stopped off at a small caf, two blocks away from Lois's apartment where the aromas of freshly baked muffins and roasted coffee beans were almost bewitching in their intensity. Inside, the decor was dark yet warm and comfortable. The walls were painted in rich earth colours and the tables were made of wood. The drinks were served in brightly coloured mugs and the servers were politely friendly without being obtrusive. CJ liked it.

They found a table in a dark corner from which they were afforded views over the rest of the establishment and the street beyond the windows, but where they had a degree of privacy.

It didn't take him long to tell her about Jules Johnson. He also told her about Felipe, and she laughed in all the right places at his light-hearted retelling of his adventure. Then, more sombrely, he sketched out the events of his return journey, pausing when he got to Richmond. Abruptly he asked, "You don't mind, do you, Lois?"

"Mind?" she answered, and CJ could tell that she had no idea what he was getting at.

"That I'm back to being… well… me. No added extras. Just CJ Kent, a pretty regular guy."

"Apart from the tiny detail that you're probably an extraterrestrial."

"Yeah," he agreed, his lips quirking. "Apart from that."

"Of course I don't mind!" She leaned across the table and grasped his hand tightly in hers. "Why would you think I would? Especially after last night?"

He shook his head mutely. His doubts had been, he could see now, irrational.

"In a way I'm happy things worked out this way. Last night… I'm glad that our first time was with you, the *real* you. And you know what? The real you is pretty terrific."

"So are you," he whispered, hoping that she could hear the full extent of his sincerity.

"There is something, though," she said.

"What?" asked CJ, feeling a flush of trepidation. There was something about her tone that suggested concern, confusion, perhaps even embarrassment.

"What exactly happened when your powers failed?"

"I told you already; they gave out while I was flying north."

"But there was… more to it than that, wasn't there?"

CJ stared at her. "You felt it, too?" he asked in awe.

She nodded. "I was still at the Planet, and I… I *felt* you CJ! I could hear your voice in my head. I heard you *scream*! So what happened, CJ?"

He licked his lips. "I don't know exactly. All I know is that I'd been pushing myself. I guess I pushed too hard; I should have landed earlier, when I realised what was happening. Instead, I kept on flying, wanting to get back to Metropolis. Then, when I realised that I wasn't going to make it, I realised that I had to get to a town. Somewhere there were people, anyway. But I'd left it too long for even that, and I…" He closed his eyes, remembering the terror he'd felt as he'd plunged downwards. "I couldn't keep afloat, and I fell, and I… I was sure that I was going to die, and all I could think about was you, and how we had so much to live for. I wasn't *ready* to die. And then…" He frowned, wondering how utterly ridiculous the next bit was going to sound. "For a second I could see the conference room. It was like… I think I was looking through your eyes. I couldn't see you, but I could feel you, and you were talking to Jack."

Lois nodded, an arrested look on her face as though she'd just had an epiphany.

"You were upset about something," he said.

She nodded again, and whispered, "I'd *heard* you, CJ. I didn't realise until now that that's what it was. But I heard a scream, and when I asked Jack if he'd heard anything, he said no. It made me think of you, but I just thought it was because that was how you felt when you heard people crying for help. I didn't realise it actually *was* you. But then, I'd had this feeling all evening that something was wrong, and afterwards I couldn't shake the idea that something terrible had happened to you. That's why I was so relieved when you called." Her voice shook with the force of the remembered emotions.

Almost as if she hadn't spoken, he continued. "You didn't know what was wrong, but you wanted to help, and I could feel you pouring energy into me." Then, in case she didn't understand the full import of what he was telling her, he added, "I think… Lois, I think you saved my life, because I managed to land safely, and without your help, I don't think that I could have done that."

"How…? How is that *possible*?"

"I don't know," he said. "But I do know that Clark has at least some telepathic abilities. It's not something we really explored, so I don't know how they work, but… I guess it has to have something to do with that."

"Can you often see into my head?" asked Lois sounding a little uncomfortable.

CJ shook his head. "No. That was the first time. I'm guessing it takes a near death experience to make it happen. And before you ask, no, I've never had anything similar happen with anyone else."

He was relieved to see that his reassurances seemed to make her happier. "So, I saved your life, huh?"

"I think so, yes. I guess I really ought to say thank you, shouldn't I?"

"Yes, you really ought." She laughed and he marvelled at the way she was able to accept yet another of his odd abilities so easily. "Come on. We'd better get going. I'll tell you about the stakeout on the way."


Lois and CJ were holding hands, holding onto a fraction of their earlier physical intimacy, as they stepped off the elevator, onto the news room floor.

"That's ten bucks, Jimmy, thank you very much!" The words hit CJ out of nowhere, and he looked around for Jack, finally catching sight of him over by the coffee machines. Jack, CJ couldn't help but notice, was wearing a particularly self- satisfied grin and looking remarkably pleased with himself. He was also snapping his fingers in front of Jimmy Olsen's face.

Even without his powers, CJ's hearing was abnormally acute; it always had been, even when he was a child. It was, therefore, more or less inevitable that he would overhear the conversation between the two younger men.

CJ heard Jimmy ask, "What for?"

"Our bet," answered Jack, nodding in CJ's direction.

Jimmy turned so that his eyes followed Jack's gaze. "What b—" Then he cut himself off, and CJ could see that understanding had belatedly dawned. "Oh. *That* bet. So you think they… you know?"

"Don't you?" responded Jack. "I mean, look at the evidence. Kent looks positively haggard this morning, and he's wearing the same clothes as yesterday, which means that he hasn't been home."

CJ glanced down at himself and noted the creases in his jacket and trousers. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks.

"And Lois!" Jack continued. "She's two and a half hours late for work and have you *ever* seen her look that relaxed? Plus they both look like they won the state lottery and—"

"And they're holding hands in public." CJ heard Jimmy sigh. He looked up again, just in time to see Jimmy pull out his wallet and pass a couple of bills to Jack. "Remind me never to wager with you again," Jimmy said resignedly. "You have a really nasty habit of winning."

Jack simply grinned.



Friday 9 May, 1997

Lois cursed inwardly. Why hadn't she checked the Jeep's air conditioning after the last service? It wasn't as though she had any faith in the garage's ability to do anything properly. Every time she took the Jeep in, it would come back with something different wrong with it. She supposed that, once she'd determined that the indicators, wipers and gears all worked, and that the vehicle turned corners on demand, she must have been too grateful to bother checking the little things. Besides, it had been winter then, and the heater had been working… Now, though, it was the cusp of summer, and the air conditioning most definitely was *not*.

The six lane highway thinned to four lanes as they left the city behind. Roadside factories gave way to housing subdivisions, which, in turn, gave way to farmland and then, as they gained altitude, deciduous forest. The trees, which were renowned for their fall colours, were currently motley shades of green.

Maybe on a short journey, the lack of AC wouldn't have bothered her, but this was a two and a half hour drive, and the heat was sapping her energy and taking away her desire to make conversation and with it any pleasure she might have felt at taking a trip into the country with her boyfriend.

CJ didn't seem to mind the heat, she thought resentfully. Lois guessed that this was a benefit of his alien physiology; there was no twin on his forehead to the thin sheen of perspiration on her own. He'd made himself comfortable in the front passenger seat and he was lounging at an angle, leaning half against the back of the chair and half against the door. CJ was being subtle about it, but not subtle enough, because Lois knew he'd chosen that position so that he could effortlessly switch his attention between the passing scenery, the map on his lap and Lois. In contrast with the sun, the heat she could feel coming from his gaze was comforting and comfortable. It almost made her want to smile, despite everything.

They were travelling north east, going inland, heading towards Dr Saxon's hideaway. Given that his address and phone number were not listed on any of the databases Lois had been able to access, legally or illegally, "hideaway" seemed the best possible term for his home. That Saxon had given her the address himself told her just how desperate he was to get the rest of his story out.

"Next left," said CJ, eventually, glancing up from the map.

Lois muttered an acknowledgement and nodded before she slowed the Jeep and made the turn. Now they were travelling along a poorly maintained, two-lane road. There were no other vehicles in sight. The trees formed a canopy overhead, casting the road into shadow. The temperature fell noticeably and Lois sighed softly with relief.

"Not far now," CJ said. "The access road should be about five miles along here, on your side."

"Good," Lois grunted and nodded, but she seemed more relaxed than she had done a moment ago, and the faintest hint of a smile played around her lips.

However, half an hour later, she was no longer smiling. They'd pulled over onto the verge and were consulting the map, their dark heads touching lightly as CJ pointed. "That's the railroad we've just crossed. We should have turned all the way back there."

"But I still don't see how we could have missed it! I mean, we were both watching out for it, weren't we? And neither of us saw anything!"

CJ shrugged. "I know, but… We're going to have to turn around."

Lois sighed gustily. She expertly executed a three point turn, slowed down to bump across the railway, then continued back along the way they'd come just minutes before.

It was Lois who spotted it. She jammed her foot down on the brake, taking CJ by surprise. "That it, do you reckon?" she asked dubiously, eyeing a dirt track that vanished off into the undergrowth. She could see why they'd missed it going the other way. There was no mail box, or even a house number, to indicate any signs of habitation. That, and the high grass and weeds growing up around some sizeable potholes in what might once have been a driveway spoke eloquently of dereliction and abandonment. She had visions of a decaying and haunted Victorian mansion lying at the far end, something straight out of the Addams family, or Psycho, she thought. Not that she'd ever seen Psycho, but she thought she could guess what the Bates Motel looked like.

"Well…" CJ sounded doubtful. "It doesn't look very promising, does it? But it's not as though there's any other path along this road, so I guess this has to be it."

Lois's only reply was to press on the gas, shift into drive, and twist the steering wheel. The Jeep juddered as it left the asphalt, jolting along the track, tyres crunching the soil and stones beneath as Lois slowly picked her way up the lane.

Saxon's house, when they reached it, was almost the exact opposite of what she had imagined. It was low slung, hugging the ground, with clean and modern lines, friendly and welcoming, nothing sinister about it at all. Lois liked it at once.

She came to a halt next to the house, put the Jeep into park, and climbed out, carefully easing the kinks out of her back and legs as she did so. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that, on the other side of the vehicle, CJ was doing something similar.

Saxon, who must have been keeping an eye out for them, came of the front door and ambled down the front steps towards them, holding his hand out in greeting.


The interior of the house was as beautiful as its exterior. The room to which Saxon guided them opened straight off the front door and was large, with windows along three walls. The open- plan space was divided into three distinct zones: a dining area at one end, and a desk, filing cabinets and computer at the other, forming a study area. In the middle was something akin to a living room, and this was where the three of them settled.

Lois sank gratefully into the embrace of a deep cream-coloured sofa and sipped on a glass of iced tea that Saxon gave her. CJ sat down next to her, on her left. Opposite, Saxon perched himself on the edge of a wicker chair, eagerly waiting for an opportunity to get down to business. When Lois lowered the glass and looked up at him, Saxon took this as his cue to begin.

"How much do you know about the design of LexPower's nuclear facility?" he asked.

"Not a lot," Lois said. "Actually… make that nothing at all."

"And you, Mr Kent?"

"Barely more, I'm afraid. I remember reading somewhere that it's a pressurised water reactor, but that's about it."

"And are either of you familiar with the design principles of that kind of a reactor?" asked Saxon.

"Not really. I remember learning something about them, back in school, but that's quite a while ago now," said Lois.

"Same here," said CJ.

"Okay. Then I guess it's time for a quick review." Saxon fetched a pad and pen, then sat down, leaning across the table at an angle, so that they could watch as he began to draw. "Nuclear Power Plant Design: 101." He quickly ran through the general design principles, checking from time to time that his pupils were following the impromptu lesson.

Impatient for him to get to the point, Lois couldn't help but ask, "Are you hinting at what I think you're hinting at? That there are design flaws in the reactor?"

"Yes and no. There are design flaws in the *plant*, Ms Lane, which is what I think you are suggesting. There are not, however, as far as I am aware, design flaws in the reactor core, itself. Even LexPower wouldn't risk a nuclear disaster that close to the city, no matter what else they'd do."

Lois imagined that her relief on hearing that news showed, although she didn't voice it aloud. Instead, she merely asked, "So where is the flaw, then?"

"Here," said Saxon. "In the cooling tower."

CJ leaned in closer, scrutinised Saxon's sketch diagram, and said, "Why? What's wrong with it?"

"The plant's cooling system has one function, and one function only: to remove heat from the water in the condenser, so that it can either be discharged into the bay, without it affecting the water temperature, or so that it can be recirculated and reused. The cooling system is designed to allow water to be discharged straight into Hobbs Bay during the colder months, and when the fish aren't spawning. At other times of the year, though, the cooling tower has to be used. That's common practice, where plants are built on lakes or rivers."

"So what's the problem?" asked Lois.

The ghost of a humourless smile played around Saxon's mouth. "Two problems, Ms Lane," he said. "The first is that the plant doesn't work so efficiently when the tower's used. There are pumps and fans in the tower, you see, and they consume a lot of power. The second problem is that the tower is too small for the amount of water it needs to handle, and *that's* the design flaw."

"Go on," said Lois. It didn't sound too much of a problem to her, but then this was hardly her area of expertise.

"Aquatic organisms — especially fish and some amphibians — are very sensitive to changes in water temperature. When water temperatures go up too far, the fish suffer. Spawning rates drop. Fish might even die, if temperature increases are too extreme, and that's what's going on in the Bay.

"Officially, there are regulations to control the temperatures at which water can be discharged. However, I have good reason to believe that they are being ignored. Water is being discharged at too high a temperature *throughout the year*, because the tower doesn't have the capacity to cope with the necessary water throughput. We're looking at an ecological disaster here, and that, combined with all the pollution coming from the LexChem plants…"

"But… If this design flaw is as serious as you say it is," said CJ, "how come the plant is allowed to operate? I thought that nuclear plants were subject to pretty stringent inspections before they were allowed to go into production."

"They are," agreed Saxon. "And to be perfectly honest, I was somewhat… surprised… when the Environmental Impact Committee gave its final approval.

"I imagine that you've checked my background?" Saxon asked, in what, on the face of it, appeared to be an abrupt change of subject.

Lois nodded. "We know that you used to work for LexPower, if that's what you mean."

"Yes. That saves me some explanation. I'd left the company by the time the approvals were given, of course, but I did hear… rumours… that a few bribes in the right places and offers of advancement had smoothed the approval process." He let the thought linger in CJ and Lois's minds as he went over to his filing cabinet again.

Finally, he returned with a file of paperwork. "These are photocopies," he said. "The originals are somewhere safe. Luthor knows I've got them. They're the only thing that's kept me alive, the last few of years. It's a trade of sorts, if you will. My silence for my life. The thing is, from what you told me on the phone, Ms Lane, it sounds as though Luthor may be rethinking his side of the bargain and I don't really care about it any more; the price is too high. That's why…" He paused, took a deep breath, and said, "… why I'm giving them to you. The only thing I'd ask is that you give me forty-eight hours before you print anything else. I mightn't put much value on my life, these days, but there's Katherine to consider."

"Katherine?" asked Lois.

"My significant other."

Lois nodded vaguely as she took the papers from Saxon's outstretched arms. She began to flick through them idly, but she quickly became engrossed in what she was looking at. She might not grasp the more intricate of the details contained therein, but she could tell that what she was holding was beyond important. "But these… These are plans and memos and—"

Saxon again smiled his humourless smile. "I know what they are, Ms Lane. And when they are made public, there is no way that LexPower will be able to shirk their environmental responsibility any longer."


"Now, before you go, let me tell you one last story. About a dump site, planning permissions and a public health disaster just waiting to happen."


CJ stared at Saxon. Thoughts cascaded through his head: relief that he didn't live in the newly-built subdivision of Arcadia… revulsion at the story the scientist had just spun… dismay that he lived in a city with so many environmental ills…

It had been so much better when he'd not known about any of it, he thought. Ignorance really could be bliss.

There was the sound of a door opening and then closing again, coming from the back of the house. Saxon smiled, and for the first time since they'd met, CJ detected a real warmth to his expression. "Ah!" Saxon said. "That'll be Katherine. Back at last." Then, louder, he called out, "We're through here, honey!"

There was the sound of heels clacking against the stripped wooden floorboards, then a sultry voice said, "Ah, so our guests found us all right, then."

"Eventually," said Lois wryly.

CJ gawked in astonishment at the woman as she sat down next to Saxon, elegantly crossing her long legs at their ankles. Dr Saxon's partner was his opposite in everything. She was black; he was white. She dressed with designer chic where he preferred the hand-knitted uniform of an activist. Her hair was carefully styled; his was a bird's nest.

Saxon said, "Katherine, these are Lois Lane and CJ Kent."

CJ was so busy taking in the details of her appearance that he almost failed to realise that he recognised her. He'd seen a picture of her before — or rather he'd seen a picture of her counterpart.

"Ms Lane. Mr Kent. I'd like you to meet Katherine—"

"Cox," CJ finished for him. He felt shell- shocked. Finding Mrs Cox here was unexpected, to say the least.

Saxon frowned and looked at Katherine. "You know him?"

Katherine looked as perplexed as Saxon, but there was a wariness to her expression that his lacked. She shook her head slowly and some of her poise left her. "No. I've never seen him before in my life."

"Then how…?"

How much, CJ wondered, did Saxon know about Katherine's past? Come to that, how much did he know for sure, beyond the fact that she'd once worked for Luthor and, if Tessa Michigan was to be believed, had once witnessed a murder.

He looked at Katherine and said carefully, "We've been trying to trace you."

With equal care, Katherine asked, "Why?"

"We've been carrying out an investigation into…" Lois didn't finish the sentence, and CJ guessed that she, too, was wondering how much she could safely say in front of Saxon. "Anyway, your name came up."

Katherine took a deep breath and said, "I see." CJ wondered whether that was simply a meaningless phrase, or whether she really did have an inkling of what they wanted. Maybe it was the latter, because she turned to Saxon and said, "How about you go make these folks some more tea while I talk to them."

Saxon nodded, stood, then vanished through the same door by which Katherine had entered.

Once the door had swung shut behind him, Katherine spoke. Sombrely, she said, "What do you want?"

CJ and Lois exchanged glances, then Lois spoke for both of them. "Can you tell us what, precisely, you used to do for Lex Luthor?"

Katherine just stared silently at her.

CJ tried. "We know you used to work for him. We'd just like some confirmation about a few things." Actually, they wanted to know a lot more than that, but he felt that, at least to begin with, it might be as well to play down the details.

Still Katherine said nothing.

Lois sighed, and CJ could tell that she was working hard not to let her frustration show. "Tell us, does the name Toni Taylor mean anything to you?"

Katherine flinched with obvious shock at the question but still she did not speak.

Exasperated, Lois threw out her arms and asked, "Does Dr Saxon know what you used to do for Luthor?"

"No!" There was definite panic in Katherine's response. "And you can't tell him!"

"Why not?" asked CJ.

"Because—" Katherine broke off abruptly, apparently at a loss as to how to continue. She clenched and unclenched her fists where they lay in her lap, then she tried again. "Because I don't want him to hate me, and if he finds out what kind of person I used to be, he most certainly will."

"And what kind of person were you?" asked Lois.

"A bad one. I did… terrible things." Katherine ducked her head, sniffed loudly as though she was fighting tears, then lifted her head defiantly. "Look," she said. "It's pretty obvious that you have at least some idea of the kind of work I used to do, so I hardly think I need to go into details right now. I'm not proud of what I did, and I don't want Peter to know."

"You've got to tell him," Lois said earnestly.

"Why?" Bitterness coloured Katherine's words. "Why do I have to?"

"Because he's going to find out eventually, anyway. Now that we've found you, we've got to call the police. Surely it's better that he hears everything from you, first."

For a moment Katherine stared wild-eyed at Lois, then slowly her eyes closed and she sighed as all the fight bled from her body. When she spoke again, it was with a quiet, dignified resignation. "I guess I always knew, deep down, that this day would come." She stood, walked over to the window, and stared out at the forest. "The last thing I ever wanted to do was to hurt Peter, and this is going to hurt him so much." She ran a trembling hand across her face. "Why would you want me to do that to him? What could be so important as to make that necessary?"

"Luthor," said CJ simply. "We want Luthor, and we need you to get to him."

"Saxon — Peter — is just one part of a wider investigation we've got going," said Lois. "We're trying to collect evidence on Luthor, only it's nearly impossible to make anything stick. You… We've got a witness who places you with Luthor at the scene of a murder and we're betting you know quite a lot more about Luthor's activities than just that one occasion. If you could help us…"

The silence that followed was broken by Saxon. "Katherine," he said.

Startled, CJ spun around towards his voice, and saw that Saxon was standing in the doorway, a laden tray balanced in his hands. How long had he been standing there, listening?

"Just tell them what they want to know. Please."

Katherine turned to stare at him blankly as if she couldn't understand the words. "But…"

"You won't hurt me," he said gently. "I know that you weren't simply Luthor's PA." A wry smile flitted across his face. "Or, rather, I know that Luthor's PAs have rather… unusual… duties. There's no need to try to hide it from me any longer."

"You knew?" she said weakly.

He nodded. "I've always known."

"Then why didn't you ever say anything?"

"Because I love you." Saxon put the tray down on a sideboard, then walked over to Katherine. He put his right hand lightly on her left shoulder and drew her around to face him. "I thought," he said, "that if you knew that I knew, you might feel as though I'd got some kind of hold over you. I didn't want that. I didn't want you to stay with me because you thought you needed to. I wanted you with me because you wanted to stay."

CJ could hear her ragged breathing and, just before Saxon gathered her into his arms, CJ caught the sight of glistening tears cascading down her cheeks.

"Shush," Saxon murmured gently, rubbing circles on her back.

"I've always been so, so scared." Katherine's voice was thick with tears. "Scared of what you'd think of me, if only you knew. Scared of what you'd do…" She clung to him, and CJ could see her clutching handfuls of his shirt in her fists.

Saxon shushed Katherine again, soothing her. "It's okay," he crooned. "I love you. And we'll get through this together."

Saxon gently rocked Katherine where they stood. It was too intimate a moment to share, and CJ felt like a voyeur. He tore his eyes away from them, wishing that he could escape the room altogether and let them share some privacy. However, they stood in the way of the front door, and it was not his place to explore the unseen rooms to the back.

He glanced at Lois and saw that she, too, was determinedly not looking in the other couple's direction. CJ and Lois nudged closer to each other on the sofa, and CJ lay his hand over hers.

Katherine's sobs eventually ebbed into silence. It was a long time before she asked timidly, "So what happens now?"



Saxon turned towards Lois and CJ, looking to them for answers. Lois glanced at CJ and mouthed, "Go on."

His eyes widened fractionally and she knew that he was surprised that she had passed control of the situation over to him. However, to her, it made complete sense to do so. He, after all, was the lawyer; he should know how best to get Katherine Cox into the system.

He cleared his throat. "Well, we need to get you to the police. You'll need to make a statement and we need to find out what you can give us."

"And then what?" Katherine whispered.

"And then we'll see."

Saxon and Katherine looked at each other, then Saxon turned back to look at CJ. "And if that's not good enough? Can't you give us any kind of guarantees?"

CJ shook his head regretfully. "It's not as easy as that. If what you can give us is good enough, it's possible that you could be granted immunity from prosecution. In fact, as a prosecutor, it might even be in my power to give it to you. But I'd have to be able to defend any recommendations I make, and I can't just say to you here and now that everything'll be fine, because I honestly cannot guarantee it will be. As I said, it'll depend on what you've got."

"What I've got…" Katherine said so quietly that even CJ, with his acute hearing, had trouble hearing her. She glanced at Saxon, then she said at a more normal volume to Lois and CJ, "Can you give us a little privacy so that we can discuss this?"

Lois could tell from the way CJ's grip on her hand tightened momentarily that he shared her reluctance to leave the other couple alone. What if they tried to run out on them? Where would the investigation be then?

"It's okay," said Katherine. "We won't skip out on you. I promise." Beside her, Saxon nodded his head.

Lois looked at CJ and nodded infinitesimally to show that she was prepared to go along with their request. If it had been Katherine on her own, she wasn't sure that she would have been so willing to accommodate them. However, Saxon had proved himself to be trustworthy enough. If he gave his word, Lois was inclined to take it.

"Very well," said CJ. "We'll wait outside." With that he stood up. Lois, still holding his hand, followed suit. Together they walked over to the front door and let themselves out.

They walked down the steps and, dragged by some kind of homing instinct, wandered over to the Jeep. CJ leaned against the car and gazed off into the middle distance while Lois scuffed some dirt with the toe of her shoe and chewed on her lower lip. It was a long time before either of them spoke.

Finally, Lois said, "Do you think she'll help us?"

"Yeah," answered CJ. "Now that she knows she's got Saxon on her side, I think she will. I'm just wondering how helpful her help will actually be."

"How d'you mean?"

CJ turned to look at her. His expression was sombre as he said, "We know she saw Luthor shoot Taylor. But after all this time, if it's just her word against his…" He shook his head.

"Are you saying that we *still* might not have enough?" She kicked the ground viciously and snapped, "I am *so sick* of this, CJ! Nothing is *ever* enough! How can he get away with it? And how can you just stand there and accept it?!"

"I hate this as much as you do!" snapped CJ angrily and Lois realised immediately that she'd gone too far. "I've been fighting against this for years and it's why—" He broke off abruptly, but he didn't need to finish the sentence for Lois to know what he would have said.

She remembered the day their adventure had begun, the day he'd saved her life. He'd been angry enough to yell at her as the Allen case was adjourned. He'd told her things that he'd normally have kept bottled up inside of him, letting them fester, pushing him deeper into his depression. "Justice is not going to be done here, and it's gotten to the point where I'm fed up with even trying to see that it is!" That was what he'd said to her, back in the courthouse — back before his visit to the other world. She hadn't really understood what that meant for him then. Now, though, after encountering so many of the barriers he faced day in and day out, she could sympathise with his feeling of frustrated impotence.

She hated it.

And yet, in spite of everything, CJ was still fighting the good fight. Yes, he was wondering whether Katherine Cox was going to give them anything they could use, but he wasn't getting angry or despairing over it. He was just… wondering. And she'd chastised him for his lack of emotion. She hated herself for that.

Lois looked down at her feet and, miserably, murmured, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you."

"It's okay," he said. "I understand. It *is* frustrating. It's obvious from her reaction that she knows stuff, but that, on its own might not be enough. We need evidence, too. Good, solid evidence."

Lois moved over to him. They wrapped their arms around each other, drawing comfort from their closeness. "Don't you think it's weird," said Lois after a minute or so, "that Katherine and Saxon didn't talk about any of this before now? I mean, they seem to love each other, and yet they kept this really huge secret…"

"They were trying to protect each other, Lois. They each withheld knowledge that they thought might hurt the other."

"Do you… I mean… Would you ever keep anything from me, because it might hurt?"

Lois felt his laugh, a short rumbling quake in his chest. "You already know all my big secrets. I've only got little ones left, and I have no doubt that you'll discover all of those, too, given time."

"I'm serious, CJ."

"So am I."

She shook her head against his chest. "My parents… I haven't told you about my parents, have I?" It wasn't really a question; she knew she hadn't.

CJ answered anyway, knowing it was expected of him. "No."

"They kept secrets from each other all the time. My mother hid the fact that she was drinking. My father hid the fact that he was having affairs. And they were always so suspicious of each other. It was… terrible," she finished bleakly. "I don't like secrets, CJ. I don't trust them. And I find it hard to understand how those two in there could keep secrets from each other and do it out of love."

"When you put it like that, it is pretty hard to understand, but I guess it works for them."

"Will you promise me something?" she asked.


She felt stupid saying it and she hoped that CJ wouldn't interpret it as a lack of trust on her part, but she couldn't help herself. "Just promise that you'll never try to make keeping secrets work for us."

He wasn't angry. He didn't laugh at her insecurities. Instead he said seriously, "I promise."

Lois released the breath she hadn't known she was holding and hugged him tighter. "Thank you," she said. She hoped he could tell how deeply her gratitude ran.

They heard the opening and closing of the front door and pulled apart.

Katherine was holding a small weekend bag in one hand and Saxon's backpack in her other while Saxon, himself, was double- locking the door behind them.

"What…?" began Lois, nudging CJ and pointing. His only response was to pull a doubtful face.

The answer that she wanted was not long in coming, however. Saxon and Katherine walked towards them, stopping abruptly some five feet away from her. "We've made a decision," said Saxon abruptly. "We're coming with you. We're both sick of hiding. It's time for us to do what's right and for us to face up to the consequences of our actions."

"It'll be worth it," added Katherine. "For you, as well as for us."

"Okay," said Lois doubtfully, mindful of CJ's earlier concerns, which were now being joined by some of her own.

This was what she and CJ wanted but, she suddenly realised, they hadn't thought through any of the logistics. Going to the police was easy in theory, but less so in practice. Who could they take Katherine to? Who could they trust to do things properly?

The answer, when it came to her, was so obvious that she wondered why it had taken her so long to find it: Henderson. He had, after all, told her to give him anything useful that they found out.


The journey back to Metropolis passed quickly. This was partly because, this time, Lois knew where she was going and didn't get lost. Also, the temperature had begun to fall, which made the Jeep a little more bearable than it had been on the way out. Mostly, however, it was because the conversation, such as it was, was fascinating. To say the least.

Katherine, having resolved to turn herself in, was remarkably forthcoming. She told them about herself, about how her husband had left her one stormy night in July 1994, leaving her with a mountain of debt he'd accumulated in her name, a house she couldn't afford, a car that was about to be repossessed and an urgent need to get a job. Any job, she said, so long as it paid well.

She'd quickly found herself a position at LexCorp, where she'd honed her skills as a secretary, displaying a flair for organisation that was second to none. She supposed it had been the result of her background, where everything had to be done quickly, neatly and efficiently. She'd been in the army, she explained, until she'd left to be with Mr Cox. She was a skilled firearms expert, and that, allied to her other skills, had quickly brought her to the attention of Luthor.

There was something about him, Katherine said, that made him next to impossible to say no to. It wasn't just that he offered his favoured employees high salaries, bonuses and perks. Nor was it that, behind everything, hovered the threat of retribution for any transgressions. Rather, it was something about him. He was charismatic, almost hypnotic in a way, commanding and receiving the ultimate in loyalty from his followers. He was irresistible.

"But you resisted," pointed out Lois. "You must have done, else you wouldn't have left him."

"It wasn't easy," she said. "And, if I hadn't met Peter, here, I don't think I'd have been able to do it."

"How did you meet?" asked CJ, craning around in the front passenger seat, so that he could see the couple in the back.

"Lex was being given a tour around the nuclear plant. It was still under construction then, of course. Anyway, Peter was there. And it happened, just like that. Love at first sight."

Saxon nodded. "Neither of us could believe it at first. Katherine had sworn off men — well, apart from Luthor, but she said he didn't really count, because love never really came into that. I'd just… Well, I was getting on a bit, and I'd more or less given up on finding that one special person. I didn't think that it was ever going to happen for me. And then…" He leaned over and kissed Katherine lightly on her cheek.

"It took a long time for us to decide what we were going to do about it all, though," said Katherine. "And then…" She hesitated. "And then I began to see what Luthor really wanted me for, and it wasn't to drive him around in a limo and check his appointments for him. He wanted a bodyguard, secretary and enforcer, all rolled into one.

"Even then, it wasn't too bad to begin with. Mostly it was just threats. Strong-arming people, you know?" Lois thought of Judith Myerson and nodded sombrely. Yes, she thought. She knew. "But everything changed when he went after Toni Taylor."

"What happened then?" asked Lois.

Katherine told them, in studiedly flat tones that didn't quite hide the echoing horror of the story, how Luthor had double- crossed the leader of the Metro gang. She told them how Luthor had manipulated Taylor into making a play for her brother's fiefdom, seducing her with hints of respectability and partnership. And then she'd told them how, once Taylor was in charge of the Metros, Luthor had tried to force her to sell out to him. When she'd refused, Luthor had killed her.

Katherine's account of the actual murder accorded with the one Tessa had given to CJ, but was more detailed. "To begin with, Luthor wanted me to kill her. I still wonder whether or not I'd have been able to go through with it. I hope not, but I… Sometimes I have nightmares about it. I see me pulling the trigger.

"Anyway, at the last minute, Luthor said that he wanted to do it himself. And he *enjoyed* it! He really, really *enjoyed* it! And that was when I knew I had to get out. I should never had let things go so far in the first place, but that was too much, even for me."

Lois wondered whether Katherine's story was entirely on the level. Were there other skeletons in the closet that she was still carefully keeping hidden, or had Taylor really been her first brush with murder? Lois found herself hoping fervently that the latter was the case. She didn't want to, but she felt an odd sort of liking for the woman. Lois didn't want to see that liking undermined in any way.

"Luthor told me to get rid of the gun. Only I didn't. I took it and hid it. That was my insurance against Luthor coming after me. And then I went straight to Peter. I didn't tell him why I'd left Luthor in a hurry, just that I couldn't stand to stay there any longer."

"We moved out here," Saxon finished. "And the rest, as they say, is history."

"And this gun?" asked CJ. Lois could hear the carefully reined in hope in the question. She felt it, too.

Lois glanced back in the rear view mirror and saw Katherine nodding. "I told you it would be worth your while," she said. "Ballistics can match the gun to the bullet that killed Taylor, and Luthor's fingerprints are all over it."



Saturday 10 May, 1997

At Katherine and Saxon's insistence, Lois dropped them off outside Henderson's precinct. Lois would have liked to deliver them in person, but they insisted that they could track the detective down on their own. They agreed, however, to mention that Lois had pointed them in his direction. She supposed that she could live with that, just so long as Henderson realised that he was in her and CJ's debt.

She and CJ then went back to her place, where she proceeded to work late into the night, putting together two stories based on the material Saxon had furnished them with. CJ stayed with her throughout, providing her upon demand with coffee, research assistance and advice. To begin with, he offered the latter only hesitantly, pointing out that journalism was her area of expertise, not his. However, as the night wore on, they both realised something: Lois understood what readers wanted, content-wise, but CJ manipulated words with an elegance that she sometimes lacked. She supposed it had something to do with all the opening and closing speeches he had to make in court that were designed to beguile jurors into seeing his point of view.

Whatever the reason, one thing was clear. His skills complemented hers and, around midnight, for the first time in her career, she seriously considered what it would be like to have a writing partner. She quickly dismissed the thought as unproductive, however, because the only professional partner she would have wanted was CJ, and he wasn't available, at least not on a full-time basis. It was enough, she decided, that they were becoming partners in all other senses of the word. If she could borrow his expertise from time to time… Well, that was just an added bonus.

They went to bed around two, making love tenderly and joyfully before falling asleep in each other's arms. They were still cuddling together when the alarm woke them at seven, evidently having found as much pleasure in being together in their sleep as they did when they were awake.


CJ could hear the muffled sounds of Perry's anger as soon as he and Lois stepped off the elevator. The rumble of noise sorted itself out into words when Lois pushed the door to his office open. CJ noticed that, today, she didn't even bother going through the motions of knocking, preferring instead to walk in on the editor. CJ thought this was somewhat ironic given her habit of chastising her more junior colleagues when they did the same thing to her.

"… If you don't get your butt in here pronto, it'll be your job!" Perry White slammed down the telephone and growled to himself, "I swear that man'll be the death of me!"

"Who, Perry?" asked Lois.

Perry turned to look balefully at the couple. "Rodriguez. He's called in sick. Again. I swear, I've had enough of it. He's had enough warnings. Either he gets in here and pulls his weight or…" He made a slicing motion across his throat with his right hand.

"Uh, Perry?"


"Rodriguez lives out in Arcadia, doesn't he?"

"Uh, huh."

"Then… You might want to read this before you fire him." She held out a printed version of one of her two articles. "I know we've all been ragging him, thinking that he's been shirking, but…"


"CJ and I went to see Dr Saxon again yesterday, and from what he was telling us, Love Canal had nothing on Arcadia."

Perry's face creased into a frown. "Let me see that."

He took the paper out of Lois's hand and began to read. "Toxic dumping… Acreage contaminated… Symptoms: headache, migraines, vomiting, rashes… No official medical diagnosis… Seepage of contaminant…"

At the end of the article, he looked up and said, "This is terrific, Lois."

"Yeah," muttered CJ, for her ears alone. "Gross, but terrific."

"And that's not all," said Lois smugly. "Wait'll you see what LexPower's plant is doing to the bay!" She held out the other story.

"In a minute, honey. First I gotta call Rodriguez back. See if I can't persuade him to move his family into a motel downtown."

Lois and CJ sat down on the small plaid sofa Perry kept in his office and waited patiently while Perry made his call. It was incredible, CJ thought, how the editor could shift from irascible boss to fatherly concern in the space of a minute. If he hadn't heard it himself, CJ would have found it impossible to believe that Perry had been threatening to fire Rodriguez just minutes earlier.

When Perry had finished the call, he turned his full attention in their direction. "Well, kids," he said. "You just made my day. This is dynamite."

Lois grinned at the praise and CJ realised something for the first time. Although she was a star reporter and although she wore an aura of extreme confidence, she needed reassurance — validation, even. It made him wonder what other insecurities she had beneath her brash exterior. It also helped to explain to him why she, along with her other worldly counterpart, put so much store in the winning of awards.

"Now," Perry continued, "let me make yours. Jack left this for you last night." He rummaged around on his desk, finally coming up with a sheaf of papers. To CJ's surprise, and Lois's obvious disapproval, Perry gave them to him, along with an explanation for his choice. "Jack said it was your idea, Kent, so I think you deserve to see the evidence first."

Feeling bemused, CJ flicked through the pile. His eyes widened and his grin broadened to match the one that Lois had worn moments before.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"'Lucky' Luciano had nothing on Lex Luthor. I think we've got him."


After they'd finished up at the Planet, CJ insisted on going back to his place, saying that he needed a shower and a change of clothes.

For the first time since they'd got together, they didn't rely on take-out or restaurants. Instead, CJ cooked lunch for them both, demonstrating, if not flair, precisely, then at least a general level of kitchen competence. To Lois, who had been known to have difficulties boiling water, he looked like an expert and she said as much. CJ found himself blushing at the unwarranted compliment.

They were in the process of washing up and discussing the merits of spending the afternoon dozing on the couch when a knock on the door put paid to that idea.

Without his supersenses, CJ had to wait until he saw who his guest was before he could identify him or her. Nonetheless, he ran through a remarkably short list of possibilities as he went over to open the door. Lois: no, she was already there. Perry: unlikely. Jack: ditto. Jimmy: even more so. Mayson: a possibility… Did he really have such a small social circle? he asked himself as he reached up to release the lock.

However, his visitor was no-one that CJ could have predicted.

"Inspector Henderson!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"Actually, I was looking for Lane, as well as you. The people at the Planet seemed to think she might be with you."

"Yeah, I'm here," Lois called out from the living area. "Come on in, Henderson."

CJ saw Henderson's eyebrows climb; he could feel his own doing something similar. It wasn't that he minded Lois inviting people into his home, exactly. In fact, he liked the idea that she felt comfortable enough to do so. It was just that it felt… odd.

Henderson looked to CJ for confirmation. In reply, CJ stepped back, pulling the door open wide, to let him pass.

CJ followed Henderson down the stops and gestured for him to take a seat. CJ then offered Henderson some tea, an offer that the policeman politely declined. CJ sat down next to Lois. "So, what can we do for you today, Inspector?" he asked.

"Ask rather what I can do for you." Henderson's eyes flicked towards Lois, and CJ got the idea that, whatever it was that Henderson was here for was more likely to appeal to her than to him. "First of all, I want to thank you both for that Cox woman. I really owe you for that."

"Ah," said Lois, waving his gratitude away with an insincere, "it was nothing."

Henderson snorted quietly with disbelief, and CJ could see the precise moment when he decided to call her bluff. "Well," the inspector said, "if you feel that way about it, I guess I don't need to tell you anything about Pagliano after all, which was the second reason I came here." He moved to get up.

"No!" exclaimed Lois. "Okay, so maybe it was something. Maybe it was a really *big* something. So give, Henderson."

CJ saw Henderson's lips twitch with amusement as he settled back into his seat. "We're going after Luthor tomorrow."

Lois's eyes lit up and she leaned forward. "Tell us more."

"Pagliano is a miserable—" Henderson called him something rude. "However," he continued, "he's so full of righteous indignation that he's being extremely co-operative. He almost begged us to use him as bait. He didn't need any persuading at all."

"So what's the plan?" asked Lois.

"The team has already gone out to his place, and we've supplemented his own security system with some of our own cameras and microphones. We're going out there again early in the morning; it'll give us plenty of time to square away our vehicles and get in position before Luthor shows up."

"I want in," said Lois.

"I rather thought that you would," answered Henderson. "And seeing as how I owe you, I'll let you, on one condition."


"You do *exactly* what I say. You keep out of the way. That goes for you, too, Kent, if you want to tag along. You can watch from our operations room, but that's it. This is police work. I don't want anyone taking unnecessary risks." CJ couldn't help noticing the way that Henderson was glaring pointedly at Lois while he said that. "No heroics, got it?"

Lois pouted. "You make it sound like I go out *looking* for trouble."

"Don't you?" asked Henderson sceptically.

"Of course I don't. Do I look stupid? It's just that trouble has a way of finding me."

"Uh, huh. And does trouble have a similar way of finding you, Kent?"

Up until a few of weeks ago, CJ would probably have said no. However, recent events had done much to disrupt his orderly view of the world. He hedged his bets by saying, "I guess that would all depend on what you mean by trouble."

Henderson harrumphed and said, "Here's the address. I expect to see you there by nine at the latest."


Sunday 11 May, 1997

It was eight thirty in the morning when Lois pulled up next to an imposing gate located some fifty miles north of the city limits. She looked through the iron railings at the woods beyond and frowned. "You reckon this is the right place?"

CJ, sitting beside her, said, "I guess it must be. It's not as though we've seen any other signs of civilisation out here, is it?"

"Guess not." Lois nudged the Jeep closer to an intercom, which was set into one of the brick gateposts, wound down the window, and leaned out. She pressed a button and waited until a voice erupted out of the speaker. "Yes? What do you want?" Above them, a CCTV camera moved to point at the car.

"Lois Lane and CJ Kent. Inspector Henderson is expecting us."

There was a pause, which was filled with indecipherable muttering in the background, and then the voice was back. "Very well. Drive on up to the house. Someone will give you directions from there."

The gate, presumably under the control of the man Lois had just spoken to, clanked open. She shifted the gears and eased her way through. Looking back in the rear-view mirror, Lois saw it slide shut behind them, trapping them in.

Lois felt as though they were making no headway through the trees and she couldn't help but wonder how much land Pagliano owned. Finally, after at least five minutes, the Jeep followed a bend in the drive and emerged into sunlight, and Lois and CJ got their first glimpse of Pagliano's house.

Lois's jaw dropped. "I didn't expect anything quite like as this!"

"Me neither," said CJ. "I mean, there's rich, and then there's *really* rich!" He gestured helplessly at the opulence in front of them.

The last time Lois had seen anything quite as grand as Pagliano's house, she had been flicking through one of those beautiful living magazines that were supposed to be inspirational but which only served to promote a feeling of inadequacy in their readers. Lois had long since come to the conclusion that regular subscribers must derive some kind of masochistic pleasure from looking at pictures of properties they could never afford, decorated with a stylishness they could never hope to emulate, and presented with a level of cleanliness that could never be maintained.

The house — it was more of a mansion, really — topped a hillock of immaculately manicured lawns and commanded a view over an artificial lake. Its white walls gleamed in the sun.

Lois set aside her awe and, remembering why they were there, said sombrely, "And then there is Luthor rich. How many of these do you suppose *he* has?"

Henderson waved them down on the wide expanse of gravel that served as a parking area for visitors. "We've set up the observation room in the old stable block half a mile down there." He pointed towards a narrow service road that disappeared around the corner of the house. "You can watch from there." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And don't even *think* about trying to sneak back up here! The whole area is riddled with surveillance cameras; I'll know if you set one foot outside the stables. You do that, and I'll make sure I share your exclusive with every other paper in town."

Given what Lois now knew about the other papers, she thought it was a pretty empty threat, but it niggled nonetheless. Didn't Henderson *trust* her? "The thought hadn't even crossed my mind," she grumbled.

"Good," said Henderson, taking Lois's words at face value even though Lois was sure that he recognised them for the lie that they were. "Plotnek'll look after you."

"Plotnek?" asked Lois, before managing to place the name. "Oh, yeah. I met him the other day. The camera man."

"That's him. Now, you'd better be on your way. We've still got lots to do up here, and I don't need you two getting in the way. And keep that Jeep out of sight! I don't want anyone recognising your vanity plates either!"

Lois grunted a vague agreement, then said, "Good luck, Henderson. See you later."

As she pulled away, she heard him say, "If I'm lucky." She wondered whether he was being sarcastic or whether his words reflected a genuine concern for what they were about to do.


Once upon a time, judging from the size of the stable block, the owners of the estate must have kept a lot of horses, but those days were gone. The stalls had been removed and the building was now used as a garage. Lois parked the Jeep next to an anonymous Chevy. CJ decided that the latter — along with another half dozen vehicles, all of which looked as though they could do with a trip through a car wash — probably belonged to one or other of the visiting police officers.

As they climbed out of the car, stiff from the ride, someone called out a greeting. "Hey, Lane! Up here when you're ready!"

CJ turned his head, following the sound of the voice. He saw a dark-haired man leaning over the banister of a staircase that led to an upper storey.

"That's Plotnek," said Lois, and she trotted off. CJ followed close on her heels.

Like the stables, the hayloft had also been converted. Despite Henderson's briefing, it took CJ a moment to work out what he was seeing. An array of television screens covered one wall: Pagliano's in-house security system. As if to confirm that hypothesis, he spotted two men dressed in pale grey uniforms. At first glance, they could have passed for police officers, but CJ knew better. No police force in New Troy had uniforms that colour: these men were in Pagliano's employ. For the moment, though, they seemed content to lounge around and let someone else take the strain.

Pagliano's equipment had been augmented by that of Henderson's team. Loose cables and extension leads snaked across the floor, potential hazards for the unwary. "Come in and make yourselves comfortable," said Plotnek. "Here, I'll show you around."

Plotnek quickly introduced them to everyone, including Pagliano's two guards, who regarded them with apathetic disinterest. He then sat them down, and gave them a virtual tour through the parts of the house and grounds that were under surveillance. "Hall," he said, pointing towards a screen showing a marble-tiled area that could have passed for the foyer of a mall opera house. A sweeping staircase curved upwards, and Plotnek pointed to the next screen. "Landing." Then he moved onwards. "Study, library, living room, games room, gym."

From time to time, CJ caught glimpses of people — servants apparently — going about their business. Of Pagliano's wife there was no sign, and CJ wondered whether she had not got up yet, or whether she'd been tactfully sent out of town for the weekend.

Plotnek's tour had now reached the kitchen, and CJ caught sight of a soberly suited man putting together a breakfast tray. There was a cafetiere, a rack of dry toast, fresh fruit salad and a glass of juice.

"He has a butler?" exclaimed Lois. Then more to herself than to anyone else, she added, "What am I saying? Of course he has a butler!"

"Yeah, he does," agreed Plotnek. "He also has several gardeners, a housekeeper, two maids and a chauffeur. Not to imagine his own personal security service." He tilted his head in the general direction of the two guards before turning his full attention back towards the screen. "However, that guy is actually one of our people. So's the maid." He pointed towards another monitor, which was displaying an image of a cavernous dining room. In the middle of it, a woman, dressed in a skimpy uniform that looked as though it had been ordered from one of the less respectable "lingerie" companies, was going through the motions of dusting a sideboard.

"He doesn't make his employees wear stuff like that, does he?" demanded Lois.

"Only the female ones," answered Plotnek dryly.

CJ's eyes lingered on the screen. He couldn't help wondering what Lois would look like dressed in something like that. He imagined her long, shapely legs clad in black fish-net stockings, a half-inch worth of suspenders visible below the hem of a short skirt, a plunging neckline offering a tantalising view of cleavage… He was certain that Lois would look far better than the police woman. However, from her reaction to the costume, CJ guessed that it wouldn't be a good idea to try to find out.

He took a deep and steadying breath and tried to banish his mental images. He could have done with a cold shower, he thought.

"Where's Pagliano?" asked Lois.

Plotnek pointed towards another monitor. The picture showed the millionaire clambering out of a kidney-shaped swimming pool. He was an ugly man, short with a spherical body balanced on a pair of spindly legs, and CJ discovered that looking at him worked just as well as a shower would have done to bring his libido under control. Pagliano had no neck to speak of and the skin was pulled taut across his paunchy belly. He looked like a human lollipop.

Looking at the sinewy muscles on his arms and legs, CJ decided that Pagliano's misshapen body was the result of a quirk of genetics rather than a failure on his part to look after it. It was ironic that he looked far less human than CJ did, himself.

As Pagliano wrapped a towel around where his waist should have been, CJ got a glimpse of his face: a fat-lipped mouth, a crooked nose that looked as though it had been broken several times in the past, beady, resolute eyes, and a gleaming, bald pate.


The novelty of the first half hour of the stakeout quickly wore off and, once CJ had familiarised himself with the layout of the monitors, there was little to do but wait. The day crawled.

As far as CJ could tell, Pagliano, having disappeared to dress and, presumably, to eat his breakfast, was carrying out his normal routine. This seemed to consist of making a few phone calls, and consequently ruining the Sunday morning peace of several business associates, doing some paperwork and haranguing the servants. Yet, CJ could not believe that Pagliano was as sanguine about his situation as he made out; either he was a consummate actor or he was a fool.

CJ turned his attention to the monitors showing the grounds. These displayed images of the drive, the lawns and the trees. Once CJ caught sight of a couple of squirrels cavorting across the grass. Another time he thought he saw a blue jay pass in front of one of the cameras before disappearing into the depths of the wood. Otherwise, the only movement was that of the shortening shadows as the sun climbed towards its southernmost point.

CJ had never realised that stakeouts could be so dull. The only reliefs to the tedium were occasional comments from Plotnek, bathroom breaks and deliveries of coffee and doughnuts, which arrived midmorning, and a platter of sandwiches, which served as lunch.

It was close to two thirty when the sound of a rasping buzzer shattered the observation room's expectant peace. Everyone's attention jolted automatically towards the screen that showed a view of the front gate. Unnecessarily, Plotnek announced, "They're here."



"The intercom rings in the house," Plotnek explained, and pointed at the screen showing the hall. "But we've tapped the line so you'll be able to hear the conversation out here, too."

The image showed the fake butler rapidly walking over towards what looked like a cream- coloured wall-mounted phone. If she squinted hard enough, Lois could just make out a small video screen mounted next to the handset. The fake butler picked up the call and said, "Hello?"

The voice that answered him was female. "Open the gates. I have Lex Luthor with me; he wants to see Mr Pagliano on an urgent matter of business."

Lois recognised the condescending tones immediately. "Monica Carnes," she quickly muttered to CJ, who had missed Wednesday's stakeout.

On screen, playing his role to the hilt, the butler replied, "I will just see if Mr Pagliano is free."

"You do that," answered Carnes.

The butler pushed a button on the phone, presumably to put Carnes on hold, and he produced a small walkie-talkie out of his breast pocket. "Stations, everyone. Luthor's just coming through the gates."

Then he returned to the phone, pressed the button again, and said, "You may come up to the house."

"Thank you." Carnes' words sounded politely sarcastic.

Lois turned her eyes back to the screen showing Luthor's car — a relatively modest Mercedes, she noted — and watched as the gate slid open to allow it begin its long journey up the drive. She, together with everyone else, except Pagliano's goons who were now engrossed with ancient copies of the National Whisper, watched the car's progress via a series of monitors until finally it ground to a halt on the forecourt where she had stopped earlier.

Luthor, dressed in a light-weight suit, eased himself out of the passenger's seat. From the driver's side appeared first one heeled shoe then another, two shapely ankles, and then, finally, the rest of the woman. Monica Carnes was dressed in a parody of a chauffeur's outfit. She wore a bottle-green peaked cap over her cascading brown hair. Her jacket, also bottle- green, was a perfect fit that suggested expensive tailoring. Her skirt stopped mid-thigh, and showed off her long legs to perfection. Pagliano, it appeared, wasn't the only one who liked his female employees to flaunt their assets. At least, Lois thought grudgingly, Luthor managed to mix male chauvinism with a modicum of style.

Luthor nodded to Carnes and they headed towards the front door, drawing alongside each other on the way. "Are you ready, my dear?" he asked.

Lois jumped, startled. "How are you doing that? Picking up their conversation, I mean." She knew the inside of the house was wired, of course, but she hadn't realised that they'd be able to hear anything outside.

"Gun microphone used in conjunction with a parabolic reflector," said Plotnek. That meant nothing to Lois. Her confusion must have shown, because Plotnek elaborated. "It's the kind of microphone that documentary makers use when they're recording wildlife. Tony, over there, could tell you more about it than I can. Cameras are my speciality."

Lois turned to look in Tony's direction, but as he was busily turning dials on a tape recorder, she decided not to disturb him.

She turned back to the screen in time to see Carnes speak, her words simultaneously coming out of a speaker. "I'm always ready. And you?"

Luthor nodded a silent reply and patted a spot near his left armpit. Was it her imagination, Lois wondered, or could she see the faintest hint of a bulge there? A bulge that just might be a holstered gun? She shivered involuntarily at the thought.

When Luthor next spoke, the words were quiet, almost whispered, and Lois had to struggle to make them out. "Now, remember… If Pagliano won't play ball, then we'll have to kill him, along with everyone else on the estate."

Lois gasped. Of course she'd known Luthor was capable of such atrocities, but to witness it first hand… And the casualness with which he spoke was chilling.

"And we'll need to destroy any surveillance tapes."

Carnes smiled, nodded and said huskily, "It's a good thing that Pagliano's wife turned out to be so… helpful."

"Indiscreet, don't you mean?"

Again, Carnes nodded. "Benton says that she makes a very talkative drunk."

"And now we know how big this place is, how many people work here and how… *lazy* Pagliano's security guards are…" Again he smiled, but this time the expression had a predatory quality to it. "They won't notice a thing."

Lois glanced around and felt her stomach twist. The two guards were still lounging around, apparently too engrossed for what passed for a crossword in the National Whisper to have noticed the exchange. It looked as though Luthor was right about them.

She turned her attention back towards the monitors in time to see Luthor and Carnes walk up the steps to the double front door. Luthor waited as Carnes pressed the bell. Lois glanced across at the monitor showing the interior of the hall and saw the butler jogging across it. He opened the door and beckoned the guests inside. "If you will come this way, sir… madam. Mr Pagliano is waiting for you in his study."

"Wrong," said a voice from just outside the field of view. Plotnek fiddled with a couple of dials, and the camera shifted slightly to show the speaker. "Mr Pagliano is right here. It's an honour to meet you, Mr Luthor." He held out his hand.

Lois noticed that Luthor did not bother to take it. Nor did he formally introduced Carnes to Pagliano. Instead he merely said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, too. I was wondering if you could spare me a little of your time. I'd like to discuss a matter of business with you."

"Certainly," replied Pagliano. "If you'd like to come through…"

"Rather than staying in, might I suggest that we take a stroll around those admirable grounds of yours? It is, after all, a quite wonderful afternoon."

Pagliano nodded, smiling at the flattery, and turned to the butler. "We're going for a quick walk. Please get some cold drinks ready to serve on the terrace for when we get back."

Plotnek gave vent to a short, pithy expletive.

"What?!" cried Lois, alarmed by his reaction.

"They're going outside!"


"So we specifically told Pagliano to stay indoors. We've done what we can to keep him safe — Kevlar vest and the like — but that only reduces the risk of injury. It doesn't get rid of it all together. We've got people hidden throughout the house so it'd be relatively easy to intervene if things get nasty in there. But there's no way we can contain the situation if they go outside!"

The butler didn't look happy. "Sir, with all due respect, may I remind you that the… doctor… has recommended that you take things easy." It wasn't a very good lie, Lois thought, but it was probably the best thing that the man could come up with on the spur of the moment. His next comment had a ring of truth to it, though. "It might not be… good for your health… to leave the house. If you'd care to go into the living room or the library, I could bring the drinks through to you there."

There was a glint of defiance in Pagliano's eyes, and Lois could tell that, no matter how willing he had been to be used as bait, he wanted to do it on his own terms. He was obviously a man who liked to be in control of situations and he resented the fact that, having agreed to help the police, they were trying to tell him what to do. Fool, she thought, sympathising with Plotnek's anger. This was hardly the time to be having a fit of post-adolescent rebellion. Then she remembered what Benton had said about Pagliano during the previous stakeout, and Lois wondered why she was surprised that he was behaving this way now; she — along with everyone else — should have expected it. Knowing that did nothing for the knot that had suddenly developed in her stomach, however.

"A little stroll won't hurt me, I'm sure," Pagliano said, staring the butler down.

"And we'll take very good care of him for you," said Carnes silkily. "He'll be in safe hands with us."

The butler looked torn, but what, really, could he do? With forced calm, he said, "Very well, sir," and turned away.

Pagliano looked at his guests, then gestured back towards the front door. "This way," he said. "The lake looks particularly fine at this ."

Anyone listening to the next few minutes worth of conversation could have been excused for thinking that everything was normal. They discussed the weather ("Particularly fine for this time of year, don't you think"), the lawn ("Remarkable: so green and free from weeds") and the house ("Quite beautiful. Have you lived here long?"). Only as they reached the shores of the lake and began to walk around it, did the talk turn towards business.

"My… sources," began Luthor delicately, "tell me that you are reluctant to sell your shares in MaxiComm." His image was small on the screen, and Lois realised that the camera that was focused on the group had to be mounted somewhere on the front of the house. If they moved much farther away, it would be hard to make out very much in the way of details.

Pagliano slowed his walk to a crawl as he turned to look at Luthor, and Lois guessed from the way his head didn't move that he had to be staring, trying to work out where Luthor was going with this. "And how would your sources even know that I had received an offer for those shares?" he asked carefully.

"Because I—"

Tony swore violently as the sound vanished.

"What happened?" demanded Lois.

"We've lost it!" explained Plotnek hurriedly. "They've just moved out of audio range! Dammit!"

"So what do we do now?"

"Do? There's nothing we *can* do. We just have to rely on the video, pray they don't move out of shot, and hope that'll be enough!" Plotnek's anger was palpable, and he began swearing about Pagliano again. "We told the little—" Lois decided that she hadn't heard that particular word. "We told him and told him about the limits to the equipment. We told the… *idiot*… not to go outside, but did he listen!? Stupid… stupid…" Lois wondered whether it was anger that was breaking up the fluency of his diatribe, or whether it was the strain of having to contain yet more foul invective. She got the feeling that it was probably the latter.

On screen, civilised discussion segued into something less refined. Pagliano shouted silently and began to flail his arms around. Luthor's body language was restrained, although there was something about the way he was standing that suggested that he might be smirking, as though he was enjoying the other man's discomfort. Carnes seemed to be watching with detached disinterest. It was hard to tell from a distance, but Lois got the impression that she was probably smiling, too.

Then Luthor reached under his jacket and pulled out a gun. He aimed. He fired.

No amount of Kevlar could have protected Pagliano from that shot. Instead of aiming at Pagliano's well-protected chest, Luthor had gone for his head. The back of Pagliano's skull exploded, shattered by the force of the exiting bullet and Lois got a flash of nauseating pink and crimson before Pagliano collapsed onto the lawn.

"Oh, God!" she cried and flung herself around, wanting to bury her head in the comforting haven of CJ's chest. However, after only the briefest of embraces, she forced herself to turn back, forced herself to watch the last of the obscene scenes unfold.

Luthor looked down at the body for a moment, then with the exaggerated movements of a street mime, he lowered the gun and blew across the top of the barrel. Then he made a performance of holstering it. He straightened, raised his arms in triumph and turned his face to the sky. Small as his image was, Lois could see that he was laughing with joy as he spun on the spot.

She'd heard that Luthor enjoyed killing, but hearing about it and seeing it, even filtered through the surveillance equipment, were two very different things. She felt suddenly and violently sick, and had to place a hand across her mouth as she forced bile back down her throat.

Her attention was so tightly focused on that one screen that she barely heard Plotnek screaming at Henderson through a radio link. She didn't see a stream of officers, Henderson in the lead, pour out of the house. It was only as they came into view, running across the lawn that she — and Luthor — became aware of them.

Just before he, too, passed out of the microphone's range, Lois heard Henderson yell, "Police! Get on the floor and place your hands behind your heads!"

For a second it looked as though Luthor was going to go for his gun but, to Lois's surprise, he did as he was told. Carnes, apparently also taken by surprise at his acquiescence, managed to scramble down onto the grass, though with some difficulty, given the tightness of her skirt.

Why had Luthor given in so easily? Lois wondered. Was it because he knew he was outnumbered? Or was it because he believed that he could get away with even this, given time? He knew the system. Heck, he *owned* most of it! It wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that Luthor thought he could get away with murder, even when there were a dozen witnesses to it.

"C'mon, CJ!" Lois said, grabbing hold of his hand and trying to pull him out of his chair.

"What…? Lois!? What are you doing?"

"Going to see Luthor!"

"Lois! Henderson said—"

"Look, CJ, the stakeout is over. Henderson's caught his man. We're hardly going to mess things up now and I want — *need* — - to get to him, even if it's only to hear him say, 'No comment'."

She almost stumbled backwards when CJ stood while she was still pulling on his hand. He continued protesting as they ran down the stairs and clambered into the Jeep.

Lois didn't bother following the narrow track this time. She drove the Jeep straight across the perfect lawn — it wasn't as if Pagliano was going to care any more — and reached the front of the house in a time that would have made a rally driver proud. She slammed on the brakes, skidding to a halt just inches away from Luthor's Merc.

Henderson and another man were prodding Luthor towards the house. Two other officers were having trouble with Carnes, who was struggling in their grip. From around a corner, police cars appeared, spilling out more officers and standing ready to take the prisoners back to Metropolis.

Lois jumped out of the Jeep, peripherally aware that CJ was still following her. She ran up to Luthor and planted herself directly in front of him. Henderson, she noticed, looked exasperated, but he didn't protest at her presence.

Luthor looked her up and down, his eyes raking her body, making her feel distinctly uncomfortable. "You think I don't know it was you?" he said finally. "I read the Daily Planet, you know. I know all about your vendetta against LexCorp, Ms Lane and I know that Henderson couldn't have done this on his own. Don't think you're safe, Lois Lane, because the charges won't stick; they never do. And when I'm out, I'll get you. I'll. Get. You."

Lois almost missed Henderson quietly saying from behind him, "Was that a *threat*, Mr Luthor? Tut, tut. I'd be more careful if I were you; you're in quite enough trouble already."

"Trouble?" demanded Luthor. "Believe me, you and your little minions don't even know the meaning of the word! And as for you, *Ms Lane*—"

CJ startled Lois as he stepped in front of her, offering her what little protection he could. "Leave her alone!" he demanded.

"No, CJ!" protested Lois. "You don't have—"

"Well, well, well," Luthor bit out, and for a moment CJ thought that the billionaire was going to spit at him. "So the crusading assistant District Attorney is in on this, too. I should have guessed. You never did know when to give up, did you?"

"It seems to me," said Lois boldly, leaning out from behind CJ's left shoulder, "that you're the one who should be giving up, Luthor. I should tell you that today is just the tip of the ice-berg of what we've got on you. We've got you implicated in homicides, organised crime, drugs trafficking… You name it, we've got it." She shook her head and said with satisfaction, "There is absolutely no way you'll be getting off this time."

Lois felt herself smiling as she saw Luthor pale as the reality of his position seemed to sink in. His rage contorted his mouth and narrowed his eyes, which flashed with a dangerous fury.

"Lois!" hissed CJ and Lois could hear the nervousness in his voice. "Don't provoke him!"

"What, like you were, you mean?" Lois muttered back, but she was shaken by what she was seeing, herself. But she swallowed her fear and turned her attention back to Luthor. Very sweetly, she asked, "Would you like to make a statement for the press?"

"No comment," Luthor snarled, and, this time, CJ was positive that he could see him begin to ball saliva in his mouth. Before Luthor could let it fly, however, the police pulled him out of firing range. No longer was Luthor going quietly, though. Now he was squirming and fighting, and it took three of them to drag him away.

CJ and Lois watched as one of the officers placed his hand on the top of Luthor's head and pushed it down so they could get him into the back of a waiting squad car. The string of imaginative and highly varied words Luthor was pouring forth verged on the poetic.

Lois burst into laughter. It wasn't that the situation was remotely amusing, a detached part of her mind told her; rather it was the release of tension. It was relief that was making her hysterical.

As the car containing Luthor pulled out, CJ turned around and gathered Lois into his arms. She clung to him desperately. Adrenaline had carried her this far, but now that the confrontation was over, she felt it drain away. She wanted — needed — to feel him, to draw strength from him, to be in his arms, the safest place that she knew.

They watched as the car receded down the drive. Only after it had turned the bend, vanishing out of sight, did Lois bury her face into his chest and sob, "Oh, CJ!" She realised that she was trembling.

His grip on her tightened, and he whispered into her hair, "Shush, Lois. It's all right. He's gone now. He's gone." His words were nonsense but she didn't care. All she cared about was the man who was holding her, keeping the rest of the world at bay.


It wasn't until much later that they arrived back in Metropolis. CJ insisted that they go to Lois's place because, although she had recovered her equilibrium enough to drive them home, he doubted that she should be left alone. In any case, he didn't feel like being on his own, himself.

Lois found some wine and they sat together on one of the love seats slowly drinking and recovering. At one point, Lois said, "We did it, CJ. We really did it. We beat Lex Luthor," but her words were more numbed disbelief than triumphant.

Softly, CJ said, "Not just us, Lois. We had a lot of help, remember."

"But we organised everything."

CJ found himself smiling. Even after a traumatic day like today, even in a state of semi-shock, Lois wanted glory. "Henderson might say the same thing," CJ pointed out. "We just pushed him in the right direction."

"Are you deliberately trying to be annoying?" she asked, and he was delighted to hear that the numbness in her tone was giving away to a more familiar teasing note. He found that both reassuring and comforting. Things were getting back to normal, he thought.


"Okay, let me rephrase it: Lex Luthor is beaten!" It was incredible, CJ thought, how rapidly Lois had gone from disbelief to happy satisfaction. "Can you at least agree with that, CJ?"

CJ nodded, but Lois noticed that he didn't look too thrilled about it. He should have known that things rarely got passed her, and she'd noticed that he was sharing little of her glee. "Maybe," he said softly, noncommittally.

Her grin slipped away and, her tone rich with concern, she asked, "What's wrong? Aren't you happy?"

With a huge effort, CJ forced himself to smile. "Of course I'm happy," he said sombrely. "It's just…"

"Just what?"

"Maybe for you this is the end, but for me this is just the — how did Churchill put it? — end of the beginning. We've still got the arraignments to look forward to, and the trial. I dare say that I won't be the one prosecuting, even for the State offences — I'm too close to this — but it'll be my office. My colleagues." He shook his head. "No, Lois. We've got a long way to go before we can say that we've won."

"Oh," she said. "I guess I never really thought about it that way before. I'm so used to getting my stories and then just moving on to the next thing, you know? I guess… I've never really stopped to think about what happens next."

They lapsed into a silence, which Lois broke a few minutes later. "CJ," she said, "maybe you are looking at this the wrong way."

"Wrong way, how?"

"Maybe you're right — we haven't won the war. But we have won a decisive battle. Just for tonight, we should celebrate that. Everything else can wait until tomorrow. Let's just be happy for now. For this moment."

CJ nodded. "How," he asked, his voice rich with emotion, "is it that you always know the right things to say? How to make me feel good about things?"

Lois shrugged, apparently embarrassed at his praise. "I don't always know what to say. You know that."

"You always know what to say to *me*. It's like you know me better than I know myself, sometimes."

"You feel that too?" she asked softly, feeling slightly awed by his comment. "I hadn't realised that it worked both ways." She smiled. "I guess that can only mean one thing."

"Oh? And that is…?"

"Just this," she whispered. She placed her hand lightly on his arm and pulled him around to look at her. Their eyes locked for several seconds. Then she slid closer to him and raised her hands to stroke the sides of his neck and ease his head down towards hers. She kissed him, pouring all the love she felt for him into the action and feeling it returned in equal measure.

She pulled away for just long enough to whisper, in case he hadn't quite got the message yet, "I love you, CJ Kent."

"And I love you, Lois Lane. More than I ever thought I could love anyone."

Whatever else he might have said was lost as she reclaimed his mouth.



Wednesday, 21 May 1997

CJ was running late, having been delayed at work again. At least, he thought gratefully, he'd managed to get away earlier than Mayson. The earliest either of them had been able to leave the office since Luthor's arrest had been eight thirty, and on that occasion they'd both taken bags full of work home with them. Today, CJ had decided that he deserved a little leisure time and he had consequently been determined to leave by seven. He'd almost managed it, too.

He'd have to hurry if he were to shower, change and pick up Lois in time to make their reservation at Pierre's, a modest French bistro downtown. For a moment, CJ wished he still had his powers; a burst of superspeed would come in handy about now. However, he had to admit, even if he did miss them from time to time, life was a lot simpler without them. His life was quite full — and fulfilling — enough without having to rush out and rescue people at all hours of the day and night.

As he had foreseen, the task of prosecuting Luthor was falling to other people — a task force headed by Mayson Drake, who had handled everything from the arraignment on — but there was plenty of other work to keep him busy. The rescheduled Allen trial was just one thing among many.

CJ unlocked his front door and headed straight into the bedroom. He dumped his briefcase on the bed and quickly stripped down to his boxers. Then he headed into the bathroom. Minutes later, as he lathered himself up then let the water pound down onto his head and back, easing the tension out of his muscles, he found himself musing on the events of the last few days.

With regard to the Luthor investigations, Mayson had taken great pains to seek out his advice on several occasions. That, and the vigour with which she was following up on leads and putting together the cases, gave him hope that this time justice was going to be done. Moreover, she didn't seem to resent him checking up on her at regular intervals. He had, she'd pointed out to him when he'd tried to apologise for his interference, a vested interest in getting a conviction, and she respected that.

Then she'd surprised him by saying that she respected *him*.

Katherine Cox and Dr Saxon had entered the witness protection programme, and moves were underway to extradite Jules Johnson back to the United States. CJ was optimistic that Johnson's bitter desperation would persuade him to make a deal.

Monica Carnes was showing no inclination towards turning on her boss, but that didn't bother CJ unduly. Even without a confession, there was plenty of evidence to incriminate her, what with the tapes of her meeting with Benton and a positive ID from Judith Myerson, not to mention her involvement in the attack on Pagliano. Moreover, Benton had turned out to be a good enough lawyer to want to make the best possible deal for herself; she had almost begged to be allowed to make a statement. Carnes was going to be put away for a long, long time, as would Luthor, himself.

People from all walks of life suddenly seemed to be falling over themselves to make statements or to join in the Luthor investigations. The FBI, the DEA and the IRS were all involved now. Luthor was going down. There was no doubt about it.

CJ glanced down. The last of the soap suds were disappearing down the drain. He turned off the water, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then he set about shaving; he had gone back to using the traditional tools of shaving cream and razor.

The Luthor situation hadn't yet been fully resolved, CJ mused as he carefully ran the razor blade over the contours of his face, but it was progressing enough to lighten CJ's heart and bring a new zest to his work. He was finally practising law as it was meant to be practised, and that energised him in a way that made him recall the heady days of old when, newly qualified, he'd thought he could change the world.

Of course, work was not the only thing that was regenerating him. There was also the matter of Lois, his *girlfriend*. The woman he wanted to grow old with.

For too long, he'd avoided thinking about the future because it had looked relentlessly bleak, the details obscured in the shadow of his own depression and Luthor's evil. Now, though, the future seemed bright. It was easy to imagine himself advancing into middle, and then old, age with Lois by his side and, perhaps, a couple of children trailing after them.

Although they had talked about quite a few other things, neither he nor Lois had actually *talked* about their future together yet. He wasn't sure that he wanted to, either. There was an implicit understanding that they would stay together and CJ didn't want to say anything that might contradict that.

CJ ran his fingertips over his jaw, checking that his shave was as close to perfect as he could get it. Then he splashed on some aftershave, finished drying himself off, and headed back into the bedroom to get dressed for this evening's date. He glanced at his bedside clock. If he was quick, he thought, he could make a detour via the flower stall at the bottom of Clinton Street…


It was after seven thirty when Lois arrived back at her apartment. She juggled her bags as she wrestled with the door locks, then held the door open with her foot while she got everything inside. Maybe it was an unwarranted indulgence, but she had gone shopping on the way home from work, wanting to pick up some new clothes and have a manicure. She knew it was ridiculous; she knew the feeling would wear off with time as their relationship matured, but she experienced a need to dress up for CJ. Even though she knew he thought she'd look good dressed up in garbage sacks and with no make- up, she still wanted to look her best for him. It wasn't, she told herself, because she felt insecure — although she was being a little dishonest when she denied it — but she simply wanted to go that extra mile to please him, to give him pleasure. And, why not, when he went so far out of his way to please her?

Besides, sometimes it felt good to pamper herself, to indulge her feminine side. It had been quite a long time since she'd had an excuse to do so to quite this extent.

Perry was right, she thought, as she secured the door behind her. Having a boyfriend *was* good for her. It made her ache with happiness, and that happiness showed outwardly in extra colour in her cheeks, a twinkle in her eye, and a desire to smile at everything, no matter how mundane. Happiness gave her energy, adding zest to life and to her work.

Oh, she had it bad for CJ Kent! But then, she thought, he had it equally bad for her, too. One glance around the apartment was proof enough of that. She wondered how long it would be before CJ grew tired of bringing her flowers. Then again, maybe he wouldn't; he did seem to like flowers himself, and, after all, hadn't he seen fit to bring her roses even before romance had risen up their mutual agenda?

Lois smiled as she toed off her shoes, abandoning them on the floor next to her shopping bags.

CJ had graduated quickly from the red-and-white "partnership" roses of their first evening together to all red ones. He didn't need to tell her anything about the depth of his feelings because the flowers spoke of them eloquently enough, but he did so, anyway. CJ, Lois was discovering, was a true romantic, with the soul of a poet. It was a pity, she thought, that he'd gone into law. He would have made a terrific romance writer.

She switched on the television on her way to the kitchen, letting the sound of LNN follow her as she grabbed a soda from the fridge.

"… following the recent revelations in the Daily Planet, today the New Troy Environmental Council ordered LexChem to take immediate action to clean up five of its plants. The company — subsidiary of the currently beleaguered LexCorp — has been ordered to take remedial action against the polluting discharges. Dioxins, which the US Environmental Protection Agency has described as presenting a serious threat to public health, have been detected in the river at fifty times above state safety standards. Dioxins are carcinogenic, and have also been associated with reproductive disorders and developmental problems. PCBs have also been found…"

It was good to see, Lois thought remotely, that LNN's cow- towing attitude to its parent company had done an abrupt U- turn. She would have smiled, were it not for the seriousness of the report. The city and state would be mopping up after Luthor for years to come.

Lois turned her attention away from the broadcast. It wasn't telling her anything she didn't already know, after all. Her thoughts drifted back to her current favourite topic: CJ.

A great deal, Lois decided, could happen in just a few weeks.

Since the opening of the Allen trial, Lois had had one brush with death, had met an alien (although she still had a hard time thinking of CJ in those terms), had helped bring down the nation's most evil criminal mastermind and had met the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Despite having heard the words "Pulitzer" and "Kerth" being whispered in connection with her recent string of headline- grabbing exposes, it was the last of these that brought her the most satisfaction.

She and CJ had gone out on a couple of proper dates now — they'd even gone to Asabi's once — and they were due to go on another this evening, CJ having promised to take her to dinner and a movie. The promise of what might then happen had lingered unspoken in the air. Lois was hoping that CJ would want to come up for… coffee… afterwards. Given that they'd now left toothbrushes in each other's bathrooms, Lois doubted that she would have much trouble persuading him.

She smiled at the thought.

She suddenly realised, thanks to her shopping spree, she was running late. She took another swig of her soda, then abandoned it on the kitchen counter.

"… breaking news: Lex Luthor has escaped from Metropolis' Prison, where he had been remanded in custody following…"

Lois froze, one foot in the air. She felt her heart leap into her throat, which was odd because all her blood seemed to have fled from her head straight to her feet, by-passing her heart entirely. Carefully, she put her foot down, then she turned to stare at the screen, open-mouthed.

Some remote part of her mind took the time to recognise the reporter as Robby Roberts.

"… Police sources say that, although it is unclear just how Luthor was able to escape, it is unlikely he could have done so without inside help. The prison governor was unavailable for comment."

Lois shivered. Well, of course Luthor would have had help. She was not so na<ve as to suppose that *all* his lackeys had changed their allegiances since his arrest and arraignment. There were still enough bad guys out there to satisfy Luthor's needs, no matter how much she might wish otherwise.

"Luthor, who has been implicated in countless crimes, ranging from perverting the course of justice, racketeering and even homicide, is believed to still be in the Greater Metropolis area. If you see Luthor, do not approach him. Instead, call the police…"

Did CJ know about this? Given the way Luthor had threatened them as he had been arrested, she doubted that either of them could be safe while Luthor was on the loose. Maybe it wouldn't help, but right now she wished that they were together.

She couldn't wait until their date to speak to him. She needed him now. Her feet feeling numb, she stumbled over to the phone, picked up the handset, and dialled CJ's number from memory. However, just as the phone began to ring at the other end, a rich, urbane voice laced with menace said from behind her, "Put the phone down. Now."


It was a beautiful evening. The oppressive midday heat had waned, and the street temperature was now such that walking was actually a pleasure. The sky had paled to a light, almost off- white, shade of blue and the few fine wisps of cirrus cloud were tinged with pink. CJ knew that dusk was just around the corner.

At the corner of Clinton Street, Frank Donnelly was in the process of packing up his stall for the day but he stopped as soon as he caught sight of CJ. He waved a cheerful greeting and called out, "Evening, Mr Kent!" His cheerfulness was magnified by the fact that he was a rotund man with ruddy cheeks and a thatch of white curly hair; he looked like Santa's twin brother, minus the beard. Indeed, early on in their acquaintance, he had confessed to CJ that he spent the latter part of November and most of December working as a department store Santa; it was, he said, better than working the stall during some of the coldest weeks of the year.

"Hi, Frank." CJ grinned at him. "I'm not too late, am I?"

"Nah." Frank shook his head. "You're just in time. Got some great chrysanthemums, if you're interested."

CJ made a face, unenthusiastic. "Got anything else?" he asked.

"Not a fan, huh? Freesias? No? Roses, then."

"Roses are always good," agreed CJ, and he got out his wallet to find the money to pay for them.

Frank searched around, picking out the freshest bunch of blood red roses that he could find, commenting as he did so that "She's a lucky girl, whoever she is. And if you keep up buying all these flowers you'll be my best customer!" He laughed, and CJ joined in. It was true that he had bought several bouquets in the last few days. The thing was, he liked giving presents to Lois. He liked the way her eyes lit up when he did so, the way her cheeks flushed with pleasure, the way she ducked her head, the way her lips stretched into a smile…

He liked the way she kissed him to say thank you.

They completed the transaction, bade each other good night, and then CJ went on his way.


The hair on the back of Lois's neck stood on end. She didn't need the speaker to know who it was.

Lex Luthor.


In her apartment.

If she had felt shocked before, it was nothing to how she felt now. She felt faint, horrified… heaven alone knew what. All she could think of was that Luthor had come to make good on his threats.

"Put. The. Phone. Down."

This time Lois did as she was told, slowly lowering the handset into its cradle.

"Good girl. Now, turn around slowly."

She moved, as commanded, to face the direction from where the intruder's voice was coming: the doorway to her bedroom. How had he got in here, anyway? Had she left a window open? She didn't think so, but she wasn't sure. Had her landlord let him in? She didn't know. And, she supposed, it really didn't matter. All that mattered was that he was here now.

Luthor stepped out of the shadows. His hair was tousled and his chin was rough with bristles. He'd acquired some casual clothes from somewhere to replace his prison garb, but the jeans he was wearing were faded and frayed, and there was a hole in the sleeve of his T- shirt. Yet somehow, his uncharacteristic appearance made him seem more menacing, not less.

Most alarming, though, was the gun he held unwaveringly in his right hand.

"Sit down," he said, gesturing towards one of the love seats.

Again she did as she was told.

His eyes were cold and uncompromising; there was no hint of mercy in them. Lois had no doubt that he was going to kill her. An odd kind of resigned resolve mingled with her panic.

A thought skittered across the edge of her consciousness. If he was going to kill her, why hadn't he done so already?

She stared wide-eyed at him, waiting for him to say something — - do something — that might give her a clue as to his intentions.

His mouth twisted angrily. "Well?" he snarled. "Aren't you going to beg for your pitiful life?"

"Would there be any point?" she replied. She felt oddly detached from the situation, almost as though she were outside it, not a participant. How else could she explain the way her voice sounded so normal? Shouldn't it be shaking and tremulous? Surely she shouldn't merely sound irritated?

Luthor snorted. Then the merest hint of a sarcastic smile played around his lips. "Probably not," he admitted. "You've hurt me, and you've got to pay for that. You and that self- righteous *boyfriend* of yours." Then the snarl was back in his voice. "Do you know what they're calling you? 'Lois Lane and CJ Kent: the Hottest Team in Town'!" Luthor spat the words out venomously.

Lois didn't move. Yes, she knew. But she didn't want to provoke Luthor by admitting it.

Luthor's eyes narrowed. "Your boyfriend… *Kent*." Keeping the gun trained on her, he edged around the room, working his way towards the telephone.

"What are you doing?" Lois couldn't help asking the question as she saw Luthor pick up the handset. He jammed the receiver between his shoulder and his ear, ready to dial one- handedly, while holding the gun with the other.

Like Lois, Luthor had heard the tremor in her voice that the mere mention of CJ had engendered. His grin was feral when he said, "You don't like this, do you?"

Lois forced herself to keep her mouth closed.

"*Do you?!* *Answer me!*"

Lois shook her head, a sharp, jerky movement. She didn't know precisely what Luthor had in mind, but it clearly involved CJ, and that couldn't be good. She felt fear swelling in her breast, squeezing her lungs so she had trouble breathing.

Luthor began pressing buttons. Then he waited while the phone at the other end of the connection rang. Lois watched. Clearly the first number yielded no answer. He had more luck on his second attempt, however. The logical part of Lois's brain snapped into gear, and she realised two things. First, Luthor had obviously managed to access some less than public databases to have obtained CJ's unlisted number. Second, he must also have got hold of CJ's mobile phone number because, if CJ was between home and her place, how else could Luthor have contacted him, and where else would CJ be?

Lois listened to Luthor's side of the conversation, her throat tightening, her palms sweating and her skin crawling with fear. From time to time she could hear the squawking sounds of CJ's shocked protests and aborted replies.

"Kent. I don't need to tell you who this is. I'm at Lois's. … No. Don't say anything. Just listen. Don't even think of calling the police. I'll know if you do. If I hear one whisper that the police are coming, your girl will be carrion. … What do I want? Why, Mr Kent, I thought you were smarter than this. Isn't it obvious? What I want is you. Here. Now." And with that he slammed the phone down.

Luthor was sporting that feral grin again, his eyes glinting maliciously as he looked at Lois.

Before she had thought him evil, but rational. Now, for the first time, she found herself questioning his sanity.

"Now," he said, "we wait."



Just moments before the evening sun had felt warm on CJ's back, but now he felt chilled. He had been half a block away from Frank's stall when his mobile phone rang. He'd groped around in his jacket pocket, pulled it out, and said, "Kent," laconically into the microphone.

The following conversation was now little more than a blur in his mind. He barely remembered the precise words that Luthor had used, and, beyond the fact that they had been panicked and incoherent, he remembered nothing at all about his own. But he didn't need to remember the words to know the gist of what had been said.

Lois… In danger… Luthor… He'd sworn he'd have his revenge.

After Luthor had slammed the handset at the other end of the line down, CJ had stood numbly for a few seconds — or maybe it had been a few minutes. Time had been suspended, focus only returning gradually to his thoughts.

Without conscious thought, he switched his mobile phone off, fumbling because his fingers felt too fat and clumsy to press the small buttons. It was nerves, he thought, and nerves weren't going to help Lois.

CJ managed to tamp down the worst of his panic and he began to think in entire sentences rather than in disjointed phrases and random words. Isolated thoughts coalesced into something more coherent: if Luthor had Lois, then she was in danger. Luthor had vowed to have his revenge on the pair of them.

CJ realised that, although all his instincts were screaming for him to rush to Lois's side to try to save her from whatever it was that Luthor had planned, that was precisely what Luthor wanted. Luthor had set a trap and he had baited it well.

It was hard, but CJ forced himself to concentrate. He had to think through the various possible scenarios carefully: Lois's life depended on what he did next.

Luthor had told him not to contact the police, CJ at least remembered that much about the conversation, and he saw little reason to doubt that Luthor would know if he did so. Although CJ knew that Luthor was by no means omniscient, he also knew that Luthor had always had spies everywhere and an ability to do the seemingly impossible.

CJ wasn't going to let Lois die that early on in the game. He mentally rephrased that: he wasn't going to let Lois die at *all*.

Luthor undoubtedly wanted Lois dead, but he wanted CJ, too, and the longer CJ could delay their showdown, the longer he could keep them both alive.

If he couldn't call the police, CJ thought, who could he call? Certainly, he wasn't fool enough to walk into Luthor's trap without some sort of back-up plan.

He wracked his brain, and he was shocked at how few people, even after so many had turned on Luthor, he felt he could rely upon. There were people at the Planet: Perry, Jack and, possibly, Jimmy, although CJ still didn't feel as though he knew Jimmy well enough to be entirely confident in his trustworthiness. With an inappropriate flash of wry humour, it occurred to him that Lois might be angry with him, he thought, if he dragged her colleagues into the matter before she could nail down the exclusive for herself. Nonetheless, they were the best bet, he thought. Over the last week or so, he'd learned that they frequently worked late, especially Perry. Moreover, they had connections all over the city and, dealing as they did every day with the dramatic, one or other of them would know what to do to help.

CJ pulled out his mobile phone and switched it on again. Then he juggled it in his hand, hesitating. Maybe he was being paranoid, but what if Luthor was monitoring his calls? He didn't know enough about the technology to know if that was possible, but it might be. He didn't want to take the risk, but what alternative was there?

He frowned, looked around, seeking inspiration. And then he saw a pay-phone on the opposite pavement.

He darted into the road, not looking out for cars. He didn't realise the danger he was in, until a squeal of brakes and a long honk on a horn made him aware that he'd almost been run over by an ancient Toyota. The driver leaned out of the window and yelled obscenities at him and, without turning around, CJ hastily apologised as he ran the rest of the way.

CJ made it to the phone, picked up the handset and held it to his chest while he tried to gain control over his ragged breathing and calm himself. It would do no good if he got himself killed *before* he got to Lois's apartment.

He rummaged around in his trouser pocket, hoping to find some loose change, and struck lucky. He rammed the quarter into the pay- phone's coin slot, and realised that the Planet's number had leached out of his head. He screwed up his eyes in near despair as he determinedly tried to remember.

The digits came to him, and with them, an intense sense of relief. He didn't have time to dwell on his triumph, though. He pressed in the number and cursed roundly and with despair when he got the busy signal.

Who knew how long it would be before the line was free again, and meanwhile the minutes were ticking past, putting Lois in greater danger!

There had to be someone else he could call! But who?

And then it hit him. He could call Mayson. Mayson knew how the system worked. She had contacts in the police, and even if he couldn't call them himself, she could, on his behalf. Luthor wasn't likely to be tracing *her* calls.

At least, CJ hoped not.

He stabbed the keypad and muttered, "Please be there. Please, please still be there." The phone rang. And rang. And CJ moaned in despair. "I know I've been telling you to leave the office before ten for a change, but please don't finally have decided to listen to me today! Please, Mayson, pick up the phone!"

He was about to give up when the ringing stopped and he heard her voice. "Mayson Drake."

"Mayson! Thank God!"

"CJ?" she asked. "What's the matter? You sound—"

"I'm in trouble, Mayson. You've got to help me. It's Luthor. He's—"

"Luthor? What can he have done? He's in prison!"

"No! He's not! He's escaped—"


"—and he's holding Lois hostage in her apartment. He's waiting for me there, and he told me that I mustn't call the police, but you could and—"

"Give me the address," she demanded.

Thank God for Mayson, he thought, impressed at how level-headed she was being. He wished he was able to think as clearly as she seemed to be doing. He rattled off the address and said, "Tell them to be careful. Real discreet. Luthor said he'd kill her if—"

"I'll tell them," she interrupted. "Where are you? What are you going to do?"

"I'm on Filmore Avenue," he said. "I was on my way over there when…" He suddenly noticed that he wasn't holding the flowers anymore. What had he done with them? Had he dropped them? He must have done. He shook his head to clear it; the loss of a few roses hardly mattered now.

"CJ?" asked Mayson, and he realised that he must have blanked out for a moment, because from the way she was saying his name it sounded as though it wasn't the first time she'd tried to get his attention.

"Yes. I'm still here."

"Stay where you are. I'll tell the police to come find you."

"No! I'm going—"

But it was too late. Mayson had put the phone down.

He hung up the handset and began to walk away from the phone. Within three steps, his walk had become a jog. Within six it had become a run. Within ten it was an all out sprint. All he could think was that he had to find out what was happening at Lois's. He had to get to her. He couldn't think beyond the imperative that he had to save her.

If only he could fly! he thought, remembering the ease with which he had been able to fling himself up into the air, the speed with which he could rush to disasters…

Then someone below him was screaming. "Look, Stu! It's that flying man! The one the paper's were on about last week!"

CJ looked towards the voice, wondering what they were talking about. He'd been that flying man, and his powers had failed days—

He nearly fell.

It wasn't possible, but CJ was a good thirty feet up in the air! He *was* flying!

Don't think about it! he told himself sternly. Don't think about it, and maybe you'll stay aloft!

It wasn't a logical thought, but it seemed to work, because he felt himself recover his equilibrium and he picked up speed again.

Then, before he knew it, he was hovering outside Lois's open living-room window.


Lois hoped that CJ wouldn't do anything quite as stupid as she would undoubtedly be wont to do in his position. Then she wondered what he *could* do. It wasn't as if he would be able to pull her to safety this time.

For the second time in just a few weeks, she was at the wrong end of a gun barrel, and this time there was no promise of rescue. CJ's powers had failed; last time's rescue had been a one off.

Hadn't it?

Would Wells show up again, whisk CJ off to recharge his batteries or whatever it was that he did, then bring him back to pluck her from the jaws of death? It seemed too much to hope for, and yet…

If Wells had saved them once, surely he could do it again… and again. And again.

She wondered what the time was. How long had it been since Luthor had made that call? But she couldn't drag her eyes away from the gun barrel. It was as if it was the only thing in focus in the whole room. It was real and solid. Everything around it merged into a murky blur.

Then Luthor's voice crashed into her head, and she realised that he was real, too. "Where is he?! What's taking him so long!?"

"It takes time to get across town, and CJ doesn't have a car." Her voice sounded too loud in her ears, but otherwise normal. A detached part of her brain marvelled at that, and wondered how come her fear wasn't showing, at least not outwardly. "What are you going to do when he gets here?"

"Do?" asked Luthor. "Isn't that obvious?"

She didn't think it would be a good idea to say no, so Lois didn't answer, preferring instead to wait for him to continue on his own.

There was a leaden silence, which Luthor finally broke, unable to keep his plans to himself. "I'm going to kill you both. I'll kill you first — let him see you die. Or maybe I'll do him first. It makes little difference, just so long as you see each other suffer. Then I'll shoot whoever is left. Make it look like suicide."

"It'll never work," said Lois. "Forensics'll never believe it."

"Of course it will work."

Lois shook, her eyes still not leaving the gun. She didn't know what she found hardest to credit, the fact that he clearly hadn't thought his plan through before coming here, or his absolute certainty that it would work. "There'll be no blow- back on our hands, and you won't get close enough to us for the bullet to leave any tattoo marks on our skin. They'd expect to find both on a suicide."

"You think I can't do this? I'm Lex Luthor! I can do *anything*!"

Lois snorted derisively. "You think I don't know what I'm talking about? Do you know how many murders I've covered for the Planet?"

"You're in no position to scoff, Ms Lane. Or have you forgotten that I'm the one with the gun here? Besides, given what I've been charged with, what's one murder more or less?"

She wouldn't have believed it possible, but the menace in his voice was even thicker than before. It had a sharp edge of madness to it, although what he was saying made a terrible kind of sense, and the gun, which he'd previously held steady, was now shaking in his grip. "Maybe…" Luthor said. "Maybe I've changed my mind. Maybe I'll kill you now. I mean, why wait? Why postpone my pleasure? And you're beginning to annoy me."

Lois tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry and her throat wasn't working.

"You don't like that, do you?" he asked with savage glee.

Lois said nothing.

"Answer me!"

Lois couldn't speak. It was all she could do to jerk her head from side to side. No, she didn't like it. Not one little bit.

"Where is he?" Luthor demanded again.

Although she also wanted to know the answer to that question, Lois didn't attempt to respond. There was no point. Luthor, she was sure, had tipped over the edge into insanity. Or maybe he'd been insane all along; he'd just been better at hiding it in the past.

"He's not coming, is he?" Luthor spat. "He's abandoned you to save his own skin, hasn't he?"

"No. He wouldn't do that." Lois's lips moved, forming the words, but no sound came out. She didn't believe Luthor for a minute. In fact, if she hadn't known better, she would have sworn that CJ was in that room with them. It was as if she could sense his presence, but that was wishful thinking, she thought, nothing more than that. In fact, she wasn't even sure it was that much. She didn't want CJ here. If CJ had decided not to come, then at least he would be safe… until Luthor chose to go after him, too. But Lois knew CJ. She knew him better than he knew himself. Hadn't he told her that? And she knew that he was coming for her.

"I'm going to do it," Luthor said, his voice now soft and velvety, an obscene caress of sound. His arm straightened as he took aim and Lois knew with certainty that this was it. She was going to die at the hands of a madman, here, in her living- room. She thought of Pagliano and wondered whether he'd felt anything as he died. She thought of CJ, of the future they were supposed to have together and, for the first time since they'd begun their joint quest, she wondered whether it had all been worth it.

Then she decided that, yes, it was. It wasn't because Luthor was finally being exposed for the evil monster he was, though that was worth a great deal, too. It was worth it because she'd lived more in the last three weeks than she'd done in the rest of her life combined.

She screwed her eyes closed and concentrated on her memories and on pictures of a future that wasn't going to be hers. If Luthor was going to kill her, then she refused to die in fear or with his face as the last thing she'd ever see. She remembered how CJ had looked on that first evening in her apartment and let her memories paint his face on the inside of her eyelids. She remembered their first kiss and their first night together. She remembered the feel of him, the smell of him… How it felt to love him. She thought of a wedding… a house… children. She thought about how it would have felt to have grown old with CJ, and she didn't know whether she should smile or cry at the fantasies she was painting.

I love you, CJ, she thought.


CJ had thought Luthor would wait for him. It had never crossed his mind that Luthor would not. He saw Luthor straighten his arm and aim, but it was disorienting because he seemed to be seeing it from two angles, one looking through the window and the other looking straight into the barrel of the gun.

And then one of the images faded, as though he'd closed a second set of eyes.

Telepathy, he realised. It was her eyes that had closed, not his. He was inside Lois's head again. He could feel her fear, resignation, regrets and… love? Her love for him, he realised. She'd told him she loved him, but he hadn't understood how deep that love ran. He drew courage from the emotion, knowing that nothing would allow him to give up on something so good and pure. He couldn't — wouldn't — fail her.

He didn't wait to see Luthor press the trigger. Instead CJ threw himself through the open window and arrowed towards him, straight into the path of the speeding bullet.


CJ screamed as metal tore through the flesh of his left shoulder. He was punched backwards by the force of the bullet, and, in agony, he somersaulted once in the air to recover his balance.

Luthor froze for a moment as his brain refused to process what he was seeing. It was a moment that CJ used to his advantage. Still in mid- air, he launched himself feet first at Luthor, aiming for Luthor's chest. The collision pushed Luthor backwards into a wall and made him drop the gun. It clattered to the floor and slid under a bookcase.

CJ landed half on and half off Luthor. The pain was blurring his vision, sending tendrils of fire along his nerve endings, down to his fingers and up to his brain. He was barely aware of Luthor struggling to free himself until he heard Lois's horrified cries. Her voice snapped him out of his stupor. "CJ!" she cried. "You're bleeding!"

"I know!" he ground out. Then, less peevishly, he cried, "Get the gun!"

She threw herself onto the floor, stretching her arm under the bookcase, frantically scrabbling to pick the gun up.

Luthor was almost free. With a last effort, he twisted beneath CJ, pushing CJ off him. The sudden movement jarred CJ's shoulder and made him scream again. He pressed his right hand against the entry wound and he could feel the sickening warmth of blood against his palm and fingers.

CJ struggled to his knees and forced himself to concentrate on what was going on around him.

Luthor was on his feet, staring down at him, his eyes glittering with hatred and something else. Calculation perhaps? CJ barely had time to register what Luthor had in mind before he felt the impact of a well-aimed kick that spoke of many hours spent in the dojo. The sharp outer edge of Luthor's shoe smashed into CJ's right hand, and the force of the blow vibrated through CJ's metacarpals and into the bullet wound below.

CJ reeled backwards. His head collided with the edge of a wood and glass cabinet, stunning him for a second. He forced himself to stay conscious, then, rallying reserves of strength he didn't know he had, he pulled himself up onto his feet. He swayed slightly as he squared off with Luthor.

It wasn't an even fight. Luthor was an experienced martial artist. CJ was not a fighter, at least not in the physical sense of the word; the best he could hope to do was dodge Luthor's blows. At least Lois's love seats offered some sort of cover and impeded Luthor's progress. CJ had never thought that he would find himself thankful for their presence. If he got out of this in one piece, he thought, he'd never say an unkind word about them again.

Had Lois got the gun? he wondered. He couldn't risk taking his eyes off Luthor, who was punching his arms like pistons and kicking with enough force to do serious damage if any of the blows contacted. All he knew for sure was that she wasn't on the floor anymore. At least, if the gun was still down there, Luthor wasn't going after it. In fact, he seemed to have forgotten about it entirely.

"CJ! Watch out!"

Lois's words registered too late. He'd been so busy avoiding Luthor's blows that he hadn't seen what Luthor was doing. He felt his back nudge something solid, and he realised that Luthor had pinned him against the wall, next to one of the tall windows.

As if in slow motion, he saw Luthor leap in the air, right leg outstretched as he jump kicked at CJ.

It was instinct, not rational thought, that made CJ move to the side and, momentarily forgetting his injury, reach out with both hands. He grasped Luthor's ankle and jerked, hoping to pull Luthor off balance.

It worked.

Too well.

As though Luthor was a hammer being tossed, he rotated through the air, smashing through glass and out into empty air beyond.

CJ couldn't let go in time and he was pulled over the sill behind him.



Lois screamed. She stood frozen in horror for a second after Luthor and CJ tumbled over the sill, plunging to the street below. Then, suddenly able to move again, she turned and ran to the front door. She fumbled with the locks. Pulled the door open. Didn't bother to close it behind her as she ran for the stairs.

She ran down each flight, two steps at a time at the top of each one, but jumping over the bottom four. Between gasps for breath, she mumbled nonsense, half-way between a plea and a prayer.

She charged across the building's foyer, down the steps and onto the pavement, finally skidding to a halt next to the crowd that was already beginning to form.

Where, she wondered, had all these people come from?

Suddenly scared to look, she nonetheless forced herself to push her way through the horrified crowd. There was blood and twisted limbs, but she could see from the angle of his neck that Luthor presented no danger to her now. And CJ…

His left arm was bent, clearly broken by the impact, and, like Luthor, he lay unnaturally still and silent.

Dead, she thought. CJ was dead.

She knelt beside him, tears pooling in her eyes as she tentatively reached out to brush his hair back. His skin felt incongruously normal under her touch. She traced a line down his cheek with her forefinger. Then she withdrew her hand, lifting it to her own mouth. She placed a kiss on her first and second finger then she placed her fingers on her lips.

His breath whispered against her skin.

His breath…?!

Her lips parted in astonishment. Suddenly galvanised by the discovery, she brushed her tears away impatiently, using the sides of her hands as handkerchiefs. Then she leaned over and listened.

Glory be, he really was breathing! It was a miracle!

Weakened with relief, she began to sob again, but this time it was prompted by happiness, not despair.


A hand on her shoulder brought her back to an awareness of her surroundings. "Let me take a look at him, Miss."

She turned her head towards the speaker and found that he was a middle-aged man dressed in the uniform of a paramedic. "He's alive…" she whispered, still not quite believing it.

The paramedic, rapidly running through his list of checks, said without looking up from his work, "Yeah. I can see that. Pity his friend wasn't so lucky."

Lois didn't bother to tell the paramedic that CJ and Luthor had not been friends. There would be time enough for explanations later. For now all that mattered was CJ.

CJ, who was still alive.

"Ms Lane…? If we might have a word with you?" She ignored the voice. She didn't want to talk to anyone. She just wanted to know that CJ was all right. Nothing else mattered. She sniffed and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

Then she felt a hand resting upon her shoulder and noticed that someone was waving a paper tissue in front of her face, offering it to her. "Ma'am…?" asked a kindly male voice. "Are you all right?"

She sniffed loudly and slowly turned her head towards the speaker. He was a grizzled police officer with kind eyes that, just now, were regarding her with an almost paternal concern. She looked behind him and saw that there were three squad cars parked across the road, their sirens mute, but their lights painting the tarmac and surrounding buildings red and blue. Odd, she thought, that she hadn't even noticed that the police had arrived.

"Ma'am?" he said again.

Lois shook her head slightly. Of course she wasn't all right. She'd been held hostage. She'd seen CJ get shot. She'd seen two men fall out of a window… But she couldn't find the strength to say any of that. Instead she mumbled a lie. "Yeah. I'm okay."

The officer nodded, but Lois could see that he also knew that her words were a polite fiction. "Ma'am… We need to ask you a few questions."

"Okay…" she whispered.

"Can you identify the two men?"

"Yes. The one the paramedics are working on is CJ Kent. You know, the assistant DA? And the… the… dead… one is Lex Luthor."

The policeman raised his eyebrows. "Luthor?"

She nodded. "He came… he came to my apartment. He was going to kill me because…" She didn't bother to say why; she assumed that the police were already familiar with her part in his arrest and she didn't have the energy to say anything that might be redundant. "But CJ… CJ saved my life. He…" The tears were coursing down her cheeks again as she remembered how he had flown into the path of the bullet that was meant for her. She turned back towards CJ and the paramedics, just in time to see them loading him into the ambulance. "I… I've got to go with him," she said.

"You can come with us in the squad car, Ms Lane. There are a few more things I'd like to know…"


The police had left the hospital ten minutes ago. She seemed to have explained events in her apartment to their satisfaction, and, with CJ's assailant dead, they had withdrawn, leaving her alone to wait for news of CJ.

Lois sat in the ER's waiting area, one of her feet hooked onto the edge of the plastic chair she was sitting on, her arms wrapped protectively around her knee. She nervously chewed on the knuckle of her thumb. She knew from the way her skin felt taut across her cheeks and the way her eyes were wide open that the terror she felt for CJ was imprinted upon her face.

She thought it was a miracle he'd had survived the fall. It was a second miracle that he'd lived long enough to be hustled onto a gurney and into a trauma room to be treated. Was it asking too much to want yet another miracle — that he would pull through entirely?

She wished someone would tell her something useful, but so far all she'd been told was that, as she wasn't a relation, she had no right to information. She'd tried to explain to the desk clerk that she was the closest thing CJ had to family. She'd even gone so far as to suggest that they were near as dammit engaged. It had done no good.

So, now, all she could do was wait and hope that either the doctors would relent and gave her some news or that CJ would wake up and ask for her. One thing was certain, she wasn't going anywhere until she knew how he was doing.


A tall dark man dressed in a lab coat and with a stethoscope draped around his neck walked towards her. Lois was remotely aware of two things; the doctor was extremely attractive — though not quite as gorgeous as her own CJ — and he looked exhausted. A five o'clock shadow tinged his jaw, his shoulders were bowed with fatigue and his dark hair flopped forward onto his forehead in a slightly unkempt and unruly manner. When he spoke to her, it was with a pronounced accent which she had to sift through in order to understand his words.

"Miss Lane?" he said. "I hear you were asking about Mr Kent."

She nodded and swallowed nervously. "How is he?"

"He's comfortable." The doctor was giving nothing away and she was aware that, once again, she was hitting her head against the rules of hospital bureaucracy. However, the merest hint of sympathy at her situation played across his face as he added, "We have done everything we can to make him comfortable. He's being taken upstairs now. I thought you would want to know."

"Yes," she whispered. "Thank you, doctor…"

He nodded an acknowledgement to her gratitude, then excused himself, saying that he had to see to another patient.


She paced restlessly across another waiting area, too keyed up with energy to settle into any of the uncomfortable-looking arm-chairs. If anything happened to CJ… She couldn't bear the thought of it. No matter what she'd thought earlier, they'd had so little time together; it was too soon, far too soon, for her to say good-bye. Tears pricked at her eyes and she blinked furiously, refusing to give in to them.

When, she wondered, had he become the most important thing in her life?

"You have no cause for alarm, Ms Lane," a voice said, startling her out of her reverie.

She spun around, grinding to a halt at the sight of the speaker. Instead of a white- coated doctor, the speaker was a small man dressed in antiquated looking clothes.

"You… you're not a doctor," she said, rather stupidly, she suspected.

He took off his bowler hat and bowed with a slight flourish. "H G Wells at your service," he said.

Her eyes narrowed as she tilted her head slightly to one side. "H G Wells," she said thoughtfully. Then she nodded slightly. "I saw you that day outside the courthouse. And CJ has told me a little about you."

"None of it too bad, I hope."

"No," said Lois. "Not too bad."

Then the implications of his earlier words suddenly hit her; Wells had seen the future. He *had* to know what would happen to CJ. "You say that I don't need to worry? That means that CJ is going to be okay? It does, doesn't it? I mean…" She trailed off.

Wells smiled sympathetically at her. "He will be fine. Fortunately for him, the last traces of his invulnerability protected him when he fell." He frowned. "Or maybe he has always been slightly less vulnerable than humans, anyway. He does have more sensitive hearing, so I suppose it is possible that his body is metabolising some of the sun's energy… Whatever, he has a few broken bones as well as some severe bruising. Plus, of course, Luthor's bullet went through his shoulder. Fortunately it missed anything major and CJ's injuries were not so severe that he required blood transfusions. Also, he has no internal bleeding. It will take some time, but he will be all right, Ms Lane. And his secret is quite safe."

Lois bit on her lip as she absorbed her words. "Thank you." The tears, which moments before she had tried to rein in, now spilled unheeded down her cheeks.


Thursday, 22 May 1997

Hearing came back first. CJ listened to a soft medley of beeps, hums and whirs with a background accompaniment of human voices and rubber-soled footsteps. Hospital noises, he realised. He supposed that made sense, given the leaden weight of his limbs and the distant dull ache that permeated his whole body as though it was one big bruise. What was he doing here, though? What was wrong with him?

The last thing he remembered clearly was arriving at Lois's and seeing Luthor point a gun at her head, his finger pulling on the trigger. After that everything was a chaotic jumble of fractured images. He knew he ought to try to sort them out but he didn't have the energy to do so. It would require less effort to simply ask for the answers he needed.

Or so he thought, until he tried to open his eyes. When had such a simple task become so difficult? It felt as though someone had put weights on his eyelids. It was only on his fourth attempt that the room swam into view.

Someone had obviously removed his glasses. He wondered where they were as he tried to make sense of the messages his brain was receiving. White walls, white ceiling, a patch of dark blue or black that was probably a window showing a night time view over the city, a blob of pink that drifted around the room, making rounds.

"Nurse…?" he whispered.

The pink blob moved closer, allowing him to make out a blurred oval face and what had to be a halo of red hair. "Mr Kent! You're awake!" She sounded delighted about that, and he knew that she was smiling even though he couldn't see clearly enough to see for himself. "How are you feeling?"

"As though I've been run over by a tractor…" He let his eyelids flutter closed for a moment. Then he pulled them open again and asked the most important of his many questions. "Lois…? Is Lois all right?"

The nurse nodded. "She is. In fact, she's been here all night, waiting for news about you."

"She's here?" He supposed that it was the drugs in his system that had kept him from noticing the anxious knot in the pit of his stomach until now. Or maybe he'd simply dismissed it as part of his wider pain. However, now that he knew that she was alive, he felt the knot begin to unravel.


"Can I… I want to see her…"

The nurse patted his forearm gently, then said, "Very well. I'll see what I can do."

CJ must have drifted asleep then because, although when he opened his eyes again it seemed as though only seconds had passed, daylight was flooding into his room. Bending close into his field of view, came a face more beautiful than any other in the world. Huge brown eyes full of concern considered him. Her lips smiled encouragingly and her voice was music to his ears as she said, "Oh, CJ! You're awake!"

He experimented with trying to form words and found that his mouth was dry, his lips parched. "Lois…" he managed. "He didn't… hurt you…?"

Lois shook her head and CJ's relief was palpable. "You saved me," she said. "Don't you remember?"

A trace of a frown etched CJ's forehead. He thought for a few seconds and found that the images made more sense than they had done during the night. "A little… I think. The window?"

Lois nodded.

"Luthor?" he asked.

"The nurse said I'm not to tire you. I can only stay a few minutes."

That didn't answer his question, and he knew that she was trying to protect him from… something. "Lois…" he pleaded.

She seemed to think twice about replying but eventually gave up the information. "He's dead, CJ. The fall killed him."

CJ's eyes drifted closed. He wondered if he ought to feel worse about Luthor's death, but the only emotion he felt was a sort of blessed relief. He remembered Clark telling him that whatever came after Luthor could only be an improvement, and guiltily he realised that he was smiling.

"Yeah," said Lois. "I feel like that, too. I wouldn't have wished him dead, but I can't be sorry that he died."

He heard the scraping of metal against vinyl, and he knew that Lois was pulling up a chair. He turned his head in her direction and opened his eyes again. Then he said, "Do you know where my glasses are? I want to look at you properly. See if you're really okay."

"I really am, CJ. Now that I know you're going to make a full recovery, too. But if it makes you feel any better…" She reached towards the bedside cabinet to pick his glasses up. Then she leaned over towards him and slid them carefully on his nose.

"Thank you," he said. He looked at her carefully. There were dark shadows under her eyes that spoke eloquently of a lack of sleep and her make-up was smudged and worn away. But she was, as she'd told him, fine.

She sat down and took his right hand in both of hers and absent-mindedly began stroking his skin with one of her thumbs.

He was content to lie there, basking in her presence and letting his mind wander. Lois, however, was more restless than that and, abruptly, unable to restrain herself, she asked explosively, "CJ, you flew — and, by the way, I want to know how you did that — into the path of a bullet! What on earth were you thinking of?!"

"That's just it, Lois. I *wasn't* thinking. All I knew was that I had to save you. He was aiming at you when I arrived. I didn't have *time* to think!" His brow furrowed as he marshalled his thoughts. "And, to be honest, if I had thought about it, I would almost certainly have done the exact same thing."

It was her turn to frown. "But it was suicide! Or it could have been!"

From the look of anguish that twisted her face, he saw just how close he had come to being killed. Until then, it hadn't really registered.

Sombrely, he said, "But I couldn't have known that. Not then."

"How do you mean?"

"I'd just found out that I could fly," said CJ.

She looked askance at him, and he found himself recounting the circumstances of his discovery. Then he continued, "Last time, when I could fly, I had all the other powers as well. I guess I'd just have assumed, you know?"

"But you didn't have them last night." It was more of a puzzled statement than a question.

Of course he didn't have all the powers, he thought. Had he been invulnerable, Luthor's bullet would have bounced off him. "No, I didn't," he said.

"Why not?"

"No idea," said CJ. He suspected that he sounded more blas, than he felt. As he'd just indicated, he didn't understand what had happened, but he desperately wanted to. Just… not now. He didn't have the energy to think things through.

"And if you could fly, why didn't you, when you went out the window?"

That was a good question, CJ thought, and one to which he didn't have a good answer. He frowned, then said, "I don't know. I guess… It all happened so fast, and I didn't have time to think. Besides…"

"Besides, what?" prompted Lois.

"I was hurting too much to think straight. I guess I was pretty stupid…" He yawned. He couldn't help it.

"No. You weren't stupid. Just caught of guard, I guess."

CJ wondered whether Lois really believed that, or whether she was simply trying to make him feel better.

Lois considered him for a moment, then abandoned her interrogation in favour of saying concernedly, "You're exhausted. I'd better go before the nurse comes to throw me out."

"No. Stay. Please." His words were mumbled and slurred. He was already half-asleep.

"I wish I could, but you need to rest and I've got to go into work. I've got a story to write, remember."

"Duty calls, huh?" His eyes drifted closed, and this time they did not reopen.

The last things he remembered were her saying, "Yeah," and the brush of her lips against his cheek. "I'll come back later," she whispered. He was asleep before she reached the door.


When CJ next woke up, someone was sitting in the visitor's chair. One of the nurses had removed his glasses again, but he knew it was Lois by the way her dark hair fell, by the faintest whiff of her perfume and by the way she was making some snorts of derision over whatever magazine she was reading. She was trying to be quiet about it, but, as usual, Lois was unable to suffer in absolute silence.

"Lois…" he whispered.

There was a crackle of paper as she hastily folded the magazine closed. "CJ! How are you feeling?"


As she had done earlier, she slid his glasses into place. "Have you ever thought of contacts?" she asked idly.

"Tried 'em once. Horrible things. I didn't get on with them at all."

Lois nodded vaguely. "The nurses told me that you're doing well."

"Am I?" He hadn't thought about it before, but now that he did so he supposed that he was. His mind was clear, he'd recovered all the memories from the previous night, and the pain was easing. He knew that because the doctors had reduced the dosages of his painkillers without him experiencing any noticeable increases in the level of his discomfort. Of course, he wasn't entirely sure that the drugs had been working properly in the first place, given his alien physiology.

"They hope to discharge you tomorrow or the day after. They just want to be sure that you'll be able to cope before they let you go."

"It's just a broken arm, Lois."

"Plus a lot of bruising and a bullet wound. You mustn't put any strain on that."

"Yes, Doctor," he said good-naturedly.

Lois didn't appreciate his attempt at humour. "Do you know how lucky you are that the bullet didn't hit anything major? Shoulder wounds can be fatal, you know."

She had been more profoundly affected by his brush with death than he'd realised. It was too soon to be making light of the situation. "I'm sorry," he said contritely. "Do you want… I mean…" He hesitated.


"Well, it's just that we've both been through a traumatic experience—"

"Worse for you than for me."

"Physically, that's true. Emotionally?" He shrugged and wished he hadn't. Maybe his pain was fading, but unnecessary movements were still ill-advised and capable of shooting bolts of pain along his nerves. "I'd say we're pretty much even on that score. I thought maybe it'd help to talk about it."

CJ watched as Lois stood up, walked over to the window and stared out at the city beyond. Then, after a few seconds, she nodded slowly, accepting the wisdom of his words. She turned around to face him, leaned back against the sill, and began to talk.


Lois didn't bother recounting the facts of what had happened before he'd arrived at her apartment. If he wanted to know those, he could always read her article. Instead, she said, "It was like… I don't know… like he'd had a mask ripped off, and there was this whole other person inside." She didn't say Luthor's name. She didn't need to. She sighed. "I knew that he was, well, evil, I suppose. But, even after seeing what he did to Pagliano, I never really thought about how it would feel to have all that hate directed straight at me. It was… scary."

"Yeah. It was."

"And then… I really thought he was going to kill you."

CJ nodded. "And I thought he was going to kill you, too."

"He *was* going to. He wanted to kill us both, but he kept changing his mind about how he was going to do it. To begin with, he was going to wait for you to arrive, make you watch while he killed me. Then he said he was going to kill you first. Then he got tired of waiting. I thought… I really thought I was going to die. If you hadn't arrived when you did…" She took a deep breath. "I don't think he knew what he was doing. Not really. It was obvious he hadn't thought things through, and that made him more frightening, not less. There was no reasoning with him."

Lois stared thoughtfully down at her hands, focusing on her cuticles and nails, as if she could find the meaning of the universe hidden there. "You know, what I still don't really understand is why he didn't take more trouble to cover his tracks. Before he was arrested, I mean. I'm sure he never used to be that careless. If he'd been just that little bit more careful, we'd never have caught him. I mean, it was hard enough as it was. And what was he thinking when he went after Pagliano like that? Then, when he came to my apartment…" She shivered and she knew that it would be a long time, if ever, before she forgot the horror of that night. "He didn't even bother to try to cover up his actions then."

"I don't know for sure why he got so sloppy, but I think I can make a guess."

Lois glanced at him then returned to the chair and sat down again. "Yes?"

"If this Luthor is anything like the other, then he isn't so much motivated by greed as by power. And what point is there in having power unless other people *know* that you have it? I'd guess that Luthor's error lay in thinking that he was invincible — that nothing *could* touch him."

Lois nodded thoughtfully. "So his failure to hide his tracks was arrogance, *not* carelessness?"

"Something like that, yes."

"I guess that makes sense."

"And his arrogance worked in our favour: the more he threw his weight around, the less the people who worked for him liked and respected him. They feared him, but ultimately that isn't the best way to get people's loyalty. Four years ago, very few people would have been prepared to go on the record about his activities. Now though, that doesn't seem to be too much of a problem."

"And that's the understatement of the year! Especially after what happened last night." She waved her hand vaguely in his direction, taking in his hospital attire. "People have been falling over themselves all day to give evidence. I guess they reckon that, now that he's dead, they've got nothing to be frightened of."

"About last night…" CJ said. "I'm guessing that he was too angry with us to care about being careful. We'd taken away all those things he valued: respectability, power… some of the fear. I guess he was striking back." He paused. "I guess he must have been pretty mad at that point."

"Insane," agreed Lois.

They stared at each other for a few moments, their gazes catching. Then Lois said, thinking back over the last few weeks and the way they had worked together, "You know, we made a great team."

"We *make* a great team, Lois," he whispered. His voice rasped with quiet emotion, and his eyes glowed with warmth. She half stood and reached out to stroke the side of his face.

He stared at her for a moment. She could hear his breath catching in the back of his throat, and she could see that his fingers were trembling as he, in his turn, reached out to caress the soft skin of her cheek. The almost- touch of his fingers made her shiver.

He whispered softly, his words cracking. "I can't believe how close we came to losing all of this."

"Nor can I," said Lois. She felt a pricking in the corner of her eyes, an echo of the despair she'd felt when she'd thought that she had. She was so grateful that he had survived! She couldn't even begin to put that gratitude into words. She leaned over him, lowering her head towards his. Their lips moving in perfect synchronisation, and she realised that she didn't need to say anything because the kiss conveyed all that and more. It held the richest blend of desperation, pleasure, gratitude and need. Most of all, though, it held the promise of a deep and abiding love.

The last thoughts she had, before she gave into the wave of sensation and emotion, was that CJ was right — they *were* a great team, in every sense of the word — and that she didn't care what the future would bring, because everything she'd ever wanted was contained in this one moment, shared with this one perfect man.



CJ had a lot of time to think during his stay in hospital. He thought about the way he had, heedless of his own safety, stepped into the path of a bullet that had been intended for Lois. It was the second time he had done something like that, he realised. Twice he had put her safety above his own. That had to mean something.

Well, of course it meant something! It meant that he cared about what happened to her. He *loved* her.

It was the dumbest luck that he'd survived both the bullet and the fall. As he lay on his back he mused that, had he been human, he might well not have done. But then, had he been human, none of this would have been possible in the first place. He would have been killed two weeks ago. He and Lois would not have forged an alliance and brought Luthor down. There would have been no need for him to have to go to Lois's rescue.

He wondered how it was that he had managed to fly. All the powers had faded several days ago… or so he had thought. Yet, in his desperation, he'd managed to fly over to Lois's apartment, thereby taking Luthor by surprise.

If he had flown then — which, of course, he had — did that mean he could do it again? And if he could, what else could he do?

CJ managed to throw the bed covers aside, and eased himself into a sitting position. He had to try, he thought. He had to know whether he could still fly, or whether last night had been a one-off miracle.

It was almost too terrifying for him to make the attempt. If he couldn't fly again… He pushed the thought that he wouldn't be able to bear the loss to one side. It had been bad enough to have to say good-bye to that power the first time. If he had to again… Could he do it? Of course he could, he told himself. Other people lost far more important things everyday of their lives.

Still… He had to know, one way or the other.

He willed his body to move, but nothing happened. Then, remembering how he'd first taught himself to levitate, back in Lois and Clark's house, he forced himself to concentrate on a notice on the far wall, telling himself that he wanted to read it. His aching body rose an inch off the bed, then two more, and, without trying any further, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that somehow he still had the power.

He gasped and sobbed with joy at the revelation.

Then, regaining some semblance of calm, he wondered what else he could do, if anything. He lowered his glasses and concentrated on the notice, willing the writing to magnify: "In case of emergency" he read, followed by instructions for evacuation in case of fire. Then he peeled back the layers of the wall to reveal the sight of a nurse working on a patient in the adjacent room. The he tried — and succeeded — to listen to their conversation.

He was thrilled to still have his powers, and, although he didn't like to tempt fate by questioning his good fortune, he found that he couldn't help himself.

Why, he wondered, if he had some powers now, had they failed him on the way back from Bolivia? It made no sense. Or maybe, he suddenly realised, it did. Maybe they'd failed him then simply because he'd used up all his power reserves. The sun couldn't help him to regenerate, not on this world. Besides, it had been dark for most of his return journey. Maybe he'd just pushed himself beyond the limits of his endurance, and he'd needed time to recover.

Now that he was thinking about it, he realised that he'd woken up in hospital feeling almost as drained as he'd felt on the train journey from Richmond. He'd thought his fatigue was the result of his injuries, but maybe that wasn't the only reason. Maybe he'd tired himself out by flying to Lois's side. If he was right then it meant that there were definite limits to his abilities.

He found he didn't care very much. At least he had something, and being able to fly at all was a blessing.

CJ caught sight of something: the magazine Lois had been reading earlier lay abandoned on the windowsill across the room. To his astonishment, he saw that it was a twin to one he'd seen back in the other world. His mind flashed back to a companionable breakfast in Lois and Clark's townhouse. He'd entered the kitchen to see Clark's Lois sighing and huffing over her copy of "Metropolis Science" in much the same what that his Lois had done.

"So, what's the article about?" he'd asked.

Clark's Lois had replied with characteristic bluntness. "Well, this one's about telekinesis, believe it or not. But, basically, it's badly-written drivel. In fact, the whole magazine leaves a lot to be desired. It's a special on ESP. *Deja vu*. Precognition. Telekinesis. Remote viewing. That kind of thing. Nonsense, really."

"Remote viewing?" he'd asked. "What's that?"

Lois had shrugged. "Sounds like so much mumbo- jumbo to me, but the idea is that remote viewers can get hold of information that would normally be hidden by distance, space or time. Apparently the military have been doing research into it. They call it 'mental espionage'."

Lois had been dismissive about most of the articles in the issue, finding them less than credible. Now, though, CJ found himself wondering whether there might not be some truth in what the magazine's authors had said because remote viewing sounded suspiciously like a twisted form of his X-ray vision.

Was it possible, he wondered, that some of his (and Clark's) powers were, at least in part, fuelled by ESP? He knew that conventional wisdom was that Clark's powers were solar induced, and perhaps that was true of strength and invulnerability. But the others… Since he was no longer being powered by the sun, he knew he had to look elsewhere for an explanation for how his remaining powers worked. And they did seem to have much in common with the human paranormal…

If he were right, and it was a huge if, then that would mean he'd always had the potential for them; he'd just never known about them, allowing them to linger untapped until his sojourn into the other dimension. It also meant that they would remain with him now.

CJ wondered how soon he could get out of the hospital and test everything out properly.


Friday, 23 May 1997

On Friday afternoon Lois picked a freshly discharged CJ up and drove him home. Much to his embarrassment, she insisted on taking his bag from him, ignoring his protests that he only needed one fully functional arm to carry it, as she led the way from the Jeep up to his apartment.

Once inside, she ordered him to sit on the couch while she proceeded to open windows to change the stale air. She made tea, adding milk she found in the door of refrigerator; she couldn't understand why foul smelling lumps floated to the top of the mugs until CJ told her that the milk had been open for several days *before* he had been admitted to hospital. She fussed over him, plumping cushions and demanding every five seconds to know whether or not he was all right.

He knew she meant well and he honestly appreciated her presence, but he finally had enough. "Lois!" he protested. "I'm *fine*, but I won't be if you continue the mother hen act for much longer. You're wearing me out!"

He immediately felt guilty because Lois looked positively crestfallen, and he found himself apologising. "I'm sorry," he said. "I know you mean well, but you're… exhausting! Just… come over here and relax."

"I'm sorry, too," she said as she did as she was bade, and sat down on his right. He was grateful for that because it meant that he could use his good arm to gather her into a one-armed hug. She nestled against his side, and he marvelled at how perfectly she fitted there. "I just thought that you could do with a little mothering, is all."

"No offence, Lois, but you're not very good at it. Besides, the last thing I want you to be is my *mother*! I'd rather you were…"

"Were what?" she prompted.

"Well, let me put it this way. I never kissed my mother the way I kiss you!"

"I should hope not!" cried Lois, laughing. "And I can see your point. I guess I'm not a very caring person, am I?"

"Lois?" said CJ incredulously. "You are one of the *most* caring people I know. You worry about me and you love me, and if that's not caring, then I don't know what is. It's just that you're not very…"

"I'm not very what, CJ?" she asked.

"Domestic. And when you try…" He pointed at his tea and grimaced.

"You're not going to drink that, are you?" she said sadly.

"No. And I suggest that you don't drink yours, either."

"I wasn't going to. It *is* pretty awful, isn't it?"

"It's worse than that!" he said. "Promise me something?"

"That depends what it is."

"When we set up house together, you'll never cook." The full import of what he had just said hit him; he'd more or less said that they'd be living together. He froze for a moment, unsure how Lois would react to that.

She laughed, accepting his comment as if there was nothing momentous about it at all. He hoped that meant what he thought it meant: that she, like him, was assuming that one day, possibly one day soon, they would be moving in together. "CJ, I never cook, period! I know my limitations!"

CJ glanced at the tea but said nothing. The action was not lost on her, however, because she added, "Okay, okay. I know *most* of my limitations. And I have some great restaurants on speed- dial. And speaking of food, do you want Mexican or Chinese tonight?"

"Anything," said CJ. "After the last couple of days, I'll eat anything that isn't brown, doesn't involve Jell-O, and that you actually have to chew before you swallow."

She laughed again and snuggled closer. After a few minutes of companionable silence, she said, "I've missed this."

"What?" he asked.

"This. Us. Privacy. I mean, the hospital is rather… inhibiting, isn't it? And it's not as though the chairs there were made for two. Not like this sofa. Mind you, this isn't as comfortable as all that. It could do with some better cushions and I swear I can feel a spring here."

There was a certain irony in her observation that CJ couldn't let pass unnoticed. "And your love-seats are comfortable?" he asked, forgetting the promise he'd made to himself only two days before.

"They're not supposed to be comfortable," she answered. "They're supposed to be elegant."

He snorted, but let the subject drop. Instead he said, "Now that we've got all this privacy…"


"I can think of a couple of things I'd like to do with it."

"Oh?" she asked. "A *couple* of things, eh? What did you have in mind, exactly?"

"For one thing, I want to test out my powers."

"Oh," she said, and CJ thought he could hear a hint of a pout in that single syllable.

"But first," he said, "I'd like to do this." He shifted beneath her so that he was sitting sideways on the sofa and could look into her eyes. He paused, waiting for her to read the hunger in his own. Then, when he could see it echoed in her expression, he leaned in. She moved to meet him, twining her arms around his neck, mindful of his left arm and shoulder, and running her fingers in his hair.

He coiled his right arm around her waist and let it drift south to rest lightly on her hip.

Her soft lips butterflied across his cheek before meeting his own. He opened his mouth beneath hers, inviting her to deepen the kiss. Her tongue flicked against his bottom lip then entered. He moaned softly as his tongue touched hers.

She withdrew and he moaned again, this time with disappointment. But she wasn't done with him yet. Instead of pulling back completely, she switched her attention back to his bottom lip, sucking on it lightly. She leaned back, her mouth and arms pulling him with her, until they were semi-recumbent against the cushions, and CJ realised that he was going to have to wait a while longer to test out his powers.

He didn't mind in the least.


Much later, as CJ lay with his head against her breast and she fiddled with a strand of his hair, she said, "CJ, you really hate my love seats, don't you?"

"Only when I have to sit on them," he murmured. He smiled, listening to the even beat of her heart beneath his ear.

Time drifted some more, then Lois asked, "How would you feel about coming shopping with me tomorrow?"


"Yeah. If we're getting serious here, I think one or other of us had better buy some new furniture. And I'd like you to help me test drive some couches. What do you think?"

"I think I like the way you think, Lois Lane."


They spent an hour towards the end of the afternoon trying to work out precisely which powers CJ still had. As he had determined in the hospital, it appeared that he still had at least some of his powers of flight, along with X-ray vision and a limited amount of superhearing. If he concentrated, he could make out conversations from the couple living two floors down, but he couldn't extend his range much beyond that. He was particularly grateful for that particular limitation because of his lack of invulnerability, superspeed, superbreath and heat vision. He would have hated to be able to hear people screaming for help and lack the ability to go to their aid.

Additionally, he quickly realised that the powers he did still have required a great deal of energy to use; after an hour of experimenting, he felt ready for a rest. Whatever he was — whatever he could now do — he was sure of one thing. He was no Superman, at least, not in the sense that Clark was the Superman of his world. Yes, CJ had powers, but he wasn't powerful.


CJ had a stream of visitors that evening. First came Perry, Jack and even Jimmy. He was surprised but delighted that they had, over the course of the last week or so, come to see him as something more than a faceless member of a despised race — lawyer — and were genuinely concerned about his well-being. After satisfying themselves that he was all right, letting Lois know that, thanks to all the recent Luthor stories, circulation was going through the roof, and the Planet was having to turn advertisers away, they left.

Mayson, armed with a huge bouquet of chrysanthemums, came by soon after. CJ took the flowers from her and tried to look appreciative. He didn't, however, have to fake his appreciation of her efforts on Wednesday night. It had been pure luck that the police presence she'd initiated hadn't actually been needed.

Although Mayson said she wouldn't stay long, she ended up staying for a couple of hours. CJ teased her, saying: "If I'd known that getting shot was what it would take to persuade you to take a break from work, I'd have done it earlier!"

Lois protested. "Don't even joke about it, CJ!" But she laughed anyway.

"Well, if my chief defendant hadn't got himself killed, I probably wouldn't have had the time to come," Mayson said. "But even with him gone there's an awful lot of paperwork to get through. So when are you going to be back at work? I could do with some help."

Mayson shared takeout with them and, over spring rolls, wonton soup, char sui and chicken chow mein, the three of them cemented the foundations of a firm friendship.

After Mayson had gone home, Lois announced that she was going out for a while. When CJ asked where she was going, she smiled at him and said that she wanted to pick some things up from her apartment so that she could stay the weekend. CJ told her to hurry back.


It had been a long day, CJ thought, as he sprawled across the sofa, his eyes closed. All in all, it had been a good one, although tiring. He'd explored the limits of his powers. He'd implied to Lois that they were going to be spending a lot of time together in the future and she hadn't protested. He'd discovered that he had friends here in the city.

Before he'd met the other Lois and Clark, his life had been peopled with colleagues, associates, witnesses and defendants, but very few friends, and certainly none in Metropolis. Now that was changing, and he was happy about that. He was almost as happy about that as he was to have found a lover.

There was a knock on the glass of the apartment's front door. CJ yawned, stretched and stood up. He ambled over to answer it, thinking that he really ought to remember to give Lois a key so that she could come and go as she wanted.

However, it wasn't Lois at the door. Instead, it was a short, dapper Englishman who was clutching a bowler hat in both hands.


"Mr Wells!" exclaimed CJ. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see how you were, my dear boy. I also wanted to congratulate you. I didn't realise you would be quite so successful in your efforts to expose Luthor. Quite a triumph, I must say."

"Thank you," said CJ. Maybe Wells didn't mean it to come out that way, maybe it was just the Englishman's manner, but CJ found Wells' tone rather patronising. "But I can't take all the credit. I had help."

"Yes, of course. Ms Lane."

"And Perry White, Mayson Drake, Jack… And a whole host of other people, too."

Wells looked politely sceptical, as though CJ should be taking credit for their achievements as well as for his own, but didn't comment. Instead, he inclined his head towards CJ's left side, where his arm still rested in a sling. "I trust that your wounds weren't too serious."

"No. Not too serious," said CJ. "Here, come on in. I'd offer you some tea, but the milk's off, I'm afraid."

"That's quite all right," said Wells, following CJ down the steps and into the main living area.

"Please. Have a seat," said CJ, sitting down himself.

Wells looked around, taking in the details of the apartment, before he followed suit. CJ wondered what Wells made of the decor; it certainly wouldn't have been the norm in Wells's own time. Wells's face, however, was inscrutable. If he didn't like it, he was doing a good job of not letting his disapproval show. He would have made a good poker player, CJ decided.

"And how is Ms Lane?" Wells asked. "She was quite distressed when I saw her last."

CJ raised his eyebrows. "I didn't realise she'd met you."

"Oh, yes, indeed. I found her in the hospital last Wednesday night. She was most concerned about you. I believe I managed to allay the worst of her fears, however."

"She didn't mention it," said CJ, wondering why she hadn't, then coming up with a plausible explanation for her omission. "I guess, what with everything else that was going on, it probably just slipped her mind." He inclined his head as something else crossed his mind, then said, "If you were there on Wednesday, why didn't you come earlier? You could have prevented me getting hurt. Stopped Luthor dying… Couldn't you?"

"Perhaps I could have done," said Wells, but he sounded doubtful. "However, I don't like to tamper with time any more than I absolutely have to. It is a frightfully risky endeavour, do you see?"

"But you tampered before, didn't you? When you took me to the other world, I mean."

"Yes, that's true. However, that was a matter of life and death."

"So was this," said CJ. "Okay, so it wasn't my death or Lois's, but Luthor died, didn't he? Or do you think his life didn't count for anything? And what about Pagliano, before that?" Wells seemed not to care that people had died. CJ still couldn't find it in himself to regret Luthor's passing, but Pagliano, although obnoxious, had been an innocent. How could Wells be so blase about everything?

Wells frowned slightly, and CJ got the distinct impression that his jibe had struck a nerve. Why was it, he wondered, that someone who was clearly well-intentioned could also be so irritatingly difficult to like?

Choosing his words carefully, Wells said, "I regret that, of course. However, neither Pagliano's nor Luthor's demises were so critical in determining the future of your world as was your survival."

"In the case of Luthor, at least, that's just not true," argued CJ. "Well, maybe his death wasn't 'critical', exactly, but his downfall was." Wells quirked an interrogative eyebrow, so CJ expanded. "You told me, when I was in the other world, that if I had died on the steps of the courthouse, Luthor's influence would have carried on through the generations. Therefore it wouldn't have been enough just for me to live. Something had to happen to him, too."

"I suppose that there might be a grain of truth in what you are suggesting," admitted Wells, grudgingly.

CJ managed to suppress an irritated snort. He knew that he was right. Wells was too inclined, however, to play at being God to appreciate that his tampering might not always be warranted or just.

Still, thought CJ, what was done was done and, when it came down to it, he didn't really want it undone. Did that make him as bad as Wells? he wondered. He hoped not and decided to change the subject.

"Mr Wells," he said abruptly, "there's something I have to know."

Wells raised his eyebrows. "Yes, CJ?"

"You've seen our future. And I know that, in the other world, Superman's descendants founded — will found? — Utopia…"

"Yes. That's correct."

"And Lois and I have brought down Luthor…"


"So, since there's no Superman in this dimension, does that mean that there will be no Utopia, or does it mean that someone else will found it?"

"You, Clark 'CJ' Kent, will. Or, rather, your descendants will."

CJ bit on his lower lip and looked thoughtfully at Wells. "You're sure about that?"

"Of course I'm sure." The little Englishman sounded vaguely insulted.

"It's just… Mr Wells, there's something else…"

"Go on."

"I don't quite know how to ask this without sounding a little foolish. Does… does my world have any kind of superhero?"

Wells frowned slightly. "Like Lois and Clark's world has Superman, do you mean?"

CJ nodded.

Wells stared at CJ as if trying to see through to his soul, looking for the reasons for the questions. Thoughtfully he said, "My answer matters very much to you, doesn't it?"

CJ didn't answer, just waited for Wells to give him the information that he so desperately wanted.

Finally Wells said, "No. Your world doesn't have anything quite like Superman."

"But it has something, right?"

"Something… yes. There are a few costumed vigilantes, mostly working out of New York and furnished with the most ridiculous names. For some reason, vigilantism has never really taken off in Metropolis, nor will it do so in the future, although…" Wells pursed his lips thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "There is something, but most historians consider the Eidolon to be a myth."

"The… Eidolon?" queried CJ, trying out the unfamiliar word. "What's an Eidolon?"

"Dictionaries give the word two meanings, I believe. The first would be something akin to a wraith or a ghost. The second is that of an ideal or idealised figure."

"Eidolon…" whispered CJ again. "And what does… did… this *Eidolon* do?"

Wells frowned thoughtfully. "That's a trifle difficult to determine. As I've said, most historians dismiss him as a cultural artefact, not someone real at all. If one were to believe the more lurid of the early twenty- first century popular media then the Eidolon was a cross between an investigator, a guardian angel and a creature of the night. Certainly, there are elements of the supernatural in his activities; he seems to have been able to gain entry into locked rooms, to have unearthed information from inaccessible places."

"But he did nothing that Clark couldn't do, right?"

"No. I suppose not. But you're not Clark, and you can't do those things. Can you?"

"What if," CJ said, "I told you that I could fly? Oh, not nearly as far or as fast as Clark, but fly, nonetheless. And I still have my X-ray vision and some superhearing."

"You… But that's not possible. The superpowers come from the sun and this sun—"

CJ cut through Wells' scepticism with an intense enthusiasm. "Some of them, yes. I imagine that is why my invulnerability and superspeed have faded since I've come home. But the others…" CJ stood up again and began pacing, speaking fast and furiously, emphasising his words with his free hand. "Lois — the other world's Lois, I mean — told me that no-one knew for sure how Superman's powers worked. The solar battery theory is just that — a theory. But what if that's not the only source of Clark's powers? What if some of it is psychic, too? We know that Clark has telepathic powers. So, why not the rest? Why not some weird form of telekinesis? That could explain how he flies. And remote viewing… that explains the vision powers and, maybe, the hearing." He stopped abruptly and turned to face Wells. "What do you think?"

"I think it's… incredible. You really can do all these things?"

"Yes." CJ nodded firmly. "I'm not strong or fast enough to do the kind of rescue work that Clark does. And, since I'm not invulnerable, I can't say I'm too keen on the idea of parading around in a gaudy suit with a big red S right over my heart, but this Eidolon… Could he be… me?"

Wells stared at CJ, as though the thought had never before crossed his mind. "Yes," he said. "It's quite possible. Indeed, dare I say it, from what you've told me, I would venture to say that it is highly probable. After all, I had not come across any mention of the Eidolon prior to your return from the other world. I'd assumed that was merely an oversight on my part. But if you have changed history… And, in many ways, even though there was no real proof of his existence, the Eidolon did for many provide the symbol of hope that they were seeking."

Appalled CJ said, "You make it sound like he became some kind of religious figure! No proof of existence… Relying entirely on faith…"

Wells smiled. "No, no, my boy."

"Good, because I'm *not* a god!"

"I know that." Wells tilted his head to one side and thought for a moment. "I suppose you could think of the Eidolon more as a… Scarlet Pimpernel figure. Or Robin Hood. Or even… Batman. In all those stories, the heroes are men. Many discount their existence, but they are generally seen in a positive light. It won't matter that many will dispute the Eidolon's existence: it is his values that count. Sometimes humans draw hope from the most unlikely sources; a folk myth is no stranger than many or, dare I say, most."

There was another rap on the door. "That'll be Lois," said CJ, moving over to answer.

"And it really is time that I was going," said Wells, getting up and following.

CJ opened the door. Wells and Lois exchanged quick hellos, then Wells took his leave, letting another "Congratulations" hang in the air.

"What did he want?" asked Lois, after Wells had gone.

CJ smiled. "Come and sit down, and I'll tell you," he said.


"I wonder how it happens," said CJ later on. "The creation of Utopia, I mean."

"Let's see…" Lois, who was nestled against his side again, stroked her chin thoughtfully then began to paint fantasies. "Maybe you'll become a great philanthropist. Or a respected judge. Or maybe a… politician?"

"Politician?! Oh, no. No way!"

"You say that now," she chided him playfully, "but in twenty years you'll feel differently. You'll become one of this country's most beloved presidents."

CJ snorted. "Now I know you're lying. I wasn't born here, remember?"

Lois shrugged, as though that was a trifling detail. "No one else knows that, though, do they? So what's to stop you?"

"*I'll* know."

"Oh, very well… Then… Maybe you'll become president of the UN, a post you will hold — with distinction — for many years." Tiring abruptly of the game, Lois exclaimed, "Oh, CJ! Who cares *how* it happens. All that matters is that there's a wonderful future to look forward to. Isn't it enough to know that?"

"And this coming from the woman who was frightened of us getting together, in case it had been preordained!" teased CJ.

"Yes, well…" said Lois. "I'm over that now, as well you know."

CJ laughed. "I know. Anyway, Utopia mightn't be anything to do with me. After all, my descendants will be your descendants, too, so maybe you'll be the driving force behind this Utopia. Or maybe it'll be nothing to do with us at all beyond the provision of a few genes. Maybe it'll be our son—"

"Or daughter."

"Or granddaughter—"

"Or grandson."

"—who'll do whatever it takes to found Utopia. After all, Wells did say that it would be founded by Clark Kent's descendants, didn't he?"

"Yes," said Lois with a smile, "he did. But, CJ, while it's fun to guess, I don't think I actually want to *know* what'll happen to us in the future. There have to be some surprises to keep things interesting. I think it's enough to know that we're together and — broadly speaking — everything will turn out okay. There is one thing though…"

"Yes?" said CJ.

"If we're going to found a dynasty…"

"Yes?" prompted CJ again.

"Oughtn't you make an honest woman of me first?"

CJ threw back his head and laughed but sobered quickly. His brown eyes stared searchingly into hers. Awed and amazed, he said, "Lois Lane, did you just ask me to *marry* you?"

She'd been joking — teasing. And yet… Now that the idea had slipped out into the open, the idea of marriage seemed so *right* somehow. She hadn't meant to ask him to marry him, but… "I… I did ask you, didn't I?" she said. "Not quite how I imagined us deciding to get married. I mean, I had more in mind that you would get down on one knee and propose, but…"

"Would you like me to do that? I mean, I haven't actually said yes, yet, so it's not too late."

"Well, it would be kind of romantic…"

"Okay, then. Let's do this *properly*." CJ pulled one of Mayson's chrysanthemums out of a vase, got down on one knee, and held it out to her. Then he said, "Lois Lane, would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

"Of course I will, CJ. I love you, you know."

"And I you. For always and forever."

"For always and forever," echoed Lois. "I like the sound of that." She took the flower from him, sniffed it, then returned it to the vase, by which time CJ had got back to his feet and was standing, beckoning her into his embrace.

She willingly entered his arms and tilted her head up towards his. She felt the warmth of his right hand through the cotton of her blouse as he laid it against the curve of her waist. He leaned his head down to meet hers, the soft skin of his lips lightly brushing against her own before settling more firmly against her mouth. She wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him closer towards her. She could feel the planes of his muscles beneath her palms and his solid torso crushing against the length of her upper body. She felt a fluttering in her stomach and a tingle down in her toes as he gently sucked on her lower lip and began to explore with his tongue. She opened her mouth to him and she felt him surrounding, encompassing and blending with her. Her last coherent thoughts were that she had a lifetime of love to look forward to with this man and that life couldn't get more perfect than this.