Curiosity Killed the Reporter

By ML Thompson <thomplaw@tbaytel.net>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: April 2005

Summary: Lois' overdeveloped sense of curiosity finally gets the best of her, sending both Clark Kent and Lex Luthor on a desperate search to find out what happened to her.

This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm borrowing these characters for a little fun and not for any profit. For a complete disclaimer, go to: www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm Special thanks to the writers of Honeymoon In Metropolis, which is the episode where I begin this story. You'll notice that the first few pages include a regurgitation of the dialogue at the beginning of that episode — with a few small modifications for the purposes of my story. But don't worry, I go my own way from there.

Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to Gerry and Carol for all their hard work. They caught grammatical errors, found plot holes and gave me some much needed encouragement. Thanks so much, ladies. I am also very grateful to everyone on the Fanfic Message Boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com/index2.html) who answered my silly question. You'll note that, although I originally intended to use Spanish, I ended up using Canadian French. Also, I'd like to thank everyone responsible for giving us the episode scripts (available at the Fanfic Message Boards see url above). They saved me a lot of time looking up details from other episodes to use in my story. Oh, and thanks to David for use of the word 'thwap' <g>. Finally, thanks to Janet (Toc) for editing this story for the archives.

***

FRIDAY

Lois turned off her computer and put away her files. She switched off her small lamp before reaching under her desk to pull out the overnight bag which had been hidden there all day. She could hardly believe how much she was looking forward to this weekend. She had just risen to her feet when a familiar voice drew her attention towards the owner.

"Lois, are you going somewhere?"

She glanced over to see Clark making his way towards her, followed by Jimmy and Perry.

"Yes, I am," she responded, slightly annoyed that Clark had not only noticed, but commented on the fact that she had her overnight bag. She had hoped to slip out quietly, without having to explain anything about her plans, slightly afraid that if they knew what she was planning to do, it would ruin her 'Mad Dog Lane' reputation. But it was five o'clock on Friday afternoon. She had every right to relax for a weekend of complete self- indulgence — a luxurious hotel suite, room service, spa treatments, massages and one of the most luxurious pool and exercise rooms in Metropolis. If anyone knew how to build a hotel, it was Lex.

"Where?" Clark asked.

"I don't mean this to sound rude, Clark, but it's none of your business."

"You've got a scoop, don't you?" he continued.

Before she knew what was happening, Perry, Jimmy, Clark and Cat were all surrounding her desk.

"It's the revolution in South America, isn't it?" said Jimmy.

"Nuh-uh," Cat cut in. "The riots in Miami."

"Five bucks," responded Jimmy.

"You're on," said Cat, exchanging some sort of weird handshake with him.

Lois glanced, stunned, between the two of them. Now they were even betting on what Lois Lane did with her weekend off — and it seemed none of them were even considering that she might actually be planning to do something fun. What was she? A mule that one ties to a pole and makes walk in a circle, all day, every day?

"Lois, you're going to have to clear this with the budget office," Perry put in, listening to the exchange from the sidelines and simply accepting the options Jimmy and Cat were putting forward.

"I'm not going on a story. I do have a personal life," Lois said, feeling a little incensed that thought hadn't even occurred to any of them. Maybe she was a workaholic, but that didn't mean she couldn't have fun, too. Still, none of them looked convinced. "All right," she finally said, "if you must know, I'm on my way to check into the Lexor Hotel for a weekend of pure relaxation."

"It's a prison break upstate, isn't it?" said Perry immediately, as if not at all fooled by her claim that she was planning to take the weekend off.

Exasperated, she reached into the front compartment of her overnight bag. "Do you want to see my reservation?" she asked, holding out the paper.

"Yes," Clark responded, grabbing it from her hand almost before she had the ability to let go.

"Honeymoon suite?" he asked, looking back at her, eyebrows raised.

She instantly felt annoyed. She'd forgotten the reservation told what room she'd be staying in. She was even more annoyed that Clark had not only spotted that but had also announced it for all the world to hear. "It was the only thing available," she muttered, snatching her reservation back from Clark.

"Lois Lane in the honeymoon suite?" scoffed Cat.

"Stranger things have happened," said Jimmy.

"Name one."

"Thank you all very much. I'm leaving now," said Lois, turning to pick up her overnight bag.

As if sensing her displeasure, Perry spoke. "Now, Lois, you've got to admit that the idea of you spending an entire weekend just relaxing is a bit… well… far fetched."

"Oh ye of little faith," Lois responded, grabbing her coat from the rack and heading for the elevators without as much as a backwards glance.

She didn't care what they thought. She really didn't. This weekend was going to be the first time off she'd had since that whole pheromone disaster — and she was going to treat herself, forget work, forget her colleagues, forget Cl… forget that man who was too good looking for her own peace of mind and just relax. After throwing herself at Clark for two whole days, and then learning that she was suffering from some kind of 'animal magnetism' towards her partner, she had realized she really didn't get out enough. And so tonight… that was exactly what she was going to do. She'd regain her balance and then be back at work once the weekend was over — her dangerous attraction to her partner firmly a thing of the past.

***

Lois got out of the cab in front of her apartment building. If she was going to relax for the weekend, she needed a good book. And she knew just the one. Why hadn't she thought to bring the book when she'd packed the previous evening? Taking a deep breath, she trudged up the stairs to her apartment and went inside.

She found the book quickly — the latest Stephen King fic. Mystery. Intrigue. Pure terror even. But no romance whatsoever. Perfect. Stuffing it in her overnight bag, she assured herself it was an emergency measure only. After all, she was a little concerned that it had been so long since she'd taken a weekend to relax that she wouldn't remember how to do it. And there was no way she was going to allow Clark, Perry, Cat and Jimmy to be right. She could take an entire weekend off. She would prove it.

On impulse, she changed out of her work clothes and slipped into her sweat suit. Maybe a good jog on the way to the hotel would help relax her — and it certainly would save her the cost of a taxi. Reaching into the front compartment of her overnight bag, she pulled out her reservation and stuck it in her pocket. Then she stuffed her purse into the bag, slung the bag over her shoulder and headed out of her apartment at a jog, only taking long enough to lock the door behind her.

***

Lois looked at the items in the gift basket provided by the hotel, finally deciding on a bag of chips. Making her way over to the bed, she pulled open the bag and took a seat before turning on the television. As she relaxed on the bed and ate a chip, she watched the screen. Some sort of old movie was playing. Normally, she really liked old movies, but this one just seemed… corny somehow. She rolled her eyes when the actress on the screen made an inane comment, obviously meant to impress the man. Please! Who wrote this drivel? When the two characters kissed, Lois looked everywhere but at the screen. This was not what she needed right now. After all, she was here to put thoughts of men… one man in particular… out of her mind. She changed channels, only to turn the television off in disgust when she spotted another couple kissing on the next channel.

Rising from the bed, she made her way towards the heart-shaped tub, slipping out of the white, cuddly bath robe provided by the hotel and allowing it to fall to the floor. She moaned in contentment as she sank into the warm water. Now this was relaxing! She closed her eyes and played absently with the bubbles, a smile making its way onto her lips. Who needed a man? This was as good as sex any day — better even.

The ringing phone caused her to open her eyes. Reaching for the noisy item located on the side of the tub, she picked it up.

"Yes?"

"Working hard?" came Clark's question on the other end of the line.

"No, Clark. I'm relaxing." She emphasized the final word as she closed her eyes again, refusing to be drawn out of her state of bliss. In truth, she'd been feeling bored. Not that she intended to tell him that, of course. And she couldn't say she was bothered by the interruption — even though her subconscious mind reminded her that the person on the other end of the line was the very person she was supposed to be forgetting about with this weekend of relaxation.

"Yeah, right," he replied. He sounded skeptical, but his tone held no malice. That was one of the things she liked most about Clark. He might tease her, but he was never mean. "How is the view?" he asked without waiting for her response.

The view! It suddenly occurred to Lois that she had not yet looked at the view. Of course, he didn't need to know that. "It's wonderful," she said, turning to find a window she could see through. "It's… It's…" Her voice trailed off when she noticed the lights come on in a luxurious suite across the way and a number of beautiful, provocatively dressed young women and older men in expensive business suits walk in. She thought she recognized one of the men. "I don't believe it," she muttered to herself.

"You don't believe what?" Clark asked. She ignored him. "Lois?"

"Where are those?" she mumbled, searching frantically through her purse which was lying to the side of the oversized tub while at the same time trying to keep the phone at her ear. The task was not easy, but soon she had what she was looking for — a small pair of binoculars. "Yes!" She removed the item and turned back towards the window, nearly dumping the phone into the water in her effort to get a better look. "Yes, it's wonderful. It's…"

"Lois? Are you okay?"

"Congressman Harrington?" she asked in disbelief when her suspicion about whom she had seen in the neighboring suite was confirmed. "Yes… yes… I'm…" She turned back towards her purse. She needed her camera.

"How's the bed?" asked Clark, obviously unable to understand her previous comments.

"The bed?" she asked, reaching into her purse and withdrawing her camera. "The bed is just great, Clark. It's… uh…" Finally trying to hold the phone to her ear and take pictures was too much for her. "I'm in the Jacuzzi, Clark. Could you hold on a second?" Without waiting for a reply, she set the phone on the side of the tub and began snapping pictures. When she finally had what she needed, she again retrieved the phone. She had been able to hear Clark calling her name since she'd put the phone down. She placed it back at her ear. "Yes, Clark, yes."

"Lois, is the TV on because…"

"What? No. I mean, yes. The TV. Yes. The TV. It's on." She managed to snap off a couple more pictures.

"Have a good night's sleep." She could hear the confusion in Clark's voice.

"Uh… I will."

Then his voice lightened. "Lois, I didn't think you had it in you."

"What?"

"Well, the ability to take an entire weekend off." He hesitated. "I… Congratulations."

"Clark, I got to go now. I've got to get back to relaxing."

She was so distracted by the events taking place in the suite across the way, she dropped the phone in the water. With a small screech, she began searching for the phone. She didn't dare imagine what Clark was thinking on the other end of the line. Hopefully he had already hung up. Not wanting to try to explain to him what had happened, when she finally found the phone, she hung it up without another word.

She quickly dismissed her concerns that Clark might think she was a total idiot, turning her attention back to the suite. Some sort of party was obviously going on over there. The women looked like high-priced call-girls and the men… well, one of them was a man holding public office, so who were the others? A couple of the men looked familiar, but at the moment she couldn't put names to the faces.

Normally, Lois wasn't interested in sex scandals, but since this one appeared to be playing itself out right in front of her… Besides, if memory served her correctly, the congressmen who had come to Metropolis for the Congressional Inquiry starting on Monday were staying in an apartment complex in this area of town. Was it possible that they were in the building across from her? The very one she was staring into right now?

She watched as Harrington reached for one of the women, pulling her onto his lap. Lois let out a breath of righteous indignation. She'd met that man's wife, for crying out loud! And here he was, giving the whole city a view of… It suddenly occurred to Lois that if she could see clearly into their suite, they could probably see into hers.

She set down the camera on the side of the tub before making her way to the far side, being careful to maintain her cover of bubbles. Reaching as far as she could, she was able to grab her robe. Glancing over her shoulder to ensure that no one from the other suite was looking in her direction, she rose, quickly wrapped the robe around her and dashed for the light switch, bathing the room in darkness.

She made her way back to the window, pulling the curtains until only a crack was left open for her to see out. She cringed in disgust as she watched the obvious sex party. She raised her camera and took pictures of a few of the other men — just in case it turned out to be important. And then she made her way to the bed. There was no story there — at least not one she wanted to write. Letting out a sigh, she crawled into bed, falling asleep quickly.

She slept for… she wasn't entirely sure what the time was when she jerked awake in a strange room, in an unfamiliar bed. It took a moment for her to figure out where she was. When she did, the memories of what she'd witnessed before going to sleep came flooding back. She turned over, trying to fall back to sleep. But this time she couldn't sleep. Her mind kept coming back to one subject — that men were pigs. Harrington had a beautiful and well-educated wife at home. The woman had sacrificed her career as a doctor in order to stand by her husband's side, promoting him at one political rally after another. She made speeches and spoke pleasantly to people she probably couldn't stand — all in order to further her husband's ambitions. And how did he repay her? Lois shook her head.

She wasn't sure why anything a man did surprised her anymore. All she needed to do was to look at her own father to know that men were pigs. Not that she should be too hard on them. Maybe they were biologically incapable of fidelity. She gave a small snort and rolled over in bed. That was why it was best to stay away from men in the first place — particularly any man one had to work with following his infidelity. She'd learned that with Claude after all. Not that Claude had cheated on her, of course. He'd simply dated her until she'd finally given him what he was after — her story and her body. The problem was that he'd also taken the one thing he apparently hadn't wanted: her heart. Then he'd been on his way. That was why this weekend was so important. She had to get a grip on her dangerous and potentially disastrous attraction to Clark.

She pushed back the covers and rose from the bed. Slipping into her robe, she began wandering around the darkened room. She knew intellectually that she couldn't get involved with Clark. Still, after last week, she had to admit, even if only to herself, that there was… something there, at least on her part. It was possible Clark didn't feel the same way. After all, he'd also been sprayed with the compound and he hadn't fallen for her. She wasn't sure why. It wasn't as if she hadn't noticed the way he would often look at her — and unless she was way off on reading men's looks, he was definitely interested. She sighed.

What troubled her almost as much as her idiotic attraction to Clark was that while under the influence of the pheromone compound, she'd barely noticed Lex. Yet Lex was the one she was dating — at least when they both had the time. Since the incident, she'd been forced to concede that while Lex was the type of man she knew she should be attracted to, Clark was the one she was attracted to — a guy too good looking to be anything but a scoundrel where women were concerned. Obviously, she was still attracted to the wrong kind of guy.

Not that Clark had acted like the typical scoundrel — at least as far as she was concerned. Still, Lois could certainly remember his brief tryst with Cat. She crinkled her eyebrows. She remembered that incident almost too clearly. She could remember the pain she'd felt when Cat smirked at her the next morning. She remembered how she'd seen Clark and Jimmy whispering together, only to have Jimmy rise and say, 'great piece of journalism there, C.K.' before walking away when she approached. She knew at that moment that Clark had given Jimmy all the intimate details of his night with Cat.

Clark had denied sleeping with Cat, but that was to be expected. He was smart enough to know not to brag about his conquests with one woman to another — especially to one he still had hopes of taking to bed. It surprised her to realize how much that entire incident still bothered her. Had she been attracted to Clark even then? She pushed the question to the back of her mind as irrelevant. The question was what to do about her attraction to Clark now — not when this attraction had first begun.

Of course, there was more to Clark than just being a lady's man — way more. That was the problem. He was smart and funny. He never slowed her down when they were working on a story. In fact, he challenged her to try harder, to be the best that she could be. He was supportive and endured her mood swings. Not to mention having a killer body.

"No! No! No! No!" She was definitely not going to go there. Whatever she did she was not going to think about that body or the time she'd seen Clark in nothing more than a towel.

Clark in a towel. She would swear that image was tattooed on the insides of her eyelids. She saw it practically every time she closed her eyes these days. It plagued her when she couldn't sleep at night. It came to her in her dreams. Only in her dreams, she would reach out and give the towel a quick tug and then watch as it dropped to the floor revealing… She gave her head a quick shake, scattering the image. She had checked into this extravagant room for the weekend to forget about Clark — and that wasn't going to happen if she kept thinking about that body.

She was almost relieved when, in her peripheral vision, Lois caught sight of the suite where the 'party' had been going on earlier. She made her way to the window. The party appeared to be mostly over now. She could still see Congressman Harrington, his shirt open, his hair tousled, and… a woman was standing slightly behind him wrapped in a sheet. In front of the congressman stood two men. One was short and stocky, had grey hair and was obviously exchanging heated words with the congressman. Lois was suddenly extremely curious about what was happening. The man beside the short one was much younger. He looked to Lois like a typical punk — young, solid, much like a brick wall, with an ugly scar running down his cheek. She suspected his body, unlike the one she had been thinking about previously, was covered with tattoos — one of which, unless she very much missed her guess, was undoubtedly of a naked woman.

Lois flinched when the grey-haired man pulled a gun from inside his jacket. She saw Harrington and the woman back up until the woman was out of sight. Lois was changing positions, attempting to see where the woman had gone, when she saw Harrington's head snap around, apparently looking at the woman himself, before turning back to the man with the gun, fear clearly written on his face. Had the man fired at the woman? Lois wasn't entirely sure. She hadn't heard a thing. Of course, given the fact that she was in a different building, she really wouldn't have expected to hear it.

Lois knew she needed to do something, but for a moment nothing came to mind. So with her mouth open, she stood staring as the two men, obviously having convinced Harrington to accompany them, left the suite. And then the room across from her went dark.

Lois pulled in a breath when she suddenly realized that she hadn't been breathing. Had what she thought transpired in that room actually happened? She didn't know. She supposed she could call the police. Except that she really didn't know if anything had happened. In fact, she probably didn't know enough to allow the police to get as much as a search warrant. After all, she didn't know that anything had happened to the woman. Maybe she had simply gone to bed. And, in spite of pulling a gun earlier, the man with the gun had put it away before Harrington left with them under his own power. No. She had to find out for sure.

In her haste to act, Lois tripped slightly, feeling her foot kick against something. She heard a splash and realized she had managed to kick something into the tub which she hadn't emptied after last night's bath. But she didn't pay it more than a passing thought as she threw on her sweat suit, put her hair up under a wool cap and attached the money belt she used while jogging around her waist. In the money belt, she stuck a small amount of cash, her room key, her lock picking equipment, a small flashlight and her press pass before heading out of the room. She had to hurry. If the woman had been shot, she might still be alive. And if that was the case, she would need help immediately.

Lois pushed the button to the elevator and waited impatiently for only a matter of seconds before heading towards the stairs.

***

Lois checked to be sure the hallway was empty before turning her attention to the door which she guessed led to the suite across from hers. Taking a deep breath, she knocked. When there was no answer, she bent down in front of the door and, removing her lock picking equipment from her money belt, turned her attention to the door.

She was relieved when the telltale click told her the lock had surrendered to her ministrations. She quickly opened the door and stepped inside. As expected, the lights were off. She withdrew the flashlight from her pouch, turned it on and glanced around the room. It didn't take her long to realize she was in the wrong room. She took a look out the window and found her room. From its location, she estimated that she needed to be in the suite next door.

She turned off the flashlight and headed for the door, hoping that if there was someone asleep in this suite, she could escape before he or she woke up. She had just opened the door when she heard someone coming down the hall. She closed the door until it was only open a crack and listened, hoping whoever was outside would pass by quickly so she could slip out. What she would do if they were coming into the room where she was currently hiding, she had no idea.

"So what do you want done with the body?" a man's deep voice growled.

Lois pulled the door a little further open — it was amazing how soundproof these suites seemed to be — before putting her ear closer to the crack as she strained to hear the response.

"Bury it. But be careful not to disturb the DNA. Harrington knows that if the police find her body, he'll be the number one suspect. After all, he was seen with her earlier. Then when they find his DNA… Well, let's just say that he really doesn't want that to happen. And as long as we can lead the police to her body, he'll do whatever we say."

"But can't he just tell the cops that you shot her?"

"He could. But killing her isn't his only problem. If the voting public finds out about him cheating on his wife with a high-class call girl, not to mention her being killed immediately after sleeping with him, he doesn't stand a chance of being reelected — not to mention ending his dream of taking a run at the White House one day. After all, what is it they say? There are only two things that can kill you in politics: being caught with a live boy or a dead girl."

The voices disappeared when a door opened into the suite next to the one in which Lois was currently hiding. She waited until she heard the door close before stepping into the hall. She came to an abrupt halt when she found herself standing face to face with the grey-haired man she'd seen with Harrington earlier. Behind him was the muscle man who had been with him earlier.

"I thought that door was open," the older of the two said, his voice anything but friendly. "So tell me, my dear, just how much of our conversation did you hear?"

"Excuse me?" Lois asked in response, trying for all the world to look as if she was just coming out of her suite to go for a jog and was a little annoyed about being confronted by a couple of strangers in the hall.

The older man's dark grey eyes flashed dangerously as he moved closer to her. "Don't play coy with me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. Now if you don't mind…" She attempted to push her way past the man she instantly nicknamed, 'Grey Eyes.'

"Oh, I think not," he replied, grabbing her arm.

"Hey, what do you think…" Her voice died when, with his free hand, he removed a gun from under his jacket and stuck it in her ribs.

"You won't make a sound, my dear. And you'll just come with me if you know what's good for you."

She allowed fear to show in her eyes and relaxed her muscles, trying to look as defeated as possible. When he began to tug her towards the suite next door, she didn't put up any resistance. Then, as suddenly as a cat pouncing on a mouse, she spun, dislodging both the gun and his hand, kneed him in the groin and took off at full speed towards the stairs, hoping that he wouldn't want to risk having a gunshot heard in the halls.

"Get her!" Grey Eyes snarled at his minion while he himself took a moment to recover from her well-placed attack.

***

Lois' lungs burned and her muscles ached as she crouched behind a large garbage bin in an alley outside the apartment building. She had to make a conscious effort to keep her breathing under control, trying not to let her body's need to catch its breath give away her position. It briefly occurred to her to call for Superman, but she dared not, lest she reveal her position only to discover that he was on the other side of the world battling a volcano or some other such nonsense. Didn't he know that he was supposed to hang out in Metropolis just in case she found herself hiding behind a dumpster in a dark alley trying to avoid detection by the most persistent goon she had encountered in a long time?

She was only one building away from the Lexor. As soon as she caught her breath, she'd make a dash for it. If she was able to get inside, there would be people there — employees anyway. She doubted the goons following her would try anything in front of other people. And without leaving the lobby, she'd call Clark — oh, and maybe the police, too. She'd heard them talking about a murder — that should be enough for the police to get a warrant for the suite where the murder had taken place.

Satisfied with her plan, she listened for footsteps. Maybe she had finally given the man she'd dubbed 'Muscle Head' the slip. Sticking her head carefully around the dumpster, she took a look around. When she couldn't see anyone, she rose silently to her feet.

"Going somewhere?"

Lois froze when she felt the barrel of a gun in her back. She slowly raised her hands, her mind moving quickly as she sought to figure out her next move.

"Sup…"

A hand clasped over her mouth instantly silenced her attempt to yell for her hero.

"Oh, I don't think you wanna do that," said Muscle Head. "'Cause you yell for him, I'm going to have ta get out of here fast. And to do that, I gotta pull this trigger. Not even Superman can get here before this bullet is buried in your gut."

Lois instantly stilled. He was right. The barrel of the gun was jammed against her. Unless Superman was a few feet away, he wouldn't be able to get there in time.

"Okay, now that we have an understanding, I'm gonna take my hand off your mouth." He waited a moment, as if giving time for his warning to sink in. "Good," he said, as his hand cautiously left her mouth. "Now, turn around, very slowly — and keep your hands where I can see 'em."

Lois did as instructed. She would have to wait for the right moment. It would come — after all, it always did. And then she'd be out of there.

"You've got her."

Lois looked in the direction of the voice to observe the older man approaching. She fought back a smirk when she noticed he was limping slightly.

"Ya," Muscle Head responded, being sure to keep the gun against Lois. "She's a sneaky little devil, though — tried to yell for Superman."

"As long as you made her understand exactly what a deadly thing that would be for her to do," the man said, his eyes flashing with pure hatred.

"I think she got the picture."

"Good," Grey Eyes said. "So why don't we get acquainted?"

"Good idea," Lois responded. "Why don't you start?"

Lois was stunned when the man backhanded her across the face.

"Search her," he commanded the younger man while withdrawing his own gun.

Lois automatically began struggling against the rough hands of her captor, protecting more vulnerable body parts from his probing.

"Hey, I got somethin'," the younger man said. Tearing her money belt from around her waist, he handed it to the older man.

Grey Eyes stepped back slightly where there was more light and as her captor put the barrel of the gun back against Lois' side, Grey Eyes opened the pouch. "A key to a room at the Lexor," he said, removing the first item. "Lock picking equipment?" he added, his eyebrows going up as he looked back at Lois.

Lois knew the gig was up even before he withdrew her press pass. She glanced briefly at the man holding her. Noticing he was watching Grey Eyes, she used her best tae kwon do move to knock the gun out of his hand. As she heard the gun hit the pavement, she gave him her best kick and took off at a run before he could recover.

"She's a reporter! Stop her!"

Lois didn't look back. She ran as fast as possible towards the street. She could hear the sound of feet behind her as she ran onto Water Street, which ran along the bank of the West River. It was better lit than the alley, making it easier for her to see. It also, unfortunately, made her an easier target for the two men with guns following her.

Which came first, she didn't know: the sharp pain in the back of her leg or the sound of a gun being fired. She stumbled slightly, searching desperately for something to grab onto to keep herself from collapsing. Her leg betrayed her, crumpling beneath her. She reached out to grab onto the cast-iron railing that ran along the edge of the water, trying to pull herself back to her feet. Just a few more steps and she'd be at the front doors of the Lexor. She couldn't give up now.

As she regained her footing, her free hand went to her leg, touching it briefly. She glanced down at her hand, seeing the sticky red substance which confirmed what she already knew — that she had been shot. The bullet must have gone straight through her. She'd never realized just how much getting shot would hurt.

She continued to pull herself along the railing. Just a little further and she'd be at the doors of the Lexor. Once inside, she'd dive behind one of the oversized sofas in the lobby and allow herself to collapse — not before. Calling on every ounce of strength she still possessed, she continued pushing forward. The footsteps behind her slowed, telling her that they had caught up to her.

Having no choice, she turned to face her attackers. Maybe she could still find a way to stall until another chance to escape presented itself. As she turned, her eyes first landed on the gun no more than a foot away from her chest. She felt as if she were in a dream as her eyes followed the trail upwards from gun to hand to arm to shoulder before meeting the grey eyes of the man before her. And in that instant something passed between them, some unspoken understanding of murderer and victim.

"Sup…"

Bang.

She felt a sharp pain in her chest. Her hand came off the railing and she lost her balance, tumbling over the railing and plunging into the river.

"Sup…"

Her yell was cut off by water entering her lungs, causing her to gag. She tried to swim, but as if Poseidon himself reached up from below the surface of the dirty water, she felt a tug on her legs, pulling her down. She fought him, but the surface seemed to get further away. Still, there was hope. All she needed was get to the surface and yell for Superman. He would not let her die.

With fresh resolve, she struggled even harder against the forces conspiring against her. She held her breath, knowing that she had to reach the surface before relieving the burning in her lungs as her body cried out for oxygen. It was so cold. The pain in her chest and leg was unbearable. Still she fought against her injuries and the unforgiving power of Poseidon. She refused to let him defeat her. Yet it felt as if lead were attached to her feet. She kicked against her runners, but they remained firmly on her feet.

Which way was up? She was no longer sure. She forced a small amount of gas from her lungs but in the dark couldn't see the bubbles well enough to know which way they were going. She was so cold. Suddenly, the need to breathe overwhelmed her and she involuntarily sucked water into her lungs. The pain was extraordinary. And then everything was all right. She no longer felt cold. She no longer felt anything, except an unexpected sense of euphoria as Poseidon claimed her.

***

SATURDAY

Clark bounded down the ramp into the newsroom. In spite of the overcast weather, he was in a good mood. Maybe it had been the good sleep he'd enjoyed the previous night. Maybe it had been the brief phone conversation he'd had with Lois. Of course, the conversation had been a little… odd. Still, it was good hearing her so obviously enjoying herself. It was a side of Lois he hadn't seen before — and he felt as if he knew her just a little bit better as a result.

Too bad she had the entire weekend off. He would have liked to see her today. A small smile creased his lips as an idea suddenly occurred to him. Maybe near the end of the day, he'd give her a call and see if she'd like to grab some supper with him. He was sure he could make it sound casual — not date-like at all, just friends. After all, he knew that anything that even hinted of a date would frighten her off. But friends… he thought he might just be able to pull that off. And seeing Lois while she was relaxing… after last night's phone call, he was completely intrigued with the possibility.

He wasn't sure where this new found courage came from. Up until now, he'd been too afraid of losing Lois' friendship to ask her out, even as a friend — as if she would see it as a violation of some sort of unspoken agreement between them. Maybe the change was a result of Lois' reaction to him while under the influence of the pheromone compound. On some level, even if she didn't recognize it herself, she was as attracted to him as he was to her. That thought in itself gave him hope that if he took things very, very slowly, worked at establishing a solid friendship with her, maybe in time she would come to see him as something more than just her friend or work partner.

"Clark! My office — now!"

Clark immediately changed direction, heading towards his boss' office. "What's up, chief?"

"Shots fired. A report came in over the scanner last night." Perry handed Clark a piece of paper.

"Do we know if anyone was hurt?"

Perry shook his head.

"Then what makes you think there's even a story there?"

"This shooting took place in one of the better sections of town. Lots of rich penthouses. Lots of rich tourists. It's bound to get media attention. I don't want the Planet to miss out."

"Where is it?"

"On Water Street."

Clark crinkled his brows. "Isn't that the street that runs past the Lexor?"

"I think so."

"Well, chief, don't you think Lois is all over this by now?"

"Right," said Perry thoughtfully. "She was staying at the Lexor this weekend, wasn't she."

"Well, why don't we wait to see what she finds out — then we can decide if there's a story there."

"Clark, it's Lois' weekend off. We can't count on the fact that she might be there to cover it."

Clark let out a breath. In some areas of the city, shots being fired was just another horrible fact of life. Part of him resented being sent on this assignment while other areas of the city where shots had been fired wouldn't receive any press coverage — areas which were in desperate need of media attention and the potential changes which might result from such coverage.

"Why don't you send Ralph?" Clark said, attempting to hand the paper back to Perry.

"I decide on assignments, Kent," Perry growled.

"I know that, Perry. But this…" He held up the paper. "Well, it just doesn't seem to me as if there's a story there. And I have a lot of things I want to get finished up today."

Perry eyed him suspiciously.

"I told Lois I'd try to get the follow up story on Miranda today," Clark continued. "You know, the woman who tried to spray all of Metropolis with her pheromone compound. Anyway, yesterday we got a call from the Assistant District Attorney — some new woman named Mayson Drake. I had a call into the D.A.'s office, hoping to find out what Miranda was being charged with and whether they knew if Miranda was planning to plead guilty, and Ms. Drake called back yesterday. She didn't have time to meet with us then, but she suggested I stop by today."

Perry nodded slowly. "You're probably right. This shooting incident probably isn't going very far anyway. And I guess that's what we have Ralph for."

Clark smiled, thankful that Perry wasn't going to make him cover what was obviously a loser story. "Thanks, Perry."

***

Ralph crawled out of the cab, tossing some money at the cabby as he headed without a backward glance towards the group of people congregating around the police barrier.

"Jerk!"

Ralph ignored the yell of the cabby. Those guys were always wanting a tip. Well, if they wanted a tip, they should learn to drive. Daily Planet expenses only paid for the cab — not the tip. And as long as that was the case, they shouldn't expect extra money from him just because they got him to his destination in one piece. A tip was meant to be a reward for extraordinary service — not a routine addition to someone's wages.

Ralph was already feeling annoyed. He'd wasted a trip going to the police station — figuring the investigating officers would have returned to the station already — only to be told when he arrived that everyone was still on Water Street. The least Perry could have done when assigning him this story was to inform him of that fact.

"Move aside. Move aside. Reporter coming through," Ralph said, pushing his way past a number of incensed citizens to get to his destination. He stopped at the police barricade and took a look at the scene. He couldn't see a dead body — or a coroner's van. Damn. Without a dead body, this wasn't going to be much of a story. Now a dozen or so bodies… Lane would be so jealous if he got a story like that. He could just see it now — 'and the winner of this year's Kerth for best journalistic reporting is…' Lane and Kent would be sitting on the edge of their seats. '…Ralph Summers.'

He sighed. Since he didn't see any dead bodies, he guessed this wasn't the story destined to win him that Kerth. Maybe he'd have better luck next time.

Pushing his daydream to the back of his mind, he directed his attention to getting the story. After all, the sooner he could get this stupid story written up, the sooner he could give White the slip and sneak out to enjoy the rest of his weekend.

He noticed a moderately attractive female police officer on the other side of the barrier. He took a moment to straighten his tie.

"Hey, babe," he called.

She glanced at him, giving him a quick once over before turning away. He smiled. She'd obviously noticed him. "I'm with the Daily Planet. You wanta see your name in print?"

She turned back towards him, her expression unreadable, before making her way over to where Ralph was standing. "You're with the Daily Planet?"

"Yeah," he said, running his eyes down her body in appreciation. "I need some information for my story. How about you and I go get a drink and discuss it?"

"You want information, go talk to our official media person." She gestured towards a man surrounded by reporters a few feet away, obviously answering questions, before turning around and walking away.

"Dike," Ralph muttered before making his way over to hear the end of the press conference. He took one of the press releases and read through it.

Apparently, a few people had called 9-1-1 the previous night in relation to some gunshots. The general consensus was that there were two shots. They had not found any victims. They also did not know who had fired the gun. No one had reported any intrusions into their homes and the police wanted to assure people that this was still the safest district in the city — and to assure visitors to the great city of Metropolis that they were in no danger.

Ralph looked back at the theoretical crime scene and rolled his eyes. He figured he had about all he was going to get. He turned around and noticed the same cab he'd just gotten out of was about to drive off.

"Hold that cab!" he yelled, rushing towards the cab. He swore when the cabby, after having glanced over at him, squealed his tires, leaving Ralph staring at his taillights. "Now that would be a useful story," muttered Ralph to himself. "Maybe a story about the ignorance of Metropolis cabbies is something that would shake things up. Maybe I'll mention that to Perry." Having ended his monologue, he glared at a person nearby who was staring at him as if he had lost his mind.

***

Perry was surprised when a beep on his computer informed him that Ralph had just sent him the story on the Water Street shooting. He read through the story, making a number of editorial changes. It appeared Clark was right. No victim. A couple of gunshots. No real crime. It was just as well he hadn't wasted Clark's talents by sending him down to check out the situation.

He was just about to send the story to printing — a few inches to bury well inside the paper — when he stopped. When Ralph had first arrived back at the Planet, he'd mentioned that the police had a section of the street cordoned off. Now… if there was no victim, why had they done that? It made no sense unless…

Perry rose from his chair and made his way to the door to his office. "Ralph!" he called into the newsroom. Everyone turned and looked — everyone that was, except Ralph. Ralph was nowhere insight. "Damn that boy," Perry muttered. There was something going on down on Water Street — he could feel the familiar feeling brewing in his gut telling him a story was there. He just needed… "Clark!"

***

Clark was amazed by the number of cops on Water Street when he arrived. Given what Perry had told him, he'd expected to see a section of the street cordoned off. But why were at least a dozen cops milling around? Perry was right. There was a story there. A few gunshots being fired wouldn't normally get such a large police turnout. He spotted Inspector Henderson in the crowd. The attendance of someone of Henderson's rank was even more startling. Oh no. There was a much larger story there than the one Ralph had written.

Since Clark had already spoken to Mayson Drake and obtained the information he needed to wrap up the pheromone story, he certainly had time to follow up on this. Mayson, as she had insisted on being called, had been very pleasant — not at all the stuffy lawyer type Clark had come to expect from the D.A.'s office. It was a nice change. He suspected she and Lois would really like each other.

He glanced at the building on his right and all thoughts of Mayson instantly left his mind. The Lexor — where Lois was staying. Once he had obtained the information he needed for this story, maybe he would go in and check to see if Lois would like to go for supper with him tonight.

In fact… he glanced around again, surprised when he didn't see Lois already prowling around. If she looked out of the building and saw this, no day off would keep her away from finding out what was going on. She had the most overdeveloped sense of curiosity of anyone Clark had ever known. On the other hand, it was late morning. He wasn't sure whether Lois was naturally a morning person or a night person. And since it was her weekend off, it was entirely possible that she was still tucked in the big bed in the honeymoon suite. At least he assumed the honeymoon suite had a big bed. He shook his head. It was not a good idea to let his mind head in that direction.

Clark spotted Bill Henderson slipping under the police barrier and heading towards a couple standing nearby. Clark left the crowd and approached the officer, hoping to get a word with Henderson before he went back to the crime scene.

Still, unlike Lois' 'bull in a china shop' style, Clark kept his distance, allowing Henderson to question the couple while he waited for his chance to talk to the officer. Still, that didn't stop him from listening in on Henderson's conversation as he patiently waited for his moment to approach the inspector.

"I understand you're one of the people who called 9-1-1," Henderson said, pulling out his notebook and pen.

"My husband was," the woman standing next to an older man responded. "We both heard the shots."

"What time was this?"

The woman looked at her husband. "About two?"

"Closer to two fifteen," the man responded. "We had been out for the evening. We had just parked our car in underground parking and gotten out when we heard a man yell something. Do you remember what he yelled, honey?"

"It was muffled. But it was something like… I didn't catch most of it. But at one point it almost sounded like he said, 'Report her.' I looked at Jeff, but before I could ask him what he thought was going on we heard the first shot."

"What happened then?" asked Henderson.

"Well, we weren't about to hang around to find out how many gunshots were fired," said the woman defensively, as if expecting Henderson to judge them for not running into the middle of a gun fight. "So we headed as fast as possible for the building."

"That was when we heard a second shot," the man added. "We called 9-1-1 as soon as we were safely inside."

Henderson nodded as he looked around. "Did you see anything or anyone when you were driving into the parking garage?"

"No," the man answered before looking at his wife. She briefly met his eyes before shaking her head as well.

Clark cocked his head to the side, not entirely sure he believed their last response.

"Are you sure? You didn't see anything?" Henderson asked.

By the tone of Henderson's question, Clark realized the inspector was also having problems believing the couple's last answer.

"Well…" the woman said. Once again, husband and wife shared a look before the wife seemed to make a decision. "We didn't see anything when we were driving into the garage. But when we were heading for the doors to the building, I glanced back, through the entrance to the garage."

"And?" asked Henderson.

"I thought I might have seen someone fall into the water."

"Did you get a look at him?"

The woman shook her head. "Not really. He might have been wearing a sweat suit and a wool cap. But it was dark. I couldn't even tell you the color of his sweat suit."

Henderson nodded, completed his notes and then turned to head back to the crime scene.

"Inspector Henderson," Clark called, finally jogging forward. Henderson glanced back at him.

"Kent," Henderson said in acknowledgment before looking around. "So where's that partner of yours?"

"She's off for the weekend."

"Lucky you."

Clark smiled. "Do I take by your question that she hasn't been by pestering you today?"

"You take it correctly."

"So what can you tell me, Bill?" asked Clark, nodding his head towards the area where the police appeared to be collecting evidence.

"We got three 9-1-1 calls early this morning. All of them saying approximately the same thing. Shots fired. Two said they thought they saw someone fall into the river. One claimed they saw someone shoot the person before they fell. So…" He gestured Clark to follow him as he headed under the yellow rope holding spectators away from the area. "…we came down here and this is what we found." He walked over to the cast-iron railing that ran along the river bank. The drop over the railing was steep into the dark water below. Clark took a look over the side, briefly pitying anyone who fell over that rail.

Redirecting his attention to what Henderson had obviously brought him over to see, Clark noticed bloody hand prints on several places along the railing. And drops of blood could clearly be spotted on the sidewalk for a space of about ten feet on one side of the hand prints and then following the prints, ending in a larger amount of blood on the sidewalk next to the final hand print. In the final pool of dried blood was a partial shoe print.

"Looks like a running shoe," said Clark.

"A small one. Yeah. Right now we're thinking the victim may have been a teenager. Too small for a man's anyway."

"Have you found a body?"

Henderson shook his head. "Not yet. Although given the current, a body that went in here could be found a long ways down river. Or it could have snagged on something on the bottom. Or even been victim to one of the boats that regularly use this river."

"Or the kid could have survived. Has anyone checked hospitals for a gunshot victim?"

"Not yet. But we're just getting started."

"Any word on who the shooter might be?"

Henderson shook his head. "But the mayor is afraid a mugging so close to so many expensive hotels might have a negative effect on tourism. And so…" He gestured to all the police officers.

"Are you sure this was just a random mugging or could it have been… something else?" Clark asked.

"Like what?" asked Henderson, obviously wondering if Clark was getting at something.

"I don't know. Like…" He glanced around, wondering what else might be going on. He spotted the building next to the Lexor. He looked at the address on the building and suddenly was searching his memory to figure out why that address seemed to ring a bell for him. Suddenly it hit him. "Like political complications."

Henderson raised his eyebrows. "Political complications?"

"There is a Congressional Inquiry about to start here in Metropolis. A lot of the head honchoes are apparently renting suites in this apartment building." He pointed to the apartment building next to the Lexor. "Not to mention staff and other workers."

Henderson's eyebrows shot up. "The Congressional Inquiry into organized crime?" He waited for Clark to nod before continuing. "Well, that is something worth looking into."

"Inspector, I think you should hear this," said a police officer a number of feet away.

Both Clark and Bill turned towards the officer who was standing next to a young man in his late teens. Two older people, seemingly his parents, stood nearby.

"Excuse me," said Henderson, leaving Clark to head towards the officer.

Clark let Henderson go alone, but using his special hearing abilities he listened to the conversation.

"This young man was on his way back to the hotel shortly after two when he saw something I think you should know about."

"What's your name?" Henderson asked.

"Stan Young."

"Okay, Mr. Young. What did you see?" Henderson asked.

"I went to the Pearl Jam concert last night with some friends from the city. It was really rocking. Anyway, it was late when I got back. I was just getting out of a cab when I saw two men leaning over the railing over there." He pointed towards the railing where the bloody hand print had been found. "They seemed to be looking for something. But I didn't think anything of it. One of them was short with grey hair. The other was younger. A big guy in a black leather jacket."

"Do you think you'd recognize them if you saw them again?"

Young hesitated. "I don't know. It was pretty dark."

Henderson nodded. "Would you be willing to take a look at some mug-shots, maybe work with our sketch artist?"

"Yeah, cool," Young responded, as if thrilled to be involved in a police investigation.

"Inspector," said another voice, directing both Henderson and Clark's attention to a police officer standing near the railing.

Henderson quickly directed the young man to whom he'd been speaking to another officer — one who would take him downtown to review mug shots and, if necessary, talk to their sketch artist. Then he made his way over to the officer who had just called him. Clark followed behind.

"I just found this."

Henderson bent down to take a look at the wooden post at the end of the railing. He studied a small hole he could see there. "Take some pictures and then see if there's a bullet in there."

Clark lowered his glasses down his nose and peered over top of them, confirming the existence of a bullet, before looking around to see if he could spot anything else that might shed light on this mystery. A small tool of some sort was half buried in the dirt on the far side of the railing. Clark moved closer to take a look. It appeared to be one of the tools from a lock picking kit — almost like one that Lois… Suddenly, Clark got a sinking feeling in his stomach as everything he'd learned so far began to fall into a disturbing pattern. No. That was crazy. It couldn't be. He glanced towards the hotel.

"Did you find something?" asked Henderson, approaching Clark from behind.

Clark pointed at the small tool. Henderson motioned a photographer over to take a couple of pictures before leaning over to pick it up with a handkerchief. But Clark was no longer thinking about the officer. Instead his mind continued to work overtime. 'Report her.' Small shoe print which could very well belong to a woman. Lock picking equipment. Lois in the honeymoon suite. Lois not prowling around the crime scene.

"Looks like a lock picking tool," said Henderson, examining the item. "Maybe the perpetrators were caught breaking into someone's apartment and when he woke up and tried to escape, they shot him. Got to get this down to the lab right away to check for prints. It's awfully small — but still, we might get lucky and pull a partial."

"Excuse me, Inspector," said Clark, heading at a brisk pace towards the hotel.

***

Clark tapped his fingers impatiently on the counter while the hotel employee assisted a couple who were in the process of checking out. He glanced towards the elevators. He knew Lois was staying in the 'honeymoon suite'. But was there more than one? And would the room have 'honeymoon suite' on the door — if not, what was the number? And what floor of the building was it located on?

He didn't know if the lock picking tool he'd found at the crime scene belonged to Lois. But that combined with the fact that Lois had not yet put in an appearance left a huge hole in his gut. He had to know she was all right. After all, if anyone could find herself in the middle of trouble while taking a weekend off to relax, it was Lois. Not only that, but Clark wasn't sure he'd ever met a person who had as many enemies as Lois. The list of people wanting revenge against her was almost as long as… the people wanting revenge against Superman.

Of course, he had spoken to her last night — and she hadn't given any indication she was doing anything other than relaxing. Or was that true? His mind suddenly flashed back to a comment she'd made last night that had confused him. 'Congressman Harrington.' At the time he had thought the television must be on and that she was responding to something she was seeing on TV. But what if that wasn't true? Could Harrington have been in her room? He didn't see how, but…

He glanced back at the man behind the desk, silently willing him to hurry up.

"Can I help you?" the man finally asked as the other couple turned to leave.

"Yes. Could you tell me what room Lois Lane is in?" Clark tried to keep the panic he was beginning to feel from coming through in his voice. After all, he didn't know anything. He was probably overreacting. Still, he just had to see Lois — to know that she was all right.

"I'm afraid giving out room numbers is against hotel policy," the man answered.

"But…"

"What I can do is call her room for you. What's your name?"

"Clark Kent," Clark answered, clenching and unclenching his fist.

Not seeming to notice Clark's building frustration, the man turned towards the computer on the counter. Clark quickly glanced around. Spotting a metallic plaque on the wall behind the computer, he lowered his glasses down his nose and focused on the reflective surface. He changed his position slightly until he could see the screen of the computer on which the man was typing. He enlarged the image and when Lois' name came up, found the number of her room.

The man picked up the phone, but Clark was no longer there. Ignoring the elevators, he ascended the stairs at superspeed until he was standing in front of a door which had a 'do not disturb' sign hanging on the doorknob. He hesitated for a second, wondering if he was just overreacting. If everything was all right, how might Lois react to his appearance at her hotel door? For a moment, he was tempted to sneak a peek through the wall.

No. His best bet was just to knock. In all likelihood, she was still sound asleep in bed, enjoying her time off. He had no right violating her privacy by looking through the door. She might think he was crazy for worrying. In fact, at this moment he might even welcome her annoyance at his overprotectiveness. It was a hundred times better than the alternative.

He knocked on the door and was shocked when it swung open under the force of his fist tapping against it. At first, he thought he had misjudged his strength, given his increasingly fearful state. His heart leapt into his throat when he realized the door hadn't been properly closed in the first place.

Trying to ignore the blood pounding in his ears, he slowly pushed the door open the rest of the way.

"Omigod," he breathed when he looked inside the ransacked room. It was only a matter of seconds before he was again making his way through the police barrier to talk to Henderson.

***

"The honeymoon suite?" Henderson asked for clarification.

Clark nodded.

"Lois Lane in the honeymoon suite?" Henderson asked again, as if not quite able to reconcile those two concepts.

Clark let out a breath. "Bill, this isn't about where Lois chooses to get away from it all. The point is, Lois is missing."

"Slow down, Kent. Don't you think that you might be jumping to conclusions here? She isn't in her room so… what? You think that she's somehow… our victim here? Or are you trying to tell me she was the one doing the shooting?" When he realized he'd ruffled Clark's feathers with his final comment, he rushed to continue. "Be reasonable, Clark. I know she's your partner, but…"

"I'm not overreacting," Clark cut in, surprising both the officer and himself by the force of his comment. He took a deep breath to calm himself. "Think about it, Bill. Lois finds trouble like a magnet finds metal filings." When Henderson opened his mouth, Clark raised his hand. "The break-in tool we found… Lois has one just like it."

Henderson's eyebrows shot up. "You do know even possessing those is illegal."

Clark ignored the comment. "If Lois left that hotel this morning, she'd have immediately come here to see what was going on."

"That's true enough."

"That shoe print…" He pointed at the print in the blood. "It could belong to a boy — like you said. But… couldn't it also belong to a woman?"

"I suppose, but…"

"From what I heard, none of your witnesses could give a description of the person who went into the water — so couldn't it have been a woman?"

"Sure. But that doesn't mean…"

"Also, one of your witnesses heard someone say something like, 'Report her.'"

"You heard that?"

Clark ignored the question. He was too concerned about Lois at the moment to worry about giving his secret away. "What if she heard 'Reporter?' So I went to Lois' room. It's been ransacked."

Henderson was moving towards the Lexor almost before Clark finished his final word. "Take me to her room," he demanded.

When Clark nodded, Henderson called over to two of his best evidence collectors. "Serge… Mike… Come with me."

***

Clark felt like a caged animal as he watched police officers prowl around Lois' hotel room. Henderson had told him that although they would dust for prints, a hotel room often had hundreds of prints so there was little chance of finding the perpetrators in that manner. On the other hand, if they had a suspect, and on the off chance he hadn't worn gloves, they might be able to prove he had been in the room — when exactly he had been in the room would be another question.

Clark had spent the first part of the time on the phone, calling Lois' apartment, calling Perry to see if she had checked in there, even scoping out the entire hotel with his hearing and supervision. He had considered calling Lois' folks, but didn't want to worry them — especially when, knowing what he did about Lois' relationship with her parents, he didn't think she would have gone to see either of them. Even his call to Perry had been as casual as possible, trying not to pass on his fears to Perry — although he was fairly certain Perry knew something was up.

Now he could think of nothing else to do. His eyes landed on the large, heart-shaped tub in the bedroom. That was where Lois had been when he had been talking to her on the phone the previous night. He walked slowly closer, in his mind picturing Lois in that tub, completely naked except for the bubbles, which somehow only served to make the image even more erotic. The bubbles in the tub had long since disappeared, although Lois had obviously never emptied the water. Clark sighed slightly when he finally arrived at the edge of the tub. He really could imagine her there, soaking in the bubbles, a gas fire jumping in the fireplace, soft music playing in the background, slow music, romantic music.

He gave his head a quick shake, trying to bring his mind back from the direction it seemed to be taking. He was just about to turn away from the tub when the hint of something black in the water caught Clark's attention.

"Inspector," he called.

Henderson came up behind him. "What is it, Clark?"

"What do you think that is?"

Henderson bent beside the tub and reached his hand, one covered with a plastic glove, into the water. When he withdrew his hand, he was holding a small camera. He turned and looked at Clark, eyebrows raised. "Any ideas?"

"It's Lois' camera."

Henderson looked back at the camera, turning it over in his hands. "Well, it does seem to be waterproof. Why would Lois have a waterproof camera?"

Clark shrugged. "You know Lois. Why does she do anything?"

Henderson chuckled. "But how would it have ended up in the tub?"

"I don't know. Maybe she knocked it into the tub in her effort to leave the room in a hurry."

"Well, until we can ask her, I guess the only thing we can do is to get the film developed and then…"

"Umm… Inspector…" Clark's voice trailed off. Considering where the camera had been found, the content of the film was somewhat questionable. Clark couldn't imagine Lois posing for nude photos. But then… how much of what had transpired the previous night had been her decision? But given that Lois had to work with the police…

"I'll make sure one of our female lab techs develops the photos. And I'll make sure no one sees them unless I deem it necessary," Henderson said as if reading Clark's mind.

"Thanks, Bill."

"Inspector," called a tech from the direction of the washroom.

"Yeah, Serge?" Henderson called back.

"Does Kent know if this is Lane's hair brush?"

Henderson looked over at Clark. Clark shook his head. "Sorry. I just don't know."

"Well, chances are it is — so take it."

"Bill?" asked Clark.

"If that is Lois' hair, we should be able to get a DNA sample to compare with the blood we got from the railing on Water Street."

Clark felt as if he'd been sucker-punched. It must have shown on his face, because Henderson rushed to continue.

"Even if it is her blood, we still haven't found a body — so that's good news."

Clark's head suddenly snapped up, wondering why that thought hadn't occurred to him before. "Would you excuse me, Bill? I'd like to see if I can find Superman. If Lois did go into the river and was able to climb out, Superman might be able to find her. And if she was shot, she might need help immediately."

***

Clark collapsed on the riverbank, completely exhausted. He'd spent hours exploring every building, every alley and even every dumpster for several miles down river from the Lexor and had been unable to find anything. Not that he could be sure he hadn't missed something. Some drop of blood. Some torn article of clothing. Something. Anything that might lead him to Lois. Still, he'd found nothing.

Actually, that wasn't exactly true. Beside a dumpster in the alley near the Lexor, he'd found Lois' money belt. He'd recognized it immediately and inwardly cringed at the further confirmation that Lois had been outside the hotel the previous night. He tried and failed to find a reason why Lois would have left her money belt outside that didn't involve foul play. He wasn't sure whether he should be relieved or terrified that her money was still inside. What it did prove was that whatever had happened to Lois hadn't been a simple mugging. He supposed the one good thing about it not being a mugging was that if this was some move against Lois herself, they might not have wanted her dead. They might have taken her somewhere. He closed his eyes and fought the urge to groan at the very idea that Lois being held hostage was almost a relief. But the truth was that if Lois was a hostage, she was still alive. And if there was any possibility she was alive, if it took the rest of his life and all of his energy, he would find her. He would search heaven and earth if he had to.

It was getting dark before Clark, after taking Lois' money belt to Henderson and doing a quick check of her apartment, his apartment, and the Lexor in hopes that she had turned up, finally headed towards the Daily Planet, unsure exactly what he was going to tell Perry and dreading that encounter.

***

"What the Sam Hill is going on, Clark?"

Clark flinched when he saw his boss. He wasn't sure if Perry's comment was because he had already heard that Lois was missing or if it was because Clark hadn't checked in with him all day and had no story to submit for the paper. "I'm sorry, Chief. I…"

"Henderson called about an hour ago," Perry continued, cutting Clark off. "He said to tell you that the hair from the brush they found in the honeymoon suite was a match to the blood on the railing. I guess he thought I knew what was going on because when I asked what the hell he was talking about, he hesitated and then said that he needed to come by — and would tell me then."

Clark put out his hand, searching desperately to find something to steady himself against as confirmation that the victim of this attack was indeed Lois penetrated his brain. He'd been holding on to the hope, no matter how small, that the ransacking of Lois' room and her apparent disappearance were unconnected to the events on Water Street — that she was somewhere in hot pursuit of a completely different story.

"Son?" asked Perry, coming over and grabbing onto Clark as he swayed slightly. "Let's go to my office."

Clark gave a brief nod as he allowed Perry to guide him in the appropriate direction. His legs only seemed to last long enough for him to plop into a chair in his boss' office. He dropped his head into his hands as the full weight of the situation sank in.

"What's going on?" asked Perry, taking a seat on the corner of his desk.

Clark glanced up at the older man, only realizing too late the anguish that must be on his face when he noticed Perry's face turn white.

"Lois?" Perry breathed.

Unable to find his voice, Clark simply nodded as tears began congregating in the corners of his eyes.

"Perhaps you should start at the beginning, son," Perry said, his voice suddenly husky with emotion.

Clark knew it was killing Perry not to know, and that he was assuming the worst right now. But it wasn't as if he was going to be comforted by Clark's information — so maybe there was no rush in taking away any remaining hope. He glanced through the windows into the newsroom, looking for Lois' desk, hoping against hope that this was all just some bad dream and he would see Lois typing furiously into her computer. What he saw instead was Jimmy pacing nervously, looking continuously at Perry's office.

"Jimmy should be in here," said Clark, knowing that the kid would want to be in the loop on this one and realizing he wouldn't be capable of repeating the story twice.

***

Both Jimmy and Perry were absolutely silent when Clark finally finished telling them the entire story. Clark was amazed that he'd managed to explain everything without breaking down. Oh sure, he'd had to clear his throat a few times and his voice kept having a tendency to crack. Still, he'd managed to fill Perry and Jimmy in with minimal interruptions. Clark's eyes met those of Perry and saw there the same fear he knew was in his eyes. It occurred to Clark that Perry was suddenly looking every one of his years.

"So no one has found her body yet — not even Superman?" asked Jimmy, finally breaking the silence.

"No," Clark confirmed, breaking eye contact with Perry.

"So there's still hope that she's alive," said Jimmy.

A sad smile pulled at one corner of Clark's mouth. "There's still hope," he confirmed, although he couldn't say he felt very hopeful at the moment. He rose to his feet.

"Where you going, Clark?" Perry asked.

"To check the waterfront again. Maybe Superman missed something. Maybe if I…"

"Sit down," said Perry.

"I can't, Perry. I've got to… I've got to…"

"I know, son," said Perry, guiding Clark back to his chair. "And we will. But there's no point running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We need to come up with a plan."

Clark closed his eyes and clenched his fists. A long moment passed before he finally nodded. He was the strongest man in the world — and yet now, when it counted the most, he was helpless. He forced himself to pull himself together. Lois needed him to be strong now, stronger than he'd ever been before he suspected — her life might very well depend on it. Finally, he opened his eyes. "Where do we start, Perry?"

As if he had been waiting for Clark to regain control, Perry finally spoke. "Well, has anyone checked local hospitals for gunshot victims?"

"I can do that, chief," Jimmy said, turning towards the door.

Clark almost got the impression the kid was as anxious to get away from the tension in Perry's office as he was to find Lois. He quickly dismissed that thought as uncharitable. Lois was Jimmy's friend, too. In fact, Clark suspected Jimmy was half in love with the woman. "Thanks, Jimmy," he said, forcing himself to give Jimmy a reassuring smile as he left the room.

***

Henderson entered the Daily Planet and looked around. The majority of the staff had called it a night. There were some notable exceptions. Jimmy Olsen, whom Henderson had only met once, was seated at a desk, a phone book in front of him, and Perry White and Clark Kent were engaged in a discussion in the editor's office.

Taking a deep breath, Henderson headed towards White's office. He only hoped Clark had already filled Perry in on the situation — otherwise Henderson was going to have to be the one to tell White that his star reporter was in all likelihood the victim of a shooting incident. And he really wasn't looking forward to that. His impression was that White was very fond of his feisty reporter. Breaking this news to him would not be a pleasant task. Still, there really was no other option. In order to confirm that Lois was the one whose blood they had found, they really needed to obtain a fingerprint. After all, although it was logical to assume that the hair in the brush at the honeymoon suite belonged to Lois, there was a chance, however small, that the brush had belonged to a previous occupant.

"Henderson," Perry growled huskily, directing Clark's attention to the officer as well.

The grim expressions on the faces of both men told Henderson that Perry was now aware of the situation.

"Mr. White," Henderson said, his normally gruff voice sounding suspiciously soft. He stuck out his hand, taking Perry's when Perry rose from behind his desk. "I take it Kent, here, has told you what's going on."

"So what are you doing to find my top reporter?" Perry growled, ignoring Henderson's question and yet at the same time answering it.

"Well, officially, we're still trying to find out if it is your top reporter we're looking for."

Perry snorted.

"I don't know if Kent told you, but we found a camera in Lois' hotel room."

"A camera?" asked Perry, looking at Clark who nodded to confirm Henderson's statement.

Henderson handed a brown envelope to Perry. Clark rose, approaching Perry as the older man opened the envelope and removed the enclosed pictures.

"We've managed to confirm that these pictures were taken through the window of the honeymoon suite of the Lexor — into a suite in the apartment building next door. Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street. Kent said the camera belonged to Lane." He paused for a moment. "So what was Lane actually working on? Kent said she was taking a few days off, but those…" He pointed to the pictures. "… seem to tell a different story. I assume you had her working on something without Kent's knowledge. At least I wouldn't think Kent here would lie to the police — at least about something that might affect our ability to find his partner."

Perry continued flipping through the pictures. "I didn't have her working on anything. But Lois doesn't go anywhere without her camera. When she saw what was going on, and who was in that room, she must have decided to take the pictures. On the other hand, I suspected she had a lead on a story when we found out she had reservations in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor. But this…" He pointed to a picture which was particularly suggestive of a sex party. "…this isn't Lois' type of story — no matter who the politicians are."

Henderson crinkled his eyebrows as he took a closer look at the pictures. "Do you know the identities of the men in those pictures?"

Perry nodded. "That's Congressman Harrington. And Congressman Spencer."

"I think this man is a congressional aide," added Clark, looking at the pictures over Perry's shoulder. "I'm not sure which congressman he's attached to — Bower, maybe."

Perry pointed to another picture. "And this… this… I'm surprised to see him there."

"Who is it?"

"Bill Church Jr."

"Who is he?"

"Bill Church Sr. is the owner of the Cost Mart chain. Junior works for his father. I don't know how he would even know the congressmen — although a man like Bill Church Sr. probably knows a lot of politicians. But Harrington, Spencer and…" He looked at Clark. "Bower?" He waited until Clark nodded before continuing. "All three of those men are here for the Congressional Inquiry into organized crime in this country. Of course, they could all just be friends of Junior."

"So what are you saying? This gathering might just be a… social occasion? Maybe Church Jr. was just blowing off a little steam with the guys after a long day's work? No connection to the Inquiry?"

Perry thought about that for a moment. He'd known Bill Church Jr. all his life. He'd bounced him on his knee as a child, for crying out loud. But then… why was Lois missing? "I guess I really don't know," said Perry. Normally he'd be defending Church. But with Lois missing, no one was above suspicion. "Maybe you're right. Maybe Lois discovered that Church and the congressmen were up to no good. Maybe they saw her taking pictures and came after her."

Henderson nodded. "Okay, then I'll talk to Harrington, Spencer, Bower's aide and Church tomorrow. I'll be sure to keep you informed about what I find out."

"Good," Perry said, still lost in thought. Maybe he'd do a little digging around as well. After all, once upon a time he'd been quite a reporter himself.

"I also had an idea," said Clark. "I was thinking I'd write a story saying that the Daily Planet is missing its star reporter. Put Lois' picture with it — although I don't think we should connect it to the shooting on Water Street. Anyway, if I write it, can you get it in the morning edition?"

"Yeah. I'll tell them to hold the presses."

"And I spoke to Superman earlier. He said to tell the public that Superman will consider it a personal favor if anyone with information calls the Daily Planet or the MPD. Why do you look like you don't approve, Bill?"

"You do realize that if you run this, you will be swamped with phone calls from loonies and glory-hounds trying to cash in on their fifteen minutes of fame."

"If it gives us even one good lead, it will be worth it."

"Then you better take the MPD reference out of that article. You might be willing to be swamped with phony leads, but we don't have the manpower for it."

Clark looked over at Perry.

Perry nodded. "Let's do it." He hadn't really considered that aspect of it. The suits upstairs would… Screw the suits upstairs! If he had to hire some temp workers, that's what he would do. His top reporter was missing, after all. And he'd be damned if he'd let a little money keep him from doing everything in his power to get her back.

"Anyway, the reason I'm here is that I'd like to try to get Lane's fingerprints to compare with the prints we got from the rail earlier. I was hoping you'd agree to let us dust her desk for prints."

Perry hesitated for a moment. Letting the police get Lois' fingerprints could have detrimental, long-term consequences to a reporter who had a habit of skirting the edges of the law, sometimes even stepping over the line, to get a story.

"I promise they will only be used to confirm that they're Lois' prints on the rail," said Henderson, as if realizing the reasons for Perry's hesitation.

"They'll be destroyed after Lois is found?" Perry asked for clarification.

"I'll see to it myself."

Perry looked at Clark who nodded his approval.

"Then be my guest, Inspector."

Henderson turned to Clark. "Could you show me which desk belongs to your partner?"

"Sure," said Clark.

"Oh, and Kent, before I forget, I was wondering if you might have some way to get ahold of Superman," said Henderson.

"I might. Why?"

"Well, it would be a big help if he could drag the river for us — see if he can find Lane's bod… well, if he can find anything."

"Superman will not waste his time looking for Lois' body," Clark responded, his voice rising. "All of his energy is going into finding her — alive! She's not dead! And I… he will not give up on…"

"If he wants us to find her alive, the best thing he can do right now is to drag the river," Henderson interrupted.

Clark was stunned. He glanced at Perry, who looked just as confused as he, before looking back at the inspector. "I don't understand."

"Dragging the river… which according to protocol has to be our next step, will take hundreds of man hours. Man hours we could use trying to solve this case… and finding Lois, if she's… Well, you know what I mean."

Clark stared at the inspector in disbelief. Did he have any idea what exactly he was asking of Superman… of Clark? The very thought of spending his time in the murky waters of the river searching for Lois' lifeless body… How was he supposed to cope with that? But hundreds of police hours which could be used to solve this case… He closed his eyes, fighting to retain control of his emotions. "I'll see if I can find him," said Clark when he thought his voice was steady enough. He turned to Perry. "About that story, Perry…"

"I'll write it, Clark. It will be on the front page of the morning edition of the Daily Planet."

Clark nodded and turned to head out of the newsroom.

"Oh and Clark…" Perry waited until Clark looked back before continuing. "Stay with Superman until he's finished, would you? Doing this is going to be very hard on him. He'll probably appreciate having you there."

Clark wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. If Perry suspected he was Superman — and a part of him had often wondered if Perry did — then he'd just given Clark the perfect excuse not to return to the Planet until this assignment was complete. On the other hand, if Perry didn't know, then he'd just reinforced in Clark's mind what it would cost him to do this. He couldn't believe how much he wished he had a friend around who could help him cope with what this search was bound to do to him. In fact, at this moment he'd give almost anything for Lois to be the one to fill that void in his life. Of course, were she here, there wouldn't be a need for… He gave his head a slight shake. Without a word, Clark turned around and headed towards the stairs.

***

Clark sank down on the edge of the roof of the Lexor, dangling his feet over the side. He'd dived what felt like hundreds of times beneath the murky surface of the West River. At first, he simply dove haphazardly, too upset by the assignment to approach it logically. But after the first dozen dives, he had forced himself to calm down and follow a grid pattern. He had done a survey of the river from above, but with all the muck in the water, diving down had been the only way to ensure that he didn't miss anything — even with the advantage of x-ray vision. After all, unlike x-raying a wall where, once his eyes had seen through the barrier, he had a clear view of everything on the other side, he had to be careful when x-raying through mucky waters. If he wasn't, it was all too easy to accidentally x-ray through the very thing he wanted to see. This time, he couldn't take that risk.

He wrapped his cape around himself, using it to protect himself from the chill of the night air. Normally the cold didn't affect him — but this night was anything but normal. He shivered. If it was this cold in the air, what must it have been like for Lois, shot, bleeding, plunging into cold water? When he closed his eyes, he could see her fighting against the currents, her body battered and bloody. He could see the terror in her eyes. He could hear her gasping for air, battling to breathe. He could feel her desperation as she struggled to live. Why hadn't she called for him? He would have dropped everything, not that he'd been doing anything anyway, to rescue her. Didn't she know that?

Once he'd finished searching the river, at least as much as he'd been able to do without going completely mad, he'd checked in with Perry. Perry was digging up everything he could about Congressmen Harrington, Spencer and Bower as well as Bill Church Jr. and Cost Mart stores. Jimmy had checked all the hospitals and morgues and had found no sign of Lois. Then he'd broken into Lois' computer files — trying to figure out if she had been working on something connected to her disappearance.

When Jimmy had finished, Perry had sent him to spend the night at Lois' place. Clark shook his head, recalling the moment Perry had pulled a whole set of keys out of a hiding place in Lois' desk. Keys to her apartment, he had explained. All three men had stared for a long time at the keys, each lost in their own thoughts and memories about the number of locks on Lois' doors — and what that said about the missing woman. Then Perry had handed them to Jimmy, instructing him to spend the night at Lois' apartment, just in case she returned there.

Clark was glad Perry had suggested that Jimmy be the one to stay at Lois' apartment for the night. Clark wasn't sure he could handle being there right now — being surrounded by reminders of Lois. He suspected Perry had understood that. Clark wondered if a normal person would notice it, but with his sense of smell, he would always know he was in Lois' apartment, even without his sight, just because of the way it smelled of her. He wasn't sure he could handle that tonight. So instead, he was waiting on top of the Lexor, just in case she found her way back to her hotel room.

Her hotel room was currently a crime scene — which was why it was absolutely critical he be there if she arrived. After all, when she realized she couldn't get into her room, she would undoubtedly leave again. And if she was hurt… No. Someone had to wait for her at the Lexor.

He glanced across the city to the large clock which was clearly visible on the top of City Hall. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning. He really should go inside. If he simply sat down outside the door to her hotel room, even if he fell asleep, if she found him there, she was certain to wake him. Still, from his current location he could hear if anyone went remotely near her room. And he needed a moment more of looking out over the city, hoping the illusion of peace brought about by watching the city from above at night would calm him.

But his thoughts remained anything but calm. They were a swirl of images and emotions — all of them revolving around the most incredible woman he had ever met. From the moment he'd first laid eyes on her, he'd been hooked. It wasn't just that she was a beautiful woman — although she certainly was.

Before meeting Lois, he had thought he was more attracted to blondes. Now… Now he was firmly in the brunette camp. It amazed him how one woman storming into his life had instantly changed everything. Her eyes twinkled with such a depth of emotion — whether it be anger, or mischief, or excitement. Her eyes had first informed Clark how much more there was to the woman than she wanted people to see. Her face was perfect — high cheekbones, a button nose and a smile that could make his heart come to a complete standstill. She could give him a look that would freeze his blood or cause it to heat to dangerous temperatures. And her body… a slow smile made its way across his face as he thought about that perfect body, a body he could almost believe had been made specifically to his specifications. He'd never been sure if he was a leg or a breast man — but with Lois he hadn't had to make a choice. Legs that went on forever beneath those short skirts she seemed to favor. Well toned and perfectly muscled. And her chest… For some reason whenever he looked at Lois' chest, he was reminded of a Seinfeld episode he'd seen about a year ago: 'They're real and they're spectacular.'

Yet it hadn't been her looks that had hooked him that first day. After all, he'd met lots of beautiful women in his life. It had been her spirit. After their brief encounter in Perry's office, he felt as if he'd been standing in the direct path of a tornado. Her spirit was the first thing he'd fallen in love with.

That last thought caught him off guard. In love. Was he really in love with Lois? The answer hit him just like a proverbial ton of bricks. Yes. He'd never quite allowed himself to use that expression when thinking of Lois until now. He knew he adored her. He knew she made him feel alive. He missed her when they were apart and felt excited at the thought of seeing her. And he knew that he'd give her the world if she would only ask. But in love? Those were scary words. But now, this night, sitting alone looking out into the dark, terrified that he'd never again be able to look into her eyes, he realized that he'd been in love with her all along. Before now, to actually allow himself to think that he was in love with her… It had been a terrifying thought. Although at this moment he really wasn't entirely sure what he'd been so scared of.

He focused on that thought for a moment. When he'd asked Lois out while they had been investigating their first story, he hadn't thought much about it. It had been… kind of an impulse decision. He hadn't repeated the invitation immediately afterwards because of the fight which had resulted on that occasion. But why hadn't he asked her out since? Why was he so scared to let her know that he'd like to see what else might be possible between them? He had always told himself he was afraid he'd lose her friendship if he did. But did he really think she would allow an invitation to supper ruin their friendship or their partnership? No. If he were honest with himself, she wasn't the only one scared of pursuing a relationship. The truth was they were both scared of letting anyone get too close. She, because of her fear of getting her heart broken. He, because of his fear of letting anyone know about Superman.

He gave his head a slight shake. He knew he had nothing to fear from Lois as far as Superman was concerned. She would never betray him or his folks for the sake of a story. She was fiercely loyal where her friends were concerned. His fear was due to something different. He had told himself he had to know if she would love him for himself and not for the powers, but he knew Lois wasn't that shallow. What she loved about Superman was what he stood for — because she stood for the same things. He had always been afraid, not that she would think more of Clark, but that she would think less of Superman. How would she feel about her hero if she found out that he was as fallible as any ordinary man? If he were honest with himself, his fear was that she would quit loving Superman. It was that, more than anything else, that had kept him from actively pursuing Lois Lane as plain old Clark Kent. Having her love only part of him was better than not having her love him at all.

It all seemed so stupid and selfish to him now. He snorted. Leave it to him only to realize his own fears were the real reason he hadn't pursued Lois until he lost… He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. All the time he had been searching the river, he'd been telling himself he was only doing it to prove she wasn't dead, that he was freeing up the MPD so they could concentrate on finding her. It had been the only way to keep his sanity during the search, afraid any second he could discover her bloated, lifeless body. And then when he hadn't found her body, he'd tried to tell himself it was because she was still alive. The problem was that given the power of the current in the West River, her body could easily have been carried into Hobbs Bay, or by now, even the ocean.

The search had easily been the worst thing he'd ever had to do. The stench of the river, even now, seemed to cling to every molecule of his body, rising into the air as if it were the reek of death itself, reminding him of every excruciating minute of that search. He had approached every shape and form with his heart in his throat. On more occasions than he could count, he had reached out to pull something out of the way only to watch his hand tremble. Every shadow had been Lois. He had never before known such terror. It penetrated every fiber of his body, leaving his legs feeling weak, his head in a fog, unable to focus for long on any one thing, and his heart pounding painfully.

His heart still hoped… believed… it believed Lois was alive. His head was the part of his anatomy giving him problems. If she was alive, where was she? Why hadn't she contacted him or yelled for Superman? Hell, he was currently so in tune with her that if she as much as breathed his name, he was certain he would hear it. And yet, there had not been the slightest sign of her — except those that pointed towards her being dead.

He had finally found someone special. Someone able to accept those aspects of his life which had always made him different. Someone who was his equal. Someone with whom he could laugh, fight and maybe, just maybe, have a future. Someone who he could love with his whole heart. Someone he just knew would be able to understand and support him. Someone who caused every nerve ending in his body to come to life just by entering a room. Yet before he had even acted on his feelings, it was entirely possible she'd been taken from him. It felt as if someone had torn a gigantic hole in the center of his chest, leaving only a vacuum where his heart had once been.

He would keep searching. He would search for the rest of his life if he had to. But… what if she were dead? Dead. His heart sank. What if Lois were dead? He'd never even bothered telling her how incredible he thought she was, how just one sight of her in the morning, one whiff of her perfume, even just the sound of her heartbeat made him feel alive in a way he never had before. What if she were gone and all he was left with was regrets, regrets of things he'd never said, things they'd never done together — would never do together? A tear trickled down his cheek to fall unheeded to the ground.

She made him feel alive. She was like a force of nature, transforming the world around her by the sheer power of her will. It was as if he had been born the moment she'd stormed into Perry's office only a few months before. Everything before that was a reflection, a poor imitation of living. If she were dead, everything he would do from now on would be done in the shadow of a moment when he'd stood in the light of her sun.

He was being melodramatic. He knew that. But that didn't stop the deep ache in his soul. It was almost a physical pain, a crushing sensation in his chest. He had to do something. But what?

What would Lois do if their situations were reversed? Not that that was a terribly good example. After all, she didn't feel for him the things he felt for her. Still, if she were in his situation, if she had lost someone she loved with her whole heart… What would Lois do? Clark raised his head and set his chin in determination when he knew what Lois would want him to do now, what she'd kill him for not doing. She'd want him to pursue the story, find the people who had done this to her and bring them to justice. Well, that was exactly what he would do. He couldn't let the bastards get away with whatever they had done to Lois. He'd find them. He'd bring them to justice. And he would find Lois. And together they would write the story — and no one… no one would get there first.

***

SUNDAY

The early morning sunlight was streaming in the window as Lex Luthor settled into his chair at the large mahogany dining table and picked up the napkin, placing it carefully on his lap. In front of him was his breakfast — two eggs, sunny side up, perfectly crisp bacon, fresh strawberries, flown into Metropolis that very morning specifically for his breakfast, and a freshly baked croissant. Beside his breakfast sat a cup of coffee — his own special blend, made with beans which had just been ground that morning.

Nigel entered the room and placed a couple dozen newspapers on the table next to Luthor.

"Thank you, Nigel," Luthor responded before reaching over to rifle through the pile until he found the one he was looking for — The Daily Planet. Nigel had always been very careful to provide his boss the papers in the order he read them. But things had recently changed for the billionaire.

Prior to last week, he'd always started out his morning by looking at The Wall Street Journal. But once he'd realized that he was in love with Lois Lane, his reading patterns had changed. Now the first paper he was reading every morning was the Daily Planet. He was going to need to mention that to Nigel.

Luthor looked up when he heard someone else enter the room — a curvaceous blonde who was slipping into her coat.

"Are you sure you won't join me for breakfast, my dear?" asked Luthor, more out of politeness than any real desire to spend more time with the woman — at least for the time being.

"I can't, pookie," said the woman in a very flirtatious, almost baby voice as she came over and gave him a kiss. "I've got to go home to feed my puppy. He'll be wondering where mommy's been all night."

"Of course," responded Luthor with a smile.

"Besides, you've got all these nasty papers to read." She ran her finger over the top of the pile in such a way as to leave the average man panting for air. Even Luthor, who was hardly the average man when it came to sexual experience, was not totally immune.

"At least have one of these," Luthor said, holding up a strawberry for her. She leaned over, revealing a generous amount of cleavage. Taking the strawberry halfway into her mouth, she took a bite. Her tongue instantly darted out to lap up a small amount of the juice which had escaped her mouth. She closed her eyes, chewed slowly and then moaned softly as she swallowed. A small smile stole onto Luthor's face as he appreciated the show which she was putting on for his pleasure.

When she opened her eyes, she smiled at him, obviously seeing something in his expression that told her she'd received the reaction she was wanting. Reaching out, she playfully tapped his nose.

"Call me, pookie," she said before heading for the door.

He turned to watch as she made her way out of the room. He smiled. He always appreciated the nights he spent with Mindy Ramshaw. He wasn't fooled, of course, by her flirtatious act. She had obviously learned quite well that her best asset was her looks and she knew how to use those looks to her full advantage. And the fact that she was… talented when the lights went out only served to further her powers. Luthor briefly wondered if, like Cleopatra of old, she'd realized her greatest advantage was her ability in the bedroom and had thus learned her trade at the feet of a professional. One night with the woman would make any man believe that was a very real possibility.

What he was certain of, however, was that Mindy Ramshaw was hungry for power. That meant his time with her was limited. After all, once she realized that he had no intention of sharing his power with her, she'd be off to seek out another sucker. He had to take advantage of all her assets while he could.

It never even crossed his mind to wonder about the ethics in bedding one woman while in love with another. Such concerns were for those of the middle class. People of Luthor's station in life were above such considerations.

As he popped the remainder of the fresh strawberry in his mouth, he glanced down at the paper he'd withdrawn earlier. When he noticed Lois' picture on the front, his earlier thoughts about Mindy were wiped instantly from his mind. Under the picture was the headline: 'Daily Planet Reporter Missing.'

"Nigel!" Luthor yelled.

"Sir?" asked Nigel, quickly appearing from nowhere.

"Get the car!"

***

Clark collapsed into a chair in Henderson's office. It had been a long night. He'd only slept for about forty-five minutes — and that while sitting beside the door to the honeymoon suite. Although he didn't need much sleep, he did need some. And considering that the lack of sleep was also accompanied by the highest levels of stress and grief he had ever experienced, he felt as if he had been run over by a bus.

When he'd been unable to sleep, he'd wandered around the hotel, showing Lois' picture to the night staff to find out if they had seen or heard anything unusual. He'd only been able to find one man, a bellboy, who could remember seeing Lois the previous night. The man had apparently helped her check in and had then seen her heading out for a jog sometime after one a.m. When asked why he thought she was going jogging, the bellboy informed Clark that she was in a sweat suit and a wool cap — the same outfit a witness had said the person who had fallen into the river was wearing. One thing the bellboy was clear about, however, was that Lois had left the hotel alone and under her own power. Clark supposed that was a good thing.

The information had momentarily infused Clark with new resolve — and had sent him out to scour the riverbank once again, looking for any signs that might indicate that Lois had climbed out of the river. It had been a fool's errand, however. There was nothing he hadn't seen earlier.

He had taken a few quick flybys of Lois' apartment during the course of the night. But all he'd been able to see when he'd x- rayed the roof was Jimmy sound asleep on Lois' couch. And he'd flown by his own place several times on the off chance that she'd gone there. Every time, as he approached either place, he found his heart was in his throat, only to plunge into his stomach when there was no sign of Lois. Still, he couldn't seem to stop himself from continuing to check.

"How you holding up?" asked Henderson, walking into his office with two cups of coffee and handing one to Clark.

"I'm fine. I'm just wondering if you've found anything new about Lois."

Henderson gestured to the mug, silently encouraging Clark to take a sip. Clark complied. Henderson then pulled a small brown paper bag from inside his desk and handed it to Clark.

"What's this?" asked Clark.

Henderson gestured for Clark to open the bag. Clark did and found a donut inside. He looked up at Henderson in confusion.

"If you want answers from me, you'll eat the donut."

"You found Lois?" Clark asked, springing forward in his chair.

"No," Henderson responded immediately. "But if we're going to find her, you're going to have to keep your strength up. You look like death warmed over at the moment. So you eat. I'll talk."

Clark stared absently at Henderson for a moment before glancing back at the small bag.

"Eat," said Henderson.

When Clark realized that Henderson was waiting for Clark to take a bite before he was prepared to talk, he immediately complied.

"Well, we checked the fingerprints we found on Lane's keyboard with those we found on the railing. And it's a match. I think we can safely say that it is Lois we're looking for."

Clark closed his eyes. This information was nothing new. He already knew it was Lois. But every single piece of confirmation still felt like another knife being plunged into his stomach.

"So what did you find out last night?" Henderson asked.

After Clark filled him in, the two men were silent for a moment. Finally, Clark let out a breath.

"It's just so frustrating. Everything we've found tells us the victim is Lois. But that doesn't tell us where she is or who did this to her. It doesn't get us any closer to finding her," said Clark.

"Unless Lois suddenly walks through those doors, it's going to take time."

"Don't talk to me about time, Bill. I'm not an idiot. I've worked missing persons cases before and I know the first forty-eight hours are critical. And if Lois was shot…" Clark's voice suddenly trailed off, unwilling to complete his final thought.

"Tell me something, Clark."

Clark met the inspector's eyes.

"What's your relationship with Lois?"

"We're partners."

"And…?"

"And… friends."

"And…?"

"I don't know what you're getting at, Bill. And furthermore, I don't know the relevance. We should be looking for Lois, not talking about my relationship with her."

"Knowing about your relationship could be critical to finding her."

"I don't see…"

"For example, would she contact you? Should we put someone at your apartment in case she tries to call…"

His voice trailed off when a light came on in Clark's eyes. He watched as Clark grabbed the phone, snatching it from the cradle, and punched in a number. Clark listened for a moment and then punched in a few more numbers and listened again. And as suddenly as the light had lit up Clark's eyes, it went out.

"What?" asked Henderson when, without saying a word, Clark hung up the phone.

"I just realized you might be right. Lois might have tried to contact me. So I checked my answering machine."

"I take it there were no messages."

Clark gave a sad half-smile. "Just one from my folks."

"Sorry. So I take it you think she might have tried to contact you. Does that mean that you two were involved?"

Clark let out a breath. "I told you, Lois and I were partners and frien…" His thought was cut off by a jagged breath when he suddenly realized what he'd done. It seemed Henderson noticed, too, because he cut in immediately.

"Look, Clark, don't beat yourself up for referring to Lois in the past tense. Under the circumstances…"

"She's not dead, Bill," Clark instantly responded. "It was just a slip of the tongue. And I'm not beating myself up. We're going to find her. She is…" He emphasized the word. "…a tough, resourceful woman. If anyone can survive this, it's Lois. And if it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to find her," Clark said, not entirely sure who he was trying to convince.

"Well, to that end, we do have a lead. I have some pictures I want you to…"

"Henderson."

A man's voice saying Henderson's name drew the attention of both him and Clark towards a man standing in the doorway.

"Mr. Luthor?" asked Henderson, rising to his feet. "What can I do for you?"

"They tell me that you're the one looking into Lois Lane's disappearance."

"I am," said Henderson.

Clark slowly rose to his feet, remaining in the background as his mind began to work overtime. His first thought was to question why Luthor was there. His second was to wonder how Luthor knew Lois was missing. It took a moment for him to remember that Perry was putting a story saying that Lois was missing on the front page of the Daily Planet.

"So what are you doing to find her?" asked Luthor.

"This is a police investigation. I'm not at liberty to give out that information. But trust me when I tell you we're doing everything that can be done."

"If you can't give out that information, what's Kent doing here?" Without waiting for a reply, Luthor continued. "So, Inspector, can you tell me when you'll be bringing Lois home?"

"We haven't…"

"That's what I thought. You've got nothing! All the powers of the Metropolis Police Department behind you and you've got nothing! I'll have you know that I do not find that acceptable. And if you don't find her within the next twenty-four hours, I promise you, Inspector, I will have your badge."

"Now wait a minute…" began Henderson, but he was cut off by Clark speaking for the first time since Luthor had entered the room.

"I've been working with Henderson on this since yesterday afternoon," said Clark. "And I can confirm that he's doing everything that can be done."

"Well now, that's a comfort," Luthor responded sarcastically, glaring at Clark. "And you've been a reporter… how long now, Kent? Two months? Three months? So hearing from you that everything that can be done is being done, well now, that's a great comfort."

"And what business is it of yours, anyway?" asked Clark, moving closer to Luthor.

"Lois and I are… involved."

"Involved," Clark scoffed, although he secretly couldn't help but wonder exactly how involved Lois and Luthor were. "She sometimes 'tolerates' your company. Other than that, I'm her partner. I'm her friend. I'm the one she comes to when she needs help."

"So did she come to you when she needed help this time?" asked Luthor.

Clark felt as if he'd been slapped. "Did she come to you?" he shot back, clenching and unclenching his fists.

Luthor turned towards Henderson slightly. "Mr. Kent here is under the delusion that a woman as remarkable as Lois could see him as something other than an errand boy."

The tension, the fear, the lack of sleep and the mere two bites of donut and single sip of coffee, not to mention spending half the night scouring the West River for Lois' body finally caught up to Clark and he felt something snap inside him. "And by the way, Luthor, how do we know that you aren't responsible for Lois' disappearance?"

"What?" asked Luthor.

"What?" gasped Henderson, looking more stunned than Luthor by the accusation.

"Yeah," said Clark, moving even closer to Luthor as the idea began to take hold. "We have reason to believe that Lois was looking into something to do with the upcoming Congressional Inquiry into organized crime. Maybe she got a little too close. Maybe she was about to blow your cover and expose you for the criminal scumbag you are."

"You're delusional, Kent. I'm one of the most respected businessmen on the eastern seaboard — not to mention the country, maybe even the world. I won't be talked down to by a wannabe who is as delusional as that kid who sometimes does work for Lois… Joey or somebody… if you think Lois Lane would ever consider a nobody like you…"

Luthor never managed to finish the insult because his voice was cut off by Clark's fist plowing into his face. Luthor stumbled back, lost his footing and fell to the floor.

"Hey!" yelled Henderson, jumping forward to grab Clark, holding him back before he could do any further damage.

Police officers, seeing the kerfuffle, rushed to the doorway.

"I want him arrested and charged with assault," growled Luthor, rising from his undignified position on the floor of Henderson's office, one hand over his eye.

"Listen," said Henderson, using his 'let's all calm down' voice, "I know tempers are running a little hot here, given the circumstances, but…"

"That man assaulted me," said Luthor, refusing to be calmed by Henderson's words. "I'm in a police station. How many officers saw it? I want him arrested and charged with assault."

"Mr. Luthor…" Henderson began again.

"If he isn't arrested immediately, I'll file a complaint with your Chief of Police."

Henderson let out a breath, turning to Clark. "You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will…" As he continued to read Clark his rights, Luthor turned towards the door.

"Find Lois Lane!" Luthor demanded before disappearing through the doors that led to the main part of the station.

***

Nigel, halfway up the stairs to the police station, stared at Luthor coming towards him.

"What happened to your eye?" asked Nigel.

"It's not important. I have an idea about who might be behind Lois' disappearance."

"Sir?"

"You know how we've been concerned about how amiable Church Jr. has been with the congressmen in town for the inquiry."

"You've been worried that he might be trying to direct the inquiry away from Intergang's activities by sending them in your direction. Especially given how peculiar it is for Intergang to come to Metropolis — given your control of the city. I've been working on that, sir. But what…"

"Kent was at the station. He made a comment which leads me to believe that Lois was covering the inquiry. And since I know I didn't order her killed…"

"You're thinking Junior might have."

"Get me everything you can on Bill Church Jr.'s activities since he arrived in Metropolis."

"Certainly, sir."

Luthor nodded slowly, looking off into the distance. "I want to know if Lois stumbled onto something Church had going on."

"I'll get right on it, sir."

Luthor nodded before accompanying Nigel down the steps to the police station. Luthor was just about to crawl into the limo when a voice calling his name stopped him. He turned around to see Henderson coming out of the station.

"Mr. Luthor," Henderson said as he arrived at the bottom of the steps.

"What is it, Inspector?"

"I'm hoping to convince you to reconsider your request to have Kent charged with assault."

"Kent is a danger to…"

"He's also doing everything in his power to find Lois," interrupted Henderson. "And so far, he has been very helpful in this investigation."

"If the Metropolis Police Department can't handle…"

"What do you think Ms. Lane will think if she comes back to find out that you had her partner arrested while he was trying to help find her?" Henderson asked.

Luthor was silent as he thought about that. Henderson was right. Although he'd prefer to keep Kent out of this investigation, he didn't want to have to explain to Lois why he'd had Kent arrested at a time like this. "Let him go," he said, not happy but not seeing an alternative.

Without another word, Luthor turned and climbed into his limo. Keeping Kent in jail wasn't the way to keep Kent out of this investigation.

On the other hand, Luthor had no intention of letting Kent find Lois. He needed to be the one to find her, to be her hero. He had no doubt that he could. After all, his finances weren't the only thing he had at his disposal to accomplish this task. His connections in the underworld were unparalleled. If anyone could find her, it was he.

But before doing that… He let out a slow breath as the car pulled away from the curb. He still needed someone inside the Daily Planet — just in case Kent got lucky. He suddenly had an inspiration about how he might be able to achieve that.

"Where to, sir?" asked the chauffeur.

"The Daily Planet."

***

Grey Eyes climbed into the passenger's seat and waited until Muscle Head pulled away from the curb before taking a look at the story on the front page of the Daily Planet.

"So what's the story say, boss? Do they know what happened to Lane?"

The older man was silent as he read the story, ignoring the question. Once he'd finished the story about Lane's disappearance, he continued looking through the Sunday edition. He stopped on page thirty-three when he saw a story called 'Shots Fired On Water Street' by Ralph Summers. He quickly read through that story as well before allowing himself to smile.

"It seems they haven't made the connection between the events on Water Street and Lane's disappearance," he finally said. "They don't know whether she's alive or dead — or just off working on a story."

"So things are lookin' good?"

Grey Eyes nodded. "And the body of the hooker?"

"Taken care of. And I did what you said and went back to the suite and cleaned up the blood."

"Good."

The car pulled to a stop in front of a run down apartment building.

"Remember that we have a meeting with our contact this afternoon," said Grey Eyes. "Pick me up at three."

"Will do."

Muscle Head waited until the older man got out of the car and headed towards the building before reaching into his shirt pocket and removing Lois Lane's press pass. Smiling, he hung the press pass from the rearview mirror before pulling away from the curb.

***

Clark sank down onto the side of the hard cot and buried his head in his hands. He couldn't believe he'd hit Luthor. What was wrong with him anyway? Not that Luthor hadn't deserved it, but Clark knew that he couldn't afford to lose control… ever. The only thing to be grateful for was that he had not used his superstrength or he could have hit Luthor clear into next Thursday.

He had no idea what had caused him to hold back on the use of his superpowers. He was only grateful that he had. He could be sitting here right now contemplating a murder charge — not to mention the thought of having to live with taking a human life — even if the man in question was Luthor.

He was supposed to be looking for Lois and yet there he was, in a small cell, contemplating how dangerous it was for someone with his powers to have attacked another human being — even if that human being was the most evil and manipulative person Clark had ever known.

A noise caused him to look up. He rose to his feet when he saw Henderson approaching his cell. He was silent as Henderson unlocked the cell door.

"What's going on?" Clark asked.

"Luthor decided to drop the charges."

"I don't want any favors from Luthor," said Clark, sitting back down on the edge of his cot and looking defiantly at Henderson.

Henderson let out a breath. "Would you just get out here?"

"I hit him. I deserve to be charged with assault. And the last thing I want is to be indebted in any way to that man."

"So do I take it you don't like him?"

Clark's eyebrows shot up. He thought he'd already made his feelings about Luthor fairly obvious.

"Dumb question," said Henderson. "Still… he might be an arrogant prig, but he is concerned about Lois… just like you are."

"The only person Luthor cares about is Luthor. If he wants to find Lois, it's because he thinks there's something in it for him."

Henderson leaned against the door. "You really don't like him, do you? Care to tell me why?"

"Because Luthor is no better than a common criminal. The great humanitarian act of his is just that — an act."

"And what were you talking about when you accused Luthor of being responsible for Lois' disappearance? Or was that just hyperbole? Maybe you just don't like the fact that he's dating Lois." When Clark glared at Henderson, the inspector continued. "I've seen the society pages. I've seen him and Lane together on those pages. So is that what this feud is all about? A couple of adolescents having a pissing contest to see which one can impress the girl?"

When Clark just glared at him, Henderson continued. "I need to know what's going on between you two, Clark. After all, if you're not just blowing smoke and Luthor is behind Lois' disappearance, this could be an angle worth pursuing. But if this is just some vendetta between the two of you, then we could waste a lot of time following a dead lead."

"So you're suggesting we investigate him?" asked Clark, rising to his feet.

"No. I'm asking you if we need to."

Clark let out a breath, making his way to where Henderson was standing. "To tell the truth, Bill, I really don't know. I've got reason to believe that Luthor's dirty. But is he behind Lois' disappearance? I don't have any reason to suspect he is. Not that I think he'd hesitate for a moment to kill her if he thought she was a threat to him."

Henderson nodded slowly as he considered that information. "Okay, then let's just follow the evidence that we have at the moment and see where it takes us. If it looks as if it's leading us towards Luthor, then we'll follow it there. If not…" Henderson began walking away, leaving the cell door open behind him, obviously expecting Clark to follow. When he didn't, Henderson turned back around and looked questioningly at Clark.

"I told you. I don't want any favors from Luthor."

Henderson let out a frustrated breath, walking back to the cage. "Let me put it this way. Lois Lane is missing. Now you can sit there and be all noble and make me waste a lot of time doing paperwork or you can get out of here and we can start working our butts off to find Lois. Which one is it going to be?"

Clark struggled for a moment with the dilemma before the defiance left his expression and he meekly followed the inspector back to his office.

***

As Henderson watched Clark get settled in a chair in his office, he found himself marveling that the same technique he'd used to get Luthor to drop the charges against Kent had worked to get Kent to accept Luthor's charity. Unless he very much missed his guess, both men, in very different ways, granted, were in love with Lois Lane. He wondered if she had known that.

Kent and Luthor were such completely different men that, had he not known Lois Lane, he would have found it hard to imagine the woman who could bridge that gap. It was a shame that she was probably dead. He could only hope he was not the one who would eventually have to force either man to face that fact. But the truth was that if Lane were alive, it was likely she would have contacted someone by now — more than a day after the events by the river and given the fact that her face would be staring back at her from every newsstand in the city. Still, since Superman had dragged the river and not found a body, operating procedure dictated they treat this case as a missing persons/assault with a weapon, possibly even an aggravated assault, but not as a homicide — at least for the time being.

"Oh, something I should mention," said Henderson. He waited until Clark looked at him before continuing. "I got a call from a Mayson Drake at the D.A.'s office this morning. By the way she spoke, I got the impression she knows you and Lane."

"I've met her. But she doesn't know Lois."

"Oh. Well, anyway, she said that she wants to be kept up to speed on the investigation — something about owing both you and Lane for your work on the pheromone case. She said you were both very helpful and had it not been for you two, they never would have stopped Miranda in time. Anyway, as a result, she wanted to make sure that everything was done to try to find Lane and that whoever had done this was caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

"That's very nice of her," said Clark distractedly. "You mentioned something before the whole Luthor incident about having pictures for me to… I assume to look at?" he asked instantly changing gears, obviously anxious to redirect their energy to the search for Lois.

"Right! You remember the kid from last night who saw a couple of men looking into the river?"

Clark leaned forward in his chair. "Yeah?" There was definite hope in his voice.

"Well, we had him look at hundreds of mug shots and got nowhere. But…" Henderson reached into his desk and pulled out a couple of drawings. "These are what he came up with when working with our sketch artist. I was wondering if you recognized either of these men."

Clark took the pictures and studied them carefully before shaking his head.

"You're sure? Could either of them be someone you and Lois were investigating? Or maybe had investigated?"

"I'm sorry, Bill. But… well, if I can take a copy of them, I'll see if anyone at the newsroom recognizes them. If they were investigated in the past by Lois, Perry might know who they are."

Henderson nodded his head.

"Anything else you can tell me?" asked Clark.

"Not much. We've still got a couple of irons in the fire, but… Well, it isn't looking really good at the moment."

"For example?"

"For example, we're running the bullet we found through ballistics to see if we can match it to any other shooting incidents. But we don't expect the results back until later today."

"Well, since Lois was taking pictures of the suite across from the Lexor, is there any way you can get into that suite to examine it?"

"Uh… well, we now know that the suite isn't being rented. So I'm planning to talk to Bill Church Jr. since he owns the building. Hopefully he will give us permission to search the suite."

"Would you mind if I go with you?"

Henderson studied Clark for a long moment before responding. "It's not standard procedure to involve civilians in our investigations. I've been giving you more information than I normally would because you're Lane's partner, but…"

"Please, Bill. I'm prepared not to print a word of this investigation until you say it's okay, but I have to be involved."

Henderson narrowed his eyes. "Can I be sure that you won't lose your temper the way you did with Luthor?"

Clark let out a breath. "I promise. I'll be on my best behavior."

Henderson rose from behind his desk, picking up his jacket and slipping it on. "So…? Are you coming?"

***

Luthor scowled as he read a copy of the police report about the shooting on Water Street — at least a copy of those sections not currently in Henderson's possession. Nigel had obtained it for him while Luthor had been in talking to Henderson. He only looked up when his limo came to a stop in front of the Daily Planet. He took a moment to compose himself, ensuring that he emanated the appropriate amount of worry and concern. He stopped when he realized that this was one time when no act was necessary. He was sincerely worried about Lois — terrified in fact. And that fear had only increased by reading the police file.

He took a deep breath, realizing almost instantly that this fear did have its disadvantages. Although it certainly allowed him to approach this situation without acting, it also made it difficult to think clearly enough to ensure that he benefitted the most when Lois was eventually found. And she would be found! If it cost him a fortune, she would be found. He would find her. And then he'd find a way to ensure that she didn't take such risks in the future — even if he had to destroy the Daily Planet to do it.

Still, before he concentrated on that, it was time for him to pay an obligatory trip to console the 'grieving father' — Perry White. Luthor was certain when Lois was found, White would be the best person to tell her how worried Luthor had been. And he needed to find a way to get a source in the Daily Planet to report back on Kent's investigation.

He waited until the door to the limo was opened by his chauffeur before exiting the vehicle and entering the Daily Planet.

***

Clark glanced around his environment as he and Henderson stood in the entranceway to the luxurious penthouse suite on the top floor of the apartment building next to the Lexor. He hadn't seen a penthouse as opulent except perhaps on those few occasions when he'd been inside Luthor's suite. All around were paintings and other works of art which, even to Clark's untrained eyes, appeared to be originals — and, without a doubt, very expensive. He wondered if Church was a true connoisseur or simply liked to be surrounded by the best that money could buy.

"Mr. Church," Henderson said when Bill Church Jr. entered the room. "I'm Inspector Bill Henderson. And this is Clark Kent. He's…"

"A reporter for the Daily Planet," Junior cut in, offering his hand to both men. "I normally don't talk to the press. We have a press spokesman for that."

As Clark shook Bill Church's hand, he found himself thinking that the man reminded him of Luthor — very rich, very well-spoken, very well-dressed, even very good looking. As a result, he couldn't tell if the reason he distrusted the man was because he was hiding something or if his dislike for Luthor was affecting his judgement.

"Mr. Kent has a personal interest here," Henderson said, explaining Clark's presence. "And he's assisting me in an investigation."

"Uhh… an investigation?" said Church. He gestured Clark and Henderson into a sitting area. "I'm always happy to do whatever I can to help our boys in blue. So what's this investigation about?"

"A missing person," Henderson responded.

Church gestured them to chairs, keeping his eye on Clark. "I assume, since Mr. Kent is here, that it's about the disappearance of Ms. Lane. I read about it in the Daily Planet this morning. Although I'm not sure how I can be of assistance."

Clark met Church's eyes, trying to see if Church showed any discomfort. After all, the picture Lois had taken from her hotel room had Church in it. But Church's eyes gave nothing away and his heart rate remained slow and steady.

"Could you tell us where you were last night?" asked Henderson.

Clark noted that Church's eyes immediately left his and met Henderson's. To Clark, he looked genuinely shocked.

"Am I a suspect?" asked Church.

"Not at all. But I imagine you are aware of gunshots fired down on the street last night. And knowing where you were could be helpful in determining what you might know."

"Is the shooting incident connected to Ms. Lane's disappearance?"

"That's what we're trying to determine."

Clark silently studied his fingernails, wondering if his coming had been the wisest decision. After all, so far they had kept the shooting and Lois' disappearance separate in the public's mind. His attendance with Henderson had managed to connect the two.

"I assure you, Inspector," Church said, "I know nothing about either the shooting or Ms. Lane's disappearance."

"Not consciously, no. But you might have heard or seen something that wouldn't mean anything to you — but might turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in finding Ms. Lane."

Church looked at both Clark and Henderson, seemingly trying to decide if Henderson was on the level, before responding. "I was at a function with some friends. Then I came back here."

"Where was this… function?"

"In one of the suites in this building."

"And which suite was this?"

"Suite 1110. I haven't rented it out — I've found that it's useful having a place I can use for casual get-togethers."

"Did you at any point leave the building?"

"No."

"What about seeing someone you didn't know in the building?"

Church seemed to consider this question before shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Inspector."

"So who were these friends you were meeting?"

"I recently rented a number of the suites in the building to the congressmen and their aides who are in the city for the upcoming Congressional Inquiry. I threw a little shindig, welcoming them to the building. It was a low-key affair."

"And what time did it end?"

"I left at about midnight."

"And then?"

"I came back here and went to sleep."

As Henderson jotted down some comments in his notebook, Clark found himself fighting back the urge to jump in. Having worked with Lois for the last few months, Clark wasn't used to having a partner ask such lowball questions. He wanted Henderson to put some pressure on Church. Still, working with Lois had taught him something else — and that was to keep his mouth shut and trust his partner.

"So who else was at this party?"

"A few congressmen and others. And, of course, some beautiful women. But then, what's a party without beautiful women?"

"Beautiful women?" asked Henderson, looking up from his notes.

"Powerful men always attract beautiful women, Inspector."

Clark's eyebrows went up. Nothing Church had said so far was an obvious lie. But from the pictures Lois had taken, he suspected those particular women were… professionals. Still, he held his peace.

"Of course," Henderson responded. "So what were the congressmen's names?"

"Why do you need to know that?" asked Church suspiciously.

Henderson looked up from his notebook. "Oh, I'm just trying to be as thorough as possible. If you don't ask the question and something comes up later, the chief yells." He shrugged. "So what were their names?"

Church narrowed his eyes as if not entirely convinced by Henderson's casual attitude. Still, he proceeded to provide Henderson with the names of a number of congressmen and congressional aides — people whose presence was confirmed by the photos Lois had taken. Once again, Clark was impressed by what appeared to be Church's honesty.

"Okay, well, thanks for your time, Mr. Church," Henderson said, rising to his feet.

Clark felt shocked. He still had a lot of questions. So why was Henderson apparently throwing in the towel? Didn't he realize what was at stake? Still, he bit his tongue as Church accompanied them back to the door — reminding himself that Henderson was a seasoned investigator and must have his reasons for cutting the interview short.

"Sorry I couldn't be of more help, Inspector," said Church as they arrived at the door to the suite. "Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help. I've read and enjoyed Ms. Lane's stories for years. It would be a tragedy if anything happened to her."

Henderson gave a nod, shaking Church's hand once again before turning towards the door. Then, just as suddenly, he turned back around. "Oh, there is one more thing that you might be able to help with."

"Name it," said Church.

"We'd like to take a look around Suite 1110. We have reason to believe there might be some evidence there that will help us locate Ms. Lane."

Clark had to stifle a grin as Church visibly flinched. Henderson was good. Ask the necessary questions gently, don't raise Church's suspicions and put him so at ease that he would volunteer to do whatever else was necessary to assist in the investigation; then get to the real reason they had come to see Church.

"I'm afraid that would be… awkward," said Church, schooling his features back into order. But the damage had been done. Church was hiding something. Clark was certain Henderson was aware of it as well.

"I don't understand," said Henderson, pressing the issue. "You just told me that the suite in question is currently empty. And if it might help us find Ms. Lane…"

"As I said, there were a lot of very powerful men at our affair last night. And they all like to keep what they do with their down time private. I have to deal with these men on a regular basis. As a result, I'd feel uncomfortable giving you permission to search the room. Would you mind terribly getting a search warrant? It would certainly make my position so much easier."

Henderson gave him a tight grin before turning and making his way to the door.

"Well, thanks for your time, Mr. Church," said Henderson.

Clark looked at Henderson. His tone of voice made it clear that he wasn't happy with this latest development. However, he didn't say anything until both he and Henderson were safely in the elevator on the way back to the street.

"What's wrong, Bill?"

"He's hiding something."

"Yeah, I know. But does it have anything to do with Lois?"

"I have no idea. But there is something he doesn't want us to know — and I'd swear it has something to do with Suite 1110."

"So we just get a search warrant — like he suggested."

Henderson turned and looked at Clark. "We don't have enough to get a warrant — and I'd venture a guess that Church knows it. I had hoped to corner him into giving us consent to conduct a search. And for a moment there, I really thought we had him."

Clark's heart slammed into his stomach. "So what do we do now?"

Henderson took a moment to respond. "I'm going to speak to the congressmen in those pictures Lane took. Why don't you take those sketches back to the Planet? See if anyone there recognizes them."

***

Superman looked both ways, making sure no one was looking, before floating up to the floor Suite 1110 was on. The police might not be able to get a warrant to search the room, but that didn't prevent him from being able to just take a casual look inside. If there was evidence that would lead to Lois, he had to know.

Taking a deep breath, hoping for the best — like maybe a note saying where Lois was — he x-rayed through the wall. His heart was in his throat when he spotted the remnants of a stain on a couch, a stain that might be blood. He took a closer look, noticing that the blood — if that was what it was — had also soaked into the carpet near the couch. To the casual observer, the stain wouldn't be all that obvious. But Clark was hardly the typical observer — nor were police forensics experts. His breathing deepened. Could that be Lois' blood? Maybe. But there was no way to know without having the police do forensics tests. And since the police couldn't get into the room…

It seemed obvious to Clark that someone had already tried to clean up the mess, but from what Clark knew about blood, it was nearly impossible to remove all blood from material — at least to the extent necessary to keep the police from being able to find it with the appropriate equipment.

He x-rayed the wall, seeing a bullet lodged into the doorframe to the washroom. He let out a breath of frustration. Once again he needed police forensics to know if the bullet buried there was a match to the bullet they had found in the post on Water Street.

There had to be a way to get the police in there, if only he could think of it. The only advantage he had over… whoever had made the mess in that room was that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for him or her to get rid of all the evidence. Still, they had to get a search warrant as soon as possible. But how? Frustrated, he flew off towards the Daily Planet.

***

Church clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he considered what he'd learned during the course of Henderson and Kent's visit. It might be advisable for him to take a look at Suite 1110. After all, if one of the congressmen stumbled into some trouble and there was some evidence of it in the suite, he was certain they would be very, very grateful if he made it disappear before the cops found a way to search the suite. From the sound of things, he suspected they didn't have the evidence they needed to get a search warrant. But that didn't mean they wouldn't have such information in the future. It would be best if he attended to this immediately.

***

The moment the elevator doors slid open, Clark realized things at the Daily Planet were anything but normal. He stepped off the elevator and stood at the railing at the top of the bullpen. People he'd never seen before were everywhere. Phones ringing. People talking. Never had the newsroom been as crowded or as noisy — not even when it had been used as a back-drop for a photo shoot the previous week.

"Kent!"

Perry's familiar bellow directed Clark's attention to his boss. Perry made a gesturing motion with his hand, snapping Clark out of his stupor and sending him in the direction of Perry's office.

"What's going on, chief?" Clark asked as he followed Perry into the office.

Perry closed the door, causing the din of the newsroom to fade into the background. "This is what we get for putting a story in the Planet telling Metropolis that Superman would be grateful for information regarding Lois' disappearance."

Clark turned and made his way over to the window looking into the normally only moderately busy newsroom. "Where did all the phones and extra people come from?" he asked. After all, the number of phones being used told him that extra lines had somehow been hooked up in the newsroom.

"Lex Luthor came by earlier… Now, Clark, I know how you feel about him. But as the owner of LexTel, he was very helpful. If it hadn't been for Luthor's help, we'd never have been able to get the extra lines or extra telephones in such a short amount of time. He was the moving force in all this — even supplied a number of the people to help answer phones." Perry came over and stood beside Clark as the two watched the activity. "I really think he's worried about Lois."

"Are you sure he's not the one behind Lois' disappearance?"

Perry turned and looked at Clark. "Did you find something?"

Clark let out a breath, not meeting Perry's eyes. "A lot of dead ends." There was a long moment of silence. "Oh, Henderson asked that I have you take a look at these — perhaps even show them to others." Clark reached into his inside suit pocket and withdrew an envelope. Opening it, he handed the two drawings to Perry. "Do you recognize either of these men?"

Perry studied the pictures closely before shaking his head. "Who are they?"

"Those are sketches of the two men our witness saw looking into the West River after the shooting. You're sure you don't recognize them? Maybe they were subjects of some investigation by Lois prior to my arrival at the Planet?"

Again Perry shook his head. "I'll ask around, though. Someone might know who they are."

Clark nodded and looked back at the activity in the newsroom. "Have there been any promising tips?"

Perry shook his head. "I have Jimmy, Eduardo and Cat all working on the tips. Anything that looks remotely promising, they're bringing to me. But so far…" Perry shook his head.

"What Henderson really needs is evidence that something illegal went down in Suite 1110. Unfortunately…"

Perry tilted his head to the side and walked over to his desk. "Does he need evidence that the illegal activity is connected to whatever happened to Lois? Or any illegal activity?"

Realizing Perry was getting at something, Clark turned towards him, waiting for him to continue. He watched as Perry took an envelope from his desk. Walking over, he saw Perry remove the pictures Lois had taken the night of her disappearance.

"I would say those are… working girls," Perry said, pointing to the young women. "I think prostitution is still illegal in this great city of ours."

"Church said they were just women who are attracted to powerful men."

"And you believed him?"

"No, but…"

"It's too bad one of them wasn't prepared to come forward."

Clark's head snapped up.

"What?" asked Perry.

"Would you excuse me, chief. I just might have an idea." Without waiting for Perry to respond, Clark opened the door and headed towards the stairs at something approaching a jog.

***

Bill Church Jr. knocked on the door to Congressman Harrington's suite. It only took a moment for the man himself to appear. Church immediately noted that Harrington, still in his robe, looked as if he had been drinking heavily for quite some time. His eyes were glassy, his stance unsteady and he smelled like a brewery.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Church began, "but there is something sensitive I need to discuss with you. May I come in?"

Harrington gestured Church inside, closing the door behind him.

"I had a visit from the police earlier," Church began. "They were wanting to search Suite 1110."

Harrington looked positively white as he collapsed into a chair.

"Don't worry. I didn't give permission. But it's only a matter of time before they get a search warrant. So I took the liberty of checking out the suite. And I noticed… well, at the risk of being too direct, I found a large blood stain on both the carpet and one of the couches."

Harrington raised his glass to his lips and drained the contents.

"It was apparent that someone tried to clean it up. But that much blood…" Church shook his head. "Anyway, I found out that you were the last person to leave the suite," Church continued, driving home to the congressman the precarious position he was currently in. "But I think I know a way out of this."

Harrington looked up at Church, hope in his eyes for the first time.

"Do you want to know my plan?" asked Church, knowing what Harrington's response would be. He smiled. Harrington would be indebted to him after this. And nothing could be better for Intergang than having the congressman in charge of the Congressional Inquiry into organized crime indebted to a Church.

Once he'd finished giving Harrington the details of his plan, he advised the man to clean himself up. After all, the police would likely want to talk to him at some point — and right now, he was looking guilty as hell. Harrington had informed him that the police had already stopped by. However, when the congressman had looked through the peephole to see the police standing outside, he'd simply pretended not to be home. Still, he had recognized that he had to pull himself together and promised Church that he would do so.

***

Superman majestically floated onto the large balcony outside the most exclusive 'house of ill-repute' in all of Metropolis. His cape billowed behind him, giving him the appearance of a god as his feet landed gently on the balcony. He was satisfied he'd had the desired effect when the two women — one older and one younger — inside the elegant suite stared at him in awe. Normally, Clark avoided such displays. But he suspected Madam Benoit, with her flamboyant style, would appreciate the show. And right now he needed every advantage he had.

This particular 'house of ill-repute' was known for the quality of its girls — well-educated young women from good homes who had learned early that they could make more money by selling their bodies than by working their minds.

Their madam was equally cultured and educated. She was in her late fifties but carried herself with such an air of confidence that she was still regarded as one of the most desirable women in her profession. Of course, these days she was very picky about her own clientele. Her main activities revolved around managing the 'affairs' of her girls.

What made Madam Benoit the most exclusive madam in Metropolis was not only the quality of her girls, but her extraordinary discretion. Never did she give away her clients — not to anyone for any reason. About ten years previously, she'd gone so far as to do a short stint in jail rather than give up her client list. It had solidified her reputation especially among men to whom discretion was important — like politicians. But Superman wasn't exactly anyone. He had an advantage — and if any time was the time to collect, it was now.

"Superman," Madam Benoit said, breezily sweeping open the balcony doors to allow Superman to enter. "So good to see you again. Have you finally decided to take me up on my offer?" She swept up beside the superhero, slipping her arm through his as she led him into the grand sitting room. Although her English and diction were perfect, she retained just the slightest hint of the French accent of her youth, giving her a slightly exotic air.

Clark smiled, ignoring the startled look of the young woman watching the two of them. Right now he had other things on his mind beside his reputation. He was only thankful Madam Benoit remembered her promise. It had been given shortly after Superman had first arrived on the scene. He had stopped an overly-brutal customer from abusing one of Madam Benoit's favorite girls. He'd flown her back to this luxurious apartment only to be embarrassed so badly his face had nearly matched the color of his cape when she'd promised him any girl of his choosing whenever he wanted her — free of charge. He'd been even more embarrassed when, as a result of his reaction, she had guessed at his lack of… experience. Madam Benoit was not someone who missed much. She read people as well as anyone Clark had ever known. Still, once she'd realized he couldn't be tempted by the promise of sexual favors, she'd gone on to tell him that if he ever needed anything from her, he need only to ask.

It had occurred to him to report her business activities to the police. But after a little research, he'd discovered that, although her activities were not exactly… legal, the police and everyone else in power in Metropolis left her alone. Clark considered that maybe he should write a story — exposing her and forcing the police to act. But when he'd thought about it, he'd realized there were so many other crimes, crimes where there were actual victims, that needed his investigative or superheroish skills. Besides, unlike others in her profession, Madam Benoit sincerely cared about her girls — taking great care in screening their customers, providing a wonderful health plan, ensuring her girls were healthy and safe. Did he really want to bring down this particular operation only to have a half a dozen similar businesses scrambling to take its place — businesses which might not take as much care to protect their girls? As a result, he'd never followed up beyond the initial stages of an investigation. But now he was glad he hadn't. If anyone could help him right now, it was the woman holding his arm.

"Actually," said Superman, "I was hoping we could talk alone."

"Certainly. Certainly," Madam Benoit rushed to say, shooing the young woman from the room as if she were a pesky fly.

Clark scuffed at the carpet uncomfortably when he noticed the disappointed expression on the face of the very curvaceous redhead as she left the room.

"Alas, I think you broke her heart," said the older woman.

Clark blushed.

"Ahh… There he is. My charmingly innocent hero."

The color in Clark's cheeks deepened.

"So what can I do for the great man?" Madam Benoit asked, releasing Clark's arm to take a seat on an elegant sofa. She patted the spot beside her.

"I need your help," he said, taking the offered seat.

"My help?" She tilted her head to the side and studied him. "Is it possible that you really are wanting to give one of my girls the thrill of her life?" When he shifted uncomfortably, she laughed. It was a sound like birds singing. "No, I don't suppose that's it. My girls will be so disappointed."

When Clark cleared his throat, she reached out and touched his hand, directing his attention back to her. "I hope you don't take offence to my teasing," she said. "It's only that I find it so charming that one with so much power can remain so innocent. Do you have any idea how different that makes you from other men?"

Clark searched her eyes, wondering if she was serious. The eyes that stared back at him held no ridicule. In fact, she looked genuinely impressed. It wasn't hard to imagine what men found so desirable about this woman. Whether her comment was sincere or not, Clark felt unexpectedly flattered that one in her profession could actually seem impressed by his lack of experience.

"Actually, I'm here for some information."

"Information?" Her voice instantly became guarded.

"I know your reputation. I know information is not something you normally give out, but… well, a friend of mine is missing."

She looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment. "Is it Mademoiselle Lane?"

Clark tried to hide his shocked reaction, but obviously it was too little, too late.

"Ahh… well, that explains a lot."

Clark wasn't entirely sure what it explained, but he wasn't about to ask. Besides, she was continuing to speak.

"I read the article in the Daily Planet this morning. But I assure you, I know nothing about Mademoiselle Lane."

"I know that. And I'm not saying you do, but… well, Lo… Ms. Lane was investigating a story which involved a number of congressmen and… well, we have reason to believe that some of your girls, or someone's girls, might have been around at some point on the evening she disappeared."

"And where was the soiree?"

"Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street. I really need to talk to those women. If one of them saw something or knows something that could help me find Ms. Lane… Or even if they didn't, they might be able to help us get a search warrant into a place where there might be some evidence. Please, could you bend your rules just this once? I'm not interested in causing anyone any trouble. I just have to find her."

"You're in love with her." It was not a question.

"Lois and I are just friends," Clark said, instantly breaking eye contact.

She reached up, placing her fingers under his chin and tilting his head up until he met her eyes. "You're in love with her," she repeated with complete conviction. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."

She was silent for a moment more and although Clark attempted to read her eyes, he could not tell whether she was about to concede to his request or not. But if he could get one of the girls to admit to Henderson that she had been paid for sexual favors in Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street, they would have evidence of a crime and would probably be able to get a search warrant — allowing the police to get a forensics team in there to do the work that Superman couldn't.

"I'll see what I can do," she finally said, rising to her feet.

"Thank you," Clark responded, grateful that his request hadn't been rejected out of hand.

"How should I contact you when I have what you need?"

There was no doubt in her voice that she would get the information he needed, provoking a quick and relieved smile from Clark.

"You can call the Daily Planet. Ask for Clark Kent. He's helping me search for Lois. I assure you he can be trusted. You don't need to leave your name if you don't want to. I'll know where the information came from."

"Very well." She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek before reaching up to brush away the light touch of lipstick she'd left behind. "Mademoiselle Lane is a very lucky woman."

"I told you, we're just…"

"…friends," Madam Benoit completed. "I know."

As Superman again flew away from Madam Benoit's suite, he found himself marveling over the fact that although he opposed everything the older woman stood for, he liked the woman herself. If the women in those pictures with the congressmen were indeed high-priced call girls, Madam Benoit would find out. Of that he was sure — unless, of course, she already knew.

***

Luthor's bulletproof limo came to a stop in a dark alley in Suicide Slum. Nigel's message had been somewhat cryptic, which Luthor considered unusual for his senior aid. He would only say he'd found two individuals who could answer his questions about the disappearance of Lois, but that Luthor had to hear what they knew directly from them.

He waited in silence as Nigel exited the limo and approached two men. One was short and stocky with a full head of greying hair. The other was younger, a punk in a black leather jacket. Luthor waited while Nigel spoke briefly to them before coming to open the car door.

Luthor slid out slowly, keeping his eyes on these potential sources of information.

"I can't believe we're actually getting to meet with you in person," gushed the older of the two, obviously impressed that he was talking to Luthor in person. "I'm Barry Schaefer and this is Mark Donahue."

Luthor gave a polite nod from the shadow which fell across both him and the roof of the car. "I understand you have some information for me."

"Yes. As we told him, we took care of your biggest problem. The chairman of the Congressional Inquiry — Harrington himself. He's not gonna give you any problems."

Luthor glanced over at Nigel. This was one of the projects Luthor currently had Nigel working on — finding a way to control Harrington if the investigation got too close to Luthor's empire. But what did that have to do with… "And how exactly did you manage to do that?" Luthor asked.

"We went to the apartment building on Water Street — you know, the one where all the bigwigs are staying and found out that Church was throwing them a little 'welcome to the neighborhood' party. Anyway, we rented a room in the Lexor and watched, waiting until it was over. Harrington remained after the others left, with his high-priced hooker. So we paid them a little visit. We killed the hooker and buried her body, making sure not to disturb Harrington's DNA. If her body is found, he'll be the number one suspect. There's no way he's going to let that get out. If he gives you any problems, just mention Suite 1110 and he should come around."

Luthor glanced over at Nigel, his heart suddenly in his throat. Was Nigel trying to tell him that the woman who they had thought of as a high-priced hooker was actually Lois? It was possible. After all, Lois had been known to go undercover as a lot of different things over the years. If Luthor recalled correctly, at one point she'd even disguised herself as a man in order to investigate a car theft ring.

"Tell Mr. Luthor how you dealt with the… unexpected complication that came up later that night." Nigel's voice cut through Luthor's thoughts.

"Oh, right. Well, it wasn't a big deal. Some reporter started snooping around, but we took care of her."

Luthor kept his voice even as he asked his next question. "How did you take care of her?"

"We killed her. She fell into the river before we could stop her. But from the sound of things, the police still haven't found her body. I wouldn't be surprised if they never do. And even if they do, they aren't likely to be able to link it back to us. I wouldn't worry about her. She ain't gonna give anyone problems anymore."

"And her name?" asked Luthor. Only years of experience allowed him to keep a tight reign on the fury rising in his chest. He no longer wondered why Nigel had been so cryptic in his message about the information these men had for him. After all, they worked for him — and they had killed Lois. Nigel wasn't about to tell him that. Instead, he'd made sure the two saps who had done the deed confessed to Luthor in person — to ensure that Luthor had someone upon which to vent his anger other than Nigel himself.

"Lois Lane. Worked for the Daily Planet."

"Are you certain she's dead? Is there any way she could have survived?"

"She's dead as a doornail. She was shot twice — once in the chest — before she fell into the water. And we saw her go under and never come up."

"And you're sure it was Lois Lane?"

The younger man made his way over to the old car parked nearby. He returned momentarily, holding out a card with a string around it.

Luthor looked at the card without touching it. Lois' press pass. In Luthor's mind, that was the final bit of confirmation he needed. He nodded slowly and then, with a sudden movement, reached under his jacket, withdrew a pistol and, with two well- placed shots, managed to kill both men before either of them had a chance to react. Then, without saying a word, he turned and climbed back into his limo.

***

Luthor stood in silence, looking out over the darkened city of Metropolis from his penthouse balcony. Dead. Lois Lane was dead. In his mind, he had problems reconciling the vibrant, exciting and sometimes pigheaded woman with a lifeless corpse. The thrill of the hunt. The excitement he'd felt at the thought of taming that wild creature now left him feeling cold, hollow inside.

He had loved Lois Lane. Oh, he had always known, of course, that she was not the right woman for him. She had too many ethics. On the other hand, he suspected that was part of the appeal. He'd looked forward to years of slowly carving away at those ethics. The challenge had been as irresistible as the woman herself. Now all he felt was… numb.

It had been two men, working on his behalf, who had killed Lois Lane. He had so hoped that if she were dead, Church was responsible. A full out war with Intergang would have been a good way to deal with his grief. Much like Helen of Troy, whose face had launched a thousand ships, his Lois would have gone out with a bang. It would have been a fitting ending for the woman he loved. Instead, she'd gone out with a whimper, as yet another victim to his empire.

He felt an unexpected twinge of… something. Was it guilt? No! That was ridiculous. Lex Luthor did not feel guilty — ever!

He straightened his shoulders when he suddenly had an idea about how to deal with his feelings. Perhaps he could find some way to blame this entire incident on Church. The blood bath that would surely ensue would be a fitting tribute to the woman he had loved.

Kent. His mind shifted. Kent knew nothing of this. Luthor found that thought strangely appealing. Kent still thought Lois was alive. Well, Luthor had no intention of dispelling Kent's delusion. Kent could search for Lois for the rest of his life for all Luthor cared. He'd find out the truth eventually, of course. There was no way to prevent that.

On the other hand, there was the chance, however small, that Kent's search for Lois could lead to Luthor himself — given what Luthor now knew. That meant the source he'd planted among all the temp workers at the Daily Planet would still be useful. It was absolutely critical he be kept advised of Kent's every move. Kent might be a two-bit reporter, but he had learned from the best. Besides, in this case, Kent was motivated. And motivation was dangerous — even from a gnat like Kent.

***

It was late by the time Clark returned to the Daily Planet. He'd been unable to prevent himself from once again searching the banks of the West River, looking for something, anything which would lead him to Lois. Maybe she'd torn off a button when she'd climbed out of the river. Maybe he'd find the tell-tail evidence of blood which would lead him to her. Not that his search had yielded anything helpful. In fact, Clark was starting to feel as if searching the river bank was becoming something of an obsession — something he did when he didn't know what else to do.

He leaned his head against the back of the elevator as he waited for the doors to slide open. He couldn't go back to his apartment until he'd at least checked in with Perry — found out if there was any new information. On the other hand, he doubted Perry would still be in the newsroom. After all, it was almost midnight. Of course, the simple act of x-raying the building before coming in would have told him if Perry was inside. But Clark hadn't done that. He'd been slightly afraid that Perry wouldn't be there and that he'd be left with no option but to return to his lonely apartment where there would be nothing to do but to think about Lois, what she might be going through, what he would do if she was…

The 'ding' of the elevator saved him from completing his thought. He let out a breath of relief when he saw Perry through the semi- dark newsroom, sitting at his desk, focused on something in front of him. He could hardly believe what a welcome sight it was seeing Perry. He quickly headed in the direction of the editor's office.

***

"Hi."

Perry jumped slightly, startled by the unexpected sound of Clark's voice. He looked up to see Clark leaning against the doorframe. This was the moment he had been dreading. How did he tell this young man, who had so obviously fallen in love with Lois, had followed her around like a lost puppy since he'd come to work at the Daily Planet, about Henderson's phone call?

"Any news?" asked Clark.

Perry nodded, gesturing Clark to a seat. Clark suddenly looked unsteady on his feet, as if something in Perry's expression had him expecting the worst. Perry was relieved when Clark made his way to a chair under his own steam.

"They found our suspects," Perry began, holding up the sketches Clark had obtained from Henderson.

"That's great news!" Clark exclaimed. Clark's hopeful expression was suddenly much more guarded, as if he abruptly realized there was more to come. "What?" Clark asked.

"Well, there are a number of things. First, they are certain that these men were involved in… Lois' shooting."

"Did they confess?"

"No. But the police found traces of Lois' blood in the car of one of the men. And they found a gun. They ran ballistics and matched it to the bullet found near the blood on Water Street. They also found Lois' press pass."

"So what did the men say when they were questioned? Or are they still being questioned?" Clark rose to his feet. "Maybe the police could use some help questioning…"

"There's more, Clark," Perry said, cutting Clark off. "Sit down," he continued when Clark remained standing, as if on the verge of fleeing.

Reluctantly, Clark again took his seat.

"They're dead," Perry said.

"What?" asked Clark. "Who's dead?"

"The men who shot Lois."

"But… What? How?"

"Gunshots. One each. Both fired with precision accuracy." Perry let out a breath. "Given everything, the police have upgraded the shooting on Water Street to a homicide." He gave that a moment to sink in before continuing. "And because they believe that the perpetrators are dead, they are closing the case. Henderson said to tell you that he's sorry."

"What?" Clark asked, jumping to his feet. "But they might have been holding Lois against her will. They might…"

"They searched the apartments of both men and found nothing. No trace of Lois. Clark, since her body fell into the river, you have to accept that they might never find her."

"No! That can't… Lois can't…" His voice was cut off by an involuntary sob that rose in the back of his throat. Perry was there in an instant, desperate to find a way to comfort the young man.

"No! No!" objected Clark, pushing Perry away from him, rejecting the help Perry wanted to give. "They can't be right. It's not true. I'd know, Perry. I'd know if Lois were dead."

"Son…"

"If these two scumbag are dead, then someone did it. Do they know who? Maybe they have Lois? Maybe… What about the tips that have been coming in all day? Have they all been followed up on? Maybe one of them will tell us… something. Perry, we can't just give up. There's so much more we still don't know."

"No one is giving up, Clark. The police will continue searching for the person or persons responsible for killing Lois' murderers. And we have the temp workers coming in again tomorrow. I promise, we will follow up on every one of the tips that come in, but you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that…"

Clark shook his head violently.

"… she's dead," Perry finished, his voice not much more than a strained whisper.

"I've got to go, Perry," Clark finally said, heading towards the stairway, ignoring Perry calling after him.

Perry watched as Clark pushed open the door to the stairs and disappeared through them at nothing short of a run. Sighing, Perry sank back down behind his desk, his eyes landing on the phone. After a moment, he reached over to pick it up. Punching in a familiar number, he waited until it was answered before speaking.

"Hi, Alice. Did I wake you?" He covered his eyes with his hand and listened to the reassuring voice on the other end of the line as tears fell unheeded, leaving water stains on the document lying on his desk. Lois Lane's obituary. He'd done several drafts now and was only grateful that due to the lateness of the hour, he wouldn't have to finish it before tomorrow afternoon. Never had an article been harder to write. "Why am I calling? I just needed to hear your voice, honey."

***

Clark stood on the rooftop of the Daily Planet, staring off into the distance. Dead. Lois was dead. Henderson believed it. Perry obviously believed it. Everyone believed it. And in spite of his bravado to Perry, Clark himself had to admit that he believed it. All the evidence pointed in that direction. Still, how could she be dead? She'd always been the epitome of what it meant to be alive. So animated. So driven. So full of energy. So… so alive.

His first tear was followed by a second and a third. His throat tightened, making it painful to swallow. He felt so helpless, impotent even, as if someone had drained the life force from his body. The world around him lost its color, becoming a land of shadows. Nothing was real. Nothing mattered. He wanted to lash out, to fight back — but there was nothing to fight. He looked at the heavens.

"Give her back to me!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

When there was no answer, he dropped his head so that his chin was practically resting on his chest. How could whatever forces controlled the universe be silent at a time like this? How could they be indifferent to his plight?

He silently cursed the universe. He cursed the forces of nature that had directed his small spacecraft through the enormity of space to land on this small, blue planet. Better to have died in the darkness of space than to live only to know this type of pain. He cursed his powers — powers which had betrayed him when he'd needed them most. What good were these powers if he were unable to save the one he'd loved most in the world? What was the point of any of it?

A shaky breath escaped his lips. How was he to go on if she were dead? How would he be able to get up in the morning and do the million little things that had to be done every day knowing what he had lost? Without her, it would mean nothing. A future which had been alive with possibilities, now looked more like a nightmare.

Suddenly all the strength left Clark's legs and he collapsed onto his knees. Burying his head in his hands, he finally allowed himself to weep.

***

MONDAY

Martha knew something devastating had happened the moment she saw Clark making his way up the back path to the old farm house. The stoop in his shoulders, the expression on his face, even the lack of energy in his step reminded her of the way Jonathan had looked during the first few weeks after the doctor had informed them that they were unable to have children. And so she prepared herself for the worst.

"Jonathan, your son's here," she yelled over her shoulder, drying her hands on her apron as she made her way over to the back door, arriving just as Clark pushed it open.

She immediately reached out, taking Clark in her arms. Although she knew the news was bad, she was shocked when his head dropped to her shoulder and he held on to her as if she were his only link to life. She closed her eyes briefly when she felt him tremble in her arms. At that moment, Jonathan entered the room. She glanced over at him. Seeing the expression on his face, she knew that he realized by the way Clark was currently clinging to her that something dreadful had happened. She gave him a look, telling him that she didn't know the nature of the problem either.

"Good to see you, son," said Jonathan when Clark still refused to release his mother.

Jonathan's words seemed to have the desired effect and Clark finally stepped out of his mother's embrace. Martha felt an ever deepening sense of fear when her eyes met Clark's. Never had she seen her boy looking so lost, so haunted, in such incredible agony.

"Okay, what's wrong?" she asked, unable to stand not knowing for a moment more.

"It's Lois," Clark said, his voice trembling. "She's dead."

Martha's heart came to a complete standstill. Lois was dead? It couldn't be. She was the only woman in nearly thirty years who had managed to penetrate Clark's heart. Until she came along, Martha had worried that her son would always be alone. If she were dead… She pulled in a jagged breath. This was not something that was going to be fixed by a piece of warm apple pie with ice cream melting on top. Almost immediately, tears were running down her cheeks. She glanced over at Jonathan, thinking that he suddenly looked old.

***

Lois felt weightless, floating in a sea of tranquility. In the distance, she could see someone coming. Although she couldn't make out the figure, she felt no fear. In fact, although she was underwater, there was no anxiety and, it seemed, no need to breathe.

As the figure got closer, she saw the strangest creature. From the waist up, he was a man. From the waist down, he was a fish. She wondered briefly if she was looking at the male version of a mermaid. The man was old — older, she was certain, than anyone she'd ever met. He was bare-chested with white hair on his chest to match the long, flowing white hair that seemed to float around his head and his full, white beard. In his hand, he held a large three-pronged fork.

"You're lucky," he said.

It briefly occurred to Lois that although he had opened his mouth and she could understand his words, he had not spoken. But since they were underwater, she supposed if he had spoken, she wouldn't have been able to hear him.

"It's not your time," he continued.

She wasn't entirely sure what he meant, but she figured that being called lucky was probably a good thing. "Well, you know what they say: You've got to be good to be lucky."

"And lucky to be good," he immediately added.

She tilted her head to the side, slightly surprised that he would have known that saying. He seemed too old, almost as if he belonged to a different time in history, to be familiar with current sayings. "So why am I lucky?"

"Because someone made a plea to the gods, asking that you be given back to him."

"Is that who you are? God?"

"I'm the god of the sea."

"So who made this plea for you to give me back?"

"One who is favored by the gods."

She groaned, suddenly conscious of how much it hurt to breathe. Still, she pulled a breath into her lungs as the dream began to fade. Whereas a moment ago she'd felt weightless, now she felt as if she weighed a ton. She forced open her eyes and glanced around at an unfamiliar room. She could see a woman asleep in a chair nearby.

"Plea… please…" she croaked out with a hoarse voice. "Could I have some water?"

The woman woke, looking at her in shock. "Vous etes reveille!" the other woman exclaimed, jumping to her feet.

"Please… I don't… I don't understand."

"Elle est reveillee! Elle est reveillee!" the other woman yelled, heading towards the door to the room.

"Please don't go," Lois said, attempting to move to a seated position on the bed before collapsing back in pain. When she spoke again, she was speaking to an empty room. "At least tell me where I am. Or who you are." She hesitated for a moment before voicing her final thought. "Or who I am."

***

A long time passed after the woman left before Lois tried to move again, but between her lack of strength and the pain accompanying even the smallest attempt, she finally gave up, looking around the room instead. The walls were white and she was fairly certain that she was in some sort of medical facility. On the other hand, if this was a hospital, it certainly was rundown. The paint on the walls was peeling. It didn't even have the antiseptic smell she normally associated with a hospital.

Over to the side, she saw a small table pushed up against the wall. On it was a pitcher containing a clear liquid which she assumed was water. Beside the pitcher were two glasses. Her mouth watered slightly at the sight. She tried to sit up again, desperately wanting some water but the pain was simply too much for her and she was quickly forced to give up the task as futile.

The small windows had light streaming through them, telling Lois that it was daytime. But she still had no idea where she was or why she was there or even who she was. That, combined with the fact that she couldn't seem to move enough to get out of the bed, was absolutely terrifying. Suddenly, the door to the room again opened, and in walked a tall, older man wearing a white jacket over a faded T-shirt and jeans.

"Thank god," she breathed. "Are you a doctor? Can you tell me where I am? Or what happened? Or… Can you at least tell me my name?"

The man in the white coat said something, but like the woman who had been in there earlier, Lois was unable to understand him.

"Please, do you speak English?" she said loudly and slowly. "I don't… I don't know what you're saying." As she spoke, she attempted to move once again.

The man instantly rushed to her bedside, speaking rapidly although Lois could not understand a single word. Was he not speaking English? Or had something happened to her that had caused her to forget how to understand the spoken word? A sudden feeling of panic rose in her chest. What if she could no longer understand people — or make people understand her?

The man pushed gently on her shoulder, forcing her back onto the bed. At first, Lois' fear caused her to resist, but he continued speaking, his voice gentle and persuasive, repeating one phrase over and over to her.

"Ne bougez pas."

She imitated him, saying the words back to him that he was trying to make her understand. "Ne bougez pas."

His eyes lit up. "Oui. Oui. Ne bougez pas."

"French!" she said, recognizing the French word for 'yes' — although in truth, it sounded more like a guttural 'why' than 'we'. Still, relief flooded through her. She hadn't lost the ability to understand the spoken word. He was just speaking a language foreign to her.

"Oui, oui," the doctor repeated. The doctor pointed down at her chest and said something else.

She glanced at her chest and saw large bandages. Her hand came up and she lightly touched the bandages before looking back at the doctor.

"Ne bougez pas," he said again, placing his hand on her shoulder and pushing her slightly into the mattress. Then he said something else that she didn't understand at all. She crinkled her eyebrows as she tried to figure out what he was saying.

"Ne bougez pas," he said, repeating the words and the gesture.

Suddenly, she understood. He was trying to tell her to stay still, probably trying to explain that she had been hurt and that… what? Maybe she'd pull some stitches out if she tried to move. She finally nodded at him saying the one phrase she now knew in French. "Ne bougez pas."

Lois allowed her head to collapse back into the pillow. All that work and all she knew at this point was that this man wearing a white jacket didn't want her trying to move — and that she'd somehow hurt herself. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to regain her strength, only looking back at the man when he picked up her wrist, placed his fingers on her pulse and looked at his watch. He was a doctor. Or at least, she suspected he was. But then that was what she had suspected when he'd first entered the room.

So how did she go about getting answers to all the other important questions which were going through her mind? Suddenly, the whole task seemed too daunting especially when all she really wanted was some… "Water?" she asked, hoping he would understand her.

When he looked up, she raised her hand in a gesture as if she was drinking and then pointed to the table on which she thought she could see a pitcher of water and a couple of glasses.

"De l'eau?"

She nodded her head vigorously, hoping that he had understood her request and realized that she was asking for water. She memorized the word he had just used since she suspected she'd need to use that word again. He immediately made his way to the nearby table and poured what she hoped was water into a glass. When he returned, he took a seat on the side of the bed and carefully raised her enough so that she could sip at the water.

"Merci," she replied, using one of the few words she knew in French.

He smiled and helped her lie back down before returning the water to the table. While he was gone, she gathered her strength, knowing that there was one thing, above all others, that she needed to know before he finished her exam and left the room.

When he returned, she pointed to him and asked, "Name?" He looked confused so she repeated both the word and the gesture.

His eyes suddenly lit up. "Doctor Jean Turcotte," he said, pointing to himself.

"Doctor Jean Turcotte," she repeated, pointing at him, glad for this confirmation that he was a doctor.

He nodded his head vigorously. She took a deep breath and then pointing at herself asked, "Name?"

He looked confused so she repeated the gesture and the word. When he still didn't seem to understand, she pointed at him and said, "Name: Doctor Jean Turcotte."

"Oui."

"Name?" she asked again, pointing at herself.

He suddenly began talking but Lois was unable to understand anything he was saying. She continued trying to make him understand that she didn't know her name but the harder she tried, the more confused he seemed to become and the louder he spoke, as if somehow by speaking louder he could make her understand whatever it was that he was trying to tell her. Finally, it was all too much for her and she closed her eyes, allowing her head to fall back against the pillow. She was asleep again within seconds.

***

Dimitri Rousseau walked towards the small clinic, the previous day's edition of the Daily Planet tucked firmly under his arm. Dropping his cigarette, he crushed it under his foot as he continued towards his destination. At the age of twenty-nine he'd spent most of his life on the water, first on his father's fishing boat and then, after his father died, on his own, eking out a meager existence as his father had before him.

The small town called Isle d'Or was located on an island, just off the coast in the northern part of New Troy. The occupants of the town, who spoke almost exclusively French, had descended from some French coureurs-de-bois who had come to the island hundreds of years before. They had mingled with the natives of the island, leaving behind their descendants and their language. The crumbling houses and dirt roads gave lie to the town's name which, literally translated, meant The Island of Gold. Given the lack of money, the only contact this small community had with the main part of the state was from the fishing boats which transported fish to market in Metropolis. As a result, the town's language and culture remained mostly intact.

Isle d'Or had been named by the original settlers for the gold they had found in the hill up against which the small town was nestled. Unfortunately, the gold had run dry years before, leaving only an impoverished town and an abandoned mine behind. Dimitri had accepted his poverty as a fact of life — until he'd spotted the picture on the front page of the Daily Planet. Well, that was about to change — at least for him. All he needed to do now was to take advantage of the situation.

Who would have believed when he'd pulled the drenched woman off the old plank floating in Hobbs Bay during his last trip to take his fish to market in Metropolis that she would turn out to be so valuable? She had been unconscious, seriously injured and suffering the worst case of hypothermia Dimitri had ever seen. He'd tended to her injuries as best he could and warmed her up before turning her over to the doctor upon his return to Isle d'Or. He had almost dropped her off in Metropolis. But it had been late. He'd already cast off for home. And he really hadn't wanted to have to go back. It was a lucky thing now that he hadn't turned her over to authorities in Metropolis.

Of course, once he'd dropped her off at the clinic, he had promptly forgotten all about her — until he'd seen the front page of the previous day's edition of the Daily Planet.

Superman had said he would be grateful. Well, what if there was a way to turn that 'gratitude' into something a little more… tangible?

"Bonjour, Doctor," Dimitri said, seeing the doctor sitting on the steps of the old clinic as Dimitri approached. "How's the patient this morning?" he asked in French, knowing that French was the only language the village's doctor spoke.

Of course, 'Doctor' was really more of an honorary title than a statement about the man's education. His father had been the town doctor and so he had inherited the role, learning how to care for the town's residents as problems arose, but with no formal training. Still, over the years he'd treated everything from scrapes and bruises to heart attacks, from serious accidents to bullet wounds — like the ones he'd undoubtedly had to deal with for his current patient — in the process learning what he needed to know as it became necessary.

"I was beginning to think she would never regain consciousness."

"But she did?" Dimitri's heart sank. This would be so much easier if she remained unconscious.

The doctor nodded. "She finally woke up this morning. She's still very weak, but she seems to be recovering well. There is one thing, however."

"What?" asked Dimitri.

"She doesn't know who she is."

Dimitri's eyebrows rose. If she had to wake up, this was better than he could have hoped for. He'd spent most of last night preparing a place for his new 'guest', just in case she woke up too soon, but such precautions might prove to be unnecessary should what the doctor was saying prove to be true.

"I tried to explain to her how she was found, but I couldn't make her understand. She doesn't speak French. And since neither Marie or I speak English… Let's just say, I'm glad you're here." The doctor rose to his feet. "I need you to act as my translator."

"Just a second, Doctor," said Dimitri, trying to organize his thoughts. This had to be played just right if it was going to work. And although she'd been half dead when he'd first found her, he'd still been able to tell that she was a beautiful woman. Stripping her out of her wet clothes. Using his own body to warm hers. He had to admit that he'd been tempted to take advantage of the situation even then. A small smile began to pull at one corner of his mouth as an idea began to take hold. Maybe he could benefit in more ways than one with this deal. "There is something I need to talk to you about first." He waited until the doctor had again taken his seat before continuing.

"Would you say this amnesia is permanent?"

The doctor shrugged. "There are no injuries to her head — which suggests that the trauma her body went through or the emotional trauma associated with her injuries has caused her to lose her memory."

"So when will she recover?"

"There is no way to tell."

"And she knows none of this?"

The doctor shook his head. "I had no way to tell her."

Dimitri considered that for a long moment before reaching a decision. "What would you say if I told you that I could get you a new clinic?" he asked the doctor.

***

"Bonjour, ma petite choute."

Lois' heart fell. When she'd first heard the door open, she'd been hopeful that someone had finally come to see her who she could understand. Instead, the first words out of the new man's mouth were completely indecipherable to her. As a result, she simply looked away from where the nurse, whose name she'd learned was Marie, had helped her sit up in the bed, pillows propped up behind her.

He didn't seem deterred. The smile on his face did not fade as he made his way towards her bed. Her eyes returned to him. He was younger than the doctor. She suspected he was closer to her age — maybe a bit older. His hair was a little too long for her tastes and his bangs hung slightly over his eyes, giving him an unkempt look. He had a decent body and a strong face. It was obvious to her that the man lived his life in the sun. He was darker than his obvious native heritage would dictate and his skin appeared hard, windblown. Still, she had to admit, he was relatively good looking. Not that he was her type. Her eyebrows crinkled in confusion — assuming, of course, she had a type.

"How you feeling?" he asked, taking a seat on the side of her bed.

She automatically shifted positions to move a little further away from him, giving him room to sit without touching her. "You speak English."

He crinkled his eyebrows, as if not entirely sure what she was saying. Oh, god, what if he didn't know what she was saying? What if she could now understand, but couldn't speak the language?

"Of course I speak English," he responded.

She let out a breath of relief. He could understand her. Her relief dissipated into confusion when he reached up and pushed her hair over her shoulder. She jerked away, confused when he looked hurt. Still, he slowly lowered his hand so that it was resting against his leg.

"You scared the hell out of me, ma petite choute. I thought I'd lost you."

"Do I know you?" she asked cautiously.

He looked completely stunned. "Doctor Jean said you'd lost your memory. But I thought… Surely you remember me, Lois?"

"My name's Lois?" she asked in return, grasping onto the one thing she could absorb at the moment.

"Lois Rousseau. You're my wife."

She was too stunned to react when he leaned over, his hand buried itself in her hair as his lips landed on hers. Her husband! She didn't even know his name — how could he be her husband? Her mind was a swirl of confusion. He was her husband! She'd actually married this man. It suddenly occurred to her that he was kissing her. But of course he was kissing her. He was her husband and she'd almost died. What did she think he would do? She gave a half-hearted effort to respond. A groan escaped the back of his throat as his hand left her hair to run along her leg. He pushed his tongue into her mouth. He tasted of stale cigarettes.

Her response was automatic. She pushed him away, using every ounce of strength she still possessed. He tumbled back slightly, having to fight to remain seated on the side of the bed. For a moment she could have sworn she detected anger in his eyes. But then it was gone, replaced instead with what appeared to be confusion, even hurt.

"I'm sorry," she said, feeling the need to reassure him. He was her husband, after all. So didn't he have the right to expect that his kiss would be welcome? "Try to understand. I'm just…" She reached up and ran a hand through her hair, straightening it from where he had messed it up.

"You really don't remember?" he asked, searching her eyes as if seeking confirmation.

She studied his face, looking for something, anything that was familiar to her. She blinked slightly when a flash of… something… came to her. The same face, leaning over her, hair dripping wet. But as suddenly as the image came, it was gone. "I'm sorry," she said again. "I don't… I mean, maybe, but…" She let out a slow breath, breaking eye contact with him. "To tell you the truth, I don't even remember your name."

Dimitri smiled. "Well, you didn't remember your own name so I guess I shouldn't be too hurt. My name is Dimitri." He reached towards her tentatively. This time she forced herself not to shrink from his touch. His hand gently covered hers. "We're newlyweds."

"Newlyweds?"

Dimitri nodded. "We saved every penny we could for over a year — just to spend a few days in a fancy hotel in Metropolis for our honeymoon."

"So what happened?"

"We were coming back from supper when these two guys with guns stepped out of the shadows and demanded all our money. We didn't have much left, but… I'm sorry. I know you wanted me just to give it to them, but I couldn't." He lowered his head, looking thoroughly ashamed as he broke eye contact with her. "I almost got you killed." He let out a slow breath. "You probably hate me now."

Lois hesitated for a second, not entirely sure what to do. He looked so dejected. "No, of course not," she finally said, reaching over and patting his shoulder in what she hoped was a comforting manner. "I couldn't hate you." When he looked up, she continued. "I loved you enough to marry you, didn't I? I mean, not giving the men our money might not have been the smartest move, but it almost sounds like something…" Her voice suddenly trailed off in confusion. She'd been about to say that it sounded like something she might have done. But where had that thought come from? After all, refusing to give a couple of punks with guns her money would be crazy — wouldn't it?

"It almost sounds like something…?" he prompted.

"Huh?" She met his eyes. "Oh, nothing." She gave a slightly nervous laugh. "I don't remember what I was going to say. I hope that doesn't mean I've got some sort of recurring amnesia," she added, trying to lighten the mood. When he just looked troubled, she instantly felt bad. "I'm sorry. Bad joke. You must have been worried."

He picked up her hand and gave it a kiss. Lois found it sort of sweet — and at the same time, disturbing. Still, she said nothing.

"Doctor Jean says your memory should come back in time. You'd tell me if you remembered something, wouldn't you?"

"Of course," said Lois, although not entirely certain she would. She believed him when he said he was her husband. After all, why would someone lie about something like that? It was just… She hesitated. Maybe these funny feelings were just a result of her not having her memory, but she couldn't get past the thought of him kissing her. It had felt so… wrong. And if they were newlyweds… what exactly would he be expecting of her?

"You look troubled," said Dimitri.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I was just thinking. Trying to see if I remembered anything."

"And…?"

She shook her head.

"So did Doctor Jean say when I could get out of here?" she asked.

He laughed. "I think he'd like to wait until you can actually get out of bed on your own before letting you come home, ma petite choute."

"Ma petite choute?" she asked, trying not to focus on the implications of the 'going home' part.

"My little cabbage," he said, adjusting positions to sit on the bed with her, dropping his arm loosely around her shoulders. "It's a term of endearment. In English, you might say… pumpkin."

"Oh." She was unsure what else to say. Part of her wished he'd leave. But he seemed to be making himself more comfortable, as if planning to stay for hours. She pushed the thought away as uncharitable. After all, he must have been so worried about her — probably still was. Still, it was a relief when the doctor entered the room and made his way to her bedside.

He said something to Dimitri that Lois couldn't understand.

"He says he's here to conduct your exam. And he wants me to translate," Dimitri informed her.

Lois felt uncomfortable about Dimitri being there for her exam. But she did need him to act as translator. And beside, she told herself for the hundredth time, he was her husband.

***

Doctor Jean paced nervously in the outer room as he waited for Dimitri to say goodbye to his 'wife.' Following his exam of Lois, he'd told Dimitri that Lois needed to rest. Dimitri had asked for a minute to say goodbye.

When Dimitri had suggested that they use the situation to get Superman to come up with some money to improve the town, Jean had agreed. Dimitri had assured him that the entire deception would only take a few days, during which time they needed to be sure they could control Lois Lane's activities. Letting her believe that she was Dimitri's wife had seemed an easy way to accomplish the task. Then Dimitri would send the woman back to her friends and family no worse for wear. The entire plan was harmless, really.

And Jean had to admit to being frustrated about the way the State of New Troy seemed to have forgotten about the small town of Isle d'Or. Jean could certainly use new equipment and proper medicines. The infant mortality rate could be lowered. Clean water could be guaranteed. It had seemed like an innocent deception at the time.

The problem had started for Jean when he'd witnessed how uncomfortable Lois Lane was when Dimitri stayed in during the exam. He wasn't sure if it was because she had a sneaking suspicion they were deceiving her or if it was just a normal side-effect of the amnesia. But whatever it was, it made him nervous.

Maybe he should simply suggest the woman remain in the clinic while they dealt with Superman. On the other hand, Jean really didn't have the resources to keep her in the clinic. Marie had assisted while Lois was unconscious. But she had a home and a family. She couldn't stay on a full time basis for the next few days. And Jean had other people to see and couldn't do it by himself. Normally when someone in town needed full time assistance, Jean recruited the person's friends and family to assist in the person's care. Letting Dimitri take care of the woman had seemed like the perfect solution.

But now Jean wasn't so sure. He'd known Dimitri all his life. The man was a hardworking fisherman. In his earlier years, he had been a bit of a ruffian. But Jean hadn't heard anything like that in recent years. At the age of thirty-one, he had not yet married — something that was considered rather unusual in the community. So did Jean really know how Dimitri would conduct himself in this situation?

He looked up when Dimitri exited Lois' room, closing the door behind him.

"I don't know that this is the right thing to do," said Jean in French, stopping his pacing to address Dimitri. "You promise me that nothing will happen to her?"

"Nothing will happen. We're just doing what the government won't do. We're doing what is necessary. Nothing more. You must realize that we need outside help. Do you see another way?"

"No, I don't. But this… It just seems wrong. I need to be sure that she'll be safe and you'll let her go as soon as you pull off this deal with Superman."

"She'll be fine. I promise," Dimitri reassured the doctor, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "Now, I just need to go and get a few things ready. You say she should be able to get out of here tomorrow?"

"Assuming her recovery continues as it has," said Jean cautiously, still not entirely convinced.

"Good," Dimitri said, turning to leave the room.

***

Albert, Pascal and Eugene, Dimitri's three brothers, listened in silence as Dimitri explained his plan. Eugene was the one who finally spoke.

"I do have one problem with this."

"And that is?"

"Superman. If you release the woman after getting ransom money from Superman, she'll be able to lead him right to us."

"I know," Dimitri responded. "That is why, once Superman gives into our demands, the woman dies. The doctor can't know that part of the plan. He thinks we'll be letting her go. But I'm not too worried. Once he gets some money for a new clinic, he'll keep his mouth shut. He doesn't want to go to prison — although he'd probably come up with some altruistic reason, like the town needs a doctor. Still, it will keep him quiet. The rest of the money will be ours."

"Have you figured out how you're going to pick up the ransom? After all, with Superman's eyesight and speed, he could stake out the drop site and you'd never even know he was there."

"Easy. I'm going to ask for a huge amount of money. Then I'm going to have him divide it up and drop it off in several places. He can't watch all of them at once. Even if we only get one or two of the stashes, we'll still be filthy rich." He gave that a moment to sink in before continuing. "So are you all in?"

They exchanged looks with one another before nodding in unison.

"Get some clothes from Isabelle," Dimitri said, looking at Albert. "Your wife is about the same size as the woman. We need to make it look like she has been living in my house. And Eugene… I need you to purchase a cell phone so that no one will be able to trace our calls."

"I can't afford a cell phone. I've got a family to feed"

Dimitri looked at his brother. "We'll all chip in. Trust me, we'll soon have enough money to buy a million cell phones. More money than you can possibly imagine."

***

Clark knew only two things as he entered the newsroom on the sunny Monday morning: first, he was late and, second, he didn't care. Let Perry fire him if he wanted to. He forced himself to put one foot in front of the other, purposely ignoring the sympathetic looks from his colleagues. He didn't want sympathy — if he did, he'd still be at home with his parents. But it had been too hard, watching them try to be strong for him — even though he knew this news was tearing them apart inside. His mother, in particular. She regarded Lois as a kindred spirit — had ever since Lois visited Smallville a few weeks previously.

He was at the Daily Planet simply because he had nowhere else to go. For the first time in his life, he understood why Lois buried herself in work whenever her personal life was too much for her to handle. The thought of Lois caused his stomach to give a small lurch.

Suddenly, people seemed to be approaching from every direction. Clark turned around, unexpectedly feeling more than a little claustrophobic.

"I'm so sorry, Clark," said Eduardo, giving Clark's arm a squeeze.

"It will just take time, Clark," said Sandy from advertising, giving him a sad smile.

"Such a shock."

"We're all here for you."

"She was so young. It's such a tragedy."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Is there going to be a memorial service?"

"I don't believe it. I just don't believe it."

"How you holding up?"

"I always liked her. This place just won't be the same without her."

"Are you okay?"

"She was a great reporter."

"It's such a great loss to all of us."

"I know how hard this must be for you."

"Bad luck, buddy," said Ralph.

Afterwards Clark wasn't sure what finally pushed him over the edge. Maybe it was too much of a reminder of what he had lost. Maybe it was the phony look of sympathy on the face of someone like Ralph — a man who had screwed up the investigation. Maybe, just maybe if Ralph had done his job when he'd first arrived at Water Street, Lois would have been found. Clark knew that wasn't fair. Ralph didn't even know that Lois had been staying at the Lexor so would not have been able to make the connection anyway. But Clark wasn't feeling exactly charitable at the moment. Whatever the reasons, Clark was suddenly unable to take all the sympathetic words and looks. Besides, why were all these sympathetic comments directed at him? Whatever the reason, for the second time in as many days, Clark snapped.

"What? Does everyone know that I loved her?" he demanded, his voice drowning out all the sympathetic voices. The newsroom was silent for a moment, but to Clark it seemed like an eternity, as everyone stared at him in shock. He guessed he could understand that. He'd just announced his feelings for Lois to the entire newsroom. And, contrary to his character, he'd just snapped at every one of his colleagues, all of whom were just trying to be supportive. "I'm sorry," he said contritely.

He felt a number of people pat his arm, his back, his shoulder as they made their way back to desks or continued on with their assignments. He moved towards the railing, grasping onto it in an effort to get himself under control. He closed his eyes. Maybe it had been a mistake to come in today. After all, how much good would he be when he couldn't even keep his feelings under control?

"C.K.?"

Clark turned towards the familiar face. Jimmy looked uncharacteristically nervous about addressing him. He guessed he could understand that — given the way he'd responded to everyone less than a minute before.

"What is it, Jimmy?" Clark forced himself to ask.

"There's someone who has been waiting for you all morning."

Jimmy pointed towards the newsroom, directing Clark's attention to a very beautiful young woman sitting in the spare chair beside his desk. He looked back at Jimmy, a question in his eyes.

"She wouldn't say a word — just that she had to talk to you."

Clark crinkled his eyebrows as he made his way slowly towards his desk. Maybe she was here to give him information about Lois. If that were the case, then she was the one person to whom Clark actually wanted to speak. Although he now knew that Lois was dead and that her murders were also dead, there was still the matter of understanding why she had been killed. And he had to understand.

"I'm Clark Kent."

The woman immediately looked up from where she was absently drawing doodles with her finger on the corner of his desk. "Mr. Kent," she said, instantly rising from her seat.

He gestured her back down, taking a seat himself. "What can I do for you?"

"A mutual friend of ours suggested we might be able to help each other."

Clark tilted his head to the side. "Who…" His voice trailed off when it suddenly occurred to him who had probably sent her. It felt like a lifetime had passed since he'd spoken to Madam Benoit. The woman must have realized he knew to whom she was referring because she resumed speaking.

"I understand a friend of yours was killed — and you think it might be connected with a party that took place at 1726 Water Street on Friday night. I was at that party."

Clark let out a slow breath, not entirely sure the happenings at that party were particularly relevant anymore. It might make more sense to follow up on the two men who had apparently killed Lois. "Well, thanks for coming in Ms…" He rose to his feet.

"Cindy. Cindy McPherson."

"Thanks for coming in Ms. McPherson. But I'm not sure your assistance is necessary anymore. Maybe if I could get your phone number in case…"

"Mr. Kent, a friend of mine, Joanne Smith, never returned from that party."

Clark sank back into his chair. Two women missing on the same night, from the same vicinity, both having a connection to the same party? Could it really be a coincidence? "I assume she was…" He hesitated, not sure about the politically correct term. "…a working girl?"

Cindy nodded.

"Have you called the police to report her missing?"

"What are the police going to do? I'm a working girl. Joanne was a working girl. We might be Madam Benoit's girls, but that still doesn't make us high priority as far as the police are concerned — especially when the men involved are powerful politicians. What's one or two fewer prostitutes in the city? I only notified Madam Benoit of Joanne's disappearance when she called me yesterday evening. She's the one who suggested I talk to you. Please, Mr. Kent, I heard this morning that someone you cared about was killed. I care about Joanne."

The plea got through to Clark. "I know just the cop you should talk to," he said, rising to his feet. "He'll be sympathetic to your story. And he's been looking for a reason to get into Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street. I take it that is where you last saw her?"

Cindy nodded. "Joanne stayed behind with Congressman Harrington when I left with the others." She didn't rise to her feet. "Are you sure this cop will actually follow up on this?"

"If he doesn't, he'll be looking at a scathing article in the Daily Planet about how the cops don't care about missing persons when the prime suspects in their disappearances are powerful politicians. I think that might be enough to get him moving. But I doubt that will be necessary. Henderson is a good man."

Cindy finally smiled, rising to her feet. "Thank you, Mr. Kent."

"The name's Clark," Clark said, leading Cindy towards the elevators. "Come on. I'll take you to see Inspector Henderson right now."

***

Jimmy made his way to the door to Perry's office. He'd been trying to avoid the chief today. If Clark's mood was bad, Perry's was worse. He suspected the only difference between the two men was that Perry felt no need to be polite. As a result, though, he'd been snapping at everyone all morning.

Jimmy was struggling with Lois' death himself and really didn't think he could handle Perry yelling at him today.

"Chief?" he asked, hovering just outside the editor's office.

"What is it, Jimmy?" asked Perry, looking up.

"Umm… one of the people answering phones just received a call I think you should know about."

Perry reached a hand towards the note Jimmy was holding. Jimmy immediately stepped forward, placing the small slip of paper in his boss' hand, before stepping back into the doorway.

"Come on in, son," said Perry. "And close the door."

Jimmy did as instructed, boosted somewhat by Perry referring to him as 'son.'

"Umm… I'm not quite sure what to make of this message," continued Jimmy.

Perry looked down at the note in his hand before looking up at Jimmy in shock. Then he redirected his attention to the note and began to read. "Tell Superman to buy a cell phone and be at the Daily Planet this afternoon at precisely two o'clock. If he's not there or doesn't get the phone, he'll never see his girlfriend, Lois Lane, ever again."

"The original message was in short hand," Jimmy explained. "I got a transcript of the actual call when I saw what it was. I wanted to be sure that the person who took the message understood. And since all the calls at the moment are being recorded in hopes of something leading to Lois…" Jimmy shrugged. "What do you think, chief? I mean, Lois is dead, right? But if this man is telling the truth…"

"That's a big 'if,' Jimmy. This guy might just be trying to cash in on Lois' disappearance. Still, if there's a chance…" Perry paused. "Get Clark in here. I hate to give him reason to hope, but I don't see a way around it. He's the one most likely to be able to contact Superman."

"I think I overheard him saying he was going to see Inspector Henderson," said Jimmy.

"So he's not here?"

Jimmy shook his head.

"Get ahold of Henderson," Perry instructed. "Tell him what's going on. And have him tell Clark that we need to find Superman."

***

Henderson sat in stunned silence as he hung up the phone. Someone had contacted the Daily Planet claiming he had Lois and demanding to speak to Superman. Henderson had been certain Lois Lane was dead. He'd made that very clear to Perry, who had, no doubt, made it very clear to Clark. Henderson had simply been unable to imagine an alternative.

Not that this call meant Lois was alive. It was entirely possible, in fact likely, this was some crank, trying to capitalize on the situation. Clark would be here shortly, according to Olsen, and it would fall to Henderson to tell him about this development. If he gave Clark hope, and then this turned out to be some crank, Henderson would personally track the guy down and find a way to make him serve as much time in jail as possible.

"The man at the front said to come on in," said Clark from the doorway. "Something about you expecting us?"

"Right," said Henderson, gesturing Clark and the beautiful young woman with him into his office.

"So what's going on, Bill?"

"Why don't you tell me why you're here first? Then we can get to the reason I knew you were coming," Henderson responded, not sure if he should give Clark this information in front of a strange woman.

Clark nodded. "This is Cindy McPherson," Clark began before filling Henderson in on the missing girl and the Suite 1110 party.

When he was finished, Henderson leaned back in his chair. Two women missing in one night. One presumably inside the building. One just outside. Lois had been taking pictures of the room before her disappearance. Could it be a coincidence? Well, one thing was for sure. They should have enough for a search warrant. Henderson rose to his feet and headed to the door of his office.

"Sargeant Zymak," he called into the next room. An officer who was much heavier set than Henderson came over. "Would you get Cindy McPherson's statement?" He glanced over at Clark and Cindy. "I've promised Ms. McPherson immunity against any charges of soliciting. But we need a search warrant for Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street. Once you have her statement, call Mayson Drake at the D.A.'s office and tell her what we need. Lane's photos and Ms. McPherson's statement should be enough."

"Yes, sir," Zymak said, waiting for Cindy to accompany him before leading her towards his desk.

Henderson watched them go before turning back to Clark. He needed to tell Clark what he'd learned from Olsen. He just wasn't entirely sure how to do so without giving Clark too much hope.

***

"What is it, Bill?" asked Clark. He'd been practically climbing out of his skin since first entering the office. It had been obvious the entire time that Henderson was needing to tell him something. By the way Henderson was acting, Clark suspected they had found Lois' body — and Henderson was trying to think of a way to tell him.

"Now this is probably nothing," Henderson began slowly. "But apparently after you left, the Daily Planet got a phone call."

"From whom?"

"They don't know. But the caller claims he is holding Lois hostage."

"What?" exclaimed Clark, jumping to his feet. "Lois is alive?"

"We don't know that. It's probably just some con-man, trying to cash in."

"What does he want? What did he say? Did he give any indication of where he's holding Lois?"

"Clark…"

"So what are we doing here? What's the next step? Does he want money or is he after something else?"

Henderson sighed. "Apparently he wants Superman to buy a cell phone and be at the Daily Planet at two o'clock this afternoon. So I guess you need… to get ahold of Superman."

The final phase was heard by Clark only thanks to his superhearing as he practically ran out of Henderson's office. Maybe there was something more to the message and he could only find that out by talking to whomever had taken the phone call.

***

"Yes, sir," said the man quietly into the phone. "They seem to be taking the call seriously."

There was a long moment of silence.

"Sir?" the man finally asked.

"Thanks, Ray. I'll take it from here."

Luthor hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair as he considered what his source at the Daily Planet had told him. Was it possible the two goons who claimed they had killed Lois had lied — perhaps thinking it would gain them points with him? He smirked. They probably wished now they had not tried so hard to impress him. On the other hand, there was nothing to suggest this phone caller was on the level. But then could he really afford not to take this seriously? He checked his watch.

"Nigel," he called. The man, as usual, appeared as if by magic. "Get the car."

***

Clark slipped quietly out of the newsroom. It was easy enough to do, considering the fact that the bullpen was like a zoo. With all the extras still answering phones and the fact it seemed that everyone and his dog was present in anticipation of a phone call from the alleged kidnapper, it was hard to hear himself think. Henderson had arrived, bringing with him experts in tracing phone calls. Mayson Drake had also shown up. Cat, Jimmy and Perry were all hanging around. Even Luthor was present. He maintained he had simply come by to find out if there was any new information on Lois — and had insisted on staying when he found out about the man claiming he was holding Lois. As a result, it was easy for Clark to slip out at about ten to two. After all, if the kidnapper called a little early, he didn't want to take a chance that he wouldn't be present as Superman.

Less than a minute later, Superman flew through the window to the newsroom, floating quietly to the floor beside Henderson.

"Keep the guy talking as long as you can," Henderson said. "We have everything set up to trace the call. But we're assuming that if he wants you to buy a cell phone, it's because he's going to be using one himself. If that's the case, it will take some time to triangulate his position. And don't assume that Lois is alive. Demand to speak to her — or that he gets you some other proof that she's alive. After all, everything we have found so far indicates that she was killed."

"I understand," said Clark, although it was hard to hear the instructions over the blood pounding in his ears.

"I really think I should be the one to take the call," said Luthor for at least the hundredth time. "No offence, Superman. But this guy obviously wants money. And if he does, I'm the one who can provide it. Besides, he can't be any worse to negotiate with than a lot of the men I've had business deals with over the years."

"He wants me. And I'm the one who he's going to get," said Superman.

"It's probably best that we let this guy think we're doing what he wants," said Henderson. "If someone other than Superman answers the phone…"

"Phone call for Superman," called one of the temps, sending everyone scrambling towards the speaker.

Superman snatched the phone before Luthor could take it and then breathed deeply to calm himself before raising it to his ear. "This is Superman," he said.

"What's the number on your cell phone?" the man asked. A slight trace of a French accent was evident in his speech.

Superman provided the number.

"I'll call you on that phone in ten minutes. And lose the cops — or your girlfriend dies."

"Wait, I need…" Superman looked up at Henderson. "He hung up," he said simply.

"What did he say?"

"He'll call back in ten minutes — on my cell phone. And somehow he knew you guys were here. You have to go — or he'll kill Lois."

"He's just guessing that someone called the cops," said Henderson. "You've got to keep your cool here. Even if he does have Lois, you're going to need…"

"I won't risk Lois' life," Superman replied, cutting Henderson off.

"Look, you're not thinking clearly," said Mayson, approaching slowly. "You need us. Besides, it's not as if it's your choice. You're not even family. If anyone…"

Superman didn't even wait to hear the end of the argument. He was out of the window and standing on top of the Daily Planet before anyone could object.

As he waited for the call, he looked up into the heavens. It was up to him now. And no matter what happened, he would not fail Lois. If that meant going against the cops, that was what he would do. Of course, he needed to remember that this guy might not even have Lois.

Clark jumped when the sound of a phone echoed through the air. He scrambled to answer the phone, silently cursing his normally fast reflexes for his clumsiness.

"Hello?"

"Did you get rid of the cops?"

"No one else is listening in. I need to talk to Lois."

"You're not in any position to be making demands. Now listen to…"

"No. How do I know you have her? How do I know she's even al…" His voice cracked. "…alive."

"You're just going to have to trust me. Now…"

"You don't even have her, do you? I don't know why I'm wasting my time talking to you." With that Clark snapped the phone closed. In an instant, Clark realized what he'd done and doubled over in what almost felt like physical pain. "Oh, god!" What if the guy didn't call back? What if he had just condemned Lois to death? What if the guy didn't have Lois and, as a result, didn't call back? If that were the case, Clark would never know if his hasty actions had sentenced Lois to death or if the caller was a fraud. How could he live with that uncertainty? An eternity seemed to pass. He closed his eyes, silently counting every second until… Ring.

Clark forced himself to take a deep breath and steady his nerves before answering the phone again. "Do I get to talk to her now?" he asked, keeping his voice as steady as possible.

"You'll be getting an envelope in the mail tomorrow morning — care of the Daily Planet. I'll talk to you again tomorrow at ten a.m. And you better be a little more cooperative then or the woman dies."

And suddenly the line went dead. Clark closed his eyes and sought to recover his breath. He was really beginning to believe Lois was alive. The man would never have promised proof if he didn't have something.

***

"I'm telling you, Bill. This vigilante attitude of his is going to get Ms. Lane killed."

"He's never been one to listen to reason," Luthor added, fueling the fire.

"I've worked with Superman before, Mayson," Henderson said. "And I think you're wrong about this one. Superman has always respected the police. And he'd never do anything to endanger Lois' life."

"But this is…"

"Is this a private discussion or can anyone join in?"

Superman's voice caused Luthor, Mayson and Henderson to spin around, seeing Superman floating in midair. What Henderson noticed first was his eyes, seeing there something he hadn't seen before. Were he to try to describe it, he would say he was seeing a new steel in the superhero's eyes.

"Any luck tracing the call?" Superman asked, floating slowly to the floor.

"No. The call was too short for us to triangulate the position."

"I would like to thank both of you for your interest," Superman began, "but as of now, the police are out of this. This man doesn't want me dealing with the police. And I'm going to respect his demand."

"You don't have the authority…" Mayson began. Her voice trailed off when Superman raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, Superman," said Henderson. "Just tell us… did he let you talk to Lois?"

"Not exactly. But he will be providing me with proof that she's still alive." When Henderson opened his mouth, Superman continued. "That's all I'm going to say at this time."

"We could have you brought up on obstruction of justice charges," said Mayson.

"Now… whoa!" Perry's deep voice seemed to cut through the tension in the room. "I spoke to Lois' mother earlier. She left the issue of handling this up to me. And…" His voice trailed off when he glanced around the newsroom, as if looking for someone. "And I think that we should play this Superman's way for now."

"I think I should have a say here, too," said Luthor. "I've had to deal with scum like this all my life — people looking for a free handout. And with all due respect, Superman, I don't think you're capable of handling this."

"Oh, you don't, do you?" Superman said, folding his arms across his chest. "And exactly how are you going to stop me?"

"How are you going to get the money he's likely to demand?" asked Luthor in return.

"I'll find a way."

"A way? Like robbing Fort Knox?"

Henderson finally spoke, trying to keep the discussion from getting out of control. "Okay, Superman. We'll play this your way. Just let us know if there's anything we can do to help."

"But…" Mayson began, but her voice was cut off when Henderson grabbed her arm, gestured to the other police officers at the Planet and began leading them towards the elevators.

"What's her problem, anyway?" asked Jimmy, looking at Mayson's back as she waited for the elevator with the police officers.

"Some people just have a problem accepting things they don't understand," said Perry, briefly clasping Superman's shoulder.

"Well, since you insist on doing this alone — in spite of what the authorities say — I guess my presence isn't required here either."

"Glad you finally realized that," said Superman.

With a huff, Luthor turned and headed towards the elevators, keeping his head held high although his face was flushing red.

"So, son, what evidence that Lois is alive did the man promise to provide?" Perry asked as soon as the elevator closed on Luthor.

"He didn't say. But when he realized I wasn't going to do anything until I was satisfied that Lois was alive, he said he would be sending an envelope to the Daily Planet tomorrow morning. I trust you'll have it delivered to your office when it arrives?"

"Certainly."

"And he'll be calling me again at ten tomorrow morning, so the envelope should arrive before that. Now, if you'll excuse me…" Superman headed towards the window, disappearing in a gust of wind.

"Where's Clark?" asked Jimmy. "Oh, there he is," Jimmy continued when Clark came jogging towards them from the direction of the washrooms.

"Sorry. I was just so nervous. I had to go to the washroom. Did the kidnapper call Superman? Is Lois alive?"

***

Dimitri studied the new contraption in his hands, making sure he knew how to use it. Then he picked up a plastic bag and stuck the day's copy of the Metropolis Star under his arm and pushed open the door to Lois' room.

"Bonjour, ma petite choute," he said, plastering a smile on his face.

Lois adjusted her position on the bed. "Hi," she responded.

He ignored the 'not too pleased to see you' look on her face. He had other things on his mind. "I brought you some things," he said, handing her the bag

"Thanks," she replied, opening the bag and taking a look inside. He watched as she rifled through the clothes and personal grooming items Dimitri had bought, as if looking for something familiar.

"Why don't you give your hair a brush?" he asked, holding up the Polaroid camera in his hands.

"What's that?"

"I just thought… This is the first day of the rest of our lives. I just want us to capture it in a picture."

"I don't want to have my picture taken."

He had expected that. He took a seat on the bed next to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. "I know you are not feeling well. But this…" He pulled her closer, giving her a kiss on her hair. "…this is the day that you were given back to me. This is the best day of my life. I want to remember it."

He felt her let out a breath. "Okay, you brush out your hair — 'cause I know how you hate it when your hair is a mess. And I'll ask the doctor to come in to take the picture."

***

As Lois dutifully ran the brush through her hair, her eye caught sight of the paper lying on the foot of the bed. Her brush hesitated in her hair before she lowered it. The Metropolis Star. Her nose crinkled in confusion as she stared at the paper. There was something about it… She wasn't sure what. But it felt as if she should be able to focus in on… something — something just on the outside edges of her brain. Unlike the items in the bag, there was something so familiar, almost disturbing, about the paper. She reached out and picked it up, wondering about the feelings of disgust it seemed to generate in her.

"What have you got there?"

Lois looked up to see Dimitri standing in the doorway with the doctor. "Nothing. I was just seeing what was happening in the world."

"Is anything?"

"Doesn't look like it. Unless you're into Congressional Inquiries."

"Uhh…" He said, coming over and taking the paper from her hands.

Dimitri crawled onto the bed next to her, put his arm around her shoulders and said something to the doctor in French. Lois thought Dr. Jean, as he insisted on being called, looked troubled as he raised the camera to his eye. She tried to smile for the sake of posterity — although she was fairly certain it would look more like a grimace. And then… snap.

"All done," said Dimitri, rising from the side of the bed. "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"No. Of course not," said Lois, trying to be pleasant.

"Good. Then I'll just let you get back to resting. You want to get your strength up." He glanced back briefly to see where the doctor was before turning back to her. When he spoke again, his voice was low, as if sharing a secret with her. "It is still our honeymoon, after all," he concluded with a wink.

Lois shivered and then watched, a frown creasing her brow as he left the room. Letting out a breath, she glanced around the bed, hoping to put her stuff away so that she could go back to sleep. It only took her a moment to realize something was missing. "Where is my brush?" she asked the empty room.

***

"What are you doing?" Pascal, the youngest of the brothers, asked as he watched Dimitri.

"Haven't you ever watched those cop shows? We have to avoid fingerprints," he said as he pulled a heavy pair of work gloves on over his hands before picking up the picture. Taking a towel, he wiped the picture, hoping to remove any lingering fingerprints.

Using a pair of scissors, he carefully cut his face out of the picture. He put the remainder in a brown envelope before picking up the hair brush and withdrawing some hair.

"Why the hair?"

"So that they can confirm it's Lois Lane."

He used some tape to seal the envelope in order to avoid using his saliva. In block letters, he wrote 'Superman' on the front and then very carefully wiped the outside of the envelope with the towel. "Put on your gloves," he said to his brother. He waited until his brother complied before handing him the envelope. "Make sure that this is at the Daily Planet first thing in the morning."

"Should I mail it?"

"No. You need to take it there in person. Take the boat into Metropolis. Bribe some kid on the street to take it in for you, though, so security doesn't see you or catch you on camera. And then get out of the area immediately — to make sure you're not spotted."

"Right."

"Also, stay in Metropolis after dropping off the envelope. When Superman pays the ransom, I may have another task for you."

Pascal had just left the small house when he dropped the envelope. He cursed when the wind caught it, carrying it a little ways away. He moved quickly, putting his foot on the envelope to stop its forward motion and then bent over to pick it up. After looking quickly back at the house to make sure his brother hadn't seen, he folded the envelope and stuck it in his pocket to avoid a repeat performance and was on his way.

***

Henderson was absolutely shocked when he stood in the entranceway to Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. Never before had he seen anything like it.

Zymak had contacted Mayson Drake about obtaining a search warrant before she had gone to the Daily Planet. Then he and some of the men who had been assigned the case had arrived, warrant in hand, to search the premises. When Henderson arrived back at the station, he had been told he needed to get over to the suite immediately. Burning with curiosity, he had instantly complied. So now he stood, stunned by what Zymak and the others had already found.

He supposed this was the benefit of having money. Could anyone but Church, except maybe Lex Luthor, move so fast? It had been about twenty-four hours since he and Kent had spoken to Church about this suite. And yet in that time, workmen had been hired to tear up carpets, remove furniture, even remove certain parts of the walls. They had not yet had a chance to repair the room and have new furniture moved in, but Henderson suspected that if his men had not arrived until tomorrow, they would have had a completely redecorated suite available for their inspection. The problem was that although the action did make Church look guilty of something, without evidence there was no way to know what he was trying to cover up. And if they dug around, he was certain Church would make sure it looked as if these workmen had been hired to do this job weeks before.

"Did you ask the workmen where the carpets and furniture and…" Henderson gestured around the room. "…everything else was taken?"

"Yeah. Apparently, it has already been destroyed," Zymak answered.

"Destroyed?"

"Church's personal instructions."

Henderson nodded blankly.

"So did your search turn up anything?"

"Actually, we did get here before they got everything."

"What did you find?"

Zymak led Henderson over to the doorframe leading to the washroom. "Take a look at this."

Henderson looked where Zymak was indicating to see a small, circular-shaped hole before looking back at Zymak.

"We found a bullet in there. We sent it to ballistics — thought it might be worthwhile comparing it to the bullet we pulled out of that post on Water Street."

"Good thinking." Henderson wandered around the room once again. "Looks to me like Church was trying to cover something up. Maybe he's behind the disappearance of the lady of the evening. Maybe he's even behind the abduction of Lois Lane."

"She's alive?"

"It's beginning to look that way. I need to find out more about this Church character."

As he left the room, Henderson's mind drifted back to the events at the Daily Planet earlier. He wasn't so sure that Superman was wrong in his decision to exclude the police. After all, it wasn't as if they knew that no one at the Daily Planet was involved — especially with all the temp workers answering phones at the moment.

He had been surprised by the reactions of both Luthor and Mayson to Superman. Okay, well maybe Luthor's reaction was understandable. After all, he was in love with Lois. But Mayson… The superhero seemed to press all of her buttons. Superman had pretty much responded in kind. Henderson found himself guessing that Superman's unusual overly emotional response was possibly because he too was in love with Lois Lane.

Henderson shook his head. Had any one woman ever been loved by three such different — yet in their own ways remarkable — men? If Lois was alive, he was betting that Superman would eventually win her heart. But if it were up to him, he hoped she would choose Clark. He might be the most 'ordinary' of the men, but his feelings seemed the most real. Unlike the other two, Clark would treat her as if she were the most precious thing that had ever happened to him. With Superman, she would always be second to his work. With Luthor, she would become a hood ornament.

So he guessed he could understand that Superman might have been more emotional than normal. He only hoped Superman knew that Henderson would do anything he could to help. Maybe he'd give Clark a call when he got back to the station, ask him to make sure Superman knew that. After all, from what he understood, Kent was good friends with the superhero.

***

Being invaded by Mongol armies led by Genghis Khan himself couldn't have been any scarier than one small woman's entrance into the newsroom. One look at her face made it abundantly clear that she was on the warpath. She stopped for no longer than a moment at the top of the steps into the bullpen before spotting her target — an office over to the side where the Daily Planet's editor's face was buried in papers, a red pen grasped firmly in his hand.

Clark was the one who noticed her first. As if she were parting the Red Sea in front of her, people scrambled to get out of her way in an effort to let her pass. Clark stood, entranced. He'd seen that look before. In fact, he'd fallen in love with that particular 'take no prisoners' look. She could be no one other than…

"Mrs. Lane?" said Perry, rising to his feet the instant the woman entered his office.

"What's this I hear about Superman taking the police off the case to find my daughter?" she asked in response. "And why did I have to hear about it from some woman at the D.A.'s office instead of you?"

Perry flinched. "Ellen, you're right. I'm sorry. I should have told you what happened with the police myself."

"Just because I've been busy lately doesn't mean that I don't want to be kept informed."

"Did you manage to locate Lois' father? I'd hate for him to read about this in the paper."

"He's… somewhere… I doubt you'd be able to find him. God knows, I haven't. Besides, if he had really cared, he never would have run out on his children and me in the first place."

"Mrs. Lane?" Clark asked from the doorway to Perry's office. He'd made his way over as soon as he realized who she was, intrigued with the possibility of meeting Lois' mother and at the same time, not liking the circumstances. He noticed immediately the smell of stale brandy emanating from the woman. He supposed though, with her daughter kidnapped, a drink or two might be expected. And she didn't seem obviously intoxicated.

"Who are you?" Ellen asked.

Clark smiled. Just like Lois, Mrs. Lane obviously liked getting straight to the point. "I'm Clark Kent. I'm Lois' partner."

"Lois doesn't work with a partner."

Clark shrugged. "I guess she decided I wasn't so bad. We've been working together for the last few months."

She gave him a once over. He wasn't sure what she was looking for, but after a moment, without giving her thoughts away, she looked back at Perry.

"So do you want to tell me what's going on? Ms. Drake told me that Superman was refusing to cooperate with the police in finding my daughter."

"Clark, would you close the door?" Perry asked, coming around from behind his desk to offer Ellen Lane a seat. As she sat down, he took a seat on the corner of his desk. Clark remained standing near the door.

"The kidnappers somehow seemed to know that the police were involved," Perry began. "And threatened to kill Lois if Superman didn't get rid of them. That's why he did it. But believe me, he is doing everything in his power to ensure the safe return of your daughter. Provided…" His voice trailed off.

"Provided?" Ellen insisted.

"Well, there is an indication that she was shot. At this time, we aren't even entirely sure she's alive."

"Oh god," Ellen said, showing the first real emotion, other than anger, she had allowed them to see since coming into the office.

"Mrs. Lane, you can be sure that Superman will do everything possible to get Lois back," said Clark, coming closer. "If I didn't believe that, I'd be the first to oppose him in refusing to work with the police. And Perry and I and everyone else here are working with Superman, doing what we can to help. We will get her back alive." He squatted down beside the older woman.

Her eyes darted between Clark and Perry for a moment. "So you're saying that I shouldn't override Superman's decision and order the police to get involved again."

"It's the best way to try to get Lois back," insisted Clark.

She was silent for a moment before nodding. Rising to her feet, she looked at Clark. "Find her," she said, in nothing short of a demand.

"Do you need a ride home?" asked Clark, rising to his feet as well, and slightly concerned about the possibility of letting Ellen Lane drive since she'd obviously been drinking.

"I'll catch a cab," Ellen said, turning towards the door. "You just concentrate on finding my daughter."

***

Lois eyed the pitcher of water sitting on the table as if she were a cat eyeing a mouse. Ten, maybe fifteen feet. In her mind, she calculated the number of steps it would take her to get there. As she did, her tongue came out slightly to be grasped between her teeth. She could do it. She was sure she could.

Her first move was to sit up, swing her legs over the side and get on her feet. The only times she'd done that since waking up was when the nurse helped her to the washroom after the catheter had been removed. Still, she set her chin high and, placing her hands on the bed next to her, using her feet to help, she managed to maneuver herself into a seated position.

She knew she could try calling for help. But it was dark and she didn't want to disturb anyone who might be asleep. She'd come to the conclusion that she was in a small clinic and since the nurse at the end of the day was the same woman who had been there when she'd first woken up, she figured she was the only nurse. And if she lived here and was sleeping, Lois really didn't want to bother her. Besides, she could do this.

Once she was seated, swinging her feet over the edge of the bed was easy enough. Once that was completed successfully, she took a moment to catch her breath.

Today had been confusing, to say the least. Waking up in a clinic with no memory of who she was had been terrifying to Lois. According to the doctor, she'd been shot twice — once in the leg and once in the chest. In both cases, the bullet had managed to go right through her without causing any serious damage. Patching her up had been a fairly simple job. The doctor's main concern had been the amount of blood she'd lost from the wound to her leg. It had been that, more than anything, that had kept her from waking up quickly.

He seemed to think that the trauma was the reason for her memory loss — although he was unable to tell her when her memory might return. Still, she now knew her name was Lois. She thought about the name for a moment before giving a small nod. It worked. Other things were a little… less comfortable — like finding out she had a husband. Dimitri. Something about him felt… wrong. She couldn't put her finger on it. But when he'd first entered the room, she'd immediately thought that although he was cute, he wasn't her type. Was it possible for her to know her type when she couldn't even remember herself?

Besides, even if she had a type, it was possible she'd fallen in love with him in spite of that. Still, when he'd kissed her… She gave a small shudder. Everything about that kiss had felt wrong — or was she just reacting to the taste of stale cigarettes? Still, pushing him away had been completely instinctive. But why would anyone lie about being her husband? No. No one would do something like that. What would be the point? She was just being paranoid. She supposed that not remembering who one was would make anyone feel a little paranoia. But that kiss…

She gave her head a shake when she unexpectedly had a flash of another kiss. The roar of engines in her ears. The wind whipping at her hair. She couldn't quite see his face. But his hand came up to cup her cheek as he moved closer, his lips covering hers with such tenderness. Her mouth opened slightly under the gentle pressure of his lips. He'd tasted so good — the taste of coffee with just a hint of chocolate, as if he'd eaten a chocolate bar earlier. The kiss broke. She wasn't entirely sure why. And then words… 'You take the one on the right.' The image suddenly disappeared. She blinked, trying to recover it, but to no avail. She still had the memory, but she was no longer there, experiencing that kiss again, smelling the very masculine scent of the man kissing her with such emotion.

She pushed the memory from her mind. Who knew when that kiss had taken place? Maybe it was years before she had even met Dimitri. What mattered now was… She eyed the pitcher of water again.

Taking a deep breath, she leaned forward slightly, allowing gravity to assist her in rising to her feet. It took a moment for her legs to feel solid beneath her. When she finally found her footing, she took a deep breath as if having additional air in her lungs would allow her to float slightly, before taking a step forward. She had to stop after that first step, allowing her energy to rebuild before attempting another step.

She was unsure how long it took her to get a glass of water and return to her bed. All she did know was that she was completely exhausted and feeling extremely pleased with herself. She sat down on the side of the bed before taking a sip of water and then placing the glass on the floor where she could easily get it if she wanted more. Climbing into bed, she was asleep almost the instant her head hit the pillow. She'd worry about little things like getting her memory back tomorrow.

***

TUESDAY

Superman ignored the curious looks he was getting as he paced in the lobby of the Daily Planet. He'd been there since four, waiting, praying for an envelope that would contain evidence that Lois was still alive. Over the course of the past three days, he'd undergone such incredible mood swings. From hope to fear to despair to love to agony to anger to… well, to just about every emotion it was possible to experience. And now he was waiting, praying that someone really and truly had kidnapped Lois. Saying he felt as if he was going insane would be putting the situation too mildly.

He was so distracted that he didn't notice a boy make his way to security and hand them an envelope. A woman behind the desk called to him. His head snapped around to look at the woman but still it took a moment for him to realize she was calling him.

"I've got an envelope addressed to you, Superman."

Superman was there in an instant, the adrenaline pumping through his body. He forced himself to calm down enough to think logically. "Just set it down," Superman said. "And make sure no one touches it." He glanced around. "Did you see who delivered it?"

"Yeah, a kid came in here."

"Is he still here?"

The woman glanced around before shaking her head. Superman disappeared in a gust of wind, searching the area in front of the Daily Planet until he saw a boy of about ten years of age. He instantly appeared in front of him, looming over the boy, cape billowing behind him. The boy's eyes instantly widened in surprise until they became the shape of saucers.

"Are you the one who brought an envelope to me at the Daily Planet?"

The boy gave a stunned nod.

"Where did you get it?" Superman demanded.

"I don't… He didn't say who he was. Really. He just gave me ten bucks to take it inside."

Superman suddenly realized he was scaring the boy and forced himself to float backwards and land on the sidewalk. "It's okay," he said, trying to give the young man a smile. "I just need you to tell me if you see him anywhere."

The boy looked around, searching the area before shaking his head.

"Can you tell me what he looked like?"

"Big guy. Not as big as you, but big. And he talked kinda funny."

"Kinda funny how?"

"I don't know. He said some of his words wrong."

"As if he had an accent?" asked Superman, his mind flashing back to the kidnapper's French accent.

"Yeah. I guess. And he had dark hair and dark eyes."

"And he just came up to you and said…?"

"That he'd give me ten bucks if I took that envelope into the Daily Planet."

Superman let out a breath, glancing around again. "And you're sure you don't see him anywhere?"

The boy nodded.

"Can I take a look at the ten-dollar bill he gave you?"

The boy handed him the note.

"Could I see your hands?" Superman asked.

When the boy held his hands up, Superman instructed him touch all ten fingers on the corner of his cape. Then he did a quick examination of the prints on the bill, comparing it to the boy's fingerprints using his x-ray vision to line up the prints. Every one of the prints on the bill belonged to the boy. He let out a breath. "Thanks," he said, handing the bill back to the boy and being careful to ensure nothing disturbed the boy's fingerprints on his cape. He'd need them to compare to the prints on the envelope — although given the lack of fingerprints on the bill, Clark couldn't say he was really very hopeful.

***

After getting a copy of the fingerprints of the woman at security, Clark carefully examined the envelope, quickly realizing that the only prints appeared to belong to the woman at security and the boy who had delivered the envelope. He did notice some dry red mud on one side, however, so he was very careful in his handling of the envelope as he dashed into the stairwell.

Once behind the safety of the closed door, he finally allowed his emotions to show on his face. In only a moment, he would find out if Lois was alive or if the hope offered yesterday was nothing more than a cruel joke. Taking a deep breath, he looked through the envelope. A small sob escaped from the back of his throat when his vision focused in on a picture of Lois. God, she was so beautiful. A man was sitting next to her, his arm around her shoulders and his face cut out. Tucked beneath his arm was Monday's edition of the Metropolis Star. The picture was taken only the previous day.

He stared at Lois' face, unable to pull his eyes away from it for a long moment. Suddenly, he blinked. He was staring at evidence that Lois was still alive when up these stairs were two men who were just as anxious to know if Lois was alive as he had been.

Lois was alive. Clark had to brace himself against the door. Lois was alive.

Giving his head a shake, he directed his mind to what he had come into the stairwell to do. Taking a deep breath, he focused on the envelope once again, looking through it but this time looking for fingerprints. After a moment, he let out a slow breath. Nothing. Well, he shouldn't have expected it to be that easy.

Quickly spinning into his Clark clothes, he took off at a jog up the stairways. After a moment, he exited the stairwell and headed towards his editor's office.

"Is that it?" asked Perry the instant Clark entered his office. When Clark nodded, Perry rose to his feet. "I suppose we need to wait for Superman before opening it. After all, it is addressed to him."

"Actually, I ran into Superman in the stairway. He was called away on an emergency so he suggested we go ahead and open it up." Clark laid the envelope carefully on Perry's desk. "He did say, however, that he examined the envelope and the contents briefly, just to find out if there were any fingerprints."

"And were there?"

Clark shook his head.

Jimmy appeared in the doorway, his eyes riveted on the brown envelope.

"Okay, let's do this," said Perry, looking between Clark and Jimmy.

Clark watched as Perry reached into his desk and removed a letter opener. He carefully slit open the top of the envelope. Then, taking a deep breath, he turned the envelope over and emptied the contents onto his desk.

Clark's heart was in his throat while Perry examined the picture before handing it to Clark. Even knowing what he would see didn't stop the emotions from welling up in him once again at this evidence that Lois was still alive. The woman in the picture was definitely Lois. A person sitting next to her with his face cut out had his arm around her. Clark had to make a conscious effort not to squeeze the edge of the photo so tight that it would turn to dust. What was the man doing with his arm around Lois? His fury rose even further when he noticed the grimace on Lois' face.

She appeared to be in some sort of hospital gown and was sitting in bed. Clark pulled his glasses down his nose, trying to see if there was any insignia on the gown which would identify the hospital. But there was nothing.

"Do we know when this was taken? I mean couldn't it have been taken years ago?" Jimmy asked.

"He's holding yesterday's copy of the Metropolis Star," Clark said absently, continuing to search the picture for some sign of where it was taken. Once he left, he would check out hospitals. But if she were in some small clinic somewhere, it would be almost impossible to find the right one — assuming she was even in a clinic. But he would still check out every clinic in the Metropolis area.

"You have good eyes," said Jimmy, squinting at the photo.

Clark ignored him. Behind Lois was a small window. Clark focused on that window, enlarging the image to look at the hill he could see on the other side of the glass.

"Jimmy, I saw a show once where the police found a child molester who posted pictures of his victims on the internet by running the background through some sort of computer program. That hill…" He pointed at the picture. "Any way you could find out which hill that is?"

"Maybe. I think I know just the program that will do the trick."

"Then do it. Can you use the computer to give us a larger version of that window?" He waited for Jimmy to nod before continuing. "Then do that too. And…" He set down the picture and picked up the envelope. "…see this mud on the back of the envelope."

"Yeah?"

"Take the envelope to Star Labs. See if they can tell you if there is anything about the mud that's unusual. It looks a little too red to me. But… Well, just ask them to put a rush on it."

"There is something else here," said Perry, directing Clark and Jimmy's attention to where he was pointing at a small amount of brown hair on the desk. "I suggest that we send it to Henderson — get a DNA analysis."

"I'm not sure that's…"

"Henderson gave me a call this morning. He was apologetic for the way things went down yesterday and said that if there is anything he can do to help, just to let him know. It could be Lois' hair — confirming that it's really her in the picture. Or it might belong to the kidnapper — maybe got in there by mistake. And if he has a record for violence, his DNA might be on file with the police. I think we need to contact Henderson. And I need to call Ellen Lane."

Clark nodded. "Okay, while you guys do that, I'm going to check out every clinic in Metropolis — take Lois' picture. Even if she isn't still there, someone might recognize her."

"And Superman? The kidnapper was going to call back at ten o'clock this morning."

"He'll be here in time," Clark said before heading for the door. "I doubt I'll make it back by then, but…" He shrugged. "I guess that's unavoidable."

***

Clark felt frustrated when, at 9:50 a.m., he landed in the Daily Planet, fully decked out in his Superman uniform. He'd checked every hospital and clinic within the city limits of Metropolis and none of them seemed to know anything about Lois. He'd widen his search once he'd taken this next phone call from the kidnapper. The earlier relief he'd felt when he'd realized that Lois was alive had faded with the realization that she was still in grave danger. The way that man had had his arm around Lois had been plaguing him since he'd seen the picture.

"Superman… we were concerned that you might decide not to take the call here — given what happened yesterday," said Perry, coming out into the newsroom and directing Clark towards his office.

"I trust you, Jimmy and Clark. And I know I'm going to need your help to save Lois. Anyway, I ran into Clark earlier. He told me what you two were doing. Any luck?"

"Well, Henderson put a rush on the DNA test on the hair. And he confirmed that it belongs to Lois. He seemed to think that this was a very good sign," Perry said.

"And I took the envelope to Star Labs and started running the program to try to find the hill Clark spotted in that picture. But so far, no results," Jimmy added.

"Well, when I talked to Clark, he said he hasn't found anything yet either."

"Okay, then. I guess…"

Whatever Perry was going to say was lost forever when the sound of a cell phone ringing cut him off. Superman grabbed the phone from where he'd attached it to his belt and then took a calming breath before answering it.

"Did you get the envelope?" asked the man's voice on the other end of the line.

"Yes."

"So you know that she's still alive. Now, let's get down to business. It's quite simple really. You give me fifty million dollars. I give you your girlfriend."

"Fifty million dollars," Clark gasped. "Where am I supposed to get fifty million dollars? No matter what you might think, I'm not a rich man."

"You'll get it. Or Lane dies. I'll give you twenty-four hours. So I suggest you get on it."

"Wait, I need…"

Clark's voice trailed off when the line went dead. There was absolute silence in Perry's office for a full minute. Perry was the one who finally broke it.

"Maybe we should call Luthor."

Clark hesitated for no more than a second before shaking his head. "I will not have her indebted to that man."

"But where are you going to get fifty million dollars?" asked Jimmy. "Unless you really do intend to rob Fort Knox."

Clark's head snapped up. "I think I might have an idea. But I'm going to need every second of the time he gave me. He's calling back tomorrow morning at the same time. You two keep doing what you can to find Lois. I've got to see what I can do to collect the ransom."

With only a gust of wind marking his departure, Superman was gone, leaving Jimmy and Perry staring after him.

"That boy can really move when he's motivated," Perry finally said.

***

Clark flew over the Arctic tundra, using his x-ray vision to examine the ground. He was certain he was in the right area. He'd discovered this when he'd been traveling the world years ago — had even inquired into the process which would be required to cash in. In the end, however, he had felt it would be cheating to use his powers in this manner. Of course, that was before he'd needed to raise ransom for Lois. And Jimmy was right. If it came down to it, he'd rob Fort Knox to save Lois' life. But this way was perfectly legal.

He smiled when he finally found what he was looking for — through the snow and the permafrost, buried deep into the ground. Diamonds. He quickly staked out the area and headed for Yellowknife, North West Territories, to file his claim as required by law.

He almost chuckled when he thought about how people would react if they knew that Superman was about to go into the mining business. Too bad they would never know. He'd file the claim as Clark Kent. Then he'd dig out the diamonds as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Considering where the diamonds were located, he didn't anticipate it would be a problem.

It would take some time, of course. That meant he had to leave the task of following up on the clues they had obtained earlier to Jimmy and Perry — at least for the time being.

When he landed in Yellowknife, he used his cell phone to make a quick call to the Daily Planet. He spoke to Perry, in theory to find out what had happened when the kidnapper called. During the course of the conversation, he told Perry that he figured it would take most of the day to check out clinics in Metropolis and asked Perry and Jimmy to check out clinics in the area surrounding Metropolis — the task he'd intended to do himself before the kidnapper's ransom demand had derailed his plans.

***

Lois sank into a chair at the table in the small kitchen. The walk from the clinic hadn't been long and Dimitri had helped her every step of the way, but she still felt exhausted. In truth, she would have preferred to stay at the clinic, but that simply hadn't been possible. The doctor had promised to check up on her a couple of times a day. She was grateful for that. But he had made it quite clear, using Dimitri as his translator, that they really couldn't keep her at the clinic any longer. She was well enough to be at home.

Still, other than the exhaustion, she couldn't say the walk to… she glanced around… to her home, had had any ill effects on her.

Home. She studied her environment, hoping that something, anything would look familiar.

Dimitri got up from where he was building a fire in the fireplace. Lois had the distinct impression that the fireplace was the cabin's sole source of heat. "Do you remember it?" he asked.

Lois shook her head. The place wasn't much more than a shack. She was having problems seeing it as home. She watched as Dimitri picked up a little elephant trinket sitting on the mantle over the fireplace. He brought it over to her.

"Do you remember this?"

She took the item, turning it over in her hands. "I'm sorry," she said, attempting to hand it back to him.

He didn't take it. Instead, he took a seat on a chair beside her. "You saw it in a store window on our first trip together into Metropolis and you just had to have it." He finally reached out, taking the small elephant back from her. "We really couldn't afford it. But I've never been very good at denying you anything." He got a look on his face which to Lois appeared to be somewhat wistful.

"Hey, don't worry. I'm sure it will all come back in time," she said, not entirely sure why she was trying to reassure him, especially since she felt incredibly vulnerable herself. "In the mean time, do you mind showing me the house?"

He grinned, rising to his feet and offering her his hand. She hesitated slightly. There was something about his grin that… She pushed the thought out of her mind. She was really going to have to quit being so paranoid. Reaching out, she took the offered hand, allowing him to help her to her feet.

***

Perry was finally satisfied that he had the names and numbers of every public and private clinic of every variety within the State of New Troy. It had been quite a task — given that every small town seemed to have its own clinic. He began placing phone calls. Every call was the same. First he'd ask if they had treated a patient named Lois Lane since Friday. Then he'd ask if they had treated any gunshot victims since Friday. Finally, he'd ask if he could fax them a photo of Lois — for them to show around their clinic to see if anyone there recognized her.

It had taken him hours. And so far none of the clinics had provided him with any useful information. He gave a small sigh and began searching for clinics and hospitals in the states surrounding New Troy.

***

"He said you're doing well, ma petite choute," Dimitri said as the doctor finished up his latest examination of Lois. "No ill effects from your trip home."

Lois quickly did up her blouse, not liking the way Dimitri was looking at her. If there were any way she could communicate with the doctor without Dimitri's assistance, she'd find a way to make him leave the room during her examinations. The look seemed a little too much like a leer for Lois' comfort. Still, he seemed so hurt whenever she pushed him away. And if she had loved him enough to marry him… What had he said again? That they were newlyweds? This must be very hard on him — not having her remember him. She had to try to be sensitive. She wasn't entirely sure why that was such a foreign concept to her.

Dimitri informed her that he needed to speak to the doctor alone and followed him out of the house. Suddenly curious about what they would need privacy to discuss, especially since she couldn't understand them, she forced herself out of her chair and made her way to a window, opening it slightly in an attempt to overhear their conversation.

Dimitri and the doctor were standing outside. She watched as Dimitri lit up a cigarette — grateful that if he had to smoke, he was doing so outside the house. Although she couldn't understand what was being said, it was obvious that the doctor was upset and that Dimitri was trying to calm him down. She crinkled her eyebrows as her mind struggled to catch any words which might be familiar to her.

***

"But they must know something," said Dr. Jean. "Otherwise why would they have sent this picture?" Jean held up the picture he'd received earlier in the day.

"Put that away!" said Dimitri, grabbing the fax from Jean and crumpling it with his free hand as he glanced back at the house. "Do you want her to see this?" He held up his hand with the crumbled fax in it.

"I just think we should get out of this now. Tell her it was a joke or something and let her go."

"Superman is already getting the money. It will only be a couple more days. The guy who sent this to you…" He gestured to the crumpled up photo. "…he's not with the police. He's just guessing that a doctor might have treated her. It's nothing to worry about.."

"I don't like it, Dimitri."

"Just two more days — and this town will have the best clinic you've ever seen. You do want that, don't you? Or do you want to continue to see our children die because you don't have the proper drugs or equipment?"

"Of course I don't want that. It's just…" He let out a breath and looked at the house.

"Relax, Jean. Just ignore the fax. By the time they are able to check it out further, this will all be over." Dimitri stuck the balled up picture back in the doctor's hand.

Jean closed his eyes and, after a long moment, nodded. "Two days," he finally said before, with a last look at the house, turning and walking away.

***

"So what was that about?" asked Lois casually when Dimitri entered the house, wiping the clay off his feet.

"What was what about?"

"Why did the doctor need to talk to you alone?"

"Oh… well, he was just wanting to make sure that I knew how to take care of you."

"And why couldn't he say that in front of me — it's not as if I'd even be able to understand him, after all?"

Dimitri shrugged. "You know the doctor."

"No. As a matter of fact, I don't know the doctor," Lois snapped. There was something he wasn't telling her. "Is there some problem with me that he doesn't want me to know about? Are you trying to protect me or something?"

"I don't know…"

"You're not telling me everything. I can feel it. So what did the doctor really have to say to you?"

"You're acting crazy. You're fine. He was just making sure I knew how important it is that you not over-exert yourself." He walked closer, snuffing out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray.

Lois, distracted by the small stream of smoke still rising from the partially extinguished cigarette, didn't respond again before Dimitri turned and headed for the washroom. Lois narrowed her eyes as she watched him go. He was lying. She knew it. But about what?

Unable to stand the smell emanating from the cigarette for a moment longer, she reached over and using only two fingers, put it out before looking back at where she'd last seen Dimitri. How could she find out what he was not telling her? It wasn't as if she could walk over to the doctor's office by herself to get a look at the paper Dimitri had crinkled up. She let out a breath of frustration. If only she were feeling better… Well, in a few days she would be, assuming that Dimitri was telling the truth about that, and then she was going to find out what was going on. Something felt strangely familiar about the idea of digging around to find answers.

***

Clark was quite proud of his achievement when he returned to his apartment and spun back into his Clark clothes. He had what he estimated to be about five thousand carats in diamonds. He sat down on his couch and, after reading a number of books that he'd borrowed from the library to refresh his memory, began using his laser vision to cut the diamonds. The first couple cracked. But it didn't take long for him to catch on. Given the degree of difficulty involved, he was glad now that years ago, when he'd first found the rich treasure stowed safe inside the earth, he'd taken the time to learn how to cut diamonds. After all, uncut diamonds were worth substantially less than cut diamonds. Of course, being able to see the fault lines in the stones and having such precise control of the laser being used to cut them was a definite advantage. Once they were cut, he quickly ran his hands back and forth over the surfaces to polish them.

To his untrained eye, the diamonds appeared to have good clarity and color. Now all he needed to do was to wait for the diamond dealer he had called earlier to see if his assessment of the number of diamonds he would need to fulfil the kidnappers demand was correct.

He was astounded to realize how easy it was for him to come up with such a huge amount of money in only a matter of hours. His name was still on the claim so if in the future he needed more money, he supposed returning there would always be an option. He could be richer than Luthor if he wanted to be. There was something strangely satisfying about that thought.

Not that he liked using his powers to make money. It felt a little like cheating, somehow. Still, in an emergency, it was good to know that resource was there.

He heard a knock on the door just as he finished cutting the last diamond. For some reason, this particular diamond had come out especially nice. He was still holding it when he answered the door.

Outside the door was an older gentleman, very distinguished. He was wearing a long, black top coat over a black suit. On his head was a black hat. His hair was neatly trimmed and he had a full salt and pepper beard. Clark smiled when he saw his friend. They had met a couple months ago when Clark had covered a story about a gang of teenagers who were hassling religious Jews in Metropolis. Clark had immediately taken a liking to the older man — and that respect had been returned when Clark not only broke the story, but got the police to prosecute the individuals involved.

"Moishe Weissman," Clark said, opening the door a little wider. "So good of you to come here. I could have come to your place of business."

"Nonsense, my boy. I'm glad to be here. So what is it that you have for me? Uhh…" he continued when he saw the diamond Clark was holding. "May I?" He held his hand out. Clark immediately placed the diamond in it. Weissman removed an eye piece from his inside pocket and studied the rock with a practiced eye. "Excellent color and clarity. A little more than two carats, I would say. Beautifully cut. May I ask who did it?"

"Superman," Clark replied.

"Superman?" Weissman responded, his eyebrows going up even as he handed the diamond back to Clark.

"Just because of the situation in which we found ourselves."

"Uhh… yes. You mentioned some sort of emergency. I must confess, I don't get a lot of diamond emergencies — except for people trying to sell them in a hurry, of course. So what is this emergency?"

"I need to sell these diamonds in a hurry," Clark said, gesturing to the diamonds littering his coffee table. "My partner at the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, has been kidnapped. I have to come up with fifty million dollars by tomorrow. So Superman obtained these. We were hoping there might be enough here for us to convince you to buy them for fifty million — assuming you can come up with the money that quickly."

"I can," Weissman said absently. "And if the quality of the diamond you have there is any indication…" He gestured to Clark's hand while his eyes remained focused on the table. "…I'd say you have more than enough diamonds to warrant a fifty million-dollar pay out." He made his way over to the coffee table before looking back at Clark. "May I?"

"Certainly," said Clark, gesturing to the diamonds.

Clark closed the door before joining the diamond dealer in the living room. As Weissman removed his coat, Clark could see the tassels of his prayer shawl poking out below the waistcoat of his perfectly tailored suit. And the removal of his hat revealed the existence of his kippah or skullcap. Clark had to admit he'd always felt a lot of respect for anyone who lived his beliefs. He watched in fascination as the older gentleman pulled a notebook out of his inside pocket and, after examining each diamond carefully, would write something in that book.

Weissman didn't say another word until he'd finished his examination of the merchandise. "You tell Superman that he can have a job cutting diamonds for me anytime," Weissman said, rising from the sofa.

Clark chuckled. "I'll be sure to let him know. So what do you think? Is it worth fifty million dollars?"

"More. I'd give you eighty-five million for the bunch — and still stand to make a pretty profit for myself." He gestured to the diamond Clark was still holding. "And I'll even let you keep that one — put it in a beautiful setting for you, too."

"Oh," Clark glanced down at the diamond he was still absently playing with. "I'd forgotten I was holding this." He went to set it down.

"No. No. That one has obviously adopted you. Either you can keep it or give it to someone you love, perhaps?"

Clark looked down at the diamond. "Perhaps."

"Ahh… I thought so. Diamonds don't usually adopt someone unless they are needed for love."

Clark blushed, giving his head a shake as he tried to get his mind back on track. "Well, all I need is the fifty million. You can keep the rest."

Weissman raised his eyebrows. "Well, I'll take them off your hands whenever you want. But might I make a suggestion — although I'll be losing millions as a result?"

"What's that?"

"You might see if the kidnapper will agree to be paid in diamonds. The diamond community is small. If someone tries to move this quantity of diamonds, it will be easier to track him down after the exchange is made."

Clark smiled. He really liked this man. "Good plan. But…" He reached over and picked up one of the larger diamonds. "For your time."

"Nonsense," said Weissman. "But… I will take that one for you." He gestured to the one in Clark's hand. "I'll turn it into the most beautiful ring you've ever seen. She will marry you just to be able to wear this ring."

"Who said anything about marriage?"

"The diamond always knows," Weissman responded.

Clark placed the diamond in the man's hand. Weissman picked up his coat and walked towards the door before turning back to Clark. "You let me know if you want the cash or if you persuade the kidnapper to take the diamonds. I'll proceed to assemble eighty-five million in case you need it."

"Make it fifty million and you've got a deal," said Clark. "I wouldn't know what to do with that much money — neither would Superman. And I have no intention of giving anything to the kidnappers that I don't have to."

Weissman chuckled. "Fifty million then. But the Superman Foundation will be receiving a very generous anonymous donation. As I said before, you need to try to convince the kidnapper to take diamonds. I promise you I'll make sure he isn't able to cash these in…" He gestured to the diamonds on the table. "…without my knowing about it."

"How will you know it's these diamonds?"

Weissman chuckled. "I'll know." Weissman's expression suddenly became much more serious. "And I'll say a prayer for your friend tonight — that the One who sees everything will watch over her and bring her home safe."

Clark's eyes became moist. "Thanks," he said softly.

Weissman gave a small nod before turning to leave Clark's apartment.

***

"I need to go out for a while," said Dimitri. "Will you be okay here alone?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll be fine," Lois responded. In truth, she was relieved at the prospect that he would be gone for a while. "I've got my magazine here." She held up the latest copy of 'People Magazine.'

He'd told her that it was her favorite thing to read. She'd flipped through the articles, but had been unable to get into it. For some reason, she just couldn't understand why she found the lives of movie stars so fascinating. It baffled her, however, that she still knew who Mel Gibson was — even when she only knew her own name because Dimitri had told it to her. How was that possible? It was somewhat disturbing to think that her life seemed to revolve around what to her way of thinking — at least at the moment — were such trivial matters. In her mind, she was some great crusader for truth, justice and the American way. For some reason she couldn't quite place, that phrase seemed so familiar to her.

"Very good," said Dimitri. "If you feel up to it, you could try making supper. You always say cooking relaxes you."

Lois looked towards the kitchen, crinkling her eyebrows in confusion. "I do?"

"Oh, yes. Definitely. Whenever you aren't feeling well, I'll return home to find you cooking up a storm. Of course, if you're not up to it, don't worry about it. I'll find something for us when I get home."

Lois nodded distractedly. "What do I cook?"

"You do great with everything."

"Oh. Umm… okay. Maybe I'll give it a try."

Dimitri smiled before turning to head out the door.

Lois stared into the kitchen area from where she was seated on the couch. She had absolutely no memory of cooking. Slowly, she rose to her feet and made her way into the kitchen. Dimitri said that cooking always relaxed her. So maybe she should try it. After all, she could use some relaxing.

***

Luthor hung up the phone and pursed his fingers together. Ray, the temp worker he'd placed inside the Daily Planet, had just informed him that White and Kent, with the help of that kid… he couldn't remember his name… were doing the legwork for Superman — helping him with his quest to find Lois Lane. If Luthor hadn't wanted Kent to find her, he was even less enthusiastic about the idea of Superman finding her.

The problem was that since he'd left the Daily Planet the previous day, he'd been probing all the dark places of Metropolis to find a lead. But whoever had kidnapped Lois was flying below the radar. That told him there weren't many people involved. Otherwise, by now someone would have talked.

Ray had also informed Luthor that the Daily Planet had received some sort of proof that Lois was still alive. Luthor gave a small 'hmph.' Nice of them to let him know. So… how should he handle the situation?

After a moment, he buzzed his secretary. "Get me Perry White at the Daily Planet."

Less than a minute later, his secretary's voice echoed through the office. "Mr. White on line two."

Luthor picked up the phone. "Perry."

"Hello, Lex. What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering if you know yet whether Lois is alive."

"Yes. Sorry. I really should have let you know. Apparently, the kidnapper is wanting fifty million dollars to return Lois alive."

"Fine. I'll make arrangements to get the money right away. Where does he want it dropped?"

"We don't know that, Lex. But…"

"What?"

"Well, Superman said he'd take care of coming up with the money. So as nice as it is for you to offer, you really need to talk to Superman about it. When I see him next, I'll let him know about your offer."

Luthor gritted his teeth. "Fine. I'll make the arrangements — just in case. And, Perry, in the future, I'd really appreciate knowing when you get information about Lois."

"I'll be sure to add you to my list."

Luthor glared at the phone for a long moment after he and Perry said their goodbyes. Superman. Some day in the very near future, Luthor intended to swat that very annoying fly.

***

Dimitri rushed into his house, wondering what could possibly have happened. He choked slightly, making his way through the smoke- filled rooms to discover Lois, the window open, waving a tea- towel frantically, trying to direct the smoke towards the window.

"I'm not feeling very relaxed," Lois mumbled without turning to look at him.

"What happened?"

"What do you think happened? I can't remember how to cook," she snapped. "Who forgets how to cook? I remember Mel Gibson — but I can't remember how to cook spaghetti. I suspect everyone knows how to cook spaghetti. I must have been a really good cook, too. After all, I searched everywhere and I couldn't find a single recipe. I must have cooked everything from memory. Well, that's just great! I don't have a memory. Of course, that doesn't keep me from remembering Mel Gibson. Now granted, he's cute enough, but of no relevance to my life. So why do I remember him and forget how to cook? Would you at least tell me that?

"I did find one thing, however," Lois continued, hardly taking a breath. "That," she said, pointing to a paper that was lying on the counter. When she'd seen it, she'd been stunned. It was a reservation at the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel in Metropolis. It was covered with water stains and blood. And much of the writing was obscured. But she could clearly see the name 'Lois,' although her last name and Dimitri's name were illegible. It confirmed in Lois' mind what Dimitri had told her. She wished she didn't find that thought so disturbing. "Why did you keep that? It's morbid. It's gross. I just about passed out when I saw the blood on…"

She gasped when Dimitri grabbed her, attempting to cut off her words with a kiss. She automatically pushed him away, shoving against his chest as hard as she could.

"What the hell did you do that for?" she asked, running the back of her hand across her mouth without bothering to consider how her husband might interpret the gesture. She was too miserable at the moment to care.

"Relax," he said, refusing to be put off by her rejection and instead pulling her back into his arms. "I was just trying to get you to quit babbling. Even if you don't remember cooking, I can remember another room where you perform quite well." He rocked his body against hers.

Lois felt her stomach lurch and pulled herself out of his arms. "I'm still not feeling well enough for something like…" She gestured her arms wildly towards the bedroom.

"Maybe you will be later," he said. Before she could assure him that she wasn't expecting to be ready for something like that at any time in the foreseeable future, he continued. "Why don't you go back to your magazine? I'll find something for us to eat."

Lois let out a breath before heading into the living room. He'd brought up a very good point — in his barbaric way. Sleeping arrangements for tonight. She'd explored the small house and other than the double bed in the bedroom, there were no other beds in the house. How was she to convince him that he should sleep on the lumpy couch — or that she would? And what happened in the event she never remembered what she'd apparently felt for him at one time? Could she really fulfill her marital obligations with this man?

***

Clark made his way directly towards Perry's office the instant he entered the newsroom. "Any news?" he asked.

Perry looked up from his notes. "Still working on it. I've contacted every clinic in the state. And I've started contacting clinics and hospitals in the surrounding states. But…" He made an expansive gesture with his hands. "How about you?"

"I checked out every clinic and hospital in Metropolis," Clark said, taking a seat.

"And…"

"Same as you. Nothing. Who knows? Maybe we were wrong about the picture being taken in a clinic. I do have a little bit of good news, however. Superman told me he has managed to come up with the fifty million dollars. But… well, it's in diamonds. A diamond dealer I know will exchange the diamonds for the money we need. But he suggested Superman try to convince the kidnapper to take diamonds instead."

"Why's that?"

"Because they're easier to trace."

Perry nodded his head in approval.

"What about Jimmy? Is he still here?"

Perry pointed towards the conference room. Clark rose to his feet and looked through the window in Perry's office. He gave a small smile. Jimmy was sitting in the conference room, his head on the desk, obviously sound asleep. "Did he find anything before he passed out?"

"He was still running the program. He did say, however, that if we could find some way to narrow the area down, it would speed things up considerably."

"Such as?" asked Clark, sitting back down.

Perry shrugged. "Anyway, you should get home and get some sleep. Something tells me that tomorrow is going to be another long day."

"You should, too."

In spite of the words, the two men continued to sit in Perry's office in silence, neither quite willing to admit that there was nothing else they could do before the next morning.

***

Pascal made his way into the darkened bar. After delivering the envelope to the Daily Planet, Dimitri had suggested he remain in the city — just in case they needed him there. He'd spent the majority of the day in his grungy motel room. But tonight, the bright lights of the city beckoned to the country boy.

He smiled as he took a seat at the bar and looked around. Booze. Loud music. Low lights. Beautiful women. What else could a man ask for? He reached over and grabbed a handful of peanuts, popping one in his mouth. He had the whole night in the big city.

He reached into his pocket and withdrew the wad of bills Dimitri had given him. Slapping one down on the bar, he ordered a drink. Soon they would all be rich. What damage could it do to start celebrating their good fortune?

***

Lois lay as close to her own side of the bed as she could get. Her plan to ask Dimitri to sleep on the couch had taken a turn for the worse — primarily because she'd never even asked him. After what had happened as bedtime approached, she hadn't had the nerve. Fortunately, he was snoring now. She was grateful that he was asleep.

Part of her was confused by her passiveness. She had the feeling she was more assertive than this under normal circumstances. She wasn't entirely sure why she had that impression. But in this situation, she already felt so vulnerable. Not knowing who she was made every experience, every situation somewhat frightening. She was afraid of offending Dimitri too much. After all, what would she do if he threw her out? Where would she go? From the look of things, it wasn't as if she had any money for a motel — or any friends, for that matter. At least no one had been to visit her in the past two days — except Dimitri.

Her mind drifted back to the 'incident' as they had begun getting ready for bed. She'd searched closets and drawers earlier and had found there items of clothing for a woman. None of it seemed familiar. Still, the clothes seemed to fit all right. But it wasn't until she'd come into the bedroom to get ready for bed that she'd noticed that the only nightwear she seemed to own was more than a little revealing. She'd finally found a big shirt and a pair of shorts to sleep in. She'd noticed Dimitri's disapproving look the instant he came into the room.

She drew in a long, slow breath. That was when things had gone from bad to worse. She'd been trying to figure out how to bring up the issue of sleeping arrangements when he'd come up behind her. She still shuddered recalling the feel of his hands on her body. When she'd tried to put him off, he'd become insistent and for a time, she'd almost thought she was going to be raped.

At first, she tried to be gentle — not wanting to offend him or hurt his feelings. But when she found herself sprawled across the bed, his hand seeking entrance inside her shorts, she'd finally decided that talk wasn't working and used force to get him off her, stopping short of kneeing him in the groin — although, to be honest, the thought had crossed her mind. When he'd reminded her that they were newlyweds, she'd reminded him that the doctor had insisted she take things easy for a time.

The look she'd seen in his eyes had been nothing short of controlled anger — as if he were barely on the edge of being able to stop himself from forcing her against her will. If she'd had anywhere else to go, she'd have been gone. Instead, he was the one who had left the room, heading towards the washroom.

She'd crawled nervously into bed, fighting the urge to burst into tears. She wasn't sure she'd ever been so frightened. A few minutes later the sounds coming from the washroom made it abundantly clear to Lois what he was doing in there. It amazed her she should recognize such noises when she couldn't even remember her own name. Still, she'd been relieved. Perhaps if he worked out his… frustrations, he wouldn't be a threat to her for the rest of the night. When he'd returned to the room and crawled into bed, she'd pretended to be sleeping.

But she hadn't been sleeping. She still wasn't — hours later. Instead she was lying in the dark of the room, staring absently at the shadows and listening to the snoring behind her.

She couldn't continue on like this. She knew that. She had to get back some memory of her life. And there was only one way to do that. She had to do some digging around. She wondered why that thought felt so familiar. Maybe she was a cat burglar in her former life.

She took a look over his shoulder at the sleeping man, as she decided whether or not to get out of bed and begin her search now. After a moment, she decided against it. She was simply too tired. Still, simply the thought of starting an investigation tomorrow made her feel more empowered.

She lay in bed for long time before reaching another decision — as soon as she was strong enough, she would leave Dimitri. Maybe when her memory came back, she'd realize why she had married him. But until then… She shuddered. In truth, there was something about him, a look she would see in his eyes on occasion, that scared her.

What that meant was that she needed her sleep. She needed to regain her strength quickly. Maybe she could be out of there within the next couple of days. Where she would go, she didn't know. But she had to believe that this nightmare would not last forever.

Having settled matters in her own mind, she closed her eyes. As she drifted off to sleep she got the strangest feeling someone was looking out for her. It was a nice feeling.

***

Pascal laughed loudly as he pounded the back of one of his many newfound friends. It wasn't the amount of money he was paying out to buy drinks. These men really liked him. Had he known how much fun Metropolis was, he'd have left Isle d'Or years ago. Okay, well given his age, maybe a year or two ago.

"More drinks for my friends," Pascal called in a drunken slur. A cheer rose up from those at the table in response to his announcement.

"So tell me," said Rob, the man whose back Pascal had been pounding. "How did you come by so much money? You the bastard kid of some millionaire who wants to keep your existence from becoming known or something?"

"Can I tell you a secret?" asked Pascal.

The five men at the table leaned closer.

"Of course. If you can't trust the people you drink with, who can you trust?" asked Rob. All those at the table nodded solemnly.

"We've made Superman our bitch," Pascal confided.

"Superman." Rob practically spat the word. "Because of him a friend of mine is dead. I hate Superman."

"Who doesn't?" asked Pascal. "But I don't have to love him to take his money."

"Oh, and how are you going to do that?"

"My brothers and I have something he wants. He'll give us anything we want to get it back." He nodded knowingly at the other occupants of the table.

"Well, just be careful," said Rob. "My friend, Jason Trask, tried to take on Superman and he's currently worm food."

"That's horrible," said Pascal sympathetically. "Maybe after we have what we need from Superman, we can kill him. I'll talk to my brothers."

"Well, if you want to kill him, you'll need this." Rob withdrew a small green crystal from his pocket. "My friend said this rock would do the trick."

"Then why did he die?" asked Pascal, taking the rock and turning it over in his hands.

"Some of Superman's friends stepped in and did the dirty work. You know, that's what I hate the most about Superman. He pretends he's the great white hope, won't hurt a fly, and then he gets others to kill for him."

"Yeah, well, your friend can rest in peace now," Pascal said, holding up the crystal. "Cause this time Superman's not getting away."

***

WEDNESDAY

"What are you doing back here?" demanded Dimitri in French when his younger brother headed across the yard towards him. "I thought I told you to stay in Metropolis in case I need you there."

"I ran into someone who might be able to help us."

"We don't need any help."

Pascal shrugged. "Maybe not. But…" He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small green crystal. "It can't hurt to be sure. My friend told me that this rock will kill Superman. Take it." He handed the rock to Dimitri. "Just in case Superman tries anything."

Dimitri studied the crystal for a moment before shoving it in his pocket. It couldn't hurt to have it — even if Dimitri doubted the rock was anything more than a flashy crystal. On the other hand, even they could use a good luck charm.

***

"You're sure he said he had something Superman wanted?" Nigel stood in the now empty bar, the last survivors of the previous night's party having been successfully 'escorted' beyond the doors of the establishment. Still, the smell lingered. The stale booze and body odor were slightly offensive to Nigel's sensibilities. But he'd learned long ago that some of the best tips were to be found in some of the worst places. And when he'd heard a rumor that a man had been in this establishment the previous night bragging about how he was going to get a large quantity of money from Superman, he'd known he was hard on the heals of the kidnapper.

"Yeah," the bartender said.

"Something he'd give anything to get back?"

The bartender nodded.

"What was his name?"

The bartender shook his head. "I don't think I heard it. But two of our regulars, Sean Richards and Robert Baig, spent most of the evening drinking his drinks. You might try talking to them. They should know more."

"Do you have addresses for Richards and Baig?"

"Yeah. Sure." The bartender pulled a pad of paper from behind the bar and wrote on it. Tearing the paper off the pad, he handed it to Nigel who studied it for a minute.

"I'd ask that you not give this information to anyone else."

"No problem." The bartender held out his hand.

Understanding the hint, Nigel reached into his pocket, pulling out two hundred dollar bills and stuffing them in the outstretched hand. This man's information followed by his silence was easily worth a couple hundred dollars. His boss would be pleased. They had the first real lead on finding Lois Lane. And he'd insured that neither Clark Kent nor Superman would receive this information — at least not from this particular bartender.

***

The tension in Perry's office was almost palpable as he and Jimmy waited with Superman for the phone to ring. No one said a word as ten became five after, six after, seven after, eight after… The sudden ringing of the phone caused all three men to jump.

"Yes."

"I trust you've got the money."

"I've got fifty million in diamonds. Will that do?"

There was a moment of silence during which Superman held his breath. If he could convince the man to take the diamonds, finding him afterwards would be easier. "Diamonds will be a lot easier for you to carry."

"I expected better of you. I expected you to do what you were told. For all I know, you've got a bunch of pretty pieces of glass. Maybe I should just cut my losses now and…"

"No! I can exchange the diamonds and have your money in no time."

"Well…"

"Look, you'll get your money. All I care about is Lois. As long as you don't hurt her, in any way, I'll play this your way."

"Well, that's more like it. Okay, exchange the diamonds. Make sure the bills are not sequential. Then divide it up into five equal amounts. I'll call again tonight at ten with instructions for where to drop it off. And if I get one hint of cops, your girlfriend dies."

"I need to talk to her."

"I'll call you again tonight."

"Wait…" Superman closed his eyes when the phone line went dead. When he finally opened his eyes, Jimmy and Perry were looking at him expectantly. "There was something about the call… something that seemed… odd."

"What?"

Superman was silent for a moment as he tried to figure out what it was, what was just on the edge of his brain. When he realized what he'd noticed — or, more accurately, hadn't noticed — during the call, he thought back to his previous calls from the kidnapper. His eyes met Perry's. "When I talk to the kidnapper… I just realized that I never hear any noise in the background."

"Maybe he's in a house," suggested Jimmy.

Superman shook his head. "That's not it. With my hearing, I should be picking up background noise. Traffic or people in an adjoining apartment or… something. But I don't."

"What does that mean?" asked Jimmy.

Perry was the one who answered. "They aren't in the city."

Superman nodded.

Suddenly, the phone on Perry's desk buzzed. "Yes?" asked Perry.

"There's a call for Jimmy Olsen on line two."

"We're talking at the moment."

"They said it was important."

Perry looked at Jimmy.

"I'll take it out there," Jimmy said, heading into the bullpen.

"Where's Clark?" asked Superman, knowing exactly what Perry would say.

"He called first thing this morning. He's out talking to his sources, hoping that someone might have heard talk on the streets about Lois' kidnapping."

"Good plan," said Superman. He hesitated for a moment. "There's something I've been wanting to discuss with you without Jimmy here."

"What's that?" Perry asked.

"I'm afraid that once I deliver the money, the kidnapper will kill Lois. After all, from that picture the kidnapper sent, it seems as if Lois has seen his face."

Perry nodded. "When you're up to your neck in alligators, sometimes it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

"In other words…?"

"Keep your eye on the goal."

Superman nodded. "To get Lois back. And that means I need to buy us enough time to find her. Maybe tell the kidnapper that I refuse to cooperate further until he lets me talk to Lois."

Perry nodded. "It won't be easy, son. After all, the temptation will be to just give in if he isn't inclined to grant your demand."

"But we need the time," Superman said. He nodded slightly. He couldn't say he was looking forward to trying to talk the man into letting him speak to Lois. But Perry was right. They needed all the time they could get. And to that end… "I think I'll take to the skies for a while — see if I can find anything."

***

Superman was just leaving as Jimmy hung up the phone. "Superman…" Jimmy called. But the superhero must have been too far away to hear him. Fortunately, at that moment, Clark entered the newsroom. "I've got a lead on Lois," said Jimmy across the din of the newsroom, causing Clark to gesture him in the direction of Perry's office.

"You can't yell out information in the newsroom," said Clark once Jimmy had entered the chief's office. "Remember the police? We don't know if we can trust everyone here. Someone might be working for the kidnapper."

Jimmy cringed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think."

"Hey, I'm sure it's okay," said Clark immediately, squeezing Jimmy's shoulder to reassure his young friend. "So what did you find out?"

"That call was from Star Labs. The red mud you found on the envelope. Apparently, it's red clay — it's found in north eastern New Troy where a lot of fishermen live."

"That's great!" said Clark. "Okay, let me get a map of New Troy. You narrow your computer search to the north eastern part of the state. Perry, while we do that, would you call Moishe Weissman? His number is in my rolodex. He's the diamond dealer I met with. I saw Superman just before he left. He said we needed to exchange the diamonds. Moishe Weissman told me he'd do that."

***

Lois was feeling re-energized. Getting out of bed this morning and taking a shower by herself instead of needing Marie's assistance had felt wonderful. She was a long way from being back to normal. But she could now move around quite easily.

There had been a moment of anxiety when she realized that the lock on the door to the washroom was broken. But Dimitri had needed to go out again this morning, so she'd been okay. After the incident the previous night, she knew she couldn't trust Dimitri to respect her privacy.

Something was wrong with the whole situation. She just wished she could remember enough to figure out the problem. She might be tempted to think he was lying about everything — even being her husband. But there were three things wrong with that theory.

First, there was the doctor. If she went on her instincts, and without her memory that was just about all she had to go on, she had to say that she thought he was a good man. And, by his conduct, he was certainly supporting the idea that Dimitri was her husband.

Second, she couldn't think of a single reason anyone would lie about being her husband. It didn't seem she was an heiress with a lot of money. She had no expensive clothes or jewelry. No, there was no reason she could imagine for someone pretending to be her husband.

Finally, there was the reservation to the honeymoon suite at some swanky hotel in Metropolis she'd found the previous day. It certainly seemed to confirm what Dimitri had told her.

There was one thing she was having a lot of problems with, however. Apparently, she was living in a town where the vast majority of the population did not speak English. And yet she had never learned to speak French. How was that possible? She supposed she might have only recently moved there. Maybe only a little while before she had married Dimitri. That might explain why she didn't seem to have any friends either.

Still, even if Dimitri was her husband, she was getting less and less comfortable being in the same house with him. She just needed to find a way to leave him. If only she could talk to the doctor without having Dimitri translate for her, maybe she could ask him about shelters or… well, anything that would allow her to say goodbye to Dimitri.

Goodbye. She blinked when, in her mind, she found herself sitting at a desk. The man whose kiss had tasted like coffee with a trace of chocolate was saying goodbye. She felt a sharp pain in her chest as the reality set in. It made no sense. Why was he leaving her? She could feel tears welling up in her eyes. He shifted a box he was carrying to lean over. Cupping her cheek, his lips briefly brushed over hers. When he straightened up, she could see the same sense of loss in his eyes that she was feeling. Without another word, he turned away from her. 'Clark.' She fought back a sob as she said his name while he walked away.

She blinked. His name was Clark. And he had left her. She closed her eyes against the pain. It amazed her that although she could remember nothing about this man, other than two very different kisses, she knew his leaving had hurt her terribly.

She wandered over to a chair and sat down. How could he have left her? What had she done to drive him off? She had seen the pain his goodbye had caused him. Surely if they had felt that strongly for each other they could have worked it out. Why hadn't she been able to make him see that?

Clark. His name was Clark. But Clark what? What was his last name? Maybe if she could remember that, she could find him, persuade him to help her now.

Had he been married? Maybe. Maybe that was why he'd left. Or maybe he was a prince and he was committed to marry a princess from a foreign land in order to secure treaties. She gave her head a shake. Now she was just being ridiculous. Maybe he was from a rich family and for some reason they had disapproved of her, leaving him with a choice between her and his inheritance.

What was the point of this? The reasons he had left weren't particularly relevant right now. She needed to remember his last name. If only she could do that, she could contact him, ask him for his help. She was certain if she could just find him, he would help her. She wasn't sure how she knew it. But there was no doubt in her mind that he would.

***

"I think that's it," said Jimmy, staring at the computer screen in complete disbelief. He and Clark had been trapped in the conference room running this program for the past couple of hours.

Clark scrambled over, staring at the picture on the screen. "Are you sure?"

Jimmy shook his head. "No. I'm not sure."

"Okay, well, where is that?"

"It says… Isle d'Or." He turned to Clark. "Do you see it on the map?"

Clark studied the map for a moment before spotting a small island just off the shore in the northern part of the state. Isle d'Or. He rose to his feet.

"Where are you going?"

"To check out Isle d'Or," Clark said, heading towards the door to the conference room. Isle d'Or. The kidnapper had a French accent. It had to be. He stopped when he saw Perry standing in the doorway.

"You found something?" Perry asked.

"A lead. It seems the picture of Lois might have been taken on Isle d'Or. I'm going to check it out."

"Don't you think you should contact the police?" asked Perry. "If Lois is being held hostage there, the police…"

"Will go storming in like a hurricane — perhaps getting Lois killed in the process. I'm just going to sneak onto the island, take a look around. If I think Lois is there and I need help, I'll call the police then. In the mean time, Perry, would you go by my place? The diamonds are in a bag in the top drawer in the kitchen, just to the left of the sink. When Mr. Weissman comes by with the fifty million, divide it up into five packets of ten million each — just in case I don't find her. Superman will need to have that ready when the kidnapper calls back tonight."

Perry let out a breath. "At least let Superman know where you're going."

Clark nodded before heading past Perry towards the stairway. Perry watched him go.

"Do you think he'll be okay?" asked Jimmy.

"He's a smart, resourceful guy. And he's right. Calling the police right now… Well, we don't even know if Lois is really there. I just hope he doesn't do anything stupid."

Perry and Jimmy walked together outside the conference room.

"I just hope she's really there," said Jimmy.

Perry's only response was to nod.

***

"He didn't say where they think she is?" Luthor asked into the phone.

"No," came the whispered response. "As I told you all he said to Mr. White was 'I hope she's really there.' I assumed from that that they found Lois Lane — or at least think they did. Other than that… nothing. But I do know that Clark Kent took off out of here as if the devil himself were following."

"And you have no idea where he was going?"

"None."

Luthor slammed down the phone without another word. Kent thought he had found Lois Lane. Luthor couldn't let that happen. If his source had been a little more resourceful and had followed Kent when he left the newsroom, maybe that wouldn't be the case. So now what did he do?

"I believe I have stumbled across some information which might be of interest to you, sir."

Nigel's voice coming from the doorway to his office directed Luthor's attention towards his aide. The man was smiling.

"What is it, Nigel?"

***

Clark spun out of his Superman suit in the hills of Isle d'Or. It had been less than a minute since he'd left from the roof of the Daily Planet. He let out a slow breath, knowing that with the adrenaline flowing through his system at the mere prospect of finding Lois, he had to be careful. Any mistakes now could be fatal — and not for him.

Heading down the dirt road towards the town, he silently debated the best course of action. As the first houses came into view, he reached a decision. He knew Lois had been shot. And the picture indicated that she had been in the clinic in this particular town. He would start there — assuming, of course, that there was only one. On the other hand, from the air it appeared that Isle d'Or was too small for more than one medical facility.

"Excuse me," he said when he spotted a woman heading down the road, a young child riding on her hip. "Could you help me?"

"Je ne comprends pas l'Anglais" the woman said.

"Je comprends le francais," Clark responded, informing the woman that he spoke French before proceeding to ask her where he might find the clinic. She explained, using both words and hand gestures.

"Merci," Clark said before heading in the appropriate direction.

Shortly after receiving directions from the woman, Clark found himself standing in front of a rather rundown building — although in truth, it was better than a lot of other buildings he'd seen so far during his trip through Isle d'Or. But for a medical facility… If he hadn't known he was in the State of New Troy, he would have believed he was in a third world country.

Since arriving on Isle d'Or, he'd been wracking his brain and he was fairly certain he'd never even known the island existed. Had he not seen it on the map, he probably wouldn't have even believed an island by the name of Isle d'Or was part of the State of New Troy.

He pulled his glasses down his nose and glanced over the top, quickly scanning the clinic for Lois. But there was no sign of her — although he could see the hill they thought might be the one in the picture. Taking a deep breath, he headed up the muddy steps to the clinic. Stepping inside, he spotted an older man in a white coat seated at a table, making some notes in a file.

"Bonjour," said Clark, assuming that the doctor, if that was who he was, spoke French.

"Bonjour," the doctor responded, quickly closing the file and rising to his feet. "What can I do for you?"

Since the doctor's question was in French, Clark responded in kind. "Are you the doctor here? Or maybe there are more than one?"

"No. It's just me. And yes. I'm Doctor Jean. So how can I help you?"

"My name is Clark Kent. I'm looking for a friend of mine and I have reason to think that you might have treated her at some point during the last few days."

Clark knew he'd hit pay dirt when the doctor's heart rate hit one hundred sixty beats per minute. The doctor quickly glanced at the file on his desk before looking back at Clark.

"I doubt it," said the doctor, fiddling nervously with his pen.

"How can you know that without even knowing her name?"

"Umm… because I haven't treated anyone in the past few days."

"Mmm…" Clark said. "Well, would you mind looking at her picture?" He reached into her pocket and removed a picture of Lois, handing it to the doctor. "Her name is Lois Lane."

"I'm sorry. I've never seen her."

"I see," said Clark slowly. "Maybe my information was wrong."

"Oui. Oui. That must be it," said the doctor. "Now, if you don't mind, I really am busy."

"But if you don't have any patients, how can you be busy?"

"Umm… paperwork," the doctor said, glancing again at the file he'd been working on when Clark came in.

Clark noticed the gesture and lowered his glasses slightly, examining the file. He couldn't see much but what he did see caused his heart to skip a beat. The name on the top of the file was Lois Lane. He looked up when the doctor stepped between him and the file.

"Was there anything else?" asked the doctor.

"No. No. Nothing."

He couldn't help but notice the speed at which the doctor escorted him from the clinic. He could feel the doctor's eyes following him as he walked down the road. He waited until his ears told him the doctor had gone back inside before dashing between two houses and taking to the air without even taking the time to spin into the suit. He made sure he was moving quickly enough that, were anyone watching, they'd only see a blur. Flying high enough that he would be no more than a speck in the sky, he focused on the clinic, anxious to see what the doctor would do now.

The man had treated Lois. And he probably knew exactly where she was or what had happened to her. Clark figured his best bet, especially if the kidnapper was holding her somewhere, was to follow the doctor to the kidnapper, assuming he was not one and the same. Then he would follow the kidnapper to Lois. Once he located her, he would wait for his chance, sneak in wherever she was being held, and free her before the kidnapper even knew what was happening.

If his visit to the doctor caused the kidnapper to panic, putting Lois in danger, he could always spin into the Superman suit and put himself between her and danger — unless, of course, the doctor simply called the kidnapper on the phone. Oh god! Why hadn't he considered that possibility before visiting the doctor? The sudden fear that he'd just made things so much worse didn't abate until he saw the doctor head out of the clinic, looking around nervously, before heading purposefully down the street in the opposite direction to that which Clark had taken.

***

Dimitri opened the door, surprised when he saw the doctor standing on the other side, a flushed expression on his face. The man was obviously upset. Knowing there must be a problem, Dimitri stepped outside, closing the door behind him. He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a pack of cigarettes, figuring this was going to take some time.

When the doctor walked a few paces away from the house, Dimitri followed. Dr. Jean was panicking again. Maybe Dimitri should have found a way not to have involved the man. He wasn't sure how he could have done it, but there must have been a way. The doctor was quickly becoming a serious liability.

"What's the matter, Dr. Jean?" Dimitri asked, lighting his cigarette.

"There was a man at my clinic a few minutes ago. He was asking about Lois. He said he had reason to believe that I had treated her in the last few days."

"What was his name?"

"Umm… Clark… something. Oh. I remember. Clark Kent."

"Did he say why he thought you had treated her?"

"No. But he seemed pretty sure of himself. And he seemed really interested in her file. It was closed, so he didn't see anything. But I think someone must have called that number in the Daily Planet and told them they saw Lois here. Maybe when you were bringing her to the clinic, someone saw her. I think we have to get out of this now."

"Where did he go after he left the clinic?"

"I don't know. Maybe he went to talk to the person who called the Daily Planet."

"Could he have followed you here?"

"No way. I was very careful. Besides, he headed in the other direction."

Dimitri glanced back at the house. "Just give me a minute," he said. "Then you and I will go somewhere and decide what to do." He dropped his cigarette, crushing it under his heel.

The doctor nodded enthusiastically, obviously anticipating that they would come up with a plan to release Lois. Dimitri, however, had other ideas.

***

Lois dashed back to the couch, collapsing onto the soft surface just a second before Dimitri reentered the house. She hadn't been able to understand what Dimitri was discussing with the doctor. But there was no missing the mention of a Clark Kent. Could that be her Clark — the one whose kisses she kept remembering?

She looked up from the magazine she was pretending to read when Dimitri said her name.

"I've got to go out for a while." He made his way over to where she was sitting. She forced herself not to flinch when he brushed his lips over her cheek.

"That's fine. I'm sure I'll be okay on my own. I've got my magazine, after all." She gave him a smile and then looked back at her magazine. Letting out a breath of relief when he left the house, she placed the magazine on the table.

Clark Kent. She rolled the name around in her mind for a moment, trying to see if it brought back any new memories. It didn't. Still, she liked the name. She liked the way they seemed to fit together. It was a strong name. It was…

She glanced up again when she heard the door open. Expecting to see Dimitri, she was stunned to see a good-looking, dark-haired man standing in the doorway with a very strange expression on his face.

"Can I help…"

Her voice trailed off when he strode purposely across the room and, without explanation, pulled her from the couch and into his arms. Using his left hand to hold her close, his right hand found its way into the hair on the back of her head, cradling it gently. For a moment, she was completely stunned. She was even more surprised when she realized that his powerful body was trembling against her. He dropped his head to bury his face in her hair and she could hear him softly whispering her name over and over again. She wasn't entirely sure what was happening. But at no point did the idea of pushing him away even cross her mind.

Her hands came up to his sides as she breathed in his scent. There was something about having this man's arms around her that felt so right, so normal — almost as if she'd been born to be held by these arms.

When he pulled back slightly, she felt her hands ball into his shirt as if to prevent him from suddenly disappearing. "I thought I'd lost you," he breathed, the emotion in his eyes and voice touching something deep inside her.

When his hand cupped her cheek and his mouth descended on hers, it felt entirely natural. She responded without thinking, tasting the lingering suggestion of coffee in his kiss. She moaned, her tongue darting out tentatively as it sought entrance into his mouth. He groaned, allowing the intrusion as his hand left her cheek to wrap itself around her, pulling her body powerfully and yet gently against his. He responded to her probing tongue, chasing it, playing with it, following it back into her mouth in a dance which caused every nerve ending in her body to come alive.

He was Clark. She'd known that from the instant she'd tasted coffee in his kiss. She didn't know what had happened between them, why he'd left her, but she knew for the first time since regaining consciousness in a strange hospital with no idea of her identity that she was safe and cherished and even loved. She had no intention of letting go of that feeling any time soon. Or, for that matter, of letting go of the man holding her in his arms.

Unlike the revulsion she'd felt at Dimitri's kiss and touch, she couldn't seem to get close enough to her Clark. Everything about him, about this, felt so right. Her hands slid up his chest and around his neck so that she could play with the soft hair at the nape of his neck as their kisses continued.

***

"So what do we do?" asked Dr. Jean.

"What do you suggest we do?" asked Dimitri. He had just finished explaining the situation to his brothers. The look Albert gave him told him his brother understood what the next step had to be. After giving a brief nod, Albert left to go into the adjoining room. Dimitri was currently waiting for him to return, being fairly confident he knew why his brother had left. It was the reason Dimitri had assembled his brothers at Albert's place to give them this information, after all.

"Well, I don't know," said Dr. Jean. "Maybe we could explain to Ms. Lane how badly the town needs financial assistance — clean water, proper sanitation, proper medicines. Maybe once she understands that, she'll realize why we did it. Maybe she'd even be willing to talk to Superman to…"

His voice trailed off when Albert returned to the room, carrying a number of rifles and handguns.

"What are you going to do with those?" asked Jean, his voice rising in disbelief.

Dimitri took a handgun, checking the clip to ensure it was full. "We're going to solve a problem." He slipped the gun in the front of his trousers and picked up a shotgun.

"You're not going to kill them, are you?" the doctor asked.

"Not at the moment." Dimitri looked at his brothers. "When I first came up with the plan to kidnap Lois Lane, I fixed up a place in the old mine to hold her. When we find Kent, we can toss him in there. By the time anyone realizes he's missing, we'll have the money."

"What if he finds the woman before we find him?" asked Eugene.

"Then we toss both of them in the old mine."

"Why not just kill them both now?" asked Pascal.

"Because Superman might demand more proof that she's alive before turning over our money," explained Dimitri. "There'll be plenty of time to kill them later."

"What?" gasped Jean. "You can't do that. You promised me that you wouldn't hurt…"

Dr. Jean never got a chance to finish his objection because the butt of a shotgun in his gut caused him to double over and something hitting the back of his head caused him to lose consciousness, collapsing to the floor of Albert's house as if he were a rag doll.

"What should we do with him?" asked Eugene, nudging the unconscious man with the toe of his boot. "Should we throw him in the mine, too?"

Dimitri studied Jean's unconscious form. "Nah. He's in this as deep as we are. If he turns us in, he turns himself in. And he doesn't want to go to prison any more than we do. Besides, we've got other matters to deal with at the moment."

***

How he ended up sprawled out across the couch with Lois beneath him, Clark had no idea. Still, that didn't stop his lips from continuing to explore every inch of the soft skin of her neck. Never had anything tasted so sweet.

When he'd first entered the house and seen Lois, he reacted instinctively, taking her in his arms in order to assure himself that she was real. It had suddenly occurred to him that he really should let go. But when he'd moved to release her, Lois' hands had fisted into his shirt, as if she didn't want to let go either. And then her eyes had drifted to his mouth and he'd seen her tongue touch her lower lip. His response had been automatic. He'd bent his head to kiss her.

The kiss had been meant only as a sweet reassurance. How it had gotten so out of control, he had no idea. The only thing that persuaded him to give up his exploration of her soft skin was the realization that he had to get Lois out of there before the kidnapper returned. Using every ounce of self control he possessed, he pulled back slightly.

Lois opened her eyes, staring up at him with the same dazed expression he was sure he bore. Her hair was tousled. Her lips were swollen from his kisses. And in the air was just a hint of a musk which he found completely intoxicating. For a moment he was tempted to resume his previous activities. He had to forcibly remind himself that Lois was still in danger to keep from doing so.

"I was terrified I'd lost you," he said. "I love you so much. And the thought of losing you…" His voice trailed off and he broke eye contact as tears involuntarily swelled up in his eyes.

"Hey, I'm right here." Her voice was soft. Her hand came up to gently stroke his cheek.

He met her eyes again and smiled. Yes she was. She was right here… in this… He crinkled his eyebrows in confusion. She was right here. In a house. With lots of windows. Without any locks on the doors. With no sign of the man holding her hostage. With no restraints of any sort. Sure, they were on an island. But that would hardly be an obstacle for someone like Lois. "But why are you…"

Clark never got a chance to finish his sentence because at that moment hands grabbed the back of his jacket, pulling him off Lois as unbearable pain blurred his vision, practically blinding him. He recognized the sensation immediately. Kryptonite. He didn't have time to wonder how the men had managed to sneak up behind him. He didn't have the strength to react when the man spun him around and plowed the butt of a rifle into his stomach. The only thing he could do was to cry out in pain as he collapsed to his knees, holding his stomach.

In the back of Clark's mind, he knew Lois was yelling. It briefly registered that there was a struggle going on around him. But he couldn't do anything to help her as a foot kicked up into his face, causing his head to snap back, followed by the rest of his body. Almost instantly everything went black.

***

Lois found herself silently rebelling against Dimitri's iron grip on her arm. Even so, she made no effort to escape. She couldn't — not when the men who had come into the house with Dimitri were dragging Clark's limp body up the hillside.

The sweat was glistening on her forehead as a result, she suspected, of the mixture of bright sunlight, the exertion of walking up the path into the hill and her body's weakened state. Still, her mind wasn't on her discomfort. Instead, she couldn't get the sight of Clark's broken and bloody face out of her mind. She suspected the moment she'd seen Dimitri's foot swing upward into Clark's face would stay with her forever. It had happened in what seemed like slow motion. She could still hear her own scream echo in her ears when she'd watched his head snap back. Even now, a shudder rippled thought her at the mere memory of that moment.

She'd watched from where she was struggling ineffectively against the man holding her as Dimitri searched Clark's pockets, finding only his wallet and cell phone. He had confiscated the wallet and destroyed the cell phone by crushing it under the heal of his boot.

At last she'd broken free of the arms holding her, rushing to Clark's side — nothing mattering except the need to know if he was alive. It was then that she had first seen his face. She'd wanted to hold him, to pull him into her arms, but she had not dared do so for fear that his neck had been broken. The only comfort she'd found was that he still seemed to be breathing.

Arms had grabbed her once again. This time Dimitri's arms. She'd struggled. She'd begged and pleaded to be allowed to tend to Clark's injuries. But to no avail.

And now she was helpless to do anything but follow as he was dragged, heedless of his injuries, up an old dirt trail leading into the hills behind the town.

Finally, ahead of them she could see a large wooden door which appeared to be built into the side of the hill. Before she could seriously contemplate its purpose, the men dragging Clark dropped him to the ground. Using the small amount of energy she had left, she managed to break away from Dimitri to rush to Clark's side.

"Clark," she whispered, very cautiously moving his body so that she could look at his face, desperate to assure herself that he was still alive.

"Get to work on that door."

Lois ignored Dimitri's command to the other men as she concentrated on her task. She almost burst into tears when she saw the slow, but steady up and down movement of Clark's chest. He was alive.

Her worst fear alleviated, she gently touched his face. For some reason, his injuries didn't look as serious to her now. Although she knew it was impossible, it almost seemed that being dragged up a hill in the bright sunlight had done him some good. She quickly dismissed the thought. He'd simply not been as badly injured as she'd originally suspected.

"Okay, bring them in here."

Almost immediately following Dimitri's words, arms were grabbing her from behind.

***

Lois fumbled around in the dark, trying to find the cot on which she'd seen two of the men dump Clark. The cave in which she and Clark were trapped was dark, the large wooden door blocking their only escape route. She'd thrown her shoulder against the door until she was certain it must be bruised. Realizing she was getting nowhere, she directed her energy to making her way over the uneven ground to Clark.

As she felt her way in what she thought was the appropriate direction, Dimitri's words as he'd locked them in the cave echoed in her mind. 'Now I have two hostages.' 'You better hope Superman likes Kent as much as he seems to like you.' 'Don't worry. I won't tell Superman about you making out with Kent — he might not be willing to pay as much to get you back if he knows you're cheating on him.' 'If I'd have known how easily you give it up, I'd have forced the issue last night. Who knows? Maybe we'll get another chance really soon.' The obscene gesture he made as he said the final words left little doubt in Lois' mind as to their meaning.

Her hands searched blindly in front of her. The cot had to be close. If only there was some light so that she could see something, anything. At this point, shadows would be nice. She stifled a squeal of pain when her shins bashed against a hard surface in the dark. She reached down, feeling the edge of the cot. She felt her way up to the head of the cot, searching for…

Clark. Her hands felt what she realized must be his face. She ran her hands down his face, a sticky wetness coating her fingers. Blood. Still, her fingers continued until she found his throat. Placing her fingers on his pulse, she held her breath until she felt the steady beat of his heart under her fingers.

She carefully sat down on the side of the cot, hoping it was solid enough to hold her. It seemed to be. She took a moment trying to figure out what to do. She had to help Clark. But how? After a moment, she undid her blouse, slipping it off and tearing it in half so that she could use one half to wipe the blood from his nose off his face as best she could in the dark. She carefully removed his broken glasses, laying them to the side. She wished she had some water.

The past half hour or so had been so confusing. From the moment Dimitri had trapped them in this cave, she'd been having flashes of memory. Most of the images were hard for her to get a real grip on. Being chained to a post as Clark barged into the room. Being thrown out of a plane. Being trapped in a small room, struggling to breathe as something or someone burst through the wall. Being tossed into a garbage bin by Clark. The last one was particularly confusing. Why would Clark be tossing her into a garbage bin?

As she sat on the edge of the cot, she was suddenly caught up in another memory. Clark was dripping wet. Someone pulled a gun on him while his back was turned and… bang. The mere memory caused her to jump slightly. She focused on that memory. What had happened? Obviously, Clark hadn't been killed. So… She could remember an older man sinking down into the water. She'd turned to look over her shoulder to see a young woman, gun drawn, wearing a sheriff's uniform. The next thing she remembered was… Holding Clark in her arms, wanting never to let go.

She let out a sharp breath. "No wonder you left me," she said to the unconscious man, her hand gently brushing his hair off his face. "It seems that every memory I have of us involves you being in danger."

"It seems to me that you're in danger more often than I am," came Clark's raspy voice.

"Clark!" Lois gasped.

"And when did I ever leave you?"

"I don't know. I just know that you did. I was sitting at a desk. You leaned over and kissed me. Then you said goodbye and walked away."

There was a long moment of silence.

"I'm not crazy!" Lois finally said. "It happened! I know it did!" She had to fight the urge to stamp her foot like a child.

"I don't think you're crazy, but…" He shifted slightly, groaning as he did so.

"Are you okay?" she asked, her defiant tone disappearing with this reminder of his injuries.

"I feel as if I was hit in the stomach and kicked in the face. But other than that…"

Lois relaxed. In spite of the words, a humor came through in the way he said them that she was certain was designed to reassure her.

"Where are we?" Clark asked.

"Oh. Right. I guess you don't remember. Dimitri locked us in an old mining cave in the hills."

"That must be why it's so dark." He was silent for a moment. When he next spoke, the words were accompanied by movement. "I think I can just make out a lantern over there."

"Where?" asked Lois, looking around at her environment. She wasn't able to see a thing.

"Over there."

"Thanks, Clark. That helps a lot," she responded sarcastically. He was obviously pointing, but since she couldn't see his hand, it wasn't exactly helpful.

"I'm just going to see if there are any matches," said Clark, making an effort to get off the bed.

"No. You're too weak. You just tell me where it is and I'll check."

She felt his hand come up to cup her cheek. Her hand automatically covered his, feeling reassured by his gentle touch.

"Thanks for worrying. But I'm all right. I really am," he said softly, something in his tone or his touch sending butterflies fluttering through her stomach.

***

Clark could barely make out the shapes of the things around him as he crossed the uneven ground of the old cave towards the lantern. He used the opportunity to try to figure out which of his powers he still had. Since Lois had told him she couldn't see anything, he figured some of his visual abilities were working. On the other hand… he tried to look through the wall of the cave, but to no avail. Even his vision was only a shadow of its former self.

The man… Did Lois say his name was Dimitri? …had kryptonite. It was probably a lucky thing the man started beating on him the instant he'd entered the room. Otherwise, it would have seemed strange if Clark had doubled over in pain from… nothing. At least, nothing he could tell them about. He wasn't entirely sure if it was the kick to the face or the kryptonite which had caused him to pass out — although given the way his face was hurting, he suspected it could very well be the former.

Not that it particularly mattered, of course. What mattered was finding a way to get Lois out of there. Well, that and figuring out why Lois hadn't tried to get away from Dimitri when she had the chance. He suspected it was somehow connected to the comments he'd heard her make when he'd first come to. Her words had been… confusing. He knew the incident to which she was referring. It had happened during the Metropolis heat wave when all of Metropolis blamed Superman for the unusual weather. All of Metropolis except Lois, of course. But then he hadn't been leaving her — he'd been leaving Metropolis. And he had come back. So what was she talking about?

He pushed that concern to the back of his mind to concentrate on testing his powers. He tried floating. He managed to get off the ground an inch or two, but only for a second and then he crashed back to the floor of the cave. He directed a freezing breath at the door. Nothing. He bent down and picked up a stone, throwing it in the direction of the door to test his strength. It buried itself in the door, but didn't go through.

"What was that?" asked Lois.

"I just kicked a rock," he said, trying to keep the frustration he felt out of his voice. He had a little bit of his powers. He should be happy not all of them were completely gone. But did he have enough to get Lois safely out? Given that he couldn't actually fly and didn't have his normal strength, he wasn't sure.

As he reached the lantern, he searched the area for matches. When he had no luck, he took a deep breath. Well, nothing ventured… He concentrated on the wick. It smoked slightly.

"Are you okay over there?" came Lois' voice, breaking his concentration.

"Fine. I found the lantern. I'm just looking for matches." He tried again, sighing in relief when a small flame jumped from the end of the wick, bringing soft light and shadows to his surroundings. Okay, so his heat vision was weak, but wasn't completely gone. With time, he knew the remainder of his powers would return — just as they had after his encounter with Jason Trask. But without sunlight… He doubted he'd get them back any time soon.

He supposed he should be astonished that he had any of his powers at all. Maybe when he'd been brought to the cave, he'd received some exposure to the sun. That might have helped.

"You did it," said Lois.

It suddenly occurred to Clark that he wasn't wearing his glasses. He glanced around in panic, finally spotting the broken glasses sitting at the head of the cot. But it was too late, Lois was on her feet making her way towards him. His thoughts took him in a very different direction when he realized that from the waist up she was wearing nothing but her bra. She had a white bandage on her chest with…

"Lois, you're bleeding!"

She glanced down at her chest, noticing fresh blood on her bandage. "It's not that bad."

He approached her quickly, leading her over to a chair next to the table on which the lantern was sitting. He directed her to take a seat. "May I?" he asked, gesturing to her bandage as he squatted in front of her.

When she nodded, he carefully removed one side of the bandage revealing a jagged gash on the inside side of her left breast. Clark could see fresh blood around the injury ; she'd obviously torn out a stitch or two, probably during her struggle with the men at the house. He cautiously touched the area around the angry gunshot wound, being especially gentle when she flinched slightly. His breath caught at the tangible reminder of how close she'd come to losing her life. His heart ached for what she must have gone through.

"Apparently, I got lucky," Lois said, as if in an attempt to reassure him. "Doctor Jean said that he figured I was shot at close range and that it went right through me — without hitting anything vital. He figures I must have turned slightly at the last moment."

He glanced up at her face. She was looking everywhere but at him. Realizing that she was embarrassed about this blemish to her body or perhaps by his close examination of it, he quickly returned to his task, touching around the wound to cover up what he was really doing — using a couple quick blasts of what still remained of his heat vision to cauterize the wound and stop the bleeding. Then he reattached the bandage and examined her back to take a look at the exit wound under her right shoulder blade.

"It doesn't look too bad," he said, rocking back on his heals to remove his jacket.

"What did you do?" she asked, her hand touching the bandage. "It feels better."

"Nothing," he said, handing her his jacket, glad that he had decided to wear jeans, a flannel shirt and his bomber jacket to work that morning. At the time, he'd been too stressed out to think about his wardrobe. But now, his choice of clothing seemed more like divine intervention — giving Lois something warm to wear that she could zip up. In the cold of the cave, he was grateful he could at least do that much for her.

"Do you have any other injuries?"

"I was shot in the leg as well. But I think that one is okay. At least, it hasn't been giving me as many problems as…" She tapped her chest.

He nodded slowly. "Well, you should be okay for now. But you've got to take it easy. What do you say that you let me fight the bad guys in the future?"

"Good job — finding that lantern," she said, in an obvious attempt to change the subject even as she slipped into and did up his jacket.

He noticed a slight flush in her cheeks. He'd tried to be as respectful as possible while tending to her wound. Still, he had obviously embarrassed her. As a result, he didn't fight her attempt to change the subject.

"Do you think we could use the lantern to burn down the door?" Lois asked.

Clark shook his head. "We'd be dead of smoke inhalation long before the door would be burned enough for us to get out."

Lois glanced around their environment, before her gaze returned to Clark. He froze at the intense look she gave him as her hand came up to touch his face ever so gently. He watched as her eyes seemed to study the line of his jaw, his nose, his eyes, as if searching for… something. He didn't dare move, waiting for the moment she'd realize whose face she was staring into.

"I didn't do a very good job of getting the blood off your face," she finally said. "Still, it isn't as bad as I first thought."

He let out a breath. He had been convinced she was on the verge of realizing his secret. But she had been examining his injuries — the very injuries which had undoubtedly kept her from discovering that same secret. His hand came up to his face. He flinched when he touched his nose. He suspected it was broken. He probably didn't bear much of a resemblance to the superhero at the moment. In all likelihood, he wouldn't have to worry about looking like Superman for quite some time. Not that having her discover his secret was the worst of their problems.

"Hey, look at this," said Lois, directing Clark's attention to the table beside them. She picked up a small flashlight. She glanced at him before taking a deep breath and turning it on. It worked.

"That's great," said Clark. "We might need that."

Lois nodded, turning off the light and sticking it in the pocket of her jacket. If the lantern went out, it could prove to be very useful.

Clark's attention shifted. He looked around their environment, seeing the heavy door against which he had earlier attempted his powers. Lois' gaze followed his and they both made their way over there. He only hoped he had enough strength left to get the door open.

***

Clark was feeling every one of his injuries, not to mention a few new ones, by the time he and Lois realized that they were never going to be able to knock down the door. It had obviously been reinforced on the outside. And he didn't have enough of his strength to make a difference.

At the back of the cave was a tunnel. They had followed it for a couple hundred feet, but it appeared to lead further into the mine. After a brief consultation, they had decided their best bet was to wait for their captors to return — hoping for a chance to either overpower them or get past them somehow. Clark had agreed, primarily because he didn't want to drain what remained of his energy reserves on what was likely a fool's errand. He cursed the kryptonite. Had it not been for that confounded crystal, he could simply become a human drill, creating a tunnel and both of them could walk out. Of course, knocking down the door would probably be the better option. He could do that without giving away his powers. But then, if it hadn't been for the kryptonite, they wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. No, his best bet right now was to rest. After all, when their captors did return, he was going to need every ounce of his strength to get Lois out of there.

He lay back on the cot and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Lois was making her way over with a glass of water.

"Where did you get that?" he asked.

"It seems Dimitri must have planned to bring me here even before you showed up. There is some stale bread and some water on the table where I found the flashlight. I figured I'd skip the bread for now, but I thought you might be able to use some of this." She handed him the glass.

He moved into a seated position before reaching for the water.

"Just a second," she said, looking around until she found what she was looking for. He suddenly understood what must have happened to her blouse. He supposed using her blouse to tend to his wounds was a better explanation for her missing blouse than a couple of the possibilities that had gone through his mind.

He watched as she dipped a clean edge of the torn shirt into the water, before handing him the glass. He took a drink before offering the remainder to her.

"I'm fine," she said.

"Lois." The single word seemed to catch her attention.

She hesitated for a second, her tongue lightly touching her lower lip, before accepting the glass and taking a small sip. When she tried to hand it back, he shook his head. She carefully set it down, confirming his suspicions.

"We don't have much water, do we?" he asked.

Without meeting his eyes, she shook her head. "Just relax. I want to get some of that blood off your face."

He leaned against the wall of the cave, watching her expression thoughtfully as she concentrated on her task, touching him with such care, flinching when he flinched. Something subtle in her behavior seemed almost like that of a lover. His mind flashed back to her comment when he'd first regained consciousness. What did it all mean? He had his suspicions, but still wasn't quite sure how it all added up. On the other hand, she hadn't been trying to get away from Dimitri when he had first arrived. Finally, he couldn't stand not knowing for a single moment longer.

"Lois, what exactly do you think our relationship is?" he asked, hoping the question didn't make him sound too crazy. If his growing suspicions were incorrect, she could very well think he had lost his mind. After all, he knew very well what their relationship was — partners and sometimes friends.

"You think I'm crossing the line, don't you?" Her hand instantly left his face. She started to get up from the side of the cot.

"No," he said, laying his hand on her arm to keep her from escaping. She didn't think the question was crazy — so maybe these growing suspicions weren't completely off base. "Lois, look at me." He waited until she did before continuing. "What do you remember about… well, us?" There. He'd asked her. And if he was right and she'd somehow lost at least part of her memory, he would know in a moment.

"I remember us kissing." She looked uncomfortable. "And I remember you leaving." She hesitated for a moment. "And something about you tossing me in a garbage bin. But that part really doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

He couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. Leave it to Lois to remember that he had tossed her into a garbage bin when she didn't have any real clue about the rest of their relationship. When he realized she was starting to look distressed, he struggled to get his laughter under control. As much as he might like to let her go on believing that there was something between them, he knew he couldn't.

"Lois, we're partners."

"Partners?"

"At the Daily Planet."

She still looked confused.

"You know," he continued. "Partners. A reporting team."

"But… No. I remember you kissing me and then leaving."

"I was planning to quit my job. I kissed you goodbye. That was all. In the end, I didn't leave — primarily because of you."

The resulting silence was so loud it was almost deafening.

"No. That's not the only kiss I remember. We were on a plane or something."

"It was a cover. You wanted to whisper some instructions to me so you asked the bad guys for a final request — to kiss me goodbye. Lois, there's nothing between us. Unless you count being friends."

***

Lois felt tears come to her eyes. She had been in love with him. She was certain of that. The feelings she remembered having when they'd kissed, the pain in her heart when he'd said goodbye… No. If there was one thing of which she was certain, it was that she had been in love with him.

But if what he was telling her was true, and there was something in his eyes that made her inclined to believe him, then he must not have felt the same way, might not even have known about her feelings for him. It was depressing to realize that the only thing she really remembered, her grand passion for him, had been completely unrequited. She wasn't sure why she would think he should return her feelings. After all, he was a great looking, courageous and caring guy, not to mention a fabulous kisser. He could have any woman he wanted. And she was someone who obviously spent most of her time dangling over the jaws of death. But…

"Wait a minute. When you found me, you told me you loved me."

Now it was his turn to look uncomfortable. It took him a moment to meet her eyes. "I do," he said simply. "I have ever since the moment you first stormed into my life."

"But…"

"You've made it very clear that there would never be anything between us."

"Why?" The question was out of her mouth before she had a chance to think about it.

He gave her a sad smile. "You told me that you didn't have time for it. But I've always suspected it was for a lot of reasons. You were hurt pretty bad by a work colleague in the past. So I think you're leery of getting involved with someone you work with. On the other hand, it might just be that you're not attracted to me."

"I can't believe that."

He smiled, reaching out to push a strand of hair behind her ear. "Of course, there's also Superman."

Superman. Dimitri had mentioned someone named Superman — had said he wouldn't tell Superman about her and Clark kissing. She gave her head a shake. Superman. What an odd name. Who would give someone a name like that?

"Who's Superman?" she asked. "Is he my boyfriend or something?"

He studied her intently. "Well, that explains a lot. Why there were no locks on the door. Why you haven't tried to contact anyone — not even Perry. Lois, how much do you remember about… well, your life?"

***

Lois was silent when Clark finished filling her in on the highlights of her life, ending with her last investigation and the desperate search Perry, Jimmy, Superman and Clark had been on ever since that fateful night. As he'd spoken, she'd had the occasional flash of memory which confirmed his stories. Flying in Superman's arms. A building exploding behind her. Accepting her first Kerth award. Fighting with her father.

The only thing she was having problems believing was his claim that she felt nothing more than friendship for him. But now was not the time to concentrate on that aspect of the story. There were other things she needed to know more.

"There's one thing I don't understand," she finally said.

"What's that?"

"Well, when did I marry Dimitri?"

Clark stared at her in disbelief for a moment before shaking his head. "Lois, you were never married to Dimitri. Umm… did he…" His voice trailed off, as if not certain how to ask his next question.

"Did he…? Oh! You mean, did we…" She made an indecipherable gesture with her hands.

Clark nodded.

"No. No. He tried. But… no. I wasn't…" Her voice trailed off even as the color rose in her cheeks. "God, I can't believe I fell for that."

"You can't blame yourself. I mean, you woke up with no memory. And he took advantage of that. Why would you even question what he was telling you?"

"But I did, Clark. I knew something wasn't right. I think… I think it was because the doctor seemed to support what Dimitri was telling me."

"He was involved. He's the one I followed to find you."

"That nice man…" Her voice trailed off as tears came to her eyes. Wrapping her arms around herself, she shivered.

"Come here," said Clark, scooting over on the small cot to make room for her to join him.

She looked at him for a long moment, struggling with the need to be held and knowing that she'd feel safe in his arms, and her fear of letting herself be vulnerable.

"You can trust me, Lois."

She met his eyes, searching them. Could she trust him? It only took a moment for her to realize she did. Crawling onto the cot, she curled up next to him, allowing his arms to provide her with the warmth and comfort she needed.

"So how do we get out of here?" she finally asked.

There was a long moment of silence. "I don't know."

"Well, if Superman gives them their money, maybe they'll do what they promised and let us go."

Clark didn't respond.

***

Dimitri slapped the phone shut. "Still no answer," he announced to the men with him. He looked at the clock on the wall. Ten thirty. "Where is he? Doesn't he care if we kill Lois Lane?"

"Are you sure the phone is working? Maybe we should try using that Kent guy's phone."

"I destroyed it when I took it from him," said Dimitri, before opening the phone again and listening to the dial tone. "It's working."

"So what do we do if he doesn't answer?"

Dimitri looked at his brothers. "We show him we're men of our word. We do what we told him we'd do if he didn't cooperate."

"Tonight?"

Dimitri took a long time to answer. Eventually, he shook his head. "He's Superman. He could have been called away on some big emergency. I say we wait until tomorrow. If he still isn't answering the phone then…" He never completed the thought. There was no need. His brothers knew what they would do in that eventuality — kill the hostages and dispose of the bodies in such a way that Superman could never trace them back to the Rousseau brothers.

***

Clark couldn't get Lois' final comment out of his mind. By now, Dimitri had undoubtedly called Superman and discovered he wasn't answering. That meant… well, that meant they couldn't count on the ransom being paid and hope that Dimitri intended to let them go when it was. Not that he could tell Lois that, of course.

As he glanced down at the woman asleep against his chest, absently watching the soft light from the lantern dance across her face, his mind drifted back to Lois' questions about when he'd told her he loved her. After all his regrets when he'd believed Lois was dead, admitting he loved her had been the only choice. He was determined that whatever happened in the future, whatever the return of Lois' memory brought, he would not back away from that simple statement. He would make it clear he'd settle for her friendship and partnership, but he was no longer content to pretend he didn't want more.

Not that the thought didn't terrify him. After all, there was no guarantee her response would be positive. In some ways, Lois had always reminded him of a skittish horse, bolting at the first sign of real emotion the way a horse might bolt at the sight of a snake. It was somewhat surprising that memoryless-Lois trusted him enough to sleep against his chest.

His mind flashed back to the kiss… and more… they had shared when he'd first found her. Having her in his arms, feeling her lips and body responding to his… He wasn't sure he'd ever known such euphoria. Getting caught up in the moment had been foolish, of course. Because of it they were now locked in a dark cave, waiting for their captors to return. Still, his heart couldn't let go of the moment. He had truly believed she was responding to Clark. He couldn't help but wonder exactly how far things might have gone had Dimitri not returned when he had.

He pushed the thought from his mind. Still, it kept returning, feeling her welcome arms around him, her fingers in his hair and stroking at his shoulders, her legs entangled with his. Maybe he shouldn't have told her they were only friends. After all, she had seemed to be under the impression that they were… or at least had been… a lot more than that. What might be happening between them now if… He mentally swatted himself in the back of the head, the way he could almost imagine his mother doing.

What mattered was to get Lois out alive. His arm tightened around the woman sleeping in his arms. And to that end, he would do whatever it took. On impulse, he kissed her hair. She moaned slightly, draping a leg across his so that her knee was now settled between his legs. Her hand moved to cup his pectoral muscles and he had to fight the urge to groan. He firmly told his body to behave itself, but to no avail.

"Oh, Lois. What am I going to do with you?" he breathed, resting his cheek against the hair on the top of her head and closing his eyes. Without sunlight, sleep was probably important if he had any hope of getting Lois out of there when their kidnappers realized Superman wasn't going to deliver the ransom and returned to carry out their reprisals.

Not that the kidnappers would need to return. They could just leave them trapped in this cave until their meager supply of bread and water ran out. He gave his head a slight shake. No need to borrow trouble. No matter what came next, he needed as much strength as he could possibly get — otherwise, they didn't stand a chance.

***

THURSDAY

Lois woke with a start. She'd been having the weirdest dream. She'd lost her memory, been kidnapped, tricked into thinking she was married to some hood named Dimitri and trapped in a cave with Clark. All she could think was that it was a good thing it was just a… She snapped open her eyes when she realized that her pillow was making a gentle, regular up and down motion.

"Oh, god," she groaned when she saw the shadows dancing on the walls of the cave that was her prison. It wasn't a dream. She'd lost her memory, been kidnapped, tricked into thinking she was married to some hood named Dimitri and trapped in a cave with Clark. In fact, she was currently curled up against Clark's chest, which she was using as a pillow. Except… A slow smile made its way across her face. Her name was Lois Lane, daughter of Ellen and Sam Lane who had divorced years before. Her sister was a bit of an air head named Lucy. She worked for Perry White at the Daily Planet. And was the current holder of three Kerths. She could even remember the crush she'd had on Martin Simpson when she was in the third grade. He'd broken her heart when, after pulling on her pigtails, he'd told everyone she'd given him cooties.

Her eyes wandered up to the man in whose arms she had been sleeping. He seemed to look a little better than the previous night. But that was probably her mind playing tricks on her. Still, she suspected his nose was broken. But there was not much they could do about that at the moment.

Her mind drifted back to when she'd first seen him the previous day. She felt an immediate rush of anger. How dare he take advantage of her when she had amnesia? After all, there was no way she would have responded to him the way she had if she'd been in her right mind. He had to have known that. And yet he'd forced himself on her, telling her he loved her. Please! She knew all the lines. And that had to be the most overused line in the history of seduction lines.

Except… Her anger dissipated into confusion…he hadn't taken advantage of the situation. As soon as he'd realized she thought they were… or at least had been involved, he'd corrected her. If he hadn't… She shivered. She had no doubt, given the way she had believed she felt about him, she would have done… well, whatever he had wanted to do. Why had he told her he loved her and then not taken advantage of the situation? But then, he hadn't taken advantage of the situation when she'd been under the influence of the pheromone compound the previous week either. Could he really be in love with her? How was that possible when she didn't return his feelings — had made it abundantly clear that she would never return his feelings?

The memories of her feelings for Clark when she'd had amnesia suddenly came flooding back. How was it that she'd been convinced she was in love with Clark when she hadn't even been able to remember Superman? What did that tell her? She gave her head a shake. No. No she was not going to go anywhere near that question. 'Remember Claude,' she told herself firmly.

"Morning."

Lois had been so lost in thought that she hadn't realized he'd woken up.

"Morning," she responded, hoping she sounded normal.

He shifted slightly, stretching his muscles. "Wow. I can't believe how soundly I slept — in spite of…" He gestured around them. "…well, everything, I guess."

"You must have been tired."

"I haven't slept a lot the past few days," he responded casually, even if she couldn't shake the hidden meaning in his words.

She tried, but was unable to maintain eye contract. Glancing down at her hand, she watched it absently play with a button on his shirt. When she realized what she was doing, her hand snapped back.

"Did you get your memory back?" he asked, as if her reaction to realizing that she was playing with his button told him all he needed to know.

She nodded distractedly.

"That's great!" Clark exclaimed.

She looked up at him, trying to tell if he was sincere. "Are you sure you want the real Lois Lane back? Wasn't the one throwing herself all over you much more to your tastes?" Where had that attitude come from? He'd done nothing to deserve that.

"I happen to think the real Lois Lane is pretty great," he responded, his subdued tone letting Lois know she'd hurt him.

She looked at him, her eyes reflecting the apology she knew she'd never be able to put into words. His expression softened, telling Lois he'd understood.

"So are you really back?" he asked.

"Yeah. I woke up this morning. And I remembered everything. In fact, at first I thought this…" She gestured around them. "…was the dream."

"The nightmare," Clark corrected.

Nightmare? Why would he think this was a nightmare? Was it so horrible waking up with her in his arms? Oh, right. The kidnapping. Being trapped in a cave by a bunch of goons with guns who were expecting Superman to pay for their ransom. She gave herself a mental slap. She really was getting too sensitive.

"So I guess this Lois is the one who doesn't think that Clark is so great," he said.

"I never didn't think Clark was great," she responded immediately, in her mind not entirely sure if the number of negatives she'd put in that sentence meant that she thought Clark was great or not.

"Really?"

The tone in his voice informed her that yes, she'd put the right number of negatives in that sentence.

"Yeah. You wouldn't be my friend if you weren't a pretty great guy."

She glanced up at him when he didn't respond, looking away when he seemed slightly disappointed. She knew what he wanted. But she couldn't give it to him. She just couldn't. He moved slightly, causing her gaze to again meet his. This time, their eyes locked. Lois tried and failed to look away. As if by silent consent, they both moved slowly closer. Her eyes wandered down his face to focus on his lips. She pulled her bottom lip briefly into her mouth as blood began pounding through her veins. He was going to kiss her. And… god help her, she wanted him to. She closed her eyes, unable to prevent a small moan from escaping the back of her throat the moment his lips brushed over hers.

Almost as soon as it had started, the kiss ended. She adjusted her position against his chest and, without opening her eyes, sought out the gentle feel of his lips once again. And suddenly, Lois was unable to remember a single reason why this was not a good idea.

His hand had just come up to cup her cheek when sunlight suddenly spread across the room, causing Lois and Clark to jump apart. Lois' arms flailed as she fought to keep from falling off the cot.

"Can't leave you two alone for a minute, can I?" asked Dimitri's voice from the open door.

***

"So Clark didn't go home at all last night?"

Jimmy shook his head.

"Great shades of Elvis! First, Superman doesn't come by to pick up the ransom. Then Clark gets as lost as a tick on a dog's back. What the Sam Hill is going on here?"

"So do you think we should call the police?"

Perry hesitated. "Not yet. Like Clark said, if the police go storming in there like locusts swarming a cornfield, the kidnapper could panic and simply decide to kill Lois. I'm hoping Superman and Clark haven't put in an appearance because they are hot on Lois' trail. I think we need to give them a little more time. After all, if Superman is involved, it's not as if they can get hurt." Perry let out a slow breath. "Still, if we haven't heard from them by this evening, we'll call Henderson."

***

Lois and Clark scrambled off the cot.

"Bring them out here," Dimitri ordered, walking out of the cave.

Lois and Clark glanced at each other, silently sharing their surprise. Being taken out of the cave was their best possible scenario. It provided a better chance to escape. Besides, although Lois had no way to know this, with every moment Clark spent in the sun, his powers should increase. The only thing Clark had to be careful of was getting too close to Dimitri — assuming Dimitri even had the kryptonite on him today. And since Clark had not yet felt it, it was possible he did not.

Lois and Clark were not allowed to contemplate their good fortune for long because two of the men moved to flank them, using their shotguns to nudge them towards the entranceway.

"Maybe Superman paid the ransom and they're letting us go," Lois whispered to him as they stepped together into the sunshine beyond the cave.

Clark remained silent. Even if he hadn't known that was not the case, he would have doubted the explanation. Both he and Lois had seen the kidnappers' faces. They knew where they lived. There was no way these men had any intention of letting them go. Clark suspected Lois knew that as well. Still, Clark was not about to pass up on any opportunity to soak up as much sun as possible.

They had walked down the trail leading away from the cave for about five minutes in silence. Lois was the one who finally broke it.

"So are you going to tell us where you're taking us?"

"Somewhere where no one, not even Superman, will ever find your bodies." Dimitri said without missing a stride.

Lois came to an abrupt halt. "No!"

Dimitri turned then, looking at Lois with a confused expression on his face.

"You're going to have to kill me right here — drag me down the hill leaving my blood spread all across this forest. I'm not taking another step."

In spite of everything, Clark couldn't help but feel pride spring up inside him at Lois' comment. She would forever rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas had once written.

Dimitri looked at Lois for a long moment, as if not entirely certain what to make of Lois' refusal. Finally, he directed his gaze to Clark. "Tell me your secret, Kent. How do you get her to give it up to you? I was starting to think she was frigid."

A muscle twitched in Clark's jaw but didn't respond.

"What woman wouldn't be frigid with you?" Lois spat.

Clark tensed when he saw Dimitri's eyes narrow. Lois was back all right — sarcastic comments and all. But why did she have to anger the men with guns? He supposed she wouldn't be Lois if she didn't.

"Yeah, well it seems Superman must not be too impressed either," Dimitri shot back. "He doesn't care enough about you to pay the ransom."

"That's not true," Lois said.

Clark thought he could detect hurt in her voice.

"Superman would never let me… us down," she continued.

"No? Are you saying you have another explanation for why he hasn't taken the call about where to deliver your ransom? You could have been on your way home by now — if only Superman had held up his end of the bargain."

"You're lying," Lois said. "He's probably…" Her voice trailed off as if she couldn't find an acceptable reason for Superman to abandon her at a time like this.

Clark closed his eyes. 'I'm right here, Lois. I won't let you down,' he thought, silently willing her to understand that her hero would never abandon her. What ever powers he still possessed all belonged to Lois.

Dimitri smirked, as if he too had realized how upset Lois was.

"Well, he probably didn't answer your call because he's too busy tracking your sorry ass down," Lois said, rallying.

Dimitri's grin faded. "You may be right. So I guess I'll have to just get down to business. It's really too bad we don't have time for a little fun before we do this." He lowered his shotgun until it was focused on Lois.

"No!" Clark yelled, diving for Lois just as the gun went off.

He felt a searing pain in his shoulder, but the adrenaline pumping through his body kept him moving. Grabbing Lois with one arm, he snapped a branch from a nearby tree with the other, swinging at their two escorts, sending both of them to the ground to avoid being hit. Then, he practically dragged Lois in the only direction he possibly could — up the hill and towards the cave. She responded quickly, gaining her footing and running, her hand clasped firmly in his. Clark heard shouts and shots behind them, but didn't pause to wonder how close their captors were.

When they arrived back at the cave, Clark hesitated. There had to be a better option, somewhere where they could hide until Dimitri and his men gave up looking for them — or until Clark could fly Lois out of there.

"Come on," growled Lois, pulling him into the cave before he had a chance to object.

The sound of their pursuers running after them up the hillside trail finally prompted Clark to pick up the pace, pulling Lois deeper into the tunnels, with no idea where they might lead. No matter where these tunnels went, it was better than the alternative.

A small but steady stream of light suddenly appeared in front of them, directing Clark's attention to the flashlight in Lois' hand. He smiled. He'd forgotten she had found that. Given that it was getting progressively darker, the small light was a blessing.

They kept running. One foot in front of the other. The sound of heavy breathing the only sound other than feet hitting the ground. Tunnels branched off and in a split second, a decision was made to follow one or the other as they attempted to lose their pursuers in the maze of tunnels inside the hill.

"I can't, Clark," Lois finally said. "I can't go on any more."

Without stopping, he slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her into his arms and continuing to run. He had to get her away from those men. They could work out a plan to get out of the mine later.

He felt Lois bury her face against his neck even as she kept the beam of light directed in front of them. He stretched out with his vision and realized that he could now see through things. His vision was fuzzy, but it was an improvement over the previous night. Maybe some time in the sun really had helped to strengthen his powers. In fact, when he thought about it, although his shoulder hurt, it wasn't as bad as what he figured he should feel if he were shot. And carrying Lois… She might seem heavier than when he was at full power. But she really wasn't slowing him down. In fact, that might have been Lois' problem. Maybe his running was faster than a normal human male. On the other hand, Lois had been seriously injured recently. That would undoubtedly play a role in her ability to keep up with him.

He came to an abrupt halt when he realized that the tunnel up ahead was blocked.

"Clark!" Lois said, expressing in the mere utterance of his name the concern she was feeling when he heard the distant sound of feet behind them.

Clark looked around, concentrating all his efforts on using his x-ray vision to find a way out. He suddenly saw one. If only they could get through the blockage of the cave in, the tunnel branched out and one branch headed back to the surface.

He heard shouts echo through the mine. There was no choice. He had to try.

Clark set Lois down before rushing towards the cave-in, moving rocks out of the way as fast as his body would allow. He was relieved to realize that he was able to move them easier and faster than anticipated.

Once he cleared a path for them to crawl through, he turned back to Lois. He stopped only when he saw the stunned look on her face.

"Okay, now that I definitely didn't remember," she said.

Still, there was no time to worry about what he'd revealed. The voices were getting closer. Grabbing Lois, he moved them both towards the hole. Lois scrambled through the hole first, followed by Clark. When he got to the other side, he turned back towards the cave-in, quickly filling up the hole he had created.

"Come on," he said, immediately heading down the tunnel he knew led to the surface.

He heard her tentative footsteps behind him, but didn't dare look around, hoping that if he just acted as if everything was normal, she would dismiss what she'd seen as a trick of the eyes — or a hallucination brought on by fear.

"Why don't you just fly us out of here?" she asked.

Clark cringed, but didn't look around at this confirmation that she had figured out his secret.

"I mean wouldn't it be quicker?"

"Dimitri had kryptonite. I'm not at full power. I can't fly. I can float a little — provided I really concentrate. But I can't fly. I'm actually sort of amazed I was able to move those stones as quickly as I did."

Lois was in front of him so fast that he might have been tempted to think she had superpowers. Her flashlight was lighting up his face.

"Kryptonite?" she asked; her expression, partially obstructed by shadows, still bore a million questions. He'd managed to persuade her the mystery rock they had learned about when they'd encountered Jason Trask a few weeks previously had probably been a myth.

Clark nodded. "I felt it when Dimitri attacked me yesterday. I haven't had most of my powers since that time." He pointed to his face to illustrate his point. "Or at least I don't seem to have all of them. But I didn't feel kryptonite this morning, so if he had it on him, it can't be a very big piece. But then he didn't get nearly as close to me today." He walked past her then, heading down the tunnel. "Come on. I think if we follow this tunnel, it should take us back to the surface."

"Clark, your shoulder," she said.

He paused, reaching over his shoulder to touch the spot where the bullet had hit him. When he looked at his hand, it was covered with blood. "Oh, right. Don't worry. I was hit — but I don't think it exactly went in."

"But…" Her voice trailed off, as if she wasn't at all sure what to say next.

That suited Clark just fine. Right now the important thing was to get Lois out of there. And that wasn't going to happen if he had to stand around answering questions all day. There would be plenty of time for her to yell at him when she was safe and sound in Metropolis. He'd worry about the implications of having her know his secret then, too.

***

The remainder of the trip back to the surface went by in complete silence and without further incident — leaving Lois alone with her thoughts. Clark was Superman. Okay, so maybe he hadn't exactly told her that. But his comments, not to mention watching him move those stones out of the way, certainly bore out the truth of her newfound discovery. Still, knowing it was true and getting her mind around the concept were completely different matters.

The idea that her bigger-than-life superhero was really a mild- manner reporter… How did he expect her to react to that?

No. She must be mistaken. She was exhausted, scared and in pain as a result of her recent exertion on top of her injuries. She must have imagined that he'd moved the stones out of the way at a speed which could only be described as super. And her impression that his running speed hadn't slowed when he'd picked her up… well, that was only an illusion.

She was fooling herself. Even she knew that. But… She wasn't entirely sure she'd ever been as shocked by a revelation — and during her years as a reporter she'd discovered a lot of shocking things. It was just that Clark and Superman were polar opposites. Or was that true? They both cared about people. They both, in their own very distinct ways, struggled to see justice triumph over evil. But Superman was so confident. His voice so commanding. Clark was self-deprecating. Not that he didn't have his own brand of confidence, however. No one would have sent her into a sewer reclamation facility on a wild goose chase without having confidence. Although she would never tell him, that had been the turning point in their relationship. Never again had she mistaken him for a hick from Nowheresville. The idea that Superman was actually the one who had sent her on that chase… well, it was a little hard to reconcile with her image of Superman.

On the other hand, if Clark was Superman, then she'd completely misjudged both men. That was a difficult concept for Lois to accept. Lois Lane, award-winning reporter, fooled by a pair of glasses, a flashy outfit and some hair gel. So who was the real man? She knew the answer to that question almost the instant she asked it — both were. Just as she had many sides to her personality, Clark/Superman had many sides to his. Although, she suspected he would say that Clark was the real man — that Superman was just a disguise. But that wasn't true. Whether he knew it or not, he'd endowed Superman with a personality that was different from Clark's. And that personality was a part of Clark, as real as the one he would likely say was the true him. He was much like her. She was the hard-bitten career woman who could face down men twice her size without flinching. But she was also the romantic who cried at sappy love stories. It was a side she rarely allowed anyone else to see but it was as much a part of her as Superman was a part of Clark. Reconciling those two sides to his personality in her own mind would likely take some time, and would undoubtedly be the most fascinating endeavor she had ever undertaken.

She had to admit, she also felt a little upset with Clark. No. That wasn't completely true. She felt more than just a little upset. How many times had he laughed behind her back while she was throwing herself at Superman, praising his attributes to anyone and everyone who would listen? She felt a surge of anger.

'I love you so much. And the thought of losing you…' His words of the previous night flashed through her mind and her anger instantly faded. She didn't doubt he'd been terrified when she'd disappeared. And given what he'd told her about both his and Superman's search, she doubted he'd done anything but look for her from the moment he'd realized she was missing.

The light from the flashlight fell on the fresh blood stain on the back of his shoulder. She crinkled her eyebrows as the implications of that stain really sank in for the first time. He'd told her he'd lost most of his powers when grabbed by Dimitri the previous day. And if that was the case… Her breath caught in her throat. He'd jumped between her and the bullet from Dimitri's gun with full knowledge that the action might get him killed.

"Are you okay?" asked Clark, obviously having heard her breath catch.

"Yeah, fine."

"Well, we're nearly there," Clark said, confirming what Lois already knew from the light she could see coming from up ahead. They stepped together through the entrance to the tunnel, into the sunlight beyond. "We'll hike down the hill and steal a boat so that we can get…"

"Well. Well. Well."

Dimitri's voice coming from up ahead brought Lois and Clark to a complete stop. Their captors must have known about the back entrance, and come here when they couldn't follow Lois and Clark though the tunnel. It crossed through Lois' mind to wonder if they had been confused about how Lois and Clark had gotten through the cave-in. Clark must have to worry about things like that all the time.

Her questions instantly leapt to the back of her mind when Clark pulled her behind him. He obviously thought he stood a better chance of surviving a gunshot. But if the blood stain on the back of his shirt was any indication… Lois wasn't nearly as sure.

"You're a tricky one, Kent," said Dimitri, moving closer while the others remained in a semicircle around them, guns pointed in their direction. "I won't underestimate you again."

Lois saw Clark flinch and instantly realized what must be happening. Dimitri was getting progressively closer. He must have the kryptonite on him. She heard a small moan escape from the back of Clark's throat and saw him bend over slightly, holding his stomach as if in pain.

"You don't want him," Lois said, stepping out from behind Clark, putting some distance between them in an effort to lead Dimitri away from Clark. "I'm the one you want." She raised an eyebrow, meeting Dimitri's eyes in a way she hoped he would understand.

It seemed Clark understood, too, because while Dimitri smiled, Clark spoke. "Lois, no," he gasped.

"Come on. Or aren't you man enough to take it?" asked Lois, stepping sideways, further away from Clark.

She let out a breath of relief when she saw two men grab Clark, holding him away from the scene playing itself out between her and Dimitri. She knew what she was risking. She knew between men with guns and her injuries, she didn't stand a chance of fighting Dimitri off. And personally, she'd prefer he just shoot her than what she was suggesting to him. Still, with every second Clark was in the sunlight, his powers should increase. After all, she'd learned during a story a couple of weeks ago that Superman's powers were rejuvenated by the sun. All she had to do was to fight Dimitri off long enough to allow that to happen. Simple.

Suddenly, arms grabbed her from behind. She hadn't anticipated that development. She kicked out at Dimitri as he approached, attempting to use her captors' grasp to her advantage. But Dimitri was beyond her reach. She could hear Clark yelling, but was too concentrated on the man in front of her to concern herself with what he was saying — something about what he would do to Dimitri if he laid a hand on her. Or at least that was what she thought he'd said. All she cared about was that the men holding Clark were managing to keep him away from Dimitri — because kryptonite or not, she knew Clark would attack Dimitri if he got free.

"You're a wild cat, aren't you?" Dimitri said with a smirk.

She kicked out at him again, squirming and sliding down trying to get her arms out of the grasp of the man behind her.

"Look at her," said the man holding her. "She's trying to lie down for you."

Dimitri's leer made Lois literally ill. She began wondering about the wisdom of this strategy when Dimitri put down his gun and began undoing his belt buckle. In her peripheral vision, she could tell that Clark was increasing his efforts to break free. She cringed when one of the men hit Clark on his already damaged nose. Still, there wasn't time to worry about Clark now. All her efforts would be needed if she was to have any chance against Dimitri.

"Put down your weapons and put your hands in the air."

The sound of a voice amplified by a loudspeaker directed everyone's attention into the air. And suddenly black police choppers were filling the sky with their doors opened and sharp shooters clearly visible from inside.

"We've got hostages," yelled Dimitri, releasing his belt to dive for his handgun.

Suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose. Men shouting. Guns firing. Lois collapsed to her knees when the arms holding her disappeared. She bent over, struggling to catch her breath and blessing whatever forces in the universe had saved her from a fate which in her mind was worse than death.

Arms grabbed her, dragging her away from the action before the man slid down to his knees, wrapping his arms around her and ensuring that his body was between her and whatever hell was still happening around them. Without opening her eyes, she knew who was holding her. She balled her hand into his shirt and buried her face in his chest, attempting to get the involuntary trembling in her limbs under control.

And then all was quiet. She cautiously looked up, taking in the scene. Three men had lost their lives during the events of the last few minutes — all of them from Dimitri's side. Her hands began searching Clark's back, assuring herself that he had not been hit.

"I'm fine," Clark said. "You?"

She nodded before looking around again. "Where's Dimitri?" she finally asked.

***

Luthor was pacing impatiently outside the small, grungy police station in Isle d'Or. If ever there had been police officers as incompetent, he didn't want to meet them. When Nigel had come into his office the day before, telling him that a man from Isle d'Or was bragging he had 'something Superman wanted,' Luthor had immediately called this station. The sheriff had actually hung up on him! If the man ran for office in the next election, Luthor intended to pump a great deal of money into his opponent's campaign — that was assuming anyone even ran against him for the position in this dump of a town.

When he'd been unable to persuade the sheriff to act, Luthor had contacted Mayson Drake at Metropolis' D.A.'s office. He had been certain, given her obvious hostility towards Superman, that he could persuade her to find a way to help. She had placed calls and called in favors. He himself had called the governor, the mayor and the chief of police. But all he'd been able to do was get them to promise to 'look into it.'

He had considered calling Henderson. But after his earlier run-in with him, and realizing that Henderson was working with Clark, he wasn't sure the man could be trusted not to tell Perry or, if Clark had not been able to find Lois, Clark Kent himself. And Luthor had been determined not to let Kent anywhere near this rescue. That was why it was slightly ironic that it wasn't until early this morning when Henderson had received a call at home from the sheriff who had earlier hung up on Luthor that things had begun to happen.

A doctor, a serious gash on the back of his head, had shown up at the police station at some point during the night, claiming to be part of some kidnapping scheme. He had informed the police that the kidnapper planned to lock a woman named Lois Lane up in the old mine, together with Clark Kent. After that, things had come together quickly. By early morning a strike team, headed by Maggie Sawyer, had arrived at the sheriff's office.

Luthor wouldn't have even known that the strike team was assembled if Henderson hadn't called Mayson Drake. Not that Luthor intended to let Lois know all of that. All she really needed to know was that after working tirelessly to find her, he had pressured the police to act. She didn't need to know that if it had not been for Dr. Jean Turcotte, the sheriff, Bill Henderson and Maggie Sawyer, the police would never have rescued her and Kent.

Kent. Luthor's eyes narrowed in contempt. Trust Kent to come storming in like a five hundred pound gorilla without any sort of plan and getting himself caught in the process. He could very well have gotten Lois killed. Still, Luthor couldn't help but wonder if he'd underestimated Kent, or his feelings for Lois. After all, by storming in he could very well have gotten himself killed too. The only positive thing about the situation was that at least Superman hadn't saved her.

Still, none of that mattered now. Word had come only a minute or two before saying that the strike team had Lois Lane safely in custody and was bringing her to this station. He intended to be the first person she saw when she arrived. That would allow him to put his own spin on the events of the past day. And in his experience, spin was the only thing that truly mattered.

***

Lois didn't want to let go, even when she heard the police officer calling her name over the 'thwap, thwap, thwap' of the helicopter blades. When she and Clark had boarded the helicopter, she'd instantly curled up against Clark. That had been too close for comfort. But the trip to the station had been too short. She wanted more time to regain control of her emotions before having to let go of her security blanket.

It wasn't until she felt Clark move, apparently intending to pick her up and carry her off the chopper that Lois finally rallied. She could do this. Straightening her back, she prepared herself to meet whatever was outside of this safe cocoon. In her peripheral vision, she could see the admiration on Clark's face as she, holding her head high, took the police officer's hand, allowing him to assist her in disembarking.

During the gun battle between the police and Dimitri's men — according to the police, they were his brothers — all three men had lost their lives. But apparently Dimitri had managed to disappear into the tunnel of the old mine. Maggie Sawyer, who was in charge of the operation, had assured them Dimitri would be found. Lois wasn't sure she would feel completely safe until that happened.

She cautiously stepped out of the helicopter and gave a start when a very different man's arms were suddenly holding her.

"My dear, you gave me quite a scare. I've dedicated all the resources at my disposal to the sole objective of finding you ever since I found out you were missing. I was so scared even that wouldn't be enough. Even when I finally figured out where your kidnapper was holding you, I hardly let myself hope…"

"Lex," she said, awkwardly patting his side as she suddenly had a flash back to the way she'd felt when Dimitri would touch her. What was worse was that she was distinctly aware of Clark's eyes on her and Lex. And although she refused to contemplate the matter, she found his witnessing this scene distinctly awkward. She broke Lex's grasp on her, stepping away. "Do you think I could sit down somewhere?" she asked, hoping her question would give him a plausible reason for breaking his hug.

"Certainly," Lex said, his voice the very picture of concern. "That was insensitive of me. I was thinking about how grateful I was that you were all right. I forgot how awful this experience must have been for you." He put his hand on the small of her back, directing her towards the station.

"So you are the reason for…" Lois gestured around her. "…all this?"

"Yes. Well, Ms. Drake from the D.A.s office and I are," he said as they stepped through the doors to the station to be greeted by an attractive blonde in a business suit.

"Ms. Lane?" the woman asked.

"Yes," Lois responded, giving her a quick once over.

"I'm Mayson Drake — with the D.A.s office — and I have some questions for you. Please." She gestured in the direction she wanted Lois to go.

"Do I have to?" asked Lois. When Drake looked taken back, Lois continued. "I'm just so tired. Is there any way I can do this later?"

"Surely that can be arranged, Ms. Drake?" asked Lex. "Maybe Kent, here, can give you what you need for now. I have a helicopter standing by to take Lois back to Metropolis General Hospital right now. I'm sure you understand."

"But…" Lois began, realizing Clark was in worse shape than she.

"Yes. That would probably work," said Drake. "That is, if you wouldn't mind staying, Clark."

Lois stiffened, not only from Drake's use of Clark's first name, but also from the way the woman was looking at Clark — as if she were a preying mantis, sizing up her dinner.

"We have a doctor here who can attend to your injuries. We weren't sure what shape you and Ms. Lane would be in when we found you. So I made arrangements to ensure that we had a doctor here — just in case," Drake said. "If you wouldn't mind staying, it would certainly help to be able to get your statement. I could get Ms. Lane's version of events later."

"Umm…" Clark's eyes met Lois' briefly before he looked back at Drake. "Yeah, I guess that's okay. I have a few questions of my own. I should call Perry — let him know that we're both alive and safe. And I need to call my parents. I'll get Perry to give your mother a call," he added, looking at Lois. "She's been worried sick."

"But…"

"Go, Lois," Clark said softly. "Luthor's right. You should get checked out at a hospital. I need to know that you're okay." He briefly tapped his chest, reminding her of the fresh bleeding she'd done the previous night. Given the further stress she'd put on it during their flight and then fight, it was entirely possible she'd hurt it again.

Still… Her eyes became slightly moist.

"It's okay, Lois. I'm already feeling better," Clark said, giving Lois a meaningful look.

Realizing she had been completely outnumbered, she finally nodded. As Lex escorted her to his chopper, she really looked at him for the first time — noticing he had a black eye. "That's quite a shiner," she said. "How'd you get it?"

"It's not important," Lex said. He escorted her into the luxurious helicopter before speaking again. "Would you just give me a minute? There's something I need to do before we leave."

Lois nodded, sitting down in a luxurious chair. One thing about going with Lex… he didn't spare any expense. Normally, the way Lex threw his money around bothered her. But this time… She pulled her feet up under her, closed her eyes and sank deeper into the plush seat. She was sound asleep within seconds.

***

Luthor made his way into the police station, the genteel man who had greeted Lois no longer in existence. Clark knew that the moment he spotted Luthor making his way towards him. He rose from where he was seated on a hard bench.

"Luthor," he said, meeting the man's eyes.

"If I could find a way to have you charged with criminal stupidity, trust me, I'd do it. You could have gotten her killed — storming in here without backup. It's a good thing I figured out where she was, because otherwise…" He let the words end there.

Clark didn't say a word as Luthor turned and walked away. As hard as it was to believe, this time he and Luthor agreed. Not about back-up, of course. But if he hadn't become distracted by kissing Lois, she would have been home the previous day. He wondered if he'd ever have been able to forgive himself if Lois had been killed in that cave.

He hated letting Lois leave with Luthor. But it was for the best. As much as Clark loathed him, he knew Luthor would make sure she was safely checked into Metropolis General — especially given the number of people who had seen her leave with him. Besides, Luthor obviously wasn't behind Lois' disappearance. After all, Lois now had her memory back — and yet she wasn't afraid of him. So it was unlikely that Lois had been on the verge of exposing Luthor when she'd been shot. And after everything she'd been through in the past few days, Clark would feel much better after Lois was checked out.

In spite of his comments to Lois about feeling better, Clark had pretty much drained his energy reserves digging though the cave- in in the tunnel, followed by a second encounter with kryptonite. That was why he'd been unable to break away from the men holding him when Lois was about to be attacked. He doubted that at the moment he was any more super than Batman. Still, she didn't need to be troubled by his problems.

"Clark?"

Clark looked up, seeing Mayson Drake standing in front of him. She was smiling pleasantly at him, but try as he might, he couldn't get the look of abhorrence he'd seen in her eyes when she'd been addressing Superman out of his mind. "Yes?"

"If you want to come with me, we'll get you some medical attention."

Clark let out a breath before nodding and rising to his feet. He hadn't been treated by a doctor since he was less than five years of age. It should be interesting. He wondered if they still gave out lollipops. But first…

"Is there somewhere where I can make a few quick long distance phone calls?"

Mayson reached into her briefcase, withdrawing her cell phone. "Be my guest. I'll just be over there when you're done."

"Thanks," said Clark, accepting the phone awkwardly. He couldn't help but wonder if she'd be this anxious to help if she realized exactly who she was helping. "Also," he continued, "do you think you could direct me towards a washroom?"

Before being examined by the doctor, he needed to remove his Superman suit. He was certain he could find a place to hide it in the washroom where no one would detect it until his powers returned and he could come back to get it.

***

"Aaaa!" Clark yelped. "You could have warned me that you were going to do that!"

"No. Actually, I couldn't," said the doctor. "You'd have tensed up."

Clark's eyes watered as his hand came up tentatively to his nose. He had to wonder about the technique of simply snapping his nose back into place. Still, it was probably a good thing that he'd had that second encounter with kryptonite. Otherwise, his nose might very well have healed crooked. The doctor slapped his hand away.

"Let me make sure it's straight," the doctor said.

"And I suppose hurting me was just a bonus."

The doctor smiled. "Here," he said, handing Clark an ice pack wrapped in a towel. "That should help with both the pain and the swelling. Just don't keep it on for more than fifteen minutes at a time."

"Oh, you poor thing," said Mayson, coming into the room. "So Doc, what do you think? Is he going to survive?"

Clark quickly picked up his shirt, putting it back on, not entirely comfortable with the way Mayson was eyeing his chest.

"He'll be fine," said the doctor. "The bullet to his shoulder was only a flesh wound. And his nose should heal in time. I'll put a splint on it to hold it in place. But otherwise… he's in good shape." He picked up a splint and attended to Clark's nose. "Although given the way he complains, it may be hard to believe that at the moment."

"Hmph," said Clark, doing up his shirt. "Do I at least get a lollipop?"

The doctor crinkled his eyebrows in thought before searching through his little black bag. A moment later, he held up a lollipop.

Clark's face immediately lit up in a smile as he reached for the lollipop. "Red! My favorite."

The doctor chuckled at the enthusiasm Clark showed in tearing off the cellophane and popping the candy into his mouth. "Anyway, that's about all I can do for you," he said. "But after my little trick to your nose, the bruising around your eyes will probably increase. Hope you're not planning to enter any beauty contests in the next few days."

"He looks good enough to me."

Clark cringed at Mayson's comment.

"So if you're finished with him, does that mean he's mine now?" Mayson asked.

Clark wasn't sure he liked the underlying tone of Mayson's question. Maybe he was reading too much into the words. After all, he knew she needed to question him about the events of the past couple days.

"He's all yours," the doctor responded, giving Clark a wink.

Clark felt color rise in his cheeks. Obviously, the doctor had picked up on the same thing in Mayson's question that had troubled Clark.

***

"Is that it?" asked Clark when it seemed Mayson had finished getting his statement.

"I guess that about covers it. If I think of anything else, can I call you?"

"Sure." Clark stood. "So am I free to go?"

"Well, I was wondering how you were planning to get back to Metropolis?"

Clark felt relieved. He'd already considered that problem. Jimmy apparently had an uncle who owned a boat and was on his way to pick him up. "I've got a friend coming to get me. And there's still something I want to do before leaving." He cocked his head sideways to study Mayson for a moment. "There may be one thing you might be able to help me with."

"What's that?"

"I want to talk to Doctor Jean Turcotte."

"I'm not sure that's a good…"

"Ms. Drake, when I was talking to Lois, she seemed really surprised to find out the doctor was involved. She was under the impression he was a good man. I need to understand why he did it — and why in the end he turned Dimitri in, even though he knew he'd be arrested himself."

***

"So what do you think, my dear?" asked Lex proudly, opening the door to a bright, sunny room in Metropolis General Hospital.

Lois' eyebrows rose as an orderly rolled her into the room in the wheelchair Lex had insisted she use. This room was probably as impressive as Lex's helicopter receiving permission to land on the roof of the hospital. She'd never known a hospital room could be quite as luxurious, homey even. Flowers assaulted her everywhere she looked. Obviously, Lex had gone to a lot of bother, but…

"Lex, I'm just planning to have an exam — make sure I'm okay. But I've still got a story to write. And…"

"Even if you're just having an exam, isn't this better than sitting in an emergency room waiting for a doctor to get around to seeing you? I've made sure the very best doctors in gunshot injuries are standing by."

"This is all very nice, Lex, but I'm sure my insurance won't…"

"Don't worry about that," said Lex dismissively. "I just want to be sure you're all right. I've been so worried. I'd appreciate it if you'd humor me and just let the doctors take care of you."

Lois let out a breath. She really didn't need all this. But how could she say no? She really should have an examination. Knowing what she knew now about the doctor who had treated her, it might be wise to be checked out — make sure there were no complications or infections. After all, they really had only needed to keep her alive until they got Superman to pay the ransom so… She mentally slapped her forehead. That was why Superman hadn't answered Dimitri's calls about delivering the ransom — he had been locked up in that cave with her. She'd felt so hurt when Dimitri had first told her that Superman didn't care enough to take his call. She briefly wondered if she would continue having little 'eureka' moments like this one.

"So… you will do as the doctor tells you, won't you, my dear?"

Lex's voice snapped Lois back to her surroundings. "Yeah," she responded.

"Good. Then let's get you comfortable. You might as well have a nap while you wait for the doctor to arrive."

Lois was starting to hate all this fussing. She really wasn't feeling all that bad. Although, she had to admit, she was still exhausted. Maybe Lex was right. She'd just lie down for a minute — just until the doctor arrived.

***

Clark stood for a long moment in the doorway to the cells in the small police station watching the single occupant. He looked… almost fragile — hardly the monster Clark had thought him to be when he'd first laid eyes on him and realized he knew more about Lois than he was letting on. The man looked almost lost.

Finally, the doctor, seeming to realize he was being watched, looked up. When he realized who was standing in the doorway, he instantly diverted his gaze. Clark was left with the distinct impression that the man was ashamed.

Clark moved closer, until he was standing near the bars of the cell. "Pourquoi?" Why? A single word. No force or power behind it. Yet the doctor flinched, as if physically struck.

"Does it matter?" Jean answered.

"Did you know that Lois had her doubts about Dimitri? The only reason she believed what he told her was because you seemed to support him. She had the distinct impression that you were a good man."

The doctor gave a wry smile which disappeared almost immediately. "Sometimes impressions can be deceiving."

Clark slowly shook his head. "Not in this case, I think," he said, drawing on nothing but gut instinct himself. "So why don't you tell me what really happened? It might help Lois to sleep better tonight if she knows that at least her belief in you was not misplaced, Doctor."

Doctor Jean finally met Clark's eyes. "Well, there's your first mistake. I'm not really a doctor."

"What?"

Jean shrugged. "No one in Isle d'Or has had the funds to go to medical school for… I don't know. Seventy years, maybe. And what doctor would come here? The patients can't pay. The housing conditions aren't good. Even the water has to be boiled. I'm not a doctor. But I'm the closest thing this town has to one — or at least I was. I guess when I go to jail, they won't even have that. Tell me the truth. Would you have even known about Isle d'Or if you hadn't had to come here to find Lois Lane?"

"No. No, I wouldn't have, but what does that have to do with…"

"I knew what Dimitri was suggesting was wrong. I even knew that he planned to keep most of the money for himself. But he kept talking about getting us a better medical clinic, modern equipment, better medicines, clean water." Jean gave a humorless chuckle. "I guess I wanted to believe that there would be no real damage done. We'd get the money we needed. And then we'd let Lois Lane go back to her friends and family. I know it justifies nothing. But that is why I went along with Dimitri's plan." He shrugged.

Clark was silent for a long moment. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was soft. "You know… I bet if I spoke to the Superman Foundation…"

The doctor's eyes shot up to meet his, a mixture of shock and hope in them.

"…they would think this a cause worthy of their attention."

"You'd do that?" His question sounded as if he hardly dared to hope.

And suddenly Clark knew why Lois had trusted this man. He was sitting in a cell, anticipating a life in prison and his primary concern seemed to be for the welfare of the citizens of Isle d'Or. "I'd do that. You had the right motives…"

"I just went about it the wrong way," Jean continued. "It was a mistake."

"That's a big mistake. And it almost got Lois killed."

"I know. It almost got you killed as well. And I'm prepared to pay for my crimes." He got up and made his way over to the bars. Reaching between the bars, he grabbed Clark's arm. "But please… make sure the people of Isle d'Or don't suffer for my crimes."

Clark studied the man for a moment before nodding. "I promise," he said.

Jean looked content as he released Clark's arm. "Merci."

***

"Mom," Lois groaned. Why had she let Clark tell Perry to call her mother? Or why, when her mother had heard the news, couldn't the woman have had one of her infernal luncheons to attend? If ever Lois had not needed to see her mother, it was now. "I told you already. I'm fine. It's over. Why can't you just let it go?"

"It's only over until the next time," said Ellen Lane. "Only next time you might not be so lucky. I don't understand why you insist on working for that paper. You could do so much better than being a reporter."

Lois swatted her mother's hand away from where she was fixing Lois' hair. "I like being a reporter. And I'm good at it — which you would know if you ever bothered to read the paper."

"Why would I read the paper? LNN tells me everything I need to know."

"Great! If only a few more people had your attitude, my job would become redundant."

"And then you could do something useful with your life."

"What I do is important! I make sure our politicians aren't dipping their fingers in the till. I make sure our police are doing their best to arrest criminals. I make sure that no one is threatening to blow up the space shuttle. All of which you would know if you bothered reading the paper."

"I'm not sure what you're getting so worked up about. It was just a suggestion."

Lois pinched the bridge of her nose. "Mom…"

"Now you've given me a headache," Ellen said, rising to her feet. "They must have some aspirin around here somewhere."

"Yeah. Good idea, mom," Lois mumbled. "Why don't you just go and look for some?"

"Hmph," said Ellen, leaning over to give Lois a kiss on the cheek.

"Mom, have you been drinking?" asked Lois, smelling for the first time her mother's breath.

"I had to have something to steady my nerves," Ellen said defensively. "If you wouldn't always be putting yourself in danger, I might not need my brandy."

Lois closed her eyes as her mother made her way to the door. Why did her mother have to do that? Lois had known it was coming. So why did she let her mother's determination to blame her drinking on her eldest daughter get to her?

***

Dimitri diverted his face in a way he hoped was not suspicious to the two cops in the waiting room at Metropolis General Hospital as he headed quickly past. He was fairly certain the idiot coppers still staking out the old mine on Isle d'Or wouldn't have figured out yet that he was no longer there. But there was no point in taking any unnecessary chances.

The thing the police didn't realize and hadn't taken the time to find out was that all the children of Isle d'Or had grown up playing in the abandoned tunnels of the old mine. He knew every one of them and every escape route. It had taken him no time at all to get out one of the other escape routes and be on his way — leaving the police no more the wiser.

There was one task he needed to complete. Then he'd disappear and they'd never find him. Now that his brothers were dead, there was nothing tying him to Isle d'Or. But before he made his escape, he'd made Superman a promise — that if Superman brought the police into this, Lois Lane would die. That was one promise he intended to fulfill.

He spotted a room marked, 'Staff Only' and, after taking a quick look around, darted inside. A few minutes later he emerged in green scrubs.

***

"Mr. Luthor?" asked Ellen, spotting a man whom she'd seen in the society pages, the only section of the paper worthy of her attention, more times than she could count.

"Yes?" said Luthor.

"I'm Ellen Lane."

"Lois' mother?"

Ellen nodded.

"It's so nice to meet you — although I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances," said Luthor.

"I just wanted a chance to thank you for everything you've done for my daughter. The private room. And I understand from Perry White that you flew her here in your own helicopter."

"Mrs. Lane…"

"Ellen."

"Ellen," Luthor corrected, "I made the arrangements to have her brought here as soon as I received the information about where she was being held — not knowing what shape she'd be in when we rescued her. I wanted to be certain your daughter received the best care available anywhere in the world. Your daughter is very special to me. It was the very least I could do."

"You were involved in finding her?" Ellen asked. "Perry didn't mention that."

"Well, the police really are the ones to thank. I just got a tip and then put a lot of pressure on them to act. It's a lucky thing we got there when we did, too. Another few minutes and it might have been a completely different story."

"What about Superman? I thought he was involved."

Luthor shook his head. "I haven't seen him all day. I assume he has other things to worry about — probably some disaster that threatens hundreds of lives somewhere in the world. I'm sure he would be here if he could. Fortunately, as a private citizen, I was able to devote myself exclusively to the task of finding your daughter."

"Well, thank you so much, Mr. Luthor," Ellen said, laying a hand on his arm.

"It was my pleasure. And please. It's Lex. Your daughter is a very special woman."

"If only you could find a way to keep her from almost getting herself killed in the first place…"

"Believe me. I would love nothing more. But…" Luthor moved closer to Lois' mother, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "Maybe if we put our heads together, we could come up with some way to persuade her to take fewer chances."

"I doubt there's much chance of that," said Ellen. "Anyway, you look like you're going in to see her. And I'm looking for… You!"

Luthor watched as Ellen Lane made her way over to an orderly who appeared to be of native descent. The orderly turned and began heading away.

"Stop, young man!" said Ellen, rushing to catch up to the orderly. "I need some aspirin. Could you find some and bring it to my daughter's room immediately?"

"Sorry, ma'am. I'm not allowed to dispense drugs."

"It's just aspirin, for crying out loud. It's not like I'm asking for morphine." She opened her purse and pulled out a ten. "If you have to, go to the pharmacy. And hurry. My head is killing me. My daughter could try the patience of a saint."

"You heard the lady," said Luthor in support of Ellen's demand. "And if your supervisor has a problem with that, you tell him to talk to me."

The orderly glanced between Luthor and Ellen before nodding, stuffing the bill in his pocket and heading away.

***

Dimitri rounded the corner and stopped. Who did that woman think she was — ordering him around like that? He carefully glanced back around the corner just in time to see the two people who had just spoken to him enter Lois Lane's room.

Growling in frustration, he leaned his head against the wall. He needed to wait for a time when Lois Lane was alone. He spotted a room on the far side of the corridor. The lights were off and there was a window in the door. Making sure no one was around to see, he headed towards the room. He'd just wait there until it was safe for him to make his move.

He fingered the gun he had stuck in his belt. He only had three more bullets. That meant he had to make those shots count.

***

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask everyone to leave."

Lois felt relieved by the doctor's comment. The last thing she needed while having her exam was Lex acting like Dimitri had or her mother continuing to badger her. This was what she hated most about hospitals — the lack of privacy. While their advertising maintained that they were a good place to rest, in Lois' experience a hospital room seemed more like Metro Station.

"Well, that incompetent orderly hasn't brought my aspirin yet, so I guess I need to go and try to find some."

"I'll help you with that, Ellen," Luthor said, rising to his feet. "And maybe some coffee will also help. How long will you be, doctor?"

"Well, I'm going to be doing an exam. Then we'll probably need to send her for some x-rays. Why don't you come back in about an hour or so?"

"An hour? My word!" exclaimed Ellen.

"An hour it is then," Luthor jumped in quickly. Leaning over, he gave Lois a kiss on the cheek. "Ellen, why don't you and I go see if we can scare up a good meal in this place?"

"When was the last time you were in a hospital?" asked Ellen. "Lois' father was a doctor — before he abandoned his family to make cyborgs. And let me tell you there is not a hospital on the planet that has good food."

"It can't hurt to try," said Luthor, giving Ellen a charming smile.

Lois let out a breath of relief when Ellen rose to her feet, and while still complaining, accompanied Lex out of the room.

"Quick. If we move really quick, I bet we could change rooms before they get back," said Lois the second the door closed behind her mother, provoking a chuckle from the doctor.

"Okay, well, let's start with the basics," said the doctor, picking up her wrist to check her pulse rate. As he did, she wondered if he'd take into account that the tension level in the room undoubtedly had her pulse racing at the moment.

***

Dimitri watched as the doctor left the room. Adrenaline was suddenly pumping through his veins. It was time. He had just opened the door when he spotted an older man with thinning hair coming down the hall. He quickly closed the door, hoping the man was just going to pass the room across the way. He silently swore when the man knocked on the door before cautiously pushing it open.

***

"How you doing, darlin'?" asked Perry, a huge grin on his face and a beautiful bouquet of flowers clutched in his hand as he entered the room.

"Perry," Lois said, her face instantly relaxing into the first smile she'd given since entering the hospital. "Are you a sight for sore eyes or what?"

Perry laughed, coming over to give Lois a careful hug. "You're one to talk. Looks like you've just gone ten rounds with a beached whale."

Lois' eyebrows shot up. But she wasn't going anywhere near that one.

He looked around at the hundreds of flowers Luthor had decorating her room. "I guess these are a little redundant," he said, handing her the flowers.

"They're beautiful, Perry," Lois said, taking the flowers and admiring them.

"You gave us quite a scare."

"I gave me quite a scare, too."

"I bet. I think I aged about ten years in the past few days. Not a nice thing to do to your old editor."

"Sorry," Lois said. "Next time I'm facing down a man with a gun, I'll keep your health in mind."

Perry roared with laughter. "Speaking of which…" He took a seat on the chair beside the bed. "…where's the story?"

Now it was Lois' turn to laugh. Unlike her mother and Lex, who both seemed determined to baby her, Perry was wanting his story. But… "I'm not sure when it will be done. I've got one more interview I need to get. There is something I need, though."

"What's that?"

"I took some pictures from the honeymoon suite…" Her voice trailed off when Perry removed an envelope from inside his jacket.

"Could these be the ones you're referring to?"

Lois tore open the envelope, seeing the pictures she'd taken as well as two sketches. Her smile instantly faded as her eyes focused on the sketches.

"These are the men who shot me. Muscle Head and Grey Eyes."

"What?"

"I didn't know their names so…" She shrugged.

"Well, their names were Barry Schaefer and Mark Donahue."

Lois looked back at the sketches. "I understand someone shot them?"

Perry nodded. "Seriously, though, Lois, I don't want you over- exerting yourself for a story. You take whatever time you need to…"

"Now you're starting to sound like Lex and my mother," Lois rebuked, laughter dancing in her eyes. "I liked you better as the grouchy boss than the overprotective father type."

"I'm serious, honey," Perry said. "You gave me quite a scare. And Clark… Hell, I'm not sure that boy would have survived if anything had happened to you. When he thought you were dead…" Perry's voice trailed off as his mind took him back to the moment he'd seen Clark finally accept Lois' death.

Lois chewed on her lower lip as she considered Perry's words. She'd been deliberately trying not to think about Clark — and all the 'revelations' she'd had over the past twenty-four hours. Superman. Clark's feelings for her. And as much as Lois was loath to admit it, her feelings for Clark. It amazed her how losing her memory had brought those feelings into focus like never before. She quickly shook her head to clear these thoughts from her mind in order to concentrate on what Perry was saying.

"So how much longer do they want you to stay here?"

Lois let out a breath. "They want me to stay over night — just for observation."

Perry nodded, rising to his feet. "Well, you just relax and get well. I won't expect a story from you until well into tomorrow." He smiled to let her know that he was kidding.

Her eyes twinkled in response. "Thanks for coming by, Perry. You're a breath of fresh air in this place."

"Hell, honey, did you really think anything could keep me away?"

He was on his way to the door when Lois spoke again. "Do you know if Clark is coming to see me?" she asked, trying to keep the vulnerability she felt from coming through in her voice.

"Last I heard, Jimmy was going out to Isle d'Or to pick up Clark. He didn't say if he was coming by the hospital or planning to come directly to the Daily Planet. Do you want me to ask him to come by when I see him?"

Lois shrugged. "No," she said, trying to sound nonchalant. "I was just curious."

Perry's smile seemed a little too knowing and Lois found herself squirming slightly under her boss' all-knowing gaze.

"Take whatever time you need to get better," Perry said.

"Just as long as the story is on your desk by the time you have to go to print," Lois added with a chuckle.

"Did I say that?" Perry responded, trying to look offended, but obviously enjoying the banter between them.

Just as Perry was leaving the room, the doctor returned to tell Lois he had the results of her x-rays. With a final goodbye, Perry left her in the doctor's capable hands.

***

Dimitri watched the doctor leave the room. Finally! He waited another moment — to see if anyone else was coming. When no one did, Dimitri opened the door to his room and, fingering his gun, took a look up and down the hallway. No one appeared to be around. He crossed the hall and opened the door to the room of his soon-to-be victim.

***

Clark felt frustrated by the time he'd finally been told the number to Lois' room. If he were the suspicious type, he'd be convinced that Luthor had told the staff at the hospital that they would lose their jobs if they told him where Lois was staying. Still, he'd managed to talk a very pretty nurse into giving him the information he needed.

He knocked. When there was no answer, he shifted the flowers he was carrying to his left hand so that he could use his right to open the door. "Hello?" he called into the room. When there was still no answer, he pushed the door further open. "Anyone here?" he asked.

He glanced around the room, but it was empty. He took a step inside, noticing immediately that although Lois was nowhere to be seen, the place bore a startling resemblance to a florist shop. "Luthor strikes again," Clark mumbled, looking down at his own pitiful offering. He'd made Jimmy stop at a flower shop along the way when he'd caught sight of what appeared to be fresh wild flowers in the window. Considering the time of year, he'd been captivated by the sight. He'd thought Lois would love them. In many ways, they reminded him of her — beautiful and wild. But seeing the extravagant bouquets placed around the room as if done by a professional decorator… well, it had been a dumb idea to begin with.

He let out a breath. Since Lois wasn't there anyway… He stepped back into the hall, placing the flowers on a trolley sitting just outside the door. She must have been taken for some tests. Maybe he had time to go down to the gift shop and get her a box of chocolates or something. He was sure she'd like that. Giving a brief nod, he removed his hand from the door, allowing it to drift closed behind him.

"Clark?"

Lois' voice coming from inside the room caused Clark to spin back around, pushing the door open just in time to see Lois emerging from the washroom — fresh from the shower, fully clothed in clean clothes.

"Lois, what…" He gestured to her clothes.

"Oh, my mom was kind enough to bring me a change in clothing."

"No. That's not what I meant. What are you doing all dressed? I gave Perry a quick call before coming here. He said you were staying the night."

"Pfff," said Lois, taking a seat on the bed to put on her shoes. "There's still some work to be done before we'll be able to write this story. And I've been thinking that maybe it would be best not to put the part in about my kidnapping. After all, if people think that threatening me is a way to get Superman to do what they want, I'm likely to be kidnapped every week. And that could get to be really boring. And since the only other story here is Congressman Harrington and the dead call girl…"

"Dead?"

"…I think we need to talk to Harrington."

"But…"

"I'll fill you in on the details on the way."

"Are you really okay?"

She looked up, meeting his eyes and searching them for a moment. Then she rose from the side of the bed and came over to where he was standing. After studying his eyes for a second, her hand came up to gently touch his cheek. "I'm fine, Clark," she replied seriously. "The doctor checked me over. He said that I tore out a stitch from the gunshot wound in my chest, but apparently the wound had already healed enough that…" She paused and a look of suspicion suddenly passed through her eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was not much more than a whisper. "When you looked at my cut, did you…"

He nodded. "I cauterized the wound," he replied, keeping his voice as soft as hers — grateful that, although there was no one around, she understood the need for keeping this matter quiet.

She nodded slowly, and he found himself wishing he could read minds. After all, they still hadn't seriously discussed what she had discovered in that cave. But she didn't follow up. Instead, she returned to their previous discussion. "Anyway, he said it was okay. Keeping me overnight, I think he just advised that because Lex is concerned and is putting some pressure on him to be overly cautious. So… I guess we need to stop by your apartment so that you can shower and change. But that can't be helped. You can't very well show up to interview Harrington looking like that. So are you coming, partner?"

He raised his hand, placing it on the door to block her exit as she watched him, waiting for an answer. Their eyes met and held for a long moment.

"Is that all I am, Lois?" Clark finally asked. "Your partner?"

She broke eye contact. When she spoke, her voice wasn't much more than a whisper. "To tell you the truth, I don't know, Clark." Finally, she again looked him in the eyes. "So are you coming or not? My mother and Lex will be back any minute. If we aren't long gone by then, it will be hell getting out of here."

He lowered his arm, allowing her to step out of the door in front of him.

"Great. And then, once we've interviewed Harrington, we'll go back to the Planet to write up the…" Her voice trailed off as her eyes landed on a bouquet of delicate wild flowers on the cart outside. "Who would…" She picked up the card lying with the flowers before he could stop her. When she read it, she finally looked at him. "Why would you… Because my room currently looks as if the mad florist invaded," she said, answering her own uncompleted question. "Lex has a tendency to overdo things at times." She picked up the flowers. "Sometime simple is better," she said softly before, without further acknowledgment, walking away, carrying Clark's flowers with her.

Clark suddenly felt like a million bucks — or to be more in tune with the last few days — fifty million bucks. Smiling, he hurried to keep up with Lois as she headed towards the elevators.

***

Dimitri snarled as he stepped out of the closet. He'd been so close! When he'd stepped into the room and realized that Lois Lane must be in the washroom, he'd withdrawn his gun, waiting for the second she would return. And then that partner of hers… Did that man never stop getting in the way? If he'd only had more bullets…

The problem wasn't only the number of bullets Dimitri had left, however. There was also the fact that if he shot Kent, Lane would undoubtedly hear the shot and would lock herself in the washroom. And all of this was pointless if Lois Lane was not dead.

So he'd ducked into the closet and been forced to remain there long enough to know that Lois Lane was leaving. He hadn't been able to hear much of what they had talked about — they were talking too quietly — but he had heard her mention the Daily Planet. So he'd just wait for her there. Stuffing his gun back in his trousers, he headed out of the room and down the hall towards the elevators. He was waiting for one to arrive when…

"Young man!"

Dimitri cringed when he realized the woman's voice, cutting through the other noises around them, was clearly directed at him.

"Young man!"

Seeing no other choice without causing a scene, Dimitri turned around to find himself facing the woman who had earlier sent him for aspirin. It crossed his mind that he'd been a fool not to pretend he didn't understand English when she'd addressed him earlier.

"Now, I clearly remember sending you for aspirin. And you never came back."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. There was an emergency," he answered, wondering briefly if killing Lane's mother would be sufficient retribution for Superman's failure to follow instructions. He quickly decided against the notion, concluding that it would probably be regarded more like a reward than a punishment.

"I don't see why you couldn't have sent someone else to do it if you were too busy. But never mind that now. Do you know where my daughter went?"

On the other hand, maybe he could just find a way to make Lois Lane's mother move in with her. That would be punishment enough for anyone.

"I'm sorry. I don't," said Dimitri, quickly stepping into the elevator as soon as the doors slid open.

"Well, my word," said the woman, turning to look once again at the man with her. "Where in the world could that girl have gotten to?"

"Relax, Ellen. I'm sure the doctor sent her for some tests. We'll just have a seat in her room and wait for her."

"Well, I hope you're right. Knowing her, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that she got tired of being poked and prodded and decided to leave. That girl has never shown one ounce of common sense — well, other than dating you, of course."

***

"There's a Ms. Lane and a Mr. Kent here from the Daily Planet looking to speak with you, sir."

Harrington looked up from the papers he was studying when the voice of his secretary coming over the intercom filled the room. "I don't have time to meet with the press today," Harrington responded. "Could you ask them to set up an appointment?"

There was a moment of silence before an answer came back to him which caused his blood to freeze.

"They said to tell you it has something to do with a party at Suite 1110, 1726 Water Street on Friday night."

Harrington hesitated. If he told them to come in now, would they take that as some sort of admission? But if he refused to see them, he would worry about what exactly they knew about Friday night. He needed to make it sound casual — find out what they knew without giving anything away himself. After all, they might not know anything. "Very well," said Harrington, trying to keep his voice sounding appropriately bored. "I suppose I have time for a short interview. Send them in, Marci."

He rose from behind his desk and had just slipped into his jacket when the door opened and Marci escorted in a man sporting a nose cast. He had two black eyes and looked as though he'd used a very dull razor — given the number of small cuts on his face. With him was a petite, very pretty brunette who had the sharpest eyes Harrington had ever seen.

"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane, it's nice to finally have the opportunity to meet you," he said, offering each his hand. "I'm familiar with your work, of course." He gestured them to chairs. "So how may I help you?"

The woman looked at the secretary who had led them into the room and waited until she closed the door behind her before turning back to Harrington. She removed a tape recorder from her briefcase and placed it on the desk, making a show of setting it for record. Then reaching into a brown paper envelope she also took out of her briefcase, she removed what appeared to be a photo of some sort.

"Okay, let's get past the niceties," said the woman, slapping the photo down on his desk. "On Friday evening, you were with this woman. And trust me when I say, you weren't playing checkers. But that's not why we're here. That's between you and your wife. What we're interested in is that later in the evening, two men came into the room…" She withdrew two sketches, laying them out in front of him. "…the older man shot the woman and then escorted you out of the room." She finally sank down into her chair. "So do you want a chance to tell us what happened? Or did you just want the public to draw its own conclusions?"

Harrington sank down into his chair, suddenly feeling slightly faint. He glanced over at the man, hoping to find there some sign of support. After all, no matter what she said, he didn't exactly believe the woman's dismissive comments about not being interested in his adulterous behavior. That made great copy, after all. He'd known the press long enough to know that. But all he saw on the man's face was a faint expression of amusement.

Harrington cleared his throat. "I don't know what you think you know, but that woman is an old friend of…"

"The family?" Lane asked. "I'd try again if I were you. We have a witness who will testify that she was one of Madam Benoit's girls."

"And in case you haven't heard," added Kent, "Madam Benoit really doesn't like it when her girls get hurt or killed."

Lane gave Kent an odd look before redirecting her attention to Harrington.

"I don't know…" Harrington's voice trailed off as he tried to think of something plausible to say. He was a politician, for crying out loud. He made non-denial denials for a living.

"How about I help you out here?" asked Lane. "My theory… Do you want to hear my theory?"

He gestured her to continue. At least as long as she continued talking, he had more time to come up with a believable non- denial.

"I think someone is holding this over you… perhaps to get your cooperation as the chairman of the Congressional Inquiry into organized crime."

"What?" Harrington couldn't help his gasped response.

***

Lois regarded Harrington's expression carefully. He seemed genuinely startled by her suggestion. But then, if the men who had killed the prostitute had been killed, it was possible that no one had contacted Harrington to ensure he knew their expectations. "Are you saying that no one has ever contacted you about this? Perhaps mentioned something, even if just in passing, that might make you wonder if that was the reason you found yourself in that situation that night?"

"I… wait," Harrington said, obviously suddenly seeing things in a different light. "The next day Bill Church Jr. came to see me. He said… That bastard! He told me the police wanted to search Suite 1110 but that he could make any evidence of foul play disappear."

"Bill Church Jr? The son of the man who owns Cost Mart?"

"Yeah. He's the one who threw the party. He's the one who invited the girls. He told us it was just his way of saying thank you for agreeing to rent the suites we needed from him while we are in Metropolis."

"But he hasn't asked for any favors in return? Do you have any idea what he might want?" Clark asked, amazed by how open Harrington suddenly seemed to be. Obviously, Lois' theory had startled him into talking.

Harrington shook his head before rising from behind his desk and going to look out his office window. "When that guy killed the girl…" There was a long moment of silence. "I really thought I was next. I was confused when he escorted me from the room, telling me that I really didn't want to be seen there. After all, there was no way I'd ever be able to explain being caught with a dead hooker. I wanted to call the police when I got back to my suite, but…"

"But you were afraid of it being plastered all over the front page."

He snorted. "I was afraid of losing my wife." He turned and looked at Lois. "Because no matter what you may think of me, Ms. Lane, I do love my wife."

Lois forced herself to bite back the immediate response that sprang to mind. He was cooperating. There was no need to antagonize him — yet.

"And I guess I thought," Harrington continued, "who would believe me if I said that someone walked in and shot the girl in front of me."

"The girl's name was Joanne Smith," Clark said.

Lois glanced over at Clark. She was slightly surprised when he didn't look too impressed with Harrington's claims. Wasn't there some unwritten guy-code that said that they all had to be impressed by a man's sexual conquests — even if such conquests were paid for?

"And she had friends who cared about her and have been wondering what happened to her," Clark continued.

Harrington looked at Clark for a long moment before giving a small nod. "So where do we go from here?" he finally asked. "I don't suppose there is any point in asking you not to go to print."

When both Lois and Clark raised their eyebrows in unison, Harrington nodded. "Could I at least ask for a few days to tell my wife?"

"Our editor wants to run this in the morning edition," said Lois.

"On the other hand…" Clark began.

Lois glanced over at him. He obviously had something on his mind.

"…we don't really have anything on Church yet — no real indication that he wants something from you…"

"…or wants you to keep something from the committee…" continued Lois, realizing immediately where Clark was going with this. "…so at this point all we have are our suspicions that Church is somehow mixed up in organized crime…"

"…after all, why else would he be interested in controlling the chairman of this particular inquiry?"

"Precisely! So if you would be willing to work with us on a sting operation…"

"…we wouldn't be able to go to print until at least the day after tomorrow, giving you time to tell your wife."

Harrington had been looking back and forth between them as they broke into each other's sentences, completing them like a dance they had been performing for years.

***

Dimitri ducked into the shadows when Lois Lane and Clark Kent got out of a cab in front of the Daily Planet. He looked around. But in broad daylight, across a crowded street… it was too risky. Better to wait until Lois Lane left at the end of the work day. Hopefully it would be dark enough to give him a clear shot without being seen by everyone and their dogs. If it wasn't dark enough… well, he could always follow her home.

He waited for his target to disappear inside the building before making his way over to a hotdog stand to order lunch. If there was one thing he'd learned during his years of fishing, it was patience. He'd wait for the perfect moment. And then he wouldn't fail.

***

As Lois watched Clark making his way to Perry's office, she found herself appreciating the way he moved. It reminded her of a large cat. His spare pair of glasses were on his face, in spite of how they looked with the nose cast. He'd told her that he was feeling better when they were in the police station in Isle d'Or. That was the only reason she had agreed to leave him behind. She'd assumed by his comments that his powers were starting to come back. But considering the bruising still around his eyes, obviously that was not the case.

She was amazed by the amount they had accomplished during the past couple of hours. They had talked to Inspector Henderson about the sting operation. He was going to set it up for the following morning in Harrington's suite. Apparently, since he'd gone into Suite 1110 with a search warrant, he'd been looking into Church's activities and he'd found something very interesting — before Intergang would make an appearance in a city, Cost Marts would start springing up. It wasn't proof of anything, but it was certainly quite a coincidence. So he was more than enthusiastic about the possibility of setting a trap for Church. Lois could feel it in the pit of her belly — they were on the verge of breaking open a huge story. Intergang. No other paper in the country had ever broken a single story where this shadowy organization was anything more than a rumor.

On their way back to the Planet, Clark had filled her in on Doctor Jean's story. After hearing it, Lois had suggested they talk to Henderson — to see if there was anything they could do to get the charges reduced or even dropped against the doctor. Lois was relieved that her judgment, at least when it came to the doctor, was not completely off-kilter. Henderson had promised to look into it and see what he could do.

The way Henderson had looked at her when he'd first arrived at the Planet — almost affectionately — had initially unnerved her. So of course, she had to give him a hard time. Just to make sure he knew she was really back, of course. She grinned. She loved the give and take relationship she had with the inspector. Not that she would ever tell him that. And she had no intention of letting him get all soft on her just because he'd thought she was dead. Still, it was good to know he'd been concerned.

She'd called the hospital to find out that her mother was going crazy. She'd had no choice but to talk to the woman. Ten minutes later, when she'd finally been able to hang up the phone, she'd been completely exhausted. Apparently Lex had still been there, too — although she hadn't spoken to him. She'd had to stifle a grin when she thought about Lex spending time with her mother. She had quickly rebuked herself for that uncharitable thought.

While she'd made that call, Clark had been on the phone with Cindy McPherson, telling her what had happened to her friend, Joanne Smith, in Suite 1110 on Friday night. When he hung up the phone, he'd looked incredibly pale — as if telling that woman what had happened to her friend had reminded him of the feelings he'd had when he thought she was dead.

Lois had used the opportunity to probe into his, or should she say Superman's relationship with Madam Benoit. She'd wondered about the familiarity Clark seemed to have with the woman during their interview with Harrington. She gave her head a slight shake. Only Clark could have a completely innocent relationship with the most renowned madam in Metropolis. At least, given the way he'd blushed when she'd challenged his story, she'd been forced to conclude he was telling the truth.

Mayson Drake had also stopped by to get Lois' statement. Lois had to say that she really didn't like the woman. She found herself wondering if the woman was dirty. Then again, her feelings might have been somewhat affected by the way Mayson kept looking at Clark.

Clark. Lois reached over and rearranged the wild flowers in the vase on her desk. She smiled. She had to admit, she loved them — so much nicer than all those perfectly arranged flowers Lex had undoubtedly had one of the members of his staff stuff into her hospital room. How could Clark think she wouldn't appreciate his gift? Was it because he didn't think he could compete with Lex?

But he could compete with Lex — in every way, should he so wish. She'd become more than aware of that this afternoon when she'd seen, for the first time in her life, what fifty million dollars cash looked like. Her eyes drifted back to where she could see Clark through the window that separated Perry's office from the newsroom. A diamond mine. Who'd have thunk it? Still, knowing what she did now… when Clark had asked Perry if a couple of the armed men who handled the Daily Planet's finances could take the ransom money to the Superman Foundation, she'd been in awe. That money belonged to him. He'd obtained it by completely legal means. And yet it seemed that Clark Kent was not at all motivated by money. He'd almost seemed relieved when the money was finally on its way to the charity — to be especially earmarked for helping Isle d'Or. There was nothing to stop Clark from competing with Lex on any front he chose. He simply didn't choose to be rich.

Dimitri was still on the loose. The police seemed to think that he was probably halfway to Canada by now. Not that he stood a chance of making it to the border if Superman was back in the air in the next day or so. Her eyes again returned to Clark. He'd gone into Perry's office quite some time ago. What could be taking so long? Surely Perry must understand that publishing the story about her kidnapping would not be wise. And when they had this juicy lead on a much bigger story…

"Well?" she asked, jumping to her feet when Clark emerged from the lion's den.

"Well, what? I told him what was going on. He seemed excited. But…"

"What?"

"He thinks we should write up the kidnapping story, too."

"What! Doesn't he understand that… I'm going to talk to him!"

She immediately headed towards Perry's office, only to be stopped by Clark's hand on her arm.

"Clark, we can't…"

Her voice trailed off when he began escorting her towards the conference room. Once they were inside, he released her arm, turning towards the door.

She stood, arms folded across her chest, eyebrows raised as she waited for him to explain himself. This had better be good.

He closed the door and turned towards her, his eyes quickly taking in her stance.

"Okay, out with it, Clark. I really don't think we should let the world know about the kidnapping. After all, if people know that Superman can be manipulated by kidnapping me…" She let her voice trail off. After all, the implications were obvious — as was her new understanding of how easily Superman could be manipulated if someone were threatening her. Up until now, she would have assumed that Superman would do the right thing — even if that meant she lost her life. Now she wasn't nearly as sure. Realizing Clark was Superman put a different slant on so many things — this being one.

"Perry made a really good point," Clark began. "There are already too many people who know about the kidnapping. Everyone here. Cops. Doctors. Luthor — and who knows how many people at Lex Corp. Temp workers. And who knows who all. Not to mention the story in the Daily Planet saying that you were missing. That's going to get someone's attention if you just show up again with no explanation."

The defiance left her stance.

"Someone is going to talk," she said for him. "And when that happens, we won't have any control over the way the story is reported."

"Right."

She chewed on her lower lip for a moment as she contemplated the problem. "So… how do we spin this in a way that doesn't give others the same idea?"

"I think the only thing we can do is play up the outcome for the kidnappers."

Lois nodded slowly. "And I think we need to downplay Superman's involvement — he was just the one taking the calls from the kidnapper."

"And we play up the role of the police in rescuing us."

Lois nodded. "Okay, partner, I guess we still have some work to do."

***

It was about an hour before Lois was prepared to send the final copy of their story to Perry, and another few minutes before he called Lois into his office. With a quick look at Clark, she headed in the appropriate direction. It was sometime later before she emerged from Perry's office.

"Well?" asked Clark, rising from behind his desk.

"Perry says good job on the story. He thinks we should get out of here if we're planning to be at the sting operation first thing tomorrow morning — something about us needing to get our rest."

"Then what took you so long?" asked Clark.

"Oh." Lois shifted uncomfortably. "He was just telling me one of his Elvis stories. Something about how Priscilla acted when she found out Elvis was an honorary FBI agent… Sorry, I wasn't really listening. I guess I didn't know there was going to be an exam on it following the lecture."

"I guess that means there's no point in my borrowing your notes."

Lois gave him a jab in the ribs.

"Hey!" Clark yelped, trying to look injured, but he was smiling too hard to pull it off properly.

Lois gave a 'hmph' before turning and walking back to her desk, allowing just enough swing in her step to be sure that his eyes would follow her. She glanced back at him before she sat down and smiled when she saw the distracted look on his face. She briefly wondered if he had always been so easy.

"Umm… Anyway," said Clark, giving his head a slight shake as he followed her to her desk, "what do you think?"

"About what?"

"Sorry… about us getting out of here for the rest of the day… I thought maybe…"

Before he could complete his thought, the telephone on Lois' desk rang. She gave him an apologetic look before answering it. She wasn't entirely sure what he was going to suggest, but she suddenly discovered that a number of butterflies were flying around in her stomach.

"Hello?" she asked. "Oh, hi, Lex." She wasn't looking at Clark, but even so she could feel the disappointment coming from his direction. "I'm sorry about that. But I knew my mom would try to talk me out of it. And I'm fine… really. I wanted to get an interview that would help me finish the story I was investigating before I got shot." There was a long pause. "Tonight?" she asked, shifting a little further away from Clark and lowering her voice.

***

Clark shoved his hands in his pockets as he made his way back to his desk. After the way she'd been flirting with him when she'd come out of Perry's office — he hadn't imagined it, he really hadn't — he'd actually worked up the nerve to ask her if he could take her out for an early supper before he took her home. And then Luthor… Even in his mind, Clark spat the name. If he could find a way to blame Lois' entire misadventure on Luthor, he'd do it. But he had to follow the evidence. And it appeared that this time, Luthor was innocent.

Still, since it sounded as if Lois was making plans to get together with Luthor this evening, he might as well think about heading home himself. If only he could find a way to keep his mind from running the play by play of how Lois' date with Luthor was going. That was the worst part of knowing when Lois was going on a date with that man — stopping himself from constantly wondering what they were doing. It was seven-o-five. Luthor was probably picking Lois up. It was eight fifteen. The waiters were probably serving dinner. It was ten forty-five. He was probably walking Lois to the door of her apartment. After that, he usually tried not to think about the possibilities.

Maybe he should have kept the fifty million. Maybe money really was important to her. After all, what else could she possibly see in Luthor? Okay, so maybe he was… all right looking — if one was into old guys. And maybe he could be charming — if one liked drowning in honey. And maybe he did seem cultured — if one was into watching men in tights. Besides, if Lois wanted to watch men in tights, he'd take her to a football game. Hell, he'd even spin into the Superman suit for her. Luthor couldn't do that!

He let out a slow breath. What was the point of these thoughts? For some reason which was beyond Clark's ability to comprehend, Lois liked Luthor. It was as simple as that really. And as long as she did… Maybe it was best if he just cut his losses now and called it a night.

He began making his way up the ramp towards the coatrack.

"Clark?"

Lois calling his name stopped Clark in his tracks. Her head was tilted to the side, as if she was trying to figure out why he was sneaking out on her. He looked briefly at the ceiling before heading back down the ramp.

"Before we were so rudely interrupted…" Lois began.

Clark's eyebrows rose. She considered a call from her boyfriend a rude interruption?

"…you were about to say something."

Did he dare? Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he spoke. "I was sort of wondering if you'd like to have supper with me tonight. But I guess Luthor beat me to it."

"I told Lex I was too tired."

"Oh, well, I guess I should have expected that. You've had a rough week. I should have thought…"

"But… well, you've been telling me for weeks what a great cook you are. I figure if you can put up with me in a pair of sweats and an oversized sweat shirt, I thought it might be nice to use tonight to find out if you've been telling me the truth."

Clark's face broke into a smile. She was too tired to go out with Luthor, but if he had just heard her right, she had just invited herself over to his apartment for supper. He wasn't about to ask if this was a date. He was too scared to do anything which might burst his unexpected good fortune. "Well… I can make a mean fettucine alfredo. Will that do?"

***

What had she done? Lois wasn't entirely certain. Was this a date or wasn't it? Was she the one who had invited him out? And what type of message was she sending by actually inviting herself over to his place? Oh, sure, she'd been there in the past. But this wasn't quite the same. After all, this was a date. Or was it? She couldn't say for certain. Could this whole situation get any more ambiguous?

Did she even want it to be a date? Hadn't she already decided that dating Clark would be a disaster? But if it wasn't a date, then why, when she'd changed at her apartment, had she put a dab of her best perfume behind her knee? Okay, so maybe she was done pretending she wasn't attracted to Clark — possibly even more. But nothing had really changed between them. They were still colleagues. She'd made the mistake of dating a colleague previously. And hadn't she heard somewhere that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results?

Well, that settled it. She was insane. Maybe she could blame it on the stress of the past few days. But when Lex had suggested taking her out to dinner, she'd realized she was hungry, wanted real food, but wanted to eat it curled up on a couch in a pair of sweats. And she couldn't imagine doing that with Lex. After that, things had just sort of taken on a life of their own.

She watched Clark as he chatted happily away to her while juggling his bag of groceries with one hand and unlocking the door to his apartment with the other. She wasn't really listening — something about having lost his key when Dimitri took his wallet — while removing another one from under a plant that sat on the ledge outside his door. She rolled her eyes. He really was just a country boy at heart.

He opened the door and waited until she walked in before following. Her forward movement halted suddenly when she spotted the corner of his bed through the doorway to the bedroom. She was pushed forward when he ran into her back.

"Are you okay?" he asked immediately.

She nodded mutely. 'Get a grip, girl. This is just Clark you're with. It's not as if he bites — at least he doesn't look like a biter,' she thought, suddenly having images of him nibbling his way over her throat like he had when…

"Are you sure you're okay, Lois?" he asked again.

"Yeah, fine," she responded briskly, heading down the steps into his living room. She knew he was still standing on the steps, watching her, probably with a puzzled look on his face. "I'm just going to relax while you impress me with your cooking skills. I'd offer to help, but…" She shrugged. "…I'm a federal disaster in the kitchen." 'That's not the only room you're a federal disaster in,' said a little voice in the back of her mind. "Shut up!"

"Did you say something?" asked Clark from where he'd walked past her on his way to the kitchen.

"No," responded Lois, silently cursing herself once again. Maybe she just needed a distraction. Yes. That was it. She was just way, way over thinking things. After all, it wasn't actually a date — she didn't think. So… She looked around the living room for something to distract her. Yes. She'd watch some TV. Sitting down on the couch, she picked up the remote and turned on the television.

She was surprised when she felt Clark come up behind her, reaching over her shoulder to steal the remote, clicking the television off.

"But…" she began before her voice trailed off. He'd just stolen her security blanket — the one thing that was sure to keep her from thinking too much about what was happening between her and Clark. She avoided his eyes when he took a seat on the coffee table in front of her.

"Lois." His voice was strong, yet gentle. She heard him let out a long slow breath. "Okay, out with it. What has your knickers in a twist, as Perry would say?"

The expression caught her so off guard that her eyes met his for the first time since she'd asked him to bring her to his place and make her supper. The look of concern that met hers was almost more than Lois could take. She quickly looked away.

"Don't you want to do this? I could take you home if you're too tired or something."

Did she want to go home? He'd just given her the perfect excuse. So why wasn't she taking it? She could just tell him that she wasn't feeling up to conversation tonight.

"Look, Lois, please talk to me. Did I do something to upset you?"

"What?" she gasped.

***

Dimitri tapped a cigarette out of the pack and stuck it in his mouth. He flicked his lighter. A small flame appeared. Sticking the end of the cigarette in the resulting fire, he drew in a long slow breath, lighting the cigarette. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and exhaled, causing a small stream of smoke to drift slowly upwards in the still evening air as he leaned against the building across from Clark Kent's apartment.

At least he assumed he was outside Clark Kent's apartment. After all, it had been Clark Kent searching for a key to open the door.

When Lane and Kent had emerged together from the Daily Planet in daylight, he'd made the decision to follow — for the first time in his life getting to utter those immortal words of both television and movies: 'follow that cab.' And follow it he had. First to one apartment building where Lois Lane had disappeared inside for a few minutes, reemerging in a sweat suit. Then to a grocery store where Lane and Kent had emerged with a bag of groceries. And finally, to this apartment building.

He made himself more comfortable, taking a seat on the steps of the building as he enjoyed his cigarette. He only hoped Lois Lane didn't wait too long before leaving that apartment. He'd prefer not to have to kill Lane with Kent there. Not that he had a problem killing Kent, too. But he only had three bullets left in his gun. And Lane was the important target. Superman had to be taught a lesson.

Still, he couldn't wait too long. If people began looking at him suspiciously, he'd have no choice but to go in. And if that happened… From his pocket, he removed the key he'd taken from Clark Kent's wallet.

***

"Well, what else am I supposed to think — than that you're upset with me about something?" asked Clark. "You've been… well, unusually quiet since we left the Daily Planet. You can tell me anything, you know. I'll understand — or at least I'll try to." Clark wasn't sure what to think. Never had Lois seemed so… He struggled to find the right word, but was unable to decipher her emotions. He had learned how to read angry Lois or babbling Lois or even excited Lois. But silent Lois… This was a new experience for him.

She met his gaze, seeming to search his eyes for something. She finally broke eye contact. "Clark, is this a date?" she asked.

"What?" asked Clark. "Lois, coming over here for supper was your idea. If it's just two friends sharing a meal or if it's something more… I think that's pretty much your call. You know how I feel about you. And if friendship is all you can offer, then I'll be happy with that. But…" He gathered his courage before continuing. "I love you. And after almost losing you, I'm not prepared to pretend I don't. I won't be left with those kind of regrets again — regrets about things I'd never told you, things you never knew. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you and I…" His voice trailed off. "Now if it makes you uncomfortable, I'll never say those words to you again. And we can pretend I never said them in the first place. But I won't take them back. I can't."

Lois didn't respond for what felt to Clark like an eternity. Instead, she rose from the couch, walking around the apartment, fingering various nicknacks. "Clark, I've been down this road before." She finally turned and looked at him. "I told you about him."

"Claude?" He waited for her to nod. "Lois, I'm not Claude."

"I'm not saying you are, but… Clark, tell me about Cat?"

The apparent non-sequitur caught him off guard. "Huh?"

"Come on, Clark. Within the first few weeks at the Planet, you'd asked me out and you had taken Cat to bed."

"I told you, I never…"

"Clark, please. Just be honest with me. I know you slept with Cat. It was all over the Planet. I heard it everywhere I went. Although, to be honest, some of the stories got a little… wild."

"Arggg," Clark groaned, running his hands through his hair in frustration. "Lois, when you and Claude broke up, did the Planet gossips each have their own theories about what happened?"

"Well, yeah, but…"

"And how many of those stories were true?"

"None. But that was because Claude started telling stories before I had a chance to tell my side. So when I got around to it, no one was listening anymore. They all thought I was just saying he stole my story to cause him problems because he had told everyone I was frig… Well, whatever. But that's not the same."

"Why, Lois? Why isn't it the same? I went to Cat's that evening because I needed a place to hide out where the FBI wasn't going to find me. She made a couple of advances… which I side stepped. And then you called."

"And the jungle drums in the background?"

"She turned them on when I took the phone — I think hoping that you'd hear them and jump to the exact conclusion you reached. By the time I got into the Planet, everyone was convinced we were hanging naked from the chandeliers. And nothing I could say to anyone… not even you… would convince them differently. And yet, nothing… nothing happened between Cat and me. How is that so different from what Claude did to you?"

"Well, let's see. The rumors that circulated about me were that I was a challenging lay… but probably not worth the effort since I was so bad in bed. Now, let me recall if I can think… what was it they said about you? Oh right. I remember now. Stud. That was the term, wasn't it? The guys all slapping you on the back. Cat making it clear that she wanted more. Yeah. A real chore for you."

"Okay, so maybe it wasn't the same thing."

"Besides, I really thought I was in love with Claude." She resumed her pacing. "I was completely devastated."

Clark let out a breath. He wasn't entirely sure how this topic had come up — or why. But something was weighing on Lois' mind and he was determined to get to the bottom of it. Still, it was with more than a little trepidation that he dove into the quicksand that this topic could very well turn out to be. "How does all of this relate to your asking me if this is a date?"

She turned around and looked at him. He was caught off guard by the fear he could see in her eyes. "Clark, you're quickly becoming the best friend I've ever had."

He was shocked. She thought of him as her best friend. He'd never been entirely sure that she even considered him a friend.

"And the only partner who I've ever been able to stand to work with."

He was bolstered by that admission. Over the past few weeks, she'd begun to treat him like a partner. But until this moment, he hadn't been entirely sure whether it was because she liked working with him or if she'd simply accepted the fact that Perry seemed determined to keep partnering them together on stories.

"If we date… or, well, if something were to happen between us… I'm not sure I could stand to lose that."

Clark suddenly understood what was going on here. The questions about Cat and his moral character. The comments about Claude. She was terrified that he would treat her as Claude had. And considering the amount of thought she had already obviously put into this, it had been weighing on her mind for a while now. So how did he convince her that he wasn't Claude?

He rose from where he was seated, walking over to her as she stood looking at a picture of him and his parents. Taking her arm, he turned her towards him. "Lois, I'm not Claude." 'Great start,' he immediately thought sarcastically. 'That was really going to convince her.' Still, she looked as if she wanted to believe him. 'Think, Clark. Think,' he told himself firmly. "Okay, look… what if we do this? We just take it slow and see what happens. We could just spend more time together as friends. If that works out, then we could try a date. If we decide that it isn't leading anywhere, then we go back to being partners."

She looked skeptical.

"Look, Lois, I don't want to sleep with you."

When her eyebrows rose in disbelief, he realized that hadn't come out quite the way he intended.

"Okay," he conceded. "Maybe I do. But that's not all I want. I don't want a single night or a brief fling."

"Then what do you want, Clark?"

He hesitated. "I want to know if you're the woman I could spend the rest of my life with. What I know right now is that when you walk into the room, I can smell your perfume, I can hear your heartbeat, I can feel your presence. And in that moment, I know that I'm truly alive. When I thought you were dead, nothing in my life meant anything to me. I'm completely, head-over-heals in love with you."

She chewed on her lower lip, looking down, somewhere near his mid-chest. After a moment, her hand came up and touched his chest very tentatively. "I want to believe you, Clark." She let out a short breath. "I really do, but…" Her voice trailed off.

"Look, if I hurt you the way Claude did… if I spread rumors about you or do anything to deliberately hurt you, you have my permission to…" His voice trailed off as he tried to think of something suitable she could do to get her revenge.

"…to what, Clark? To tell the whole office we slept together. No matter what I say after that, you still look like the stud and I still look like the slut. There's nothing I could tell them about you that would hurt your reputation."

"You could tell them I'm Superman. That's something you know I don't want anyone else knowing."

"That's not fair, Clark. That's not the same thing."

"I don't know how you can say that. Telling people I'm Superman would destroy my life."

"And your parents' lives, and your friends' lives, and the lives of everyone you've ever cared about. But that's just it. It's too big a secret. No matter what you do to me, I couldn't destroy you like that."

A small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as he looked at Lois in complete awe. He had never even had to ask her to keep Superman a secret. She'd worked out the need for secrecy for herself — and she'd made it clear in a way he hadn't expected that no matter what happened, his secret would always be safe with her. He wasn't sure he had ever loved her more.

"I need a better secret," she finally said.

"Better than mild-manner reporter is actually superhero?" asked Clark in disbelief.

She nodded, completely serious. "Something that would embarrass the hell out of you if it got out, but that wouldn't destroy your life."

"Are you serious?"

She nodded.

"And if I give you that, will you agree to go out with me?" Clark wasn't entirely sure he'd ever had to go to such an extent to get a woman to agree to go on a date before. On the other hand… He smiled slightly…she was worth it.

She searched his eyes for a moment, as if realizing that he'd thrown down the gauntlet. It was up to her to pick it up or let it lie there. "If the secret is good enough," she answered, throwing the challenge back at him.

He turned away, mulling it over in his mind. He had just the thing for her. And if things between them developed the way he hoped they would, she would find out eventually anyway. Not that he'd be very pleased if it became fodder for the gossips in the newsroom. Still… wasn't she worth any risk? "Okay," he finally said, turning back towards her.

"Okay?" she asked, as if she hadn't expected him to agree.

"If that's what it will take for you to trust me, okay."

Tears began welling up in her eyes. "Clark…"

His finger on her lips cut her off. "At some point, you're going to find this out anyway. Or at least you will if things develop between us the way I hope they do." He smiled. "I guess you might as well know now." He directed her back to the couch, taking a seat beside her. He picked up her hand and played with it for a moment before meeting her eyes. "Lois, I'm a virgin. I'm not ashamed of it exactly, it's just… well, for a guy it does raise a lot of questions and…"

"Clark, would you be serious?" Lois said, giving his arm a slight slap. "I thought you were going to tell me some big secret. And instead…"

"I am serious," Clark interrupted.

"…you go on about…" Her voice trailed off. A look of confusion passed through her eyes. "You're… serious?"

Clark nodded.

"But…" Her voice trailed off again, as if she couldn't quite find a way to wrap her mind around the idea, much less put it in words. "Oh wow!" she finally gasped, rising from the couch to pace once again. "I mean that's…"

"Honorable? Charming? Irresistible?"

"Not what I was expecting."

He rose from where he was still seated. "Lois?"

"No. Definitely not what I was expecting. I was thinking you were going to tell me about some girlfriend you caught in bed with another man. Or maybe an embarrassing childhood story. But not…" She made some indecipherable gesture in his general direction. "…that."

"So is that good enough blackmail material for you?" he asked.

The question seemed to bring Lois back to earth. "Umm… it's… why, Clark?" she asked. "I mean, I've watched Cat throw herself at you for months. Not to mention Antoinette Baines and Toni Taylor. Hell, I suspect that if you wanted to, you could be in bed with Mayson Drake tonight. So…" She shrugged, obviously not understanding the reasons behind his abstinence. "Are you waiting for marriage?"

"I'm not saying there haven't been times… I mean, I've had… opportunities, but…"

"I never doubted that. I mean, you're a sweet, good-looking guy. I can't believe you haven't had more than your fair share of women wanting you to take them to bed."

"Lois, to me, making love is… or at least it should be… special. I wanted to wait until I was in love. And I wanted to make sure first that she knew about me… everything about me." He repeated the last phase for emphasis. He took a deep breath before voicing his final thought. "You are the woman I've been waiting for."

Her eyes got wide before she suddenly looked away. "That's a lot of pressure."

He used his hand to bring her face back so that she was again looking at him. "There's no pressure. None whatsoever. Lois, I waited nearly thirty years to find you. I can wait as long as you need me to."

"And what if I'm… no good? I mean, what if you waited all those years and then I don't… satisfy you?"

He burst out laughing.

"It's not funny, Clark," she said, stamping her foot slightly to emphasize her words.

"Lois, it's very funny."

"It isn't!"

He stopped laughing. She was obviously serious about this. Claude. It had to be. Given what she'd told him so far, she must have it in the back of her mind that she did something wrong in the bedroom that somehow drove him away. "Okay, well, here's what I think. No one is born good in bed. No hear me out," he said when she looked as if she was about to correct him. "You are the most passionate woman I've ever known. You can get passionate about an award winning story or not having enough milk for your coffee. You're in great shape. You have a fabulous body." He took a moment to run his eyes appreciatively down her body to emphasize his point. When he again met her eyes, she was blushing, telling Clark that he'd made his point.

"You throw yourself into everything you do with total abandon," Clark continued. "And you've got a great imagination — you couldn't make the leaps of logic you make if you didn't have a great imagination. When you finally fall completely in love, you won't have any problems figuring out how to make things work in the bedroom." He paused. "Besides, I'm a virgin. It's not as if I'm likely to be all that great my first time. But I'm willing to learn." He took her hands. "If we ever do… you know, we'll figure it all out together."

He paused before adding. "So… will you go out with me? Just a date… you know, to see how it goes?" Then he waited, his heart in her hands, for her to make her decision. It was the longest thirty seconds or so of his entire life. He'd laid everything on the line. She knew every one of his deepest secrets. Now it was up to her whether to reject him or accept his invitation.

He was shocked at her response.

"I've got a better idea," she said, reaching out to grab his lapel with both hands. Once she had the material in her closed fists, she pulled him to her.

He groaned when her lips found his. It was unlike anything Clark had ever experienced — even with Lois. A kiss of pure desire. He responded in kind, pulling her into his arms as lips sought lips, tongues sought tongues, hands found their way through hair and over backs. Lois' arms slipped around his neck as she began backing them up. A moment later, they were tumbling together onto the couch.

***

Lois was completely content as she cuddled further into Clark's arms as they sat on the couch, watching the end of an old movie on television. Her thoughts had left the movie some time ago as she allowed herself the luxury of getting lost in the way it felt just to lie in Clark's arms.

She wasn't sure she'd ever had a more perfect evening. When they had finally come up for air after what was easily one of the longest kissing sessions Lois had been involved in since she had lost her virginity years ago, both she and Clark had been completely disoriented. What had amazed Lois more than anything else was the way Clark had seemed completely content with simply kissing her, touching her hair, tasting the skin of her neck, exploring every contour of her face — and allowing her to do the same to him. Yet never had he pushed the edges of the envelope. If he had, Lois wasn't entirely sure she would have stopped him.

In many ways, kissing Clark had laid to rest a lot of Lois' fears about being intimate. She'd discovered that under Clark's touch and kiss, she could respond — probably more than she was completely comfortable with at the moment. Making love to him wasn't going to be the problem. Now waiting until they knew it was right… that could prove to be a tad bit more difficult.

What had interrupted them from spending the entire evening just kissing was that Lois' stomach started to growl. At first, she'd been worried that he'd be upset. But instead of seeming upset, Clark had laughed, telling her that it was his fault since he'd reneged on his promise to feed her. And immediately, he had proceeded to do just that.

Clark hadn't been boasting about his cooking abilities. She wasn't sure she'd ever had better tasting fettucine alfredo. And the dinner conversation… Their talk had flowed easily between topics, never an awkward moment. And not once had they talked about work.

He had answered every question she'd asked about Superman — at least those questions to which he had answers. She was amazed by how much he didn't know about his roots. He had even shown her the globe he had found during their investigation of Jason Trask. She felt really bad when she found out that his ship had also been in that warehouse — but had disappeared when Trask had moved all the relics being held there.

She was slightly surprised to discover that she wasn't really all that upset that he hadn't told her about Superman. After all, as he had pointed out, having a secret identity wasn't much good if one told people about it. And she was certain she had been on the verge of working it out for herself. After all, did he really think she wasn't already suspicious of his excuses for running off all the time? It would only have been a matter of weeks before she would have figured it out anyway. Or, she was certain, he would have realized that she needed to know and would have told her.

He'd asked her why she hadn't yelled for Superman while fleeing from Muscle Head and Grey Eyes. She thought she had detected hurt in his voice when he'd asked the question. She hadn't been able to give him a really good reason, either, except that everything had happened so fast. Running as fast as she could towards the Lexor. The pain and shock of being shot. By the time she'd thought to yell, it was already too late. She felt a small smile tug at her lips as she recalled the intensity in his voice when he'd attempted to impress upon her that he would always do everything in his power to protect her and that she should never hesitate to call for him. It was sweet — in an over-protective, macho, totally unnecessary way, of course.

He'd also managed to get her to open up about what it was like growing up as a Lane. At first, she'd been leery of giving him that information — afraid that it would somehow diminish her in his eyes. He already knew, of course, that her relationship with her father wasn't the greatest. But somehow he'd managed to get her to open up about her mother — and in particular what it was like living with an alcoholic mother. But not once did he make her feel as if she was in need of pity. She wasn't sure how he did it — caring but not pitying. It was one of the things she loved most…

Love. The word sort of hung in the air for a moment before settling in Lois' mind. Since he'd found her in Dimitri's house, Clark had told her he loved her several times. She'd heard that word before, of course. Claude had used it on more than one occasion — although, when she thought about it now, it was always in the foreplay stages of their relationship. Clark had used it without, it seemed, any real expectations — not even of her returning his feelings. And given the fact that twice in the past twenty-four hours he had put himself between her and a loaded gun, it was hard to simply dismiss his claim.

But did she share those feelings? Her mind drifted back to when they had emerged from the cave to be confronted by Dimitri. When she'd realized from Clark's reactions that Dimitri must have kryptonite on him, her reaction had been automatic — she had to get Dimitri away from Clark at any cost. Her fear for Clark had eclipsed any fear she had for herself. At the time, she hadn't thought about why she was doing it, but sitting here now, listening to the quiet noise of the television in the background, she knew why she had done it — the thought of losing him terrified her. Was that love? Maybe. She honestly couldn't say that she knew what the word meant well enough to know if she was in love with him.

On the other hand, lying here now, his arms wrapped around her, she'd never felt quite this content — or excited. She closed her eyes, pushing all these confusing thoughts out of her mind. Right now she was just going to enjoy where they were — not worry about what might come tomorrow. It was a new concept for her. It also felt inexplicably… right. She felt his arm tighten briefly around her as he leaned close enough to kiss her hair.

She closed her eyes and was asleep in less than a minute.

***

"Lois."

The movie had ended almost fifteen minutes ago. But it wasn't until now that Clark was willing to disturb Lois. It just felt so good to hold her in his arms while she slept against him. Her soft snoring was completely adorable. Not that he would ever tell her she snored, of course. She'd tear him into little strips. 'Yeah, and you'd love every minute of it.' He grinned, silently agreeing with the voice in his head.

Still, she couldn't spend the night curled up against him. She'd be so sore in the morning. And they had the sting operation against Church tomorrow morning. So as tempting as it was to let her sleep in his arms…

"Lois," he said a little louder.

She stirred slightly, mumbling something he couldn't understand.

"Lois, it's time for you to go home. Come on. I'll call you a cab."

He moved, trying to get out from under her. Her fists balled themselves into his shirt and she adjusted positions, kicking her legs up over his, as if to hold him in place as she snuggled more completely into his chest. He glanced at her face and thought he detected just the hint of a smile pull at the corners of her mouth.

He closed his eyes. She really didn't know the meaning of fighting fair.

"Lois," he said again. "You can't spend the night like that. You'll be sore in the morning."

"..on't care…"

He shook his head slightly. "You don't care? Try telling me that tomorrow morning when you can't turn your head without pain."

She made no response and he heard her breathing begin to deepen. Sighing, he finally slipped one arm under her legs and placed the other around her back to hold her against him. The only indication she hadn't gone back to sleep was that her arms slipped around his neck. Standing up carefully, he carried her into his room.

It took him a few minutes to get her settled in his bed. His powers were still not back. Otherwise, he'd simply fly her back to her apartment. But without them, this was the best he could do. He suspected that two doses of kryptonite in such a short amount of time was why his powers seemed to be taking longer to come back this time.

When he finally got Lois settled, he stroked the hair back from her face and watched for a moment before backing away.

"Don't go."

The simple, softly whispered words seemed to echo in Clark's mind. There was nothing he wanted more than to sleep next to her, but did he dare? She wasn't exactly awake. Did she really know what she was asking of him?

His self-control completely crumbled when, without opening her eyes, she pulled back the covers in a clear gesture for him to join her. He quickly turned off the lights and crawled in beside her. He smiled when she cuddled up against him. Given the hell he'd been through in the past week, he had to admit this felt like heaven. He would give almost anything to fall asleep like this every night for the rest of his life.

***

FRIDAY

Lois wasn't entirely sure what was going on. One moment she'd been curled up against Clark's chest, settling into the regular pattern of sleep. Now there was yelling, things breaking, loud voices. She was fully awake the instant she heard a gunshot.

"Clark!" she yelled.

In the dark, she could just make out Clark in a desperate struggle with another man. Grunts of pain and exertion. The sound of bodies crashing into furniture. As her eyes began adjusting to the light, she realized the other man seemed to have the upper hand. After the ease with which Clark had carried her to bed last night, she'd been convinced his powers were returning. But with every successive punch, Clark seemed to be getting weaker. But that made no sense unless…

Lois gasped when a beam of light coming through the window lit up the other man's face for no more than a second. Dimitri. She scrambled out of bed. He must still have the kryptonite on him. That would explain why with each second the fight was becoming more one sided. He must have snuck in here at some point during the night. And Clark must have woken up, seen him and that was when the fight had ensued.

A gunshot. She'd heard a gunshot. Dimitri must have brought the gun in with him. But where was it now? It didn't appear to Lois, although she couldn't be sure in the dimly lit room, that either man was now in possession of the gun. Maybe if she could locate that…

Her thought was cut off when Dimitri's fist connected with Clark's face, sending Clark flying into his chest of dressers from where he collapsed onto the floor, no longer moving.

"Clark!" Lois yelled, scrambling across the floor towards him unable to think beyond the need to be sure that he was alive. It was only when she reached his unmoving form that she realized her mistake. By going for Clark, she'd given Dimitri time to find the gun.

His sinister laugh directed Lois' attention back to the man who now had her in the sites of his gun. He was moving closer. She heard a small moan coming from Clark. All she knew for sure was that she had to get Dimitri, and the kryptonite he was carrying, away from Clark. Rising slowly to her feet, she began backing away, forcing Dimitri to follow, praying there was enough space in the small apartment to allow her to get Dimitri far enough away from Clark so that he would recover.

"So it looks like it's just you and me now," said Dimitri. "Just like it was the night I pulled you out of the dirty water of Hobbs Bay. I saved your life. And this is the gratitude you show."

Lois flinched as Dimitri kicked Clark on his way past.

"You let them kill my brothers. You made me a fugitive. Is that how you show gratitude?"

"Hey, don't blame this on me," said Lois. "I'm not the one who thought it was a good idea trying to manipulate Superman." Maybe if she kept him talking, she would buy enough time to think of a plan. But only one thing came to mind — and for the first time, she knew it would do no good. She couldn't yell for Superman. After all, Superman was currently lying unconscious on the floor of his apartment.

"Speaking of Superman," Dimitri said, continuing to follow her slow retreat across the room, "I warned him about what would happen if he involved the police. I told him I would kill you."

Okay, so maybe this was the one she wouldn't survive. But if he was only after her, maybe Clark would be all right. She'd be okay with that. She continued to back away, stepping into the archway which separated bedroom from living room.

"And for some reason, he chose to ignore my warning. And that's why I'm here. So I guess you'll have only Superman to thank for your death."

He raised the gun. This was it. Second chances had now run out for Lois Lane. Even cats had only nine lives. And she was fairly certain she had passed nine lives years ago. She closed her eyes, although not entirely sure why, as she waited for the shot which, as she recalled all too clearly, would be accompanied by blinding pain.

Bang.

It was over. She was dead. Suddenly, she opened her eyes in confusion. She wasn't dead. That loud noise had not been accompanied by any sort of pain. So what had happened?

It took her a moment to realize that Dimitri was on the floor, scrambling for his gun. She didn't have time to think — only act. She spotted the gun lying between them and dove for it. Grabbing the gun and cradling it against her, she allowed her body to roll until she was looking at Dimitri, pointing the gun at his now frozen form.

"Trust me. Nothing would give me more pleasure at this moment than pulling this trigger," Lois growled. "And if you move as much as a muscle, that is exactly what I will do."

***

"You know, this is getting to be a little embarrassing," said Clark, holding the ice pack to his jaw in an effort to keep the swelling down where Dimitri's final punch had landed. "I seem to spend most of my time incapacitated while you fight the bad guys."

It was probably about an hour since Lois had first held Dimitri Rousseau at gunpoint. She had quickly directed him away from Clark. Once Clark had recovered slightly, she'd given him the gun so that she could conduct a search of Dimitri — under the pretext of making sure he wasn't carrying any more weapons, of course. Listening to his disgusting comments at the time hadn't been pleasant, but when she had found what she was searching for, it had been worth it. A small piece of kryptonite, about the size someone like Wayne Irig might send to a lab for testing, was found in Dimitri's pocket. Not entirely certain what to do with it, and not being able to ask Clark since Dimitri was right there, she'd flushed it down the toilet. Since Clark hadn't exhibited any reaction to it since, she figured it was the right move. Then together, they had tied Dimitri up and called Henderson.

Still, although Clark was feeling a little sheepish that he'd been unable to help more, she couldn't help but feel a little proud of herself. Dimitri had been captured, not by the Metropolis Police Department, not by the eccentric billionaire, not even by Superman, but by Lois Lane with…

"Well, you helped too," Lois said, sitting down in the chair next to him and turning it so that she could look fully into his face. She moved his hand away from the place where he had been hit and looked at it before leaning over and kissing it better. "After all, if you hadn't come to, crawled over and managed to knock Dimitri's legs out from under him, I'd have been a gonner."

"Yeah, we seem to be having a lot of close calls this week," said Clark, his free hand coming out to gently cup her cheek. "What do you say that we try to avoid that in the future?"

"Well, I think we have all we need here," said Henderson, coming into the kitchen area, causing Lois and Clark to jump apart. "So my men and I will be leaving now. Dimitri will be locked up all safe and sound. Thanks to you two."

"No problem," responded Clark.

"After all, it wasn't like we were doing anything else at three in the morning," Lois added.

Henderson glanced around, as if realizing for the first time that he was at Clark's place at three in the morning and Lois was there. When he again looked back at Lois and Clark, both their faces were beat red.

"Well, as long as you didn't have anything else better to do," said Henderson, laughter dancing in his eyes.

"No! That's not… I mean we weren't…" Clark began.

"No. Of course not," said Henderson, before giving Lois a wink and turning to head towards the door.

"I'm going to kill him," Lois mumbled behind him.

Henderson had the good sense to wait until he was outside before allowing himself to laugh — although both Lois and Clark were still able to hear him.

"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark said immediately. "I didn't think…"

Lois' kiss shut him up. When she pulled back, she spoke. "It doesn't matter, Clark."

"But…"

She placed her fingers over his lips. "It doesn't matter," she repeated, emphasizing the words.

"Oh," Clark responded, understanding the significance of what she was saying. "I love you, Lois Lane," he whispered.

She smiled before leaning in to kiss him once again.

***

Lois clicked on the send button and leaned back in her chair, a self-satisfied smile on her face. It was barely two o'clock in the afternoon and already she'd sent their day's story to Perry. It had been a good day. A productive day.

After the sting operation, Bill Church Jr. had been arrested on charges of trying to blackmail a public official, obstruction of justice and even accessory to murder after the fact. Bill Henderson had warned that they had insufficient evidence to charge him with the murder of the call girl or for Lois' shooting — even though they suspected he was behind both. Even the charges they had laid were likely to result in no more than a slap on the wrist for Church, if that. After all, his lawyers were already screaming 'entrapment.' Still, they now had a pretty good idea that Intergang — a group that had been causing havoc in many regions of the country — was linked to Bill Church. They weren't sure of the extent of Church's involvement, or if he was the head honcho, or even if his father knew about his activities, but one thing was for certain. Lane and Kent were now on the case. And Lois was certain that it was only a matter of time before they would bring down the biggest and most elusive crime syndicate to ever grace the country.

They even had a sidebar to their Church story — an announcement by Congressman Harrington that, for personal reasons, he was stepping down as the head of the Congressional Committee into organized crime. Lois snorted. He claimed he wanted to spend more time with his wife and kids. Only Clark's interference had kept her skepticism out of the story. But Clark was right. The public would draw its own conclusions. There was no need to help it along.

Clark seemed to be feeling much better this morning. Most of the swelling had gone down around his eyes, just leaving dark shadows in their place. He'd even taken the bandages off his nose. She had to admit, kissing him this morning without the bandages was much better than worrying the entire time about whether she was going to hurt his nose. That had been the only bad thing about kissing Clark the previous night.

Kissing Clark. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear as her thoughts drifted, as they had been all day, to what it felt like kissing Clark the previous evening. She could still feel every place he'd kissed her — as if he'd somehow managed to electrify those spots. Her fingers came up to lightly touch her lips. She wasn't sure where the courage had come from to grab onto his shirt and attack him like that. Not that she regretted it — not one minute of it. But seeing him standing there, waiting for her answer, looking so hopeful and yet so vulnerable, she'd simply been unable to resist.

And waking up next to Clark this morning. Never in her life had anything felt more natural. His 'it's not a dream' comment when he'd realized that he was really holding her had left her feeling all warm and mushy inside. She chewed on her lower lip. Lois Lane mushy. Who would have thought such a thing was even possible? Certainly not her.

She spotted Cat coming across the newsroom and had to fight the urge to gloat. Cat had played every trick in the book to get Clark — and she'd been unsuccessful. No response whatsoever. And yet, she, Lois Lane, hard-bitten career woman, had him admitting that he wanted to make love to her, but that he would wait however long it took for her to be ready and had been saving himself for her. 'Who's the ice princess now?' asked a little voice in the back of her mind. Not her. If the way she had responded to Clark's kisses last night were any indication, she was more than capable of passion — a theory which she was suddenly seriously thinking about putting to the test. The idea of exploring all that… virgin territory… She had to stifle a grin. Who knew she had a naughty side? Certainly not her. What was it about Clark that was bringing out all these new feelings in her?

What could be the explanation for these changes? She let out a short breath when the truth hit her. She was falling in love. That was what she'd been trying to fight when she'd first made reservations at the Lexor — before then even. That was what her heart had been trying to tell her when she'd had amnesia. Without the memories which made her so reluctant to admit what was happening between her and Clark, her feelings for Clark had been able to penetrate all the barriers her past experiences had erected around her heart. Now that she had those memories back… her father, Paul, Claude …how did she deal with this new found knowledge?

'I'm a virgin.' Clark's admission of the previous evening came unexpectedly into the forefront of her mind. Given the seriousness with which Clark seemed to regard intimacy, maybe he could be trusted with her heart. Assuming he was telling the truth, would a man like that cheat on her? She doubted it.

Besides, in truth it already was too late to protect her heart. If Clark turned out to be a scoundrel, if he broke her heart… well, then that was what was going to happen, regardless of what she did now. And if that was the case, then she might as well enjoy the ride. And there really was no ride that compared to the feeling of falling in love. She gave her head a slight shake, a small smile pulling at one corner of her mouth as she finally let go of her heart, giving it permission to take her in the direction it seemed determined to go.

Her eyes drifted to her partner who was currently locked in the conference room with a very distinguished looking man wearing an expensive dark suit and a skull cap. She had no idea who the man was, but her curiosity was driving her absolutely up the wall. The discussion appeared to be serious as they studied something.

She was just about to get up, hoping to get a closer look without being too obvious, when the ringing of her phone stopped her. She quickly picked it up.

"Lois Lane," she said into the phone. As she listened to the caller, a slow smile made its way across her face, an idea beginning to take hold. Her eyes drifted back to Clark. Perfect. This was absolutely perfect.

***

A disaster. That was the only way Luthor could find to describe it. An absolute disaster. He'd found Lois Lane. He'd flown her back to Metropolis. He'd put her up in a hospital room teaming with beautiful bouquets of flowers. He'd showered her with attention. He'd even put up with her mother. And yet, if his source inside the police station was correct, she had spent the night at Clark Kent's apartment. Not even Superman's but Clark Kent's. Could this day get any worse?

"What is it, Nigel?" Luthor practically snapped when he heard his aid enter the room.

"I've just received a bit of news I thought might cheer you up, sir."

Luthor gestured for the man to continue, although seriously doubting Nigel could say anything that would make him feel the slightest bit better.

"Well, it seems Lane and Kent think Bill Church Jr. is involved in some shadowy crime organization known as Intergang."

Luthor finally turned towards the older man. "Really?"

"Yes. In fact, they blame him for the shooting of Ms. Lane a week ago. And, after some elaborate sting operation, actually managed to have Junior arrested for accessory to murder. I suspect we might not have to worry about Lane and Kent for quite some time since I have no doubt they will be concentrating the majority of their efforts on uncovering the activities of our competition."

A smile appeared on Luthor's face. "Uhh… Well, you know what they say, Nigel. Deos fortioribus adesse."

"Quite right, sir. The gods are on the side of the stronger."

***

Clark shook Moishe Weissman's hand as the two men stood waiting for the elevator to arrive.

"Thanks again," said Clark.

Weissman nodded. "It was a pleasure. And I'm sure she'll love that."

Clark glanced down at the small, black velvet ring box he was holding. "I'm sure she will. It certainly is beautiful."

"Sht, sht," Weissman said, directing Clark's attention to where Weissman was looking just in time to see Lois coming up the steps to where he and Weissman were standing.

He quickly stuffed the ring into his pocket. He smiled when Weissman nodded his approval.

"Lois, I'd like you to meet Moishe Weissman. He's the diamond dealer I told you about."

"Oh, the one who helped Superman cash in all those diamonds in order to raise the ransom for me. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Weissman."

"Please, it's Moishe," Weissman said. "And it's good to meet you." He gave Clark a nod of approval.

Just then the elevator dinged. Lois and Clark said their final goodbyes as the doors slid closed, taking Weissman out of the newsroom.

"So what did he want?" Lois asked as casually as possible.

"Oh, not much. He was just wanting to be sure everything turned out all right."

"Hmm… You two were certainly in the conference room for a long time just to be telling him everything turned out all right. I mean, look at us? It probably took you… what? Three seconds maybe to tell me that everything turned out all right," Lois said, heading in the direction of the coatrack.

"Do you have to know everything?" asked Clark.

"Absolutely — so spill." Lois took her coat off the rack and handed it to Clark.

He took it, automatically helping her slip into it. "Are you going somewhere?" he finally asked.

"Nope. We are. Perry just signed off on the story. And since we've had a hard week, he told me that we should get out of here."

"Fine by me." Clark picked up his own jacket and slipped it on. "So… are we going anywhere special?" he asked. "Or is this just your run of the mill getting off work early day."

"Well…"

Clark glanced over at Lois, noticing that she was pushing a strand of hair behind her ear and suddenly looking a little shy. "Lois?"

"I just got a call from the Lexor. They felt really bad about someone breaking into my room while I was staying there."

"And?"

"And they offered me the suite again this weekend — for free."

"Lois, please tell me you're not going to spend another weekend relaxing. 'Cause I'm not sure I can take another week like this past week."

"No, silly. We're going to spend the entire weekend relaxing."

"We?"

Lois nodded.

"As in you and me?"

Lois nodded again.

"In the honeymoon suite?"

Lois finally laughed, linking her arm through his. "Well, only if you think you can put up with me for an entire weekend, Mr. Kent."

Clark smiled. He wasn't entirely sure what she had in mind. And he wasn't about to make any assumptions. But an entire weekend with Lois… He was fairly certain he could handle that. Besides… His hand played with the ring box in his pocket…it was entirely possible that Lois wasn't the only one who might have a trick or two up her sleeve this weekend.

Maybe it was a little too soon to be asking her to marry him. But if he'd learned one thing over the course of the past week, it was that life was too short not to go after what one really wanted. And he wanted Lois. He wanted her as his partner, his best friend, his confidante, his lover and his wife. Besides, it wasn't as if he wasn't prepared to be patient. If she wasn't ready to marry him this weekend, he'd just try again next weekend. And, if necessary, the weekend after that. She'd give in eventually. He felt a soppy smile settle on his face.

"What's so funny?" asked Lois.

He grinned at her. "Nothing. I'm just thinking that the future suddenly seems so… alive with possibilities."

And it did. He was suddenly certain that nothing, except perhaps for an asteroid destroying the entire planet, could spoil his good mood. But what was the chance of that?

THE END

Endnotes:

'Deos fortioribus adesse'. Tacitus, The Histories (117 A.D.)