Faustian Bargain

By Sue S. <sistersuze@gmail.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: October 2006

Summary: What if Lois asked Clark to become best friends with benefits? Faust traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. To "strike a Faustian bargain" is to be willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy a desire for knowledge or power.

This starts out shortly after 'House of Luthor', in that netherworld between the first and second seasons. 'All Shook Up' happened in a different way. But that will be explained in flashbacks.

And now for a round of disclaimers: Warning! This story contains a couple of WHAMs. If you're expecting fluff, you've opened the wrong story. Don't get me wrong — there will be mind-candy and banter and some lighthearted exploits. There are also a couple of really unhappy detours lying in wait for our heroes. Consequences are a bitch. You can't abandon your principles and not pay for it somehow.

I wasn't a science major so I did an exhaustive (to me) amount of research in the course of writing this story. I've tried to stay true to the basic properties of electricity but there will probably be inaccuracies to anyone who really does know what they're talking about. I hope that an author might be given a little leeway in a science fiction story. Right? Please?

The characters in this story don't belong to me. Indeed, some of the dialogue they use is quoted directly from the ABC television series. I'm not making a profit — this was written solely out of love and admiration for said television series. You know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery…

Speaking of riding on the coattails of geniuses, I would be very remiss if I didn't single out Hasini, DJ, Julia, alcyone, Andreia and Sara for praise and gratitude. This story wouldn't exist without their guidance and support. Longer declarations of love and undying devotion to my amazing betas are posted at the end of the story.

I must also sing the praises of Jeanne for helping me whip this into shape for the archive. Thanks so much for all your time and effort! It was no small task and yet you were very gracious and gratifyingly thorough.

Sections following //**//**// are a flashback. Smaller flashes of memory are encapsulated between //.

For Hasini — because it was her idea.

***

He was doing it again.

For at least the sixth time since the meeting started Clark was chewing on the end of his pencil and it was driving her crazy. Actually there were a lot of things about Clark that drove her crazy. He was a singularly annoying person. He was like Dudley Do-Right without the horse, constantly clouding any angle on a story with his over-simplified views of right and wrong. Maybe he was smarter than Dudley, but not by much. Clark was one of those athletic guys with great shoulders and a small mind. She definitely knew the type.

All right, fine. So he didn't actually have a small mind. He was just bordering on unimaginative — never a good quality in a reporter. He was definitely nothing like Superman. And she didn't mean the superpowers. She meant charisma and force of personality. Like practically every man she knew, Clark Kent didn't seem to have either of those qualities going for him. When was the last time Clark had swept a woman off her feet?

And *that* night didn't count.

Lois looked away from the hapless pencil. *One time*. You sleep with your co-worker one time and this is what happens. No, she was not going to think about *that*. They had both sworn never to mention it. Never even to think of it. It was an aberration. A fluke. It never happened.

But it had. And now he was sitting there nibbling on his pencil and it was driving her absolutely take-that-thing-out-of-your-mouth-you-don't-know-where-it's-been insane. A tiny little corner of her mind brought up the possibility that it was actually the thought of where that mouth had been that was driving her around the bend but she quickly discounted it.

He was an amazingly talented kisser. That had been her downfall. Then again, she supposed there wasn't much else to do in Smallville on a Friday night and Clark had no doubt refined his technique on Rachel Harris or some other corn-fed gingham-wearing farmer's daughter who voted for his 4-H project at the county fair.

Damn, but he had good lips. It had started with a very firm and decisive kiss — exactly the opposite of the sloppy wetness that most men seemed to think counted as passion. Not that she had ever given much thought to kissing Clark Kent before that night.

And since that night? Oh, since that night she had wasted far too much time remembering his unexpected assertiveness. They had thought it was the end of the world, she told herself. And he'd had amnesia. He would never have been so bold if he had been himself. That night he had shown almost the same kind of take-charge intensity as Superman had when he was drugged and kissed her. Now there was a kiss! Why couldn't Superman try something like that again? God knows she'd dropped more than a few hints that she was perfectly willing to be more than friends with him.

Cat Grant, seated next to Lois, leaned over to whisper, "I'd love to be that pencil right now, wouldn't you?"

Lois let out a small sigh of annoyance and didn't answer her. Clark looked up, took the pencil from his mouth and actually seemed a little disconcerted. Lois was pretty sure he didn't hear them but he could hardly have missed the hungry look Cat was giving him.

Actually, Clark had heard Cat's observation just fine. When he'd glanced over Cat had given him her usual flirtatious wink. But Lois — it was Lois' sigh and blush that made him take the pencil out of his mouth. She actually looked guilty. He glanced at the notepad in front of her. It was no surprise to see that she had spent the meeting sketching Superman's 'S'. She turned the pad over when she realized he was looking at it and shot him a dark look.

In retaliation, he put the pencil back in his mouth and deliberately sucked on the eraser. Both Cat and Lois let out faint gasps. Clark had to look away to keep from smiling. This was a rare moment, one that he should savor. The last time, the *only* time, Lois had ever looked at him like this she was under the influence of Miranda's perfume. Or, of course, every single time she had seen him as Superman.

What about that night? No — don't torture yourself. That night never happened.

He dared another glance at her but she was watching Perry now, her chin tilted stubbornly upwards. Was he mistaken? Or had Lois actually looked at him, however fleetingly, with lust in her eyes?

Did she ever think about that night?

//**//**//

*26.04.10 to Impact*

"Clark? It's Lois. I, uh, I was just wondering if you could stand a little company?"

"Sure. Come on over."

It wasn't until she was knocking on his door that she felt the first anxious flutters of doubt. What was she doing here? If he were Clark it would make perfect sense that she would be with him, but he wasn't really Clark right now. How do you find comfort with a man who has no memories? Maybe it was only his physical presence she needed for solace? Clark was a reassuringly solid guy. Was it taking advantage of him to find consolation in those sturdy shoulders now?

When he opened the door her eyes were drawn to his shoulders. He was wearing jeans and a tan long-sleeved shirt that only emphasized his muscular physique. Embarrassed that she was even thinking of him like that, she looked down and saw he was barefoot. Somehow that seemed far too intimate to her so she quickly dragged her attention up to his face.

"Hi," he said and then stepped back to let her in. "I've just been watching the news. They're about to launch the Asgard rocket to take out what's left of the asteroid."

Lois hesitated. She should have joined Perry at the Planet instead of coming here. She told herself it was only because she didn't want Clark to feel alone that she had come over. The poor guy had lost all his memories; she was being selfless in coming here. It was one last good deed to go out on.

Clark turned and was going back down the stairs into his living room. She shut the door behind her, throwing the deadbolt as a precaution. Clark didn't live in the best part of town and all hell had broken loose in the city the past couple of days. Right now his apartment felt like the last safe place left in the world. It was familiar and it had always seemed cozier to her than her own apartment. Maybe it was just that his furniture was more comfortable than hers?

She followed him to his couch and nestled herself into the corner of it. Somehow it was easier to breathe now that she was here. It dawned on her that she had always felt that way around Clark. She had taken it for granted, this feeling of safety and comfort that he imparted. This was why she had come, she realized, she just wanted to be with *him*. If these were her final hours, there was no one else she wanted to spend them with. No, that was wrong. If she had known where Superman was, she would have gone to him. Clark was just the next best thing.

He's better than that, she amended. At least you don't act like a schoolgirl with a crush around Clark. It was better to be here with him, then. Better to be able to maintain a thin edge of control. Better to be the one calling the shots.

Clark kept casting curious glances at her until she finally asked, "What is it?"

"I just… I guess I was surprised to get your call. I know you said we were friends, but it didn't sound like I would be the first person you'd call in a crisis. Are you only here because you didn't want to be alone?"

For a moment her eyes had flared with anger and then, just as quickly, she seemed to sink into herself. "I had other places I could be…" So why wasn't she there? Why come here? Was it because, even without his memories, Clark was familiar to her? Because just sitting here next to him gave her that sense of security and calm? "I guess I am alone. I've pushed people away my whole life. It shouldn't surprise me that no one wants to be with me now." This admission brought tears to her eyes and she quickly blinked them away.

"I want to be with you," he told her softly.

Lois searched his eyes and found only sincerity in them. "Obviously your memories haven't returned yet. I wasn't always nice to you, Clark. In fact, I was kind of a snob when we first met." She cringed inwardly as she remembered telling him that he was low man and she was top banana.

"But I liked you," he persisted.

"Yeah, I guess you did. I have no idea why."

"Don't you?" His gaze was steady and she blushed at what he was implying. Was there something else in his eyes? Something else she had never wanted to notice? No, she had noticed it before — she just never wanted to think too much about what it meant. She had figured if she ignored him long enough he'd grow tired of the game and find someone else.

Lois hesitated. "Well, I guess there was an attraction there," she allowed. "I mean we are two fairly attractive people working closely together. It's only natural that…" she trailed off, not wanting to finish that thought. If it was only natural then why had it never materialized? Or had it? Had she allowed him close in those moments when she thought it didn't count? She must have because somehow he had wormed his way far enough into her affections that she chose being with him over everyone else she knew.

"You felt it, too?" he asked, his eyes never leaving hers.

Had she felt it, too? Between his intense gaze and the world possibly ending she found she couldn't really lie about it. What did it matter now? It wasn't like he could go bragging around the water cooler about it tomorrow. "I guess, maybe. There were moments. There was this one time, when we were working late on a story and ate at our desks. You sat back and smiled at me and I felt… Well, then I said something snotty to push you away."

"Don't fall for me, farm boy?" he mused in a distant voice.

"Yes! You remember that?" God, please don't let him actually remember *that*. Let him remember something else, something less abrasive. Like what? She was horrified to realize she couldn't think of a single time she had praised him or told him how nice she actually thought he was.

"Sort of. It's like a dream or something." Clark's forehead furrowed as he tried to remember more but it was gone.

"Do you remember anything else?"

"No, sorry." He shook his head in frustration.

"It's okay." Lois was kind of grateful that he didn't remember just how poorly she had treated him. Or, in the case of that pheromone perfume, how she had thrown herself at him. She looked away, unable to continue to meet his eyes, and caught sight of his bare feet resting on the edge of his coffee table. Had she ever seen his toes before? Why did it make her feel so off-balance to see them now?

"So we never… it was strictly platonic between us?"

"Yeah," she said quietly, looking past his feet at the television just in time to see the words 'Approaching Apocalypse?' flash onto the screen. "It was strictly platonic."

With a jolt she realized why she was here. She could have been safe underground with Lex in his bunker. She could have gone to the Planet to be with her surrogate family. Instead she had come here. Because, when it came right down to it, she didn't want to be alone. Lex and Perry were company, someone to commiserate with, but they weren't Clark. Clark was the one person, besides Superman, with whom she felt absolutely safe. Tonight he was the only person in the world who could keep the rising panic inside her tamped down.

"I have a feeling I wished it was more," he said wistfully.

Lois looked at him, feeling as though she were seeing him for the first time. In a way, she was. There had to be something more than friendship here. She could feel a tidal pull of attraction for him. The look in his eyes told her he felt the same thing.

"You know what, Clark? So do I."

***

The meeting was now over and Lois sat at her desk, staring absently at her computer monitor. She should be putting the finishing touches on the article about the construction of the new museum, but her mind was still on Clark's pencil. Or, if she was absolutely honest, where that lucky pencil had been.

"Remember the scientist from STAR Labs who was killed in that freak electrical accident on Monday?" Clark asked as he touched her shoulder.

Startled, Lois looked back at him. "Anthony Weir? What about him?"

"It's happened again."

"Where?" Lois turned off her computer's monitor.

"On the corner of Twelfth and Bessolo. I'm heading down there now."

"I'll come with you." She stood up and grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair.

Clark smiled and took the jacket from her, holding it out to help her into it. "I thought you might."

As they walked to the elevator she gave him a curious look. "How did you hear about this?"

"Police scanner."

"Oh, right. How long ago did this happen?"

"Maybe twenty minutes."

When they arrived at the scene it was controlled chaos. A police line had been set up and throngs of curious onlookers had begun to assemble. They flashed their press passes but the policeman shook his head. "I can't let you through; it's too dangerous."

"Oh, come on!" Lois was irked. "We're not going to step on anything metal, just let us go in."

"If we can't go in, can we ask you some questions?" Clark asked, trying to position himself between Lois and the cop to head off the argument he knew was coming. "What happened here?"

The officer sighed and lifted the tape so they could pass beneath. "No way I'm talking to the press. Just stay clear of the immediate scene, okay?"

It was hard to tell where the immediate scene was. A blue van with "MetroEdison: Power For The People" on its side was parked half-on the sidewalk and three men in identical blue coveralls were arguing vehemently with each other next to it. An ambulance was parked a little further away and an EMT was checking out a woman sitting at an outdoor cafe table in front of the coffee shop. A plainclothes detective was talking to a fourth man in a MetEd uniform; both of them looked grim.

"Let's try them first." Lois nodded towards the detective and the MetEd employee.

As they came closer they could hear the MetEd employee. "…Wouldn't have been so bad except someone watered the plants this morning." He pointed to a puddle on the ground, part of it had pooled on the manhole cover.

"But why was the manhole cover electrified?" Lois asked.

The man half-turned and then glanced at the detective. The detective shrugged and answered for him. "There was a stray wire that was left uncapped."

"Shouldn't someone check for that kind of thing?" Lois pressed.

"Absolutely!" The MetEd employee looked agitated. "I inspected this entire block a month ago and it was fine."

"You checked it yourself?" Clark tried to confirm without sounding accusatory.

"Yes, I did. I'm telling you it was completely kosher. The line was grounded! Someone spliced into the main line and ran a wire to underneath the manhole cover."

"Who would be able to gain access?" Lois asked.

"Anyone willing to go down in the sewer." The man made a helpless shrug. "I don't know why anyone would want to do this. That's just sick!"

"Is this the same kind of set-up as the accident that killed Anthony Weir on Monday?" Clark asked.

"Yes. And now we have two more victims. Luckily, one of them survived." The detective gestured at the woman, now sitting alone at the cafe table, her hands clasped in front of her. Lois tapped Clark's arm and indicated that she was going over to talk to her.

"Hello," Lois said softly, taking the seat next to the woman. "I'm Lois Lane with the Daily Planet and this is my partner, Clark Kent. Would it be all right if we asked you a few questions?"

The auburn-haired woman nodded numbly. "Rachel Eames," she said softly. "It was supposed to be me."

"What do you mean?" Clark asked, sitting down on the other side of Rachel.

"My co-worker, Tony? He was killed the same way two days ago. And then this morning, I was coming out of the coffee shop but that lady was in a hurry and she went to go past me. This man seated at one of the tables stood up and bumped into both of us, but she fell first. I got shocked but she… oh god, it was supposed to be me. I just know it."

"You worked with Anthony Weir at STAR Labs?" Lois looked over at Clark as she asked the question. His expression told her that he didn't believe it was a coincidence either.

"Yes, but I can't really talk about what I do there. I'm sorry." Rachel shook her head. "This is just so unbelievable. What if I hadn't come here this morning? What if I hadn't slowed down so she could pass me?"

"What did the man look like?" Clark asked.

"I don't know. Tall, thin… I really wasn't paying attention."

"Do you have any idea why someone would want to kill you? Or Tony?" Lois asked.

"It's unbelievable," Rachel muttered to herself, shaking her head. Then she looked over at Lois, her blue eyes welling with tears. "We just never realize how much our lives are based on chance. You make one random decision and everything changes. Don't you ever look back and say, 'What if?'"

//**//**//

*25.23.32 to Impact*

"The Asgard rocket has missed its target. Repeat, the Asgard rocket has missed its target."

Both of them sat unmoving on the couch, not wanting to comprehend what this meant. "Superman," Lois finally said softly. "He's the last hope we have."

"Jimmy found a piece of his uniform in a crater over in Suicide Slum. So he did make it back."

"Then he'll save us."

"So why hasn't he done it already? Why would he wait?" Clark felt a nagging sense of frustration at her mention of Superman. Was he jealous of Superman? It would seem that way, but it just didn't feel right.

"I don't know." Lois shrugged, trying to ignore the cold knot of dread that was growing in her stomach. "Nothing the past couple of days has made sense to me."

Clark chuckled, a sound darker than his usual laugh. "I know the feeling."

"Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't think…" She felt like an idiot.

"You never do, huh?" he asked.

This sounded so much like Clark's lighthearted teasing that she had to remind herself that this man was a stranger to her. It was almost frightening that he was figuring her out so quickly.

Lois flushed and muttered, "You're just guessing now."

"Yeah," he admitted as his eyes took on a sad look. "I wish I remembered you."

"I wish you did, too." She gave him a small smile and moved closer to him so she could take his hand in hers. "If you did remember me, it wouldn't have taken me so long to come over here tonight. You're the best friend I've ever had."

This confession sprang freely from her heart and she cursed herself that she had never told him this before. All those qualities that she had found so irksome in him — his steadiness, his goodness, his easy-going nature — seemed so much less dull tonight. In fact, tonight they seemed to be the only things keeping her grounded. There was a rising sense of urgency to everything tonight. Last time, she told herself, this is the last chance you'll ever have to tell him that you do care about him. That there was more than just an eensy-weensy microcosmic part of you that's attracted to him.

"Really?" He looked pleased with that tidbit of information. "Tell me something about us. Anything. Your favorite memory."

Lois looked at their joined hands. "Well," she said slowly as she thought about it, "I have this teddy bear that you won for me at some corn festival when we were on assignment in your hometown."

"How did I win it?"

"Feat of strength," she grinned at the memory. "It took a few tries, but you got it. I barely managed to get my suitcase closed to bring him home with me, but I just couldn't throw him out."

"Him? Did you name the bear?"

She flushed and would have pulled her hand away except he had gently tightened his grip. "I didn't really name him, I just know he's a he."

"So where do you keep this bear?"

"He sits on my bed."

"Do you sleep with him?"

"Maybe, sometimes." She could feel a blush starting — what did it matter if she slept with the damn thing?

"Then I hope you named him 'Clark'."

This time she did pull her hand away, uncomfortable with the thought that sleeping with Clark was sounding more and more like a really good idea. What would it hurt? Superman would never need to know that she'd been unfaithful to him. Was it really being unfaithful? Superman had never really returned her affections and heaven only knew where he was now. He had abandoned her first. Clark, on the other hand, she could depend on Clark. She always could — she just hadn't realized it until now.

"What else?" he asked. "Tell me another story." He gave her one of Clark's guileless smiles.

Lois looked away. It was one thing for the old Clark to be charming — he never crossed the line. This new Clark she wasn't so sure about. The thought kind of thrilled her in a way she didn't want to dwell on too much. What if he made the first move? That would be okay — it would prove she wasn't chasing him like Cat had been.

"A few weeks ago we were on a long stakeout. We had to spend two days stuck in this hotel room, and we passed the time playing games. It was fun. It was… nice." Nice and fun seemed a flimsy way to tell him about those two days in the honeymoon suite. It had been comfortable and even kind of sexy, in a weird way. He really did look decent first thing in the morning. She hadn't minded his little digs and teases either. Unlike other men she had worked with, Clark flirted but he didn't cross the line.

And that little stunt on the bed had been driven by necessity. He hadn't prolonged it any longer than was needed. And he had never told a soul, despite the ribbing he had endured from some of their colleagues to spill the details about what had gone on behind closed doors.

Clark grinned. "You're a sore loser."

"You're just guessing again."

He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I have a very distinct impression of you arguing with me over a word or something."

"Chumpy?" she prompted.

"Chumpy's not a word."

"How would you know? You don't remember anything!" She lightly shoved his shoulder as her eyes sparkled, belying the harshness of her words.

"I haven't forgotten my language skills. There's no such word." Something like delight filtered through him when she touched him as she argued with him. This is us, he thought. This is what we were like.

"You know what? I'm not going to argue this with you twice. I was right then, and I'm still right now." Lois felt a flicker of irritation. Amnesia or not, he could still push her buttons.

"I didn't let you use that word. And you were a sore loser over it." This time he really was guessing, but it felt like more of an educated guess to him.

"I didn't lose the game!" she huffed. Did it even matter anymore? With the world ending tomorrow? Somehow it was important that he didn't think she was a loser. He had to remember that much.

"Lois, will you do me a favor?"

"What?" she asked suspiciously.

"If you really haven't named that bear yet, maybe you could call him 'Chumpy'?"

She laughed before she could stop herself. "You know, I wish I could say it was the amnesia, but I think you were always like this."

"Like what?"

"Infuriating. You always acted so nice and naive but you're just as bad as me."

"Bad? In what way?"

"You think you're always right."

"Are you saying I'm not? I bet my track record is pretty good."

"Maybe," she said grudgingly. "You have been wrong before, though."

"Tell me one of those stories. When have I been wrong?"

She didn't even have to think about it. "I was working undercover and you deliberately honed in on my story, then you exposed my cover and threw me in a dumpster."

"Wow. So I'm a jerk?"

"No, not a jerk. Just… infuriating."

"You already said that." His eyes twinkled in a tease and for a moment she wondered if he was making this whole amnesia story up just to mess with her. Surely Clark wouldn't go to this much trouble for a joke?

"So? I didn't realize I was being graded." She narrowed her eyes at him in assessment.

"You're not. I'm just curious about me. About you. About us." This was spoken without a hint of irony; he couldn't possibly be that good at lying. If there was one thing Clark would have known, it was that there was no "us".

No, that was wrong. He wasn't the liar — she was. There was an "us", it just wasn't that kind of "us". So what was it? Whatever it was, it had drawn her here tonight. There were so many things left unfinished in her life, she didn't want Clark to be one of them.

"I'm not sure what it is between us," she told him. "There isn't really an us, not like that. You should know that I'm in love with someone else."

"Superman?"

"Yeah," she gave him a weak smile. "Is it that obvious?"

"Pretty much." His hand reached out to stroke over her cheek, a move that surprised both of them. His fingers lingered for a moment before combing through her hair to the back of her head. He was so certain in the gesture that Lois felt her head tip back to rest against his palm as though he had willed it to happen. He was going to kiss her… Her heart trip-hammered at the thought.

She parted her lips to speak but any words she might have formed were lost in the firm pressure of his mouth on hers. His lips moved deliberately against hers, enveloping her upper lip, pulling it into his mouth and smoothing the leading edge of his tongue across it to get a good taste of her. Then his head tipped back so he could look at her.

"We've kissed before," he whispered. It wasn't a question.

Lois took in a shaky breath. "Sort of. I mean, I kissed you so that I could get close enough to give you a message when we were being held by this psycho named Jason Trask. And then you kissed me when we were on that stakeout…"

"The maid was coming," Clark murmured, nuzzling her ear and placing a tiny kiss on its lobe.

"Right! That's good, you're starting to remember." Lois suddenly felt dizzy, as though the world's axis had shifted. Clark would never have been this bold with her. Would he? Was this just Clark freed from all restraint? The thought sent a little shiver of something dark and sensual right through her. Was this why she had come over tonight? Oh god, it was.

"It was only those two times? I know I've kissed you more than that." He pulled back, both his hands framing her face, and regarded her with serious eyes.

Lois gave him a weak smile. "It must have been in your dreams."

Clark smiled back. "I can believe that."

He kissed her again, this time with ever-increasing intent. Clark slipped one arm low around her waist, drawing her along with him as he leaned back against the cushions. She came willingly, a fact that seemed to send all his blood south. Her mouth opened to him and they shared several long, slow kisses. Lois wrapped her arms around him, freely yielding herself to the sweet oblivion he offered. His tongue slid against hers, tasting her deeply while his fingers brushed lightly over her jaw. After they were both dizzy he broke the kiss, letting them catch their breath.

"I think," he said in a husky whisper and then paused to clear his throat, "I think you might want to leave soon." His hand had slipped beneath the hem of her shirt to languidly stroke over the soft skin of her back. God, he wanted to touch her everywhere.

"Why?" She knew exactly why — she just didn't want to go. She was feeling drawn to this more brazen version of Clark. If she went home now, she'd just lie awake all night and wonder about him. There was nothing left to lose in taking a chance tonight. "Don't you want me to stay?"

She wanted to stay. Wanted him. She wanted this to last. She wanted someone to hold, something to distract her from thinking about how her perfectly ordered life meant nothing now. All she really wanted was to be loved, cared for and desired one last time. That was what she had ignored in Clark's eyes and actions all this time. He really did love, care for and desire her. He had all along. Even losing his memories hadn't changed that.

"I may not remember who I am, Lois. But I do know how I feel. And I know what I want."

"I know what I want, too," she told him, her heart pounding at the realization. "I want to stay."

//**//**//

*24.55.11 to Impact*

Lois snuggled closer against him, hoping he wasn't really asking her to leave. This was the first time since Superman had gone missing that she felt peaceful. She had been exhausted and frightened tonight until she got here. It wasn't just that she didn't want to be alone. She was seeing a new side to Clark — a side she really liked. Had he always been like this and she just hadn't noticed?

"Tell me another story," he whispered, his fingers still tracing idle patterns across the skin of her lower back. "Tell me about Superman. Did he just show up out of the blue one day?"

"Yes, he did," she said. "It was at the launch of the space station Prometheus shuttle. I had snuck on board and was hiding in a galley when I found a bomb in there with me. And then this guy in tights and a cape just swooped in from nowhere and ate the bomb."

"He ate the bomb? Wow."

"Yeah. They had to scrub the mission because the rockets had already fired so he lifted the shuttle into space. I watched from outside the command center since they made me leave when they discovered I was a stowaway. Afterwards he offered to fly me back to the Planet."

"Is he in love with you, too? Superman?"

Lois evened out a wrinkle on Clark's shirt with her fingers. "I know he cares about me. But he always seems to be holding back around me."

"Maybe he's shy?"

"I don't think that's the reason." Lois sighed. "This is just sad, really. You're the one who knows him better than I do. You guys are good friends." Even though the wrinkle was gone, she couldn't make her hand stop smoothing over his chest. She could feel the taut contours of his muscles under the material of his shirt. Clark had always had a kind of quiet strength about him; she found herself mesmerized by the physical evidence of that strength beneath her fingers.

"Really? I'm friends with Superman?"

"Yes. You can get in touch with him faster than anyone else. I wish you could tell me how you do it."

"If I knew, I'd tell you."

Lois almost smiled as she rolled her eyes. "If you knew, I don't think you would. You seem pretty protective of him, actually. I've asked you before how you always seem to find him and you've never really answered the question."

"Hmmm." Clark closed his eyes and thought about it. He knew Superman? That seemed right. And yet, something felt wrong about her saying he was good friends with him. Why would a man strong enough to lift a shuttle into space need protecting?

He was distracted out of these thoughts when Lois' hand slipped under his shirt to glide tentatively across his stomach. He opened his eyes to find she had lifted her head to watch him, her dark eyes questioning. He touched her cheek, drawing her to him for another kiss.

As their kiss built in intensity Lois admitted to herself that she had sometimes wondered what Clark would be like as more than a friend. If only she hadn't seen him in that towel, her idle thoughts might never have strayed from Superman. But she had seen him. Had wondered. Now, tonight, she was discovering that he was even more incredible than her memory and imagination had allowed.

Their kisses became more demanding and his caresses became bolder. Lois groaned into his mouth and fumbled for the hem of his shirt as she broke the kiss. She wanted to see him, wanted to touch him. Even as her fingers tugged his shirt higher a familiar voice was screaming inside her head. What the heck are you doing? This is your partner! Lois Lane does not do this with her co-workers! Clark isn't even your type!

Clark sat up, helping her to strip his shirt away. Lois' eyes widened as she drank in the sight of Clark's powerfully-built upper body. Oh wow, he was definitely her type. She had listened to her fears for too long. And where had that gotten her? She was seducing a man with no memory of her just to get a little action. It was a good thing no one would be around tomorrow to judge her.

Clark gave her a feral grin and tossed the shirt aside. Lois traced her fingertips over the smooth muscles of his arms and shoulders. How had he managed to hide *this* beneath a suit and tie?

"How do I compare with Superman?" he asked.

Lois gave him a delighted smile. "Not bad. Pretty damn close, I'd say."

Clark tucked a rebellious strand of hair behind her ear. "I could make you forget him," he whispered as he kissed her lips softly.

Lois shivered. She had no doubt that he could make her forget everything. More than anything she wanted to lose the panic that was right there below the surface. Nothing matters anymore, she told herself. There was nothing left but this moment, this man.

Lois pulled her shirt off, throwing it behind her and took his face in her hands. "Make me forget all of it, Clark," she said with a kind of desperate fierceness. "Please, just help me forget."

***

"Just what are you implying?" Ron Fraser didn't even try to conceal the contempt in his voice as he looked at the two reporters. He glanced over at the crowd still gathered behind the police tape, some twenty yards away, and pitched his voice a little lower. "This kind of thing happens all the time. Why, just in the past two years we've had several dogs, a couple of people and even a horse that have been mildly shocked when they came into contact with an unshielded electrical source."

"But this wasn't a mild shock," Lois bristled. "This was an electrocution!"

"Still, we have a very good record. One little electrocution…"

"Two people have died." This came from Clark, who was likewise glowering at him.

"Well, yes. It's unfortunate. You do realize that there are over 100,000 miles of electrical wiring beneath this city? You can't honestly expect that every single inch of the system can be monitored that rigorously. So I'm going to give you a comment, on the record, and then I'm going to ask you to excuse me."

Lois let out a disgusted sigh and waited, holding her tape recorder up a little higher.

"MetroEdison deeply regrets the incident this morning. Our hearts go out to the families of those involved. We are launching an investigation into this week's incidences. The citizens of Metropolis should rest assured that such an occurrence is extremely rare and steps are being taken to insure it does not happen again." Fraser gave a self-satisfied nod. "That's all. Thank you for your time."

Fraser stalked away from them but was stopped by Ken Randall, the investigative reporter for WMET. Lois couldn't hide her smile. Randall was a shark and no one interviewed by him ever came out of it looking very good. Usually she frowned on his lack of ethics but Fraser deserved what was coming to him.

"So what do you think?" she asked Clark. "Gross negligence?"

"Just putting that guy in charge of public relations was gross negligence. That worker was absolutely certain that someone spliced into the line deliberately. And all those incidents in the past weren't as high a voltage as these two accidents."

"Because they weren't accidents." This came from behind them. They turned around to see the same MetEd worker who talked to them earlier. He tipped his head to indicate they should follow him as he ducked into the alley next to the coffee shop.

"This wasn't an accident," he told them again.

"And you are?" Lois asked.

"Kevin," the man indicated the badge clipped to his chest pocket. "But I don't want my name in the papers."

"Okay, Kevin. Why don't you think it was an accident?"

"Leaving aside the fact that the line was deliberately spliced into and run beneath the manhole? The water on the surface is salt water."

Clark's eyes widened. "Salt water would conduct the electricity better."

"Exactly. Water isn't a good conductor. It's the minerals and elemental traces in the water that conduct electricity. Salt water is an excellent conductor. The police are sending a sample to their labs, you should follow-up with them on it."

"We will. Thank you, Kevin." Lois said.

"Look," Kevin glanced behind him. "Meet me back here tonight at ten o'clock. I want to show you what I mean, but I can't do it with them around." He jerked his head to indicate Ron Fraser and Ken Randall.

"We'll be here," Clark assured him.

"Wear something you don't care about; we'll be going down in the sewer."

"Great," Lois said, wrinkling her nose. "Thanks for thinking of us."

"Now what?" Clark asked as Kevin walked away.

"What about that man that Rachel said pushed them? He didn't stick around after the accident. Maybe he deliberately bumped into them to send them sprawling onto the ground?"

"Let's go talk to Rachel Eames again." Lois inadvertently brushed against him as she moved past.

Clark closed his eyes, leaning back against the wall for a moment to steady himself. If she knew what that did to him she'd never come within six feet of him again. If it was one thing when she accidentally touched him as Clark, it was agonizing to be anywhere near her as Superman.

Just over three months had passed since that night. Three months that had been a waking hell to him. In that time she had made it clear to him that she saw him only as a friend. She had turned him down cold when he told her he loved her and then she had almost married Lex Luthor… It seemed that night was erased from her memory as completely as if it had never happened. And why wouldn't she want to forget it had ever happened? The circumstances had been appalling. His lovemaking had been far too brief. It was probably a mercy if she had forgotten how disappointing he had been.

If only he could forget. If his life had become a waking hell, his nights were even worse. It was a rare night indeed when he didn't dream about making love to her. He was ashamed to admit that if he had the chance to live that night over again, he would still have made love to her.

//**//**//

*11.43.09 to Impact*

He dreamed he was flying. More than that, he was flying and Lois was in his arms, her expression one of awe and trust. They floated to the ground, somehow it was like he was willing that to happen. Then he set her down and she gushed, "Thanks, Superman…"

He stepped back, wanting to correct her. He wasn't Superman, he was Clark — but the dream had changed. They were in a conference room at the Planet now. Lois was pacing. He was throwing crumpled paper into the garbage can. The paper was about to fall short so he blew gently, suspending it in mid-air before stopping abruptly as Lois turned to face him. He felt a niggle of concern. Had she caught him? Did she know he was Superman?

Superman? *He was Superman?*

The dream changed again. Lois stood in front of him, dressed in a harem outfit and doing a sultry dance. She peered up at him and said, "I never noticed it before but you look an awful lot like Superman…"

Fear gripped him. Had she discovered his secret at last? He opened his mouth to protest and his surroundings changed.

Lois was still standing in front of him, but she was fully dressed now. Worry was etched on her features. "I'll be back," he was telling her. "We'll go flying." Even as he spoke the words he was memorizing her face, wondering if this would be the last time he ever saw her.

"I hope so," she said.

He went to turn away and she grabbed him, pulling him close for a last desperate kiss. He kissed her back, finding no elation in being this close to her. There was only regret and dread mixed with the love he felt for her. This has to work, he thought. And if it doesn't, what will she think happened to me? Will my parents tell her the truth? The kiss ended and he gave her a regretful smile before turning away again.

And then he was flying again, somewhere deep in space, the asteroid looming in front of him. "I know what I have to do," he said and strained for every last bit of speed he possessed. He rocketed towards the asteroid and…

Clark opened his eyes.

Faint morning light was coming through his bedroom window. A thousand memories cascaded through his consciousness. It wasn't just a dream. He really was Superman. And last night he…

Clark was suddenly aware that he wasn't alone in the bed. There was a slender leg entwined between his own. He could feel warm breath on his neck. He looked down to find a tousled dark head on his shoulder and a small hand resting low on his chest.

Lois.

Oh my god, what had he done? He wouldn't have… but he must have because here she was, snuggled up next to him with absolutely no clue how dire the fallout was going to be.

He was going to have to tell her about Superman now, he owed her that much at least. His only defense was that he didn't know at the time. And she did the undressing first, he reminded himself. She took off your shirt first. You were just following her lead. Maybe the near-death experience had made her see him with new eyes? It wasn't the best start, but they could build from here. Couldn't they?

There was no way. She was going to have the largest meltdown in history when she realized that she had thrown caution to the wind like that. He was going to lose her forever when she woke up. Lois had been more vulnerable last night than at any time since he had met her. He was quite certain that no one had ever seen her that open, that honest or that passionate.

There was no question that he was going to have to go and save the world now, no matter what the personal cost to him might be. Truthfully, the asteroid didn't frighten him nearly as much as what Lois was going to do when he told her she had unwittingly slept with Superman. Would she still work with him? Be friends with him? Or would she only see him as a constant reminder of the fear and desperation she had felt? What was she going to do when he told her the truth?

The answer was simple. She was going to kill him.

Could he pretend that he didn't remember what had happened while he was amnesiac? No — she'd never believe him. There wasn't really time to lie here and think about it either. He was going to lose more than just Lois if he didn't get a move on. He eased out from beneath her, holding his breath for a heart-stopping moment when her eyelids fluttered.

When he came back he would talk to her. He couldn't tell her the truth; that would destroy any and all hope of something more with her. So he would lie and tell her whatever she needed to hear. Whatever would keep her from pushing him out of her life.

He took one last long look at her. She would kill him if she knew he was memorizing what she looked like naked in his bed. The chances were almost zero he would ever get to see her this way again. He'd be lucky if she was still speaking to him when the day was over.

"I love you," he told her softly. She slept on, oblivious. He pulled the covers a little higher and regretfully turned away.

//**//**//

Lois woke up and stared at the ceiling above her. This was not her apartment. Truth be told it looked an awful lot like Clark's… oh.

She winced. In the cold light of day it was suddenly embarrassing beyond belief that she had taken advantage of him like that. She was more than a little relieved that he wasn't lying there next to her. Why wasn't he lying there next to her? Did he realize how potentially awkward this morning could be? Should she be grateful or insulted that he had fled before she woke up? This was so like him, running off without much explanation. Either his memory had returned or the urge to flee at odd moments was deeply ingrained in his psyche.

How many hours had she wasted? Hours that should have been spent looking for Superman, not sleeping with Clark. How could she have been so unfocused? Had she completely lost her edge as a journalist?

She heard his front door open and then close. Lois tugged the sheet higher to cover herself and leaned her head out to look towards the door. Clark stopped at the bottom of his steps and their eyes met. He held up a paper bag and a cardboard tray with two coffee cups.

"I got us some breakfast," he said, continuing into his kitchen as he spoke. She appreciated that he was acting nonchalant. Lois took a deep breath to steady herself. She'd get dressed and go make one last attempt to find Superman.

Lois pulled on the sheet, managing with some difficulty to free it from the bottom of the bed and wrap it around herself. She came around the corner and hurried over to where her clothes had been tossed away last night.

"I'm not really hungry," she lied. No sooner had she spoken the words than her stomach growled loudly. He gave her a nervous smile and held out one of the coffees.

"I really think we should talk," he said softly. "Please?"

Lois took in a deep breath and blew it out as a long sigh. "Let me get dressed first, okay?"

He nodded. "Okay."

She fled into the bathroom, pulling her clothes on with some difficulty since her fingers felt numb. She needed to get away from here. There was a new reticence in his manner, or actually, his old reticence in his manner. Were his memories back? Was he going to read too deeply into what happened last night?

Looking in the mirror she ran her shaky fingers through the tangles in her hair. Was there time to go home and shower? How many hours were left? She had no idea. She had to give him credit — she asked him to make her forget and he had done exactly that.

So what did he want to talk about? If he was himself again was he expecting her to suddenly profess her love for him? She did love him, but as a… well, she really shouldn't say "brother" anymore. She loved him as a friend. Thank goodness there were only a few hours left for her to avoid him.

Lois came out of the bathroom to find him sitting at his kitchen table. He rose as she came into the room and pulled a chair out for her.

"Clark…" she started as she sat down but he held up his hand.

"Please, let me go first, okay?" he asked.

Lois sighed, mentally gearing herself up to let him down as gently as possible.

"When I woke up this morning I remembered everything. Who I am. And who you are." His eyes looked steadily into hers. "And then I think I panicked. It's nothing to do with you, please realize that. It's just, well, you're my best friend, Lois, and I don't want anything to ruin that." He was relieved that so far he hadn't even had to lie.

Lois felt a small glimmer of hope. He wasn't declaring his undying love. This was followed by a flicker of annoyance — was she not worth falling in love with?

"Clark, it really doesn't matter, does it? I mean, we only have a few hours left, we should just be grateful for what we have… or had, I guess. I'm glad your memories returned."

"Thanks," he nodded. "But they aren't all that's come back."

"What do you mean?"

"Superman's back, too. He diverted what remained of the asteroid about half an hour ago."

For a moment she couldn't speak. Superman was alive and flying around. He had saved her — saved them all. And what had she done while he was wrestling with his inner demons to get up the nerve to fly back into space and save the world? She had slept with his friend. How could she ever look Superman in the eye again?

"Oh," she finally said. "That's… great."

Clark, misreading the horrified expression on her face, rushed to finish speaking. "I don't want to say that last night meant nothing to me. It was amazing. You were amazing. And I think we both found some comfort in what happened. But you are, first and foremost, my best friend. I just don't want to lose that."

Lois closed her eyes. She didn't want to lose his friendship, especially over something like this. But Clark was good friends with Superman. What if he told him? Would he do something like that? Could she trust him to keep this secret?

"Clark, I meant it last night when I said you were my best friend. But after last night, well, I, can we just forget it ever happened?"

He felt his heart sinking. Rationally, he knew that the very fact that this was going so well was nothing short of miraculous. The lack of a nuclear Lane meltdown probably meant that his guardian angel was working overtime.

So why was he feeling so crushed? Was it because there had been a tiny vestige of hope in him that last night had been more to her than just comfort on a bleak night?

Clark swallowed the hurt. "Yes," he nodded solemnly. "I can do that."

"But you have to promise me that you'll never tell another living soul. *Ever*. No one can know. We'll never even talk to each other about it. Never even think about it!"

Clark had continued nodding as she spoke. "I promise," he told her and held his hand out to seal the agreement. "It will be like it never happened."

Lois felt a little queasy. Really, it was out of her hands. If he told or didn't tell, she had no control over that. She was going to have to trust him. "Okay, then," she said, shaking his hand. "It never happened."

***

Inspector Henderson was sitting at the table where Rachel had been and he shook his head at them as they walked over. "If you're looking for Ms. Eames, she just left in the ambulance."

"So what do you think?" Lois asked Henderson, taking the seat next to him. "Doesn't it seem a little coincidental to you that two people who work for STAR Labs have met with the same accident this week?"

Henderson shrugged. "Don't you believe in coincidences, Lois?"

"Not if I can help it," she replied.

"Well, I do. The world is full of them."

Clark had been scanning the crowd, trying to see if there were any tall, thin men who seemed overly interested in the accident scene. He couldn't see anyone matching Rachel's earlier description.

"Inspector, there's an ATM on the outside of the bank across the street." Clark pointed at it as he spoke. "It's possible the cameras might have captured an image of the man who pushed Rachel."

Henderson nodded. "We're already looking into it. If we find anything, I'll let you know. We'll have you run the picture in the paper, see if anyone recognizes the guy."

"We heard the water on top of the manhole cover was actually salt water. Was that a coincidence?" Lois asked.

Henderson broke into a grin and stood up from the table. "It's a hell of a coincidence, isn't it?"

"How about we check out STAR Labs?" Clark asked Lois. "I don't think that's a coincidence."

"Do you believe in coincidences, Clark?" Lois asked him as they walked away.

"It depends," Clark said. "Give me an example and I'll tell you whether I think it's a coincidence or not."

"Take Superman, for instance."

"Superman?"

"Yes, he's always there to save us. Does he follow us around? Is he stalking us? Is he really that fast? Can he read our minds? Or is it just the most amazing coincidence that he's always there when we need him?"

"Superman saves lots of people."

Lois frowned at his answer. "Have you seen him recently?"

"Yeah." Clark glanced at the front window of the store they were passing and caught his reflection. "I've seen him."

"I never see him anymore. I haven't really spoken to him since I got engaged to Lex. Is he mad at me?"

Clark winced. It was true; he'd been avoiding her as Superman. He had stopped the occasional nighttime fly-by of her apartment. He didn't want to give her false hope that there could be more than friendship between her and Superman. If she wanted to believe it was her near-wedding that was behind his evasion, well, he wasn't about to correct her.

"Why would he be angry with you? He's a busy guy, Lois, that's all."

"He finds time to visit you."

"I didn't say I visited with him. I just said that I had seen him."

Lois shrugged. That was semantics as far as she was concerned. Superman didn't even get close enough that she could see him nowadays. She stopped and looked up, shading her eyes. Come to think of it — where was he when these electrocutions had happened? Of course, they weren't noisy, so maybe they hadn't drawn his attention. It seemed unlike Superman not to show up and put in an appearance.

Not for the first time she wondered if Clark had said something — even inadvertently — about that night to Superman.

"Lois?" Clark had taken a few steps before realizing she wasn't alongside him. She was looking up into the sky and guilt washed over him when he realized who she watching for.

Lois' attention shifted back to Clark. "Sorry," she told him. "I just miss him."

Clark nodded, his dark eyes almost sad. Whatever the reason, Lois was almost certain Clark knew why Superman was avoiding her. Getting him to tell her — that was another matter. It was Clark's complete silence on the matter that gave her hope he hadn't said anything to Superman about that night.

It was fine for him to keep her secrets, but surely he could see how terrible she felt about Superman's silence. Why didn't Clark just tell her the truth? Didn't he care about her feelings at all?

//**//**//

Clark had never been this nervous before. It was the first time Lois would see him as Superman since that night and he was terrified. It was only his fear that Dr. Winninger's killer was stalking her and her refusal to let him bodyguard her that had spurred him to such drastic measures.

He wasn't sure he could trust himself to be around her as Superman. He was afraid that he might have a reaction to her presence; one that the suit would make extremely obvious. But since she wasn't listening to him as Clark he was going to have to give it a shot.

He hovered outside her window. She was going to take one look at him and recognize him. How could she not? She had seen him that night without the glasses. Or was she not paying attention? She had been a little preoccupied by the time he took the glasses off. Clark wavered and was about to fly away when Lois caught sight of him.

"Would you like to come in?" she asked as she parted the curtains for him.

He took a deep breath. Put her on the defensive, he told himself. And don't look anywhere except her face.

"If I were you, I'd want to know what I was doing outside your window."

"Just hanging around?" she lightly teased.

Clark shook his head, not trusting his voice. She was wearing a shirt tied at her midriff and he could see bare skin. I've touched her there, he thought. No! Look at her face. Don't look anywhere else.

"You ran into Clark and he told you I was in danger and I wouldn't let him bodyguard me. Am I right?"

Clark hesitated for moment. She really didn't know it was him. "Yes."

"So Clark asked you to be my bodyguard? Why not just knock on the door?"

When did he ever knock on her door as Superman? "I thought it would be better if I stayed inconspicuous."

Lois looked at Superman, taking in the snug way the suit didn't hide much. Had she really told Clark he came close? What was she thinking? There was no one else like Superman. "I'd change tailors if you're gonna go for the undercover look."

"Well, that's why you should let Clark keep you company."

Clark? Sure, she could have let Clark stay. But Clark's 'protection' so far lacked any of Superman's finesse. Clark's idea of bodyguarding consisted of accosting an innocent skateboarder and throwing her down on the steps of her building.

Lois loosened her hair from its ponytail and casually tried to fix her hair. "Are you, um, staying for dinner?"

"No, thank you. I have some errands to run. But I'll come back." He couldn't maintain eye contact with her like he used to. Surely she noticed how he kept looking away?

"Errands?" she laughed. "That's funny. I never think of Superman having to run errands."

"Well, I do have a life, you know."

"Really? What kind of life?" She sat down, looking up at him with unabashed curiosity.

Clark hesitated, he couldn't possibly tell her. What would it hurt to let her think his entire life was community service? Maybe that would make her think of him as something neutral and genderless. "Well, tonight I have a neighborhood watch meeting. Tomorrow, prison."

She laughed. "That's cute, I, uh, guess."

Look at me, he thought. Do you really not recognize me? How could you have sex with me and be this clueless? He felt the all-too-familiar twitch of interest from his groin as he realized just how many buttons she had left undone on her blouse. It would be reckless to stay around her much longer.

"Well, I'd better be going. You'll be okay?"

"Sure, I'll be fine."

Shouldn't there be some primal alarm bell ringing in her head right now? There sure as hell was in his. Catching sight of the paper he decided to lecture her as Superman, at least he knew she would take what he said seriously. "You'd better be careful. If the killer reads between the lines of your story and realizes that you were there…"

"You read my work?"

"Always," he told her truthfully. And you especially hate it when I edit your copy.

Clark put the paper down and turned to go out the window. Lois hurried over to the window, brushing against him as she moved past. He panicked — she was too close.

"Let me, uh, get this," she said as she fumbled with the curtains.

Clark walked over to the door instead. He had it unlocked and open before she could cross the room. Don't touch me, he thought. Please don't touch me.

"Lock your doors," he told her as he slipped out into the relative safety of the hallway. "And windows." If she locked her windows it would keep both him and her stalker out.

"I promise."

Safely out of her apartment, he changed back into his clothes and bought a paper. Clark settled on a bench across the street to watch her apartment. A cold night on the bench would be even more effective than a cold shower.

***

"I'm very sorry," the receptionist told them. "But STAR Labs will not be issuing any statements at this time."

"So that's a 'no comment', is it?" Lois asked sarcastically and turned away from the desk in time to see Ken Randall enter the lobby through a side door. Her mood darkened further. Had they talked to that charlatan and not to them?

"Ah, Lane and Kent. So what's your angle?" Ken asked.

"What's yours?" Lois countered.

Ken gave her the megawatt smile that beamed down from countless billboards throughout Metropolis. "No angle. A really good story just tells itself."

"So they didn't tell you anything either, did they?"

At that Ken let out a genuine laugh. "When are you going to leave that dinosaur you lovingly call the Planet and come work where the future lies — in television? I heard you were working for LNN for a while."

"It wasn't really me. TV news is a wasteland for fakes and hacks."

"Then you would fit right in. Just look at you! A broad with your looks? You bleach your hair blonde and you'd be a top anchor in no time."

"I don't look good as a blonde."

"Mmmm, tell me you have pictures of that somewhere. If there are, I may have a new goal in life."

"I've seen koi ponds deeper than you, Ken." Clark couldn't hold back any longer. Ken Randall might be popular with the public, but he was a pariah amongst his peers.

"Good thing you brought someone along to fight your battles for you," Ken said without even glancing at Clark. "I heard you lost your edge after Luthor went splat."

Clark's hands fisted, but given Ken's current line of argument he couldn't say a word without making things worse. Besides, Lois had definitely *not* lost her edge — as he was sure Ken was about to discover.

"At least I had an edge," Lois said evenly. "But then I guess you can't really miss something you never had."

Ken's demeanor changed, his expression softened. "That was low, bringing up Luthor like that. I'm sorry. Do you miss him?"

"No," Lois said curtly. "Never once."

Ken shrugged and switched tactics. "I've heard things about you. There's a rumor that you boffed Superman."

"What?" Lois exclaimed, her cheeks flushing in a way that let Ken know he'd finally found a nerve to prod. "I've never!"

"I bet you would, though, wouldn't you?"

"You'd do the same if you thought it would be a good story," Lois shot back.

"Alas, I'm only partial to dark-eyed beauties who sleep with their sources."

Clark tapped Lois' elbow to caution her against saying anything else. "Let's go, Lois."

"Superman isn't a source. He's a friend." Lois turned her back on Ken and stalked out of the lobby.

"I wouldn't mess with her," Clark couldn't hold back the words. "She could tear you apart with her bare hands if she really wanted to."

Ken laughed. "Lois Lane doesn't scare me. And neither do you, Kent."

Clark leaned in and asked in a deadly calm voice. "What about Superman?"

Ken didn't even blink. "Superman is much too good to smack me around over a few comments to his little girlfriend."

"Don't misjudge him. Even Superman would make an exception for you."

Clark grimaced as he walked away from Ken Randall. The nerve of that guy! He wasn't sure which remark was worse — the one about Luthor or the one about Superman.

He knew Lois didn't want, or need, his protection. It didn't matter to him. He would protect her as best he could from the Kens and the Luthors of this world. And, most importantly, he would protect her from himself. If she thought it hurt that Superman was avoiding her, he knew it would kill her to learn what had really happened that night.

//**//**//

Lois' alarm went off at six o'clock. Clark could hear her wandering through her apartment, making sounds of frustration. The reason behind her dismay became obvious when Mr. Tracewski, the super, came out of the building complaining about the poor quality of pipes.

Clark went back to reading the paper in his hands and then he heard it — a sound that made his heart stutter. Lois was struggling; fighting against someone. He ran up the stairs and burst through the door. To his horror Lois had stopped fighting and was losing consciousness.

"Let go of her!" Clark ordered.

The man, who looked exactly like Mr. Tracewski, only tightened his grip on Lois' throat.

Clark held up his hand to calm the double who was beginning to look frantic. "Let her go now," Clark said slowly.

The man dropped her and Lois fell limply to the floor. Clark's heart sank; she was lying there so still. He let the man run past him. He could only see Lois and how she wasn't breathing. God, please, no. He couldn't hear her breathing…

"Lois!" He knelt next to her, turning her over with unsteady hands. He caught sight of the fake Mr. Tracewski disappearing through the still-open door as he bent to breathe into her mouth.

One little puff and she gasped. He gathered her against him as she sputtered and choked.

"Okay," he murmured into her hair.

"Cla…" Lois' hands sought him and he pulled her closer. "Clark. Clark," she murmured.

"It's okay. It's all right, it's all right, it's all right," he repeated mindlessly, as much to reassure himself as her.

"I couldn't breathe. That nice Mr. Tracewski…" Lois couldn't seem to draw enough air into her lungs. What the hell had just happened? She still felt so confused. When did Clark get here?

"No. No, it wasn't him. It must have been somebody else. I saw the real Mr. Tracewski leave."

"He tried to kill me." Her throat burned as she formed the words. It was for real. Someone really was trying to kill her. And Clark was here. She was safe now.

"I'll find him." Clark started to set her gently aside. He was just itching to catch the man.

"No!" Lois clung to him with all the strength she had left. "Please don't leave me."

"Okay, I won't. I'm here. I'm right here. I'm right here." He held her close against him and rocked her, the rhythmic motion soothing them both.

Lois tried to hold the sob back but it broke through anyway. Clark murmured softly into her hair that it was okay. She thought about that night, how she went over to find comfort in his embrace and found forgetfulness instead. Today there was nothing but comfort in his arms. His voice and his touch were strong and soothing. Lois clung to him, afraid of what the world was going to look like when he wasn't holding her anymore.

Finally she disentangled herself from his embrace. He let her go easily and stood up, holding out his hand to help her rise. For a second she thought about ignoring him and standing on her own. Before she could fully form that thought her hand had taken his of its own volition. He pulled her up and let go, taking two steps back to lean against her kitchen counter.

"Do you want me to wait outside while you get ready?" he offered.

Lois blinked, surprised that he'd even make the suggestion. "No, just… have a seat…" She waved in the direction of her living room. "I'll get dressed and we can go."

As she dressed she realized that Clark must have got up very early to be over here in time to see Mr. Tracewski leave the building. Or had he spent the night outside? No, he couldn't have. It was far too cold out there. But he did come over awfully early.

Lois smiled to herself. He really was very sweet. Naive and trusting and very, very sweet.

//"I could make you forget him."//

Lois took in a shuddery breath. She would never have believed anyone could make her forget Superman, but for a short time that night her entire world had consisted of only Clark. She brushed her hair a little harder as penance for her wandering mind.

***

"Are you sure this is where we were supposed to meet her?" Clark looked around the hotel's bar but couldn't see Rachel anywhere.

Lois glanced at her watch. "She told Jimmy seven o'clock in the bar of the Hotel Britannia's lobby. It's only five after seven, maybe she's running late?"

"No, there she is." Clark pointed across the bar where Rachel Eames had just emerged from the restroom. Rachel waved and made her way unsteadily towards them, plopping down in the chair next to Clark. She smelled of whiskey and her eyes looked a little too bright.

"Can I get you a drink?" she asked them.

"No, thanks, I'm not really thirsty," Lois said.

Rachel's expression darkened. "I'm not usually a drinker, you know. I'm just having a very bad week."

"We're very sorry for your loss. Were you close to Anthony?" Clark asked.

Rachel traced her fingernail over the wood grain of the tabletop. "Close to him? Oh god, I don't know how to answer that. We worked together, you know?"

"Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt the two of you?" Lois asked.

Rachel took a deep breath and let it out slowly, shaking her head the entire time. "Maybe his ex-wife. She wasn't taking the divorce well."

"You were involved with Tony?" Clark asked in surprise.

"Involved is the wrong word for it, really. We… had an arrangement. I've been through a lot of disastrous relationships and he was just coming out of his divorce. We neither one of us wanted to get involved with anyone but, you know, there are certain things you miss when you're not seeing someone. There was an attraction between us, and it was such a relief to not have to make small talk, or remember birthdays, or any of that other garbage that you have to wade through in a relationship." Rachel's voice trailed off on the last few words.

Lois tried hard to sound neutral as she clarified, "You were sleeping with each other?"

Rachel let out a laugh. "No, not sleeping. That was one of the rules — we never spent the night. We had sex. Lots of it. And then we'd go home. No recriminations, no guilt."

"Huh." Clark didn't know what else to say. Rachel looked at both of them, picking up on the shock they were trying to hide, and felt defensive.

"Hey, everyone has needs. Relationships can get so messy, though. Sometimes all you need is the physical act, not the emotional baggage that comes with it."

Lois openly gaped at her now. "But doesn't sleeping with your co-worker create problems? Work baggage?"

"I didn't think of him as my co-worker, or even as Tony. In my mind he was Brad Pitt or Superman."

"Superman!" Lois echoed.

Clark coughed to cover his laugh.

"Mmm, yeah. That was a good one. It was just sex, Miss Lane. We were both clear on that. In his mind I was Cindy Crawford or that cute new lab assistant or…whomever" Rachel shrugged. "Neither of us ever asked."

"What? You just acted out each other's sick little fantasies?" Lois scoffed.

"We each had a night of the week that was ours. What we did on that night was our choice. There were ground rules, of course, which we both were in absolute agreement on."

"Ground rules?" Clark was sure if his eyebrows climbed any higher they'd fall off.

"How often? What's permissible? Where? Surely a reporter can think of all the questions you'd need to settle beforehand."

"That's so unromantic," Clark said.

"Romance has nothing to do with it, Mr. Kent."

"Sex and romance are two completely different issues," Lois muttered.

"Exactly! So how long has it been, Miss Lane?" Rachel asked.

"I beg your pardon?" Lois spluttered.

"How long has it been since someone tripped the light fantastic for you?"

Clark's mouth twitched as he fought a smile and Lois thought for sure she was going to have to kill him. "I don't see how that's any of your business!"

"Look at yourself, though. You're a mess! You're in a demanding, high-pressured career. You don't have a husband. I'd wager you don't even have a boyfriend. You go to bed alone every night. And when you go back to work in the morning you have all the frustrations from the day before that you drag into the office with you. And it grows exponentially. Don't you ever wish there was some kind of release?"

Clark pressed his lips into a straight line and shrugged. It was taking all his willpower not to laugh, if only because Lois had never looked so unabashedly horrified before.

"So when was the last time?" Rachel persisted.

Lois swallowed, turned even redder and shook her head. "I don't, I'm not about to tell you."

"It's been months, hasn't it? If not years. Do yourself a favor, find a buddy to sleep with. Maybe even Mr. Kent here."

At that, Lois rose and left the bar.

"Well, thanks for your time," Clark said, hastening to leave before Rachel could start in on him. "If we have any follow-up questions, we'll call you."

Clark caught up to Lois outside the hotel. "So, I'll pick you up at nine-thirty?" he asked her.

"For what?" Lois was still flustered. What did he think he was going to do with her at nine-thirty?

"We're meeting Kevin from MetEd at ten, yes?"

"Fine. I'll see you at nine-thirty." Lois was grateful he didn't say anything about Rachel's comments. She shook her head as she watched Clark walking away.

Just when she was certain she knew him, or knew what he was going to do in a given situation, he surprised her.

***

As promised, Kevin was waiting on the corner of Twelfth and Bessolo when they arrived. He gave them each a hard hat with a light attached and gestured for them to follow as he took off down Twelfth Street.

"If you really want to know a city, you should go underground," he told them. "There's a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Metropolis. The first sewage system was built in 1848. It was well designed and the majority of it is still in service. There are multiple cisterns under the city as well that were built at the same time. We'll be in a newer tunnel tonight, one designated for access, not sewage, so don't worry too much about getting your feet wet."

They turned a corner onto a side street and Kevin stopped them at a manhole cover. "I think your guy came in here, although it's possible he could have entered the system from anywhere. They're all interconnected but this is the only place for at least a half-mile that you don't need a ladder to get into."

Kevin pulled the manhole cover off, dragging it aside and sat down, letting his feet dangle into the black space of the tunnel below. He put on his hard hat, switched the light on and quickly disappeared into the darkness below. When Kevin reached the bottom he took a flashlight from his backpack, turned it on and waved it towards the opening to alert them to come on down.

"Ladies first," Clark said, gesturing at the open manhole.

"You know, Clark," Lois told him as she sat down and prepared to enter the sewer, "you don't always have to be a gentleman."

"I can't help it. It's the way my mother raised me."

Lois smiled to herself as she climbed down the metal rungs. Clark's parents were both such nice people; it stood to reason that their son would be just as nice. So what did that make her? Her parents were neurotic and often borderline insane. Her smile disappeared. Some thoughts were best left alone.

Like thinking about Rachel's drunken confession. Rachel had made it sound so practical, so clinical, even. Sleep with someone just for the sex. And why not? Lois didn't want to think that she was a prude, but it just seemed so… like Cat Grant. If Cat was to be believed, she had scored with Clark before Lois had. Then again, Clark insisted that nothing happened. Was it the same kind of nothing that happened that night? It made her ill to think of Clark doing the same things to Cat as he had to her.

Time for some new thoughts. What about Superman? His demeanor had definitely changed towards her. Had he told Clark how she had thrown herself at him before she accepted Lex's proposal? Or did Clark guess that for himself since she had asked him to find Superman for her? Lois watched the light on Clark's hardhat bobbing as he descended towards her. How much did he know? How many secrets was Clark carrying around? Was he everybody's confessor?

Once Clark reached the tunnel floor Kevin took off again. The tunnel was wide enough that they could walk three abreast.

"You can get to the Metro Transit system, the phones, the electrical, the water, the sewer and even the mail from here," Kevin told them.

"The mail?" Lois looked around. There were pipes and wires affixed to the walls and ceilings of the tunnel and she had a hard time picturing a mail truck driving around in there.

"Most of Metropolis' mail is shuttled through a pneumatic tube system from the main post office to the satellite branches. It cuts down on traffic and it's much more efficient."

"I guess the only thing missing are catacombs," Clark said.

"Nope, we've got those too. There was an outbreak of yellow fever in the 1870's — some of the bodies were hurriedly buried in here when the death toll became overwhelming. Some people say it's haunted. They give tours through here around Halloween."

"Got any alligators?" Lois asked sarcastically.

"I haven't seen one yet, but there's always a first for everything. You guys need to stay with me. If we get separated, stop where you are and wait. Don't try and find your way out. You won't know the meaning of the word 'lost' until you've become disoriented down here."

Clark leaned down to whisper to Lois, "He means you."

"Hmph," Lois let her elbow swing back and strike his ribs. "I never get lost. I have an innate sense of direction."

"Oh, right. I must have been thinking of someone else."

"Here we are," Kevin said and shone the light on a thick braid of insulated cables. "See anything out of place?"

They both shook their heads, their headlamp beams dancing over the cables. "No," Clark said.

Kevin directed his flashlight's beam over a smaller cable running out from the cluster. "There you are. It would have been quicker to just pull a line out and shove it under the manhole there." He pointed with the light so they could see the underside of the manhole. The insulated wire ran over to it.

"Whoever he is, this is a professional job. This guy has craft. He didn't just splice in a wire. Look at this." The flashlight's beam focused on a small box, about a foot away from the end of the wire. "That's a breaker box that operates off a remote control. He was able to turn it on and off so that no one but his target gets zapped."

"And you've just left it there!" Lois was aghast. "What's to stop him from doing it again?"

Kevin pointed with the light at the very end of the wire. "I've capped it, it's not a live wire now. We left it like this for the police. Guys who take this much pride in their work usually leave a signature. Hopefully the police can track the bastard down. I know you guys are friends with Superman. I was hoping you could ask him to keep an eye out, watch for anyone working solo or late at night. The city's just too big to be able to check for his handiwork to prevent him from doing this again."

"Thanks, Kevin. You can count on Superman's help. And we'll cite you as an anonymous MetEd technician," Clark assured him.

"Thanks. I appreciate that," Kevin said with a nod.

Kevin led them back through the tunnels to where they had come in. Lois took hold of the rungs above her and had climbed a few feet when she slipped. Clark reached out and steadied her with his hands on her hips.

"I've got you. Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Her voice wavered, but it had nothing to do with slipping. She took a deep breath, let it out and started to climb again. Clark's hands dropped from her hips but the lamp from his helmet tracked her as she climbed. She gave a rueful grin. Clark would never let her fall.

//"Do yourself a favor, find a buddy to sleep with. Maybe even Mr. Kent here."//

Lois mentally cursed at Rachel for putting the idea in her head. No, she told herself. That idea was already there and you know it.

Lois reached the street and then watched as Clark's light bounced closer and closer as he climbed up.

//"I could make you forget him."//

What about Superman? No — she couldn't ask him. The last time she had thrown herself at him had ended in her humiliation. He was still avoiding her, he'd probably leave Metropolis and never come back if she offered him no-strings-attached sex.

Clark helped Kevin slide the manhole cover back in place. As Clark stood up straight he caught sight of Lois' face. She had the same intrigued expression on her face as she had that morning when he caught her watching him chew the pencil. What was she thinking? Was she thinking about that night?

They handed back their hardhats and thanked Kevin again. Clark watched him walk away, not trusting himself to look at Lois. He should have been thinking about what Kevin had just shown them, but he wasn't. His mind was replaying that conversation with Rachel. More specifically, something that Lois had said.

//"Sex and romance are two completely different issues."//

He knew that night was not about romance for Lois. At the time he couldn't really say it was about romance for him. He had seduced her; his only defense was that he wasn't himself when he did it. He was grateful for the reprieve, for the fact that neither of them ever mentioned it. It was only at moments like this, when he'd catch Lois looking at him curiously, that he allowed himself to remember what had almost been.

Clark was full of the deepest shame that he had let things go so far that night. It was harder than ever to keep her at arm's length when he was in the suit. He wanted her so desperately — wanted to touch her again, to make her cry out in pleasure like she had that night — it would almost be worth allowing Superman to make love to her.

It was only the fact that it would create an even larger deception that kept him from breaking down and giving in to her seductions. She was killing him, slowly but surely, with every passing day. The time was coming when she was going to drive him right over the edge and get exactly what she was asking for.

Why, oh why, couldn't she just want him as Clark?

***

Lois spent the next day with Rachel's words in her ear. Every movement Clark made held new importance. She couldn't stop watching his hands. Dancing over the keyboard, gesturing to Perry, holding a mug of coffee… God, it was enough to drive a girl crazy.

Near the end of the day she left to cover a warehouse fire. Perry had wanted to assign it to Clark but, once again, he had skipped off to who-knows-where. Lois arrived in time to see Superman talking with the building's manager. Lois strode towards him, calling out his name loudly.

"Hello, Lois," he said politely as she bore down on him, a determined look on her face.

Superman was too polite. He had been so distant for the past few months and it hurt. What was his problem? Not the first time she bitterly regretted telling him her true feelings. She had told Lex "yes" almost immediately after declaring her love for him. What must he think of her? That she was desperate for a man? How could she ever explain her actions to him?

"Can I ask you a few questions?" She asked as she came close enough that he couldn't fly away without appearing rude.

"Of course," he nodded.

She knew this was unfair. He was expecting an interview about the fire, not an ambush. "Superman, are you avoiding me?"

"No, of course not." He looked almost guilty as he answered her. For the first time she wondered if Superman was lying to her.

"It feels like you are. Do you realize this is the first time I've really seen you since… well, since before I almost married Lex."

"I guess you've been staying out of trouble." Clark shifted uncomfortably, looking over Lois' shoulder for an excuse to leave but not finding one.

"Should I start jumping off of buildings if I want to see you?" Lois asked flippantly, hoping that the question sounded casual and not anxious.

"I wouldn't recommend it."

"Could I ask you out? You know, I'll buy if you'll fly?"

"Lois, I… We can't have this discussion right here."

"*This discussion?* This isn't a discussion! This is one friend asking another when she can see him."

Clark took hold of her arm, gently leading her around the corner and into the alley. He had to end this, right here and right now. He couldn't avoid her as Superman for the rest of his life. "Lois, I can't really date anyone. Surely you can understand that."

Lois wasn't about to give up without a fight. He cared about her, she knew he did. There wasn't anything that love couldn't work out. "You hang out with Clark; why can't we be friends like that?"

"That's different." He flushed and looked away. "I should go."

Now or never, she thought. "Wait!" She grabbed his arm to delay him. He half-turned and she made up the difference, grabbing him and kissing him. He wavered for a second. Then his hands moved to her shoulders and she was certain he was going to set her aside and fly off. Instead his mouth opened hungrily against hers while one of his hands moved to the back of her head to hold her in place. Lois groaned, wrapping her arms around his neck as his tongue slid possessively against hers.

Suddenly he pulled away, his eyes wide with shock. "I have to go, Lois. This can't happen. We just, I can't do this. Not with you. Not like this. Not ever. I'm sorry."

She leaned back against the building behind her and watched him disappear into the clouds. Her throat felt tight and her vision had become blurry. He had just rejected her. Utterly and completely without offering much of a reason.

//"Not with you. Not like this. Not ever."//

He made it sound so personal — he couldn't be with *her*. He didn't say he couldn't be with anyone, just her. What was it about her that repulsed him so much?

Her lips still tingled from the kiss. The only man who'd ever come close to kissing her like that was… Clark.

That night.

If she was honest with herself she really did want to see if that night was a fluke. Was it that good because the world was ending? Or was Clark really that skillful? Was she a slut for wanting two different men? Would Clark turn her down if she offered him the same deal as Tony and Rachel? Superman certainly wasn't about to take her up on something like that and she'd die before she'd throw herself at him again.

Would Clark agree to it?

It was possible, she thought. Very possible. She had seen the way he looked at her when he thought she didn't notice. They had slept together once and the world hadn't ended. She grinned to herself. Literally, it hadn't ended. And their partnership, their friendship, had continued without a hitch.

Was it worth a shot? She blushed as she remembered the way he had touched her. Yeah, it was worth asking him. They'd already proven they could compartmentalize sex from friendship.

Just being around Clark anymore was distracting. She wasn't sure if it was the memory of what had been or the thought of what might be. She only knew she wanted more where that came from.

***

Lois went over to Clark's apartment but he wasn't home yet. She took out her lock-pick kit and made quick work of his front door. She let herself in and sat on the couch to wait for him.

Fifteen minutes later Superman landed on the back patio. Lois stood up in panicked astonishment, her instincts telling her to hide, quickly. Which was ridiculous. Like he wouldn't hear her, or find her with his x-ray vision. Superman came inside and then stood absolutely still when he caught sight of her.

They both stared at each other in dismay. Lois spoke first. "Clark's not here."

"Oh," Superman said, looking more flustered than she had ever seen him before. That kiss must have really rattled him. "I'll just be going then."

"It's okay! We didn't have plans or anything. I was just going to talk to him."

"No, that's okay. Good night, Lois." It was blatantly obvious that he didn't want to be anywhere near her. She was grateful she hadn't propositioned him more than she already had.

"Did you want me to give him a message?" she asked.

"No, no message. I'll catch him later."

Was he coming over here to talk to Clark about her? Did they talk about her? Did he know about that night? It was too mortifying to even contemplate. Lois rushed across the apartment and then froze on the steps as the door opened.

"Lois, what are you doing here? Is something wrong?" Clark tried to look surprised to find her inside. It didn't matter, she wasn't looking at him.

"I, uh, I was just leaving."

"You waited for me to come home so you could leave?" Why was she there? He thought at first she had come to ask him to find Superman, but her shock on seeing him in the suit had ruled out that possibility.

"You know what? It was stupid of me to come over tonight. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here."

"But you're here now and obviously something is bothering you. Stay, please. Talk to me."

Lois wavered. She wanted to know if he had said anything to Superman, if maybe that could explain why Superman didn't want her.

"I have to ask you something and I want you to swear on a stack of bibles that you'll tell me the truth."

"Okay," he told her.

"Promise!"

"I promise." He held up his right hand as he said the words.

"Do you ever talk to Superman about me?" Lois watched for his reaction and was reassured to see that Clark looked perplexed and maybe even a little offended.

"What?"

"Superman was just here and… something happened earlier. I don't want to talk about it, so don't ask. Anyway, I thought he might have come here to talk to you about it. So do you two discuss me?"

"No."

"Never? Never ever? Not even a 'you wouldn't believe the dumb thing Lois did today' kind of conversation?"

"No, I promise." He held up his right hand again. It was basically the truth.

"Does he know? About that night?"

"I've never told him about that night." Clark figured that was the best way to put it. Did he know? Duh. But he certainly hadn't *told* Superman about it.

"So what do you two talk about?" Lois couldn't help the stab of jealousy she felt at the thought of Clark and Superman hanging out without her.

"Sports. Stories I'm working on. Stuff like that."

"Oh." Lois glanced around his apartment. She suddenly seemed to be able to look everywhere but in his direction. She sat on his couch, clasping her hands in front of her. Clark noticed they were shaking. He sat down in the chair and waited. She obviously had something else she wanted to say.

Lois took in a shaky breath as her heartbeat seemed to thunder in her ears. She had to ask. She had to know. "Do you ever think about that… night we agreed never happened?"

Clark looked away. He couldn't believe she was bringing this up. She had made him swear they wouldn't ever discuss it again. "I, uh…" Did she really want him to answer that honestly? Was this a trick question? What if she was testing him to see if she could trust him to keep it secret?

"I do," she added softly. "I think about it a lot."

"You do?" Clark looked at her in complete amazement. His own hands started to shake.

"So how bad do you think about it?" she asked.

"What?" His mouth had gone dry. Why did she want to know?

"Just answer the question." Lois looked him directly in the eye.

"Bad," he admitted in a whisper. "Really bad."

Her stomach tightened and she knew there was no way she'd be able to stand up right now without her legs giving out.

"Me, too," she admitted. "What if it happened again?"

Clark shifted uncomfortably. She was asking him as Clark. She wanted him as Clark. Was it because she didn't dare ask Superman again? It was good, wasn't it, that he was her second choice?

"Why would it happen? We're not… like that. Are we?"

"What if we were? What if we were like Rachel and Tony? What if we had an agreement? Something to ease the stress of our jobs? The problem with sex is that everyone imbues it with all this importance when the truth is it's just…"

"Procreation?"

"…an urge. An urge to be satisfied. Who's to say that a good… um, a good time, every now and then wouldn't help? We'd be more relaxed. More focused on work. It would be a good thing!"

"… an urge. An urge to be satisfied. Who's to say that a good… um, a good time, every now and then wouldn't help? We'd be more relaxed. More focused on work. It would be a good thing!"

He just stared at her, unable to speak.

"Look, if you're not interested, I'll ask someone else. I have a list," she lied.

She had made a list? Clark hesitated. Would she really make a list? He'd just bet she would. Leave it to Lois to plan an impulsive move. "Who else is on the list?" he asked.

"I don't see how that's any of your business," she huffed. He raised an eyebrow, almost certain now that she was lying. Lois plunged ahead, giving him the first name she could think of. "Joe Benton, the new sports columnist."

"Joe's Your Buddy? That Joe?" Clark clarified. Jealousy flooded through him at the thought. Joe was single and attractive. Clark had overheard the giggles and whispered conversations of his female colleagues every time Joe came through the bullpen. It didn't help that Joe made a point of going past Lois' desk on a regular basis. Clark had seen Joe touching her shoulder or her elbow to catch her attention as he said "hi" to her.

"That's the one," Lois lifted her chin, pleased to see something flare in Clark's eyes. Had she scored a direct hit? Let him think about that one for a while.

Clark sat there, conflicted by the mixed signals from his head and his groin. She was lying, he was sure of it. But he was also certain that if he turned her down she might actually go and ask Joe to be more than her buddy. Then again, someone with Lois' unhappy past relationships wasn't about to go looking for a mindless romp, no matter what she might have convinced herself it meant. She wanted more; she just couldn't admit it. Given time and tenderness, who was to say that she wouldn't realize it was him that she needed?

It definitely wasn't Joe. His fists clenched at the thought of her in anyone else's arms. How many nights had he imagined her with Luthor? That torture had been even worse because he knew he could have prevented it — if he would have just deepened the lie and let Superman woo her. If he had to sit back and watch Joe touch her with real intent… No, he couldn't go through that again. Not for anything. Especially not now when she was here, offering herself to him with absolutely no strings attached.

"Okay," he said quietly.

"Uh, so… was that a yes? What about tonight? Or did you want to wait? Maybe you need to think about this some more?"

For his part, Clark was thinking that waiting was probably a really good idea. If she had another twenty-four hours to consider this she might change her mind. All of a sudden he desperately didn't want that. But he had the suit on underneath his clothes. And there were other precautions to be addressed.

"I need to run to the store, really fast. Will you still be here when I get back?" He stood up, putting his hands in his pockets to tent his trousers out. He didn't want her to know just how her offer had affected him.

"You're leaving?" How very Clark of him.

"You can come with me. I'm just going to the pharmacy on the corner."

"Oh," her cheeks turned hot as she realized what he meant. "No, I… I'll wait here."

"I'll be right back," he promised.

"Yeah, I've heard that before," she muttered.

He turned at the door and flashed her a smile. "I'll be right back."

***

She was still there when he came back.

Clark took in a few steadying breaths before opening the door. Was this really a good idea? Probably not, but he couldn't think of a single reason to stop this when the only thing separating them was a door. He had left the suit tucked behind a dumpster in the alley. He had endured the one-sided awkwardness of buying a box of condoms from a disinterested clerk. There wasn't anything he was forgetting.

Except common sense, he reminded himself. You're throwing that to the wind here. It didn't matter. She wanted him. She had actually waited for him to come back — he had half-expected that she would flee before he even got out of the building. She really did want him.

Lois stopped her pacing, turning to watch Clark shut and then lock his front door. He locked it, she thought. And why wouldn't he? Neither of them were going anywhere for a while. She watched him closely as he came down the stairs. Was he nervous? Eager? Smug? She looked at the paper bag he held and fought the urge to gulp.

She cleared her throat. "We need rules. Tony and Rachel had rules."

Wow, she wasn't even going to try small talk first. Clark grinned at her. "Should I assume you've started a list?"

Was he mocking her? He wouldn't really, would he? Not right now when he was about to get laid? She ignored his question and ticked the rules off on her fingers. "No staying overnight. No telling anyone. We schedule this ahead of time or call before coming over, there are no drop-ins."

"We leave the lights off," Clark added.

Lois blinked. Lights out? He wouldn't be gawking at her. What a great idea!

"No lights," she agreed. "And most importantly, we both understand that this is just sex. It doesn't mean anything, right?"

"Right." Clark nodded, but mentally he was shaking his head. She was deluding herself. She had told him she didn't think of him that way, and yet here she was, asking him to make love to her. She couldn't have it both ways. Eventually she had to wake up to the fact that he had always been there for her. And he always had her best interests at heart. If she slept with Joe she'd only regret it somewhere down the road. It might take some time, but sooner or later her brain would catch up to what her body already knew — she wanted him.

Lois eyed the paper bag he was holding. It was a small bag. How many condoms had he bought? Was he waiting to see whether she was any good before he bought a bigger box? She looked away from the bag, feeling an odd mix of lust and panic wash over her.

"So should I change?" she asked, even though she had not brought anything to change into. "Would you rather I was wearing something else? To start with, I mean? We didn't really discuss foreplay."

"Are you going to make rules for that, too?" The question was only half in jest. For all he knew she had a checklist. Was she going to time him? Did she not understand about performance anxiety?

"I…" Lois looked down, flustered that he would tease her at this moment.

"Lois," he set the bag down and came over to stand in front of her. Clark tipped her chin up so their eyes met. "I'll only agree to this if you can promise me we'll still be friends."

Relief flooded through her. "Friends," she promised. "No matter what else happens. That doesn't change."

"Yes." He placed a small kiss on her forehead.

Lois closed her eyes. What in the hell was she doing here? Was she really going to have sex with Clark again?

She was. And she couldn't really say that she felt all that guilty about it. Why should she? What if Rachel and Cat were right and this was nothing more than a visceral experience? What if it was wrong to imbue it with all that emotion and meaning? It certainly put your heart through the wringer afterwards when things inevitably didn't work out. She and Clark would still be friends afterwards. Friends with some smokin' hot memories to share between them. What could be better than that?

This way she was with someone she genuinely cared about. Joe was nice, but she didn't really know him that well. Clark, on the other hand, she could trust Clark. He hadn't said a word to anyone about the first time they had done this. He had always been there for her. He was her best friend. It was so much less slutty to sleep with a friend. At least it meant something this way. Or, at least, it meant just enough.

She tilted her head back to look up at him. "So… do we kiss?"

"I'd like that," his voice sounded lower.

"Okay." She went on tiptoe and tentatively brushed his lips with hers. She giggled and pulled away, sinking back to standing. "Please tell me you're nervous about this, too."

He chuffed out a laugh. "I definitely am."

"It's silly, huh? I mean we have done this before."

Clark hugged her, resting his chin on the top of her head. "Lois, we don't have to do this."

Her heart sank. She had just realized she really wanted this and he was turning her down? "You don't want to?"

"I've never wanted anything more."

"Oh." She took in a deep breath, inhaling the clean scent of him. "I want…" Lois bit her lip as she hesitated. What should she say? He might make fun of her, but she really needed to get the rules straight, if only for her own sanity. She tilted her head back so she could see his face. "I want to touch you. Do I have to ask first? Can I take this off?" She took hold of the knot of his tie, looking up at him through her eyelashes.

Clark let out a small gasp. This was going to be fodder for a thousand fantasies. Had she really just asked to touch him? To undress him? "Lois, you can do anything you want with me. I'm all yours."

She gave him a pleased little smile as she loosened his tie. He had hoped he would be able to hold it together longer this time but he feared he was about to give her a repeat of their first too-short joining.

His tie loosened, she pulled it free from his shirt. The material whispered as it slid over his neck and shoulders. The sound seemed so loud in his ears, especially coupled with the increase in her breathing. Then she started on his shirt, her fingers brushing and teasing his flesh as she worked his buttons free.

Lois spread open the front of his shirt. Wow, he was more buff than she remembered. She touched him, awed by the well-defined body he kept hidden beneath those oxford shirts. Her fingers smoothed over his chest and he shivered. She gave him a knowing grin and kissed his nipple, flicking her tongue over it. Clark's hands went to her waist as he let out a small moan.

It was his moan that was her undoing. This was empowerment, touching him like this. Seeing and feeling his reactions, knowing that she could have this effect on a man. She went back on tiptoe to kiss his mouth and let out a moan of her own when he kissed her back. She thought she had remembered what a good kisser he was. She was wrong. He was better than she remembered.

She was dizzy by the time the kiss broke. Anticipation coursed through her. Was he going to touch her? Was he waiting for her to give him permission? Did he really think he needed to have it?

//"Lois, you can do anything you want with me."//

She shivered at the thought of Clark doing anything he wanted with her. He certainly hadn't asked before taking charge the last time. Lois tipped her head back to look up at him, "You're allowed to touch me, too, you know."

"I know." His lips placed a soft kiss just below her ear and then he whispered, "Am I not allowed to enjoy this?"

"Enjoying this was the whole point," Lois whispered back.

Clark lifted his head so he could look into her eyes. "I would enjoy taking your shirt off."

Lois swallowed — her mouth had suddenly gone dry. "Then I guess you'd better do it."

His fingers brushed against her as he slowly unbuttoned her shirt. She swayed closer to him with a moan, wishing he would just get on with it already. What if Superman came back and walked in on them? With a jolt Lois realized that she was almost hoping that would happen. This was payback. Let Superman come by and see her in Clark's arms — he'd realize that he didn't know her as well as he thought. Lois grabbed Clark's head and firmly kissed him. In response he picked her up, carrying her towards his bed. He set her down and said, "Wait, I have to…," and then walked away. The light in his living room went out, then the light in his kitchen.

Lois sat on the edge of Clark's bed, her mind racing. As the room became darker her anxiety increased. They were really going to do this. The mattress dipped beneath Clark's weight as he sat next to her. Then his hand touched her cheek, turning her face to his. "Lois," he whispered and then his lips softly pressed against hers as his arms went around her.

Lois stroked over the taut muscles of his back. Superman, she thought. Just pretend that he's Superman. It wasn't that hard to do, really. He was muscular and, in the darkness of Clark's bedroom, he was close enough. Clark was as gentle and as attentive as she imagined Superman might be.

//"Not with you. Not like this. Not ever."//

Not like this? Superman didn't want her like this? Well, Clark certainly did. Lois moved backwards to lie across the bed, tugging Clark along with her.

Forget about Superman, she told herself. He didn't want her. That was fine. If he flew by now, he'd be sorry.

Lois let out a sigh and tipped her head back as his lips traced over her throat. Don't think about Clark, she reminded herself. Thinking of Clark would make this too personal. She should just concentrate on the solid feel of his body next to hers.

Did he imagine someone else in her place? Who was he pretending she was? Or was the who not as important as the fact that this was happening? A fissure of heat shot through her as she realized that he had whispered her name as he kissed her.

Her name. Clark was thinking of her. For a confused moment she wavered, unsure whether she should be angry or proud. Why should she be angry? She had never told him he couldn't think about her, only that he couldn't think this meant they were in a relationship. In the end, her pride won out. She kissed him, feeling that for the first time that she had Clark Kent exactly where she wanted him. He was practically speechless and he was deferential. He wasn't about to argue with her or rewrite her stories now.

***

Clark lay silent, unable to believe this had happened again. Equal measures of guilt and pleasure washed over him.

This was all wrong. It wasn't meant to be this way. And yet, how else could he have her? This was her idea, he reminded himself. She was the one who suggested this. Even when he'd given her the opportunity to back out, she had insisted on going forward. Besides, it felt so good — how could he possibly be expected to resist her?

Lois turned and squinted at him, unable to see much more than the outline of his body. Maybe that was better; she wasn't sure she wanted to know what he thought of her now. A few more seconds passed and she realized that she really did want to know what he was thinking.

"Clark, what have we done? And are we going to keep doing it?"

"What do you want to do?" he asked quietly.

Go for broke, she told herself. Tell him the truth and see what he says. "I want a nap and then I want to do that again."

She could clearly make out his grin in the faint light coming from his window. "I could live with that."

"So this doesn't go beyond this bed?"

"Nope."

"Swear it!"

"I swear. This never happened. Again. Cross my heart, hope to die."

Lois let out a relieved sigh and turned her pillow over, plumping it before lying back down.

So was she serious about the nap and doing it again? She seemed to be settling in since she had pulled the covers up and was nestling into the pillow. He listened to her breathe for a few minutes, content just to know that she was here and that she wanted him. Eventually, though, he realized that neither of them was falling asleep. He felt awkward just lying here and saying nothing. Finally he blurted out the question that had been on his mind since the first time they had slept together.

"How long had it been for you, Lois? Before we… got together."

"How long? Oh, about three years. What about you?"

Should he tell her? No, that would just complicate everything further. "Longer than that," he said.

"Really?" Lois propped herself up onto her elbow.

"Really."

"So you didn't sleep with Cat?" Lois was already pretty sure he hadn't, but she just had to know for certain.

"She's not my type," Clark said, shifting so that he, too, was propped on his elbow facing her.

"What is your type?" Lois thought about Toni Taylor. Clark had kissed Toni right in front of her. Did he like blondes?

"Not Cat," Clark said with a laugh.

What did he mean by that? Maybe he didn't like assertive women? "I'm no better than she is," Lois said, feeling a pang of regret. "I mean look at me, seducing a man without a thought for a relationship."

"You're nothing like her," Clark hastened to reassure her.

"Weren't you even tempted, just a little, to sleep with her?"

"No."

"You said I wasn't your type either after that perfume didn't make you fall madly in love with me."

"Maybe I didn't get sprayed very much."

"So I am your type?" Why do you care, she asked herself. The only answer she could come up with was 'because'.

"Maybe," Clark teased. How could she seriously believe that this meant nothing to her when it obviously mattered whether or not he found her attractive?

"Seriously, what is your type?" Lois found she was consumed by curiosity. What did someone like Clark look for in a person?

Clark considered the question for a moment before answering. "Dark hair. Intelligent. Bossy. Mostly I just know what I like when I see it."

"You think I'm bossy?" Lois pushed herself up a little higher, indignation flooding through her.

"You think you're not?" Clark asked lightly.

She fumed. Was he just teasing her again?

"Come here." He urged her closer to him. "Why don't you boss me around for a while? Let's see if it suits you."

***

Afterwards, lying against him, Lois wondered how long she should stay. She didn't want to go. She wanted to just lie there all night, snug and secure. Whose idea was it to leave the lights off? She felt cheated somehow that she didn't get to see him. Then again, if she didn't see him it was easier to pretend he was someone else.

"I should go now," she whispered against his skin.

"Stay as long as you like." His hand smoothed over her shoulder and her eyes closed. She could feel herself sliding towards falling asleep.

"Mmmm, no sleeping over," she mumbled. "It would set a bad precedent to break the rules."

//"We both understand that this doesn't mean anything…"//

Clark kissed the top of her head. He wasn't about to tell her that he was already breaking the rules. "Are you even awake enough to get home okay?" he asked.

Lois sighed and rolled away from him. "I'm fine." She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Where were her clothes again? Actually, 'no lights' was a good rule after all. It would be even better if, next time, she could remember to take her clothes off in his bedroom instead of his living room.

Clark got out of bed as she rushed into the next room. He put on his glasses and a pair of jeans while she was getting dressed. Once she was fully clothed he turned his kitchen light back on and walked with her to the door. They both looked at their feet, feeling suddenly awkward.

"Well…" Lois started. What should she say? Thanks? We should definitely do this again? Remember you promised you wouldn't tell anyone? She settled for "Good night."

Clark gave her a wry smile. "Good night, Lois." He started to bend to kiss her but she leaned back, her eyes wide. He couldn't kiss her good-bye! Didn't he realize that would make this more than just sex? Clark grimaced and opened the door for her. "I'll, uh, see you tomorrow."

***

Lois was nearly late for work the next morning. If anyone asked, she was going to tell them she overslept. The truth was she had changed her clothes multiple times, unable to decide on an outfit. Something prim and severe, so that Clark wouldn't think she was easy? Something sexy just to mess with his head? In the end she settled for a dress suit, but one with a short skirt.

She was the last one to arrive in the conference room. The only open seat was next to Clark. He looked up as she came around the table to sit next to him but his dark eyes betrayed nothing. That was even worse somehow and she blushed.

"Good morning, Lois," he said softly as she took the seat next to him.

"Hi," she answered shortly.

As Perry started off with a tirade about making sure that expense reports were turned in within thirty days of the expenditure, Lois dared to glance at him. A rush of heat shot through her when she realized he was watching her. She gave him a tight smile and turned her head away.

She could feel the heat of his leg next to hers. They weren't touching, but it was damn close. She drummed her fingers on the table, wishing she were sitting next to anyone else. It wasn't enough just to have that not-unpleasant cramp low in her abdomen. No, she had to sit next to the man who put that ache there. And, fate willing, he would do so again in another twelve hours.

Twelve hours? She glanced at her watch. If they cut out of work a little early, they could be back at her place by six o'clock — that was only ten hours away.

It was still too long to wait.

"Where are we on the MetEd electrocution story?" Perry asked.

"We ran a background check on Tony Weir's ex-wife, Evelyn. She has no electrical experience, nor does she know any electricians," Clark answered.

"What about STAR Labs? Are they still being closed-mouthed?" Perry directed this question at Lois.

"Yes," Lois said. "But we'll go down there again today and see what we can get out of them."

"Is that something Superman would be willing to help you on?" Perry asked.

"We'll ask him," Clark said.

Lois turned to fume at him. Had she forgotten to mention to Clark that she wasn't really talking to Superman right now? "We don't need his help," she hissed.

Across the table, Cat snorted. "Did Superman turn you down again, Lois?" Cat leaned forward with a smirk, giving everyone a spectacular view of her cleavage.

Lois glared at Cat and then glanced at Clark. He was looking at her, not at Cat's wares. He tilted his head ever-so-slightly in Cat's direction and half-rolled his eyes. Lois looked away to hide her smile.

Something tapped her hand and she looked down to see Clark had slid his notepad in front of her. He had written, "Not nearly bossy enough."

This time she didn't try to hide the smile.

She moved her leg, bumping her knee against his, and waited. For a few seconds there was nothing, then the length of his lower leg deliberately came to rest against hers. Lois swallowed but didn't dare look over at him. She casually took her right hand off the table and let it rest in her lap. No one looked over at them. Perry droned on. Cat filed her nails. Lois moved her hand, letting it rest on Clark's mid-thigh.

He didn't even flinch. She dared a glance at him but he was watching Perry intently. His eyes looked a little bright, though. She moved her hand a little higher, watching him out of the corner of her eye. He blinked and swallowed but otherwise looked as bored as everyone else did.

Lois didn't dare move her hand again. This was already far too risky. Besides, it was enough. The longer she left her hand there, the more Clark seemed to be affected. He had started breathing through his mouth and he could no longer maintain his interest in Perry. His eyes closed and he snapped the pencil he was holding in two.

What was her game? Was she testing him? If so, he was failing miserably. Didn't she realize that he couldn't sit next to her without remembering what it felt like to be a part of her? She gave his thigh a squeeze and put her hand back on the table, folding both her hands chastely in front of her.

"…And that's all people. Now get to it!" Perry instructed them.

Clark didn't dare stand up. He guessed if he held his notepad low in front of him that might hide the evidence. Lois turned and looked directly at him and then froze, her mouth still open but her question forgotten.

Their eyes met. Lois blinked, taken aback by the naked lust she saw in his gaze. "Clark," she managed to say in a low voice. "I, uh, think I need, um, some help."

"Okay," he rasped.

They stood up together and he followed as Lois swiftly walked in the direction of the supply closet. She glanced around the newsroom but absolutely nobody was paying any attention to them. She tugged him inside with her and quickly locked the door.

Clark's head was still swimming with the realization that she really wanted him when she pushed him against the wall and kissed him like she thought she would never see him again.

***

Cat looked over just as Lois came out of the supply closet. Her hair looked a little tousled and she had a hazy smile on her face. There was barely time to register the thought that maybe Lois wasn't in there alone when Clark appeared in the doorway, straightening his tie.

She blinked. Would wonders never cease? Had they really? It was plain to anyone with eyes that Clark adored Lois, but how had he finally managed to get her to see past Superman and notice him?

Cat grinned at them. Something was wrong with this picture. Lois might not believe it, but she also had a reporter's instincts. Those instincts told her that this wasn't an office romance.

Whatever it was, she was going to figure it out.

***

As they came out into the bullpen Clark was distracted from thoughts of Lois by a breaking news bulletin on the TV. The newsroom quieted down as the anchorwoman smiled into the camera and said, "We have breaking news this morning. The freak electrocutions this week in Metropolis were not accidents. Here's WMET's own Ken Randall to explain."

The screen changed to show Ken standing in the same tunnel that Kevin had shown them two nights ago. The camera panned over the electrical setup beneath the manhole cover as Ken sensationalized his story. "Metropolis is dealing with an evil genius. Someone who has no compassion, no morals…"

"Is he talking about himself again?" Lois asked.

"How can he be so irresponsible?" Clark wondered aloud. "Doesn't he realize this is just going to set off a chain of copy-cats?"

"And the real killer is going to change tactics," Lois pointed out. "I would bet anything that this guy isn't finished yet, but he isn't going to try the same thing a third time."

"I don't think he would have anyway," Clark said. "I think part of the thrill for him is getting away with it. He'll want to do something different next time to show the police how clever he is."

"We should get down to STAR Labs," Lois suggested. "There has to be a connection between Rachel, Tony and the killer."

***

The receptionist at STAR Labs gave them a polite smile and told them that, due to security issues, they could not release a statement to the press. When Lois started to protest she put her hand on the phone and smiled as she said, "Please don't make me have to call security."

"Having problems? I could help you, for a price," Ken Randall said from behind them.

"Oh, Ken, really?" Lois asked as she turned around. "Where's your film crew? I've heard you can't do anything unless there's a camera involved."

Ken raised his eyebrows lecherously. "Sweetheart, no one knows that better than you. Don't piss me off, Lois. I still have everything on tape."

Lois shook her head at Clark.

"Did you know Claude left an epic poem about you on the wall of the men's room at the Press Club?" Ken gave her a nasty smile.

Clark shook his head at Lois.

"Ah, Kent, you're right. It was actually more like a limerick. It was a damn shame when they painted over it. Don't worry, though, I've got it committed to memory." Ken tapped his head and winked at her.

"Let's go, Clark." Once they were outside Lois turned back, looking through the plate-glass window of the lobby to see Ken waving cheerfully at them. "That man is vermin. He must feel right at home in the sewer." She blew out a sigh and put her hands on her hips, looking at Clark through narrowed eyes.

"What?" Clark asked.

Lois shrugged. "So have you talked to him?"

"To who?" Clark shook his head, confused by who she meant. "Ken? You think I tipped him off about the sewer?"

She gave him a disgusted look. "No, Superman! Have you talked to him?"

"No." Clark shook his head again. "Does this mean you're willing to ask for his help now?"

"No, this means I'm willing for *you* to ask for his help now," she clarified. "You go find him, I'll see if I can round up Bobby Bigmouth. Maybe he's heard something. I'll meet you back at the Planet."

"Okay," Clark turned to leave.

"Clark?"

"Yes?" He turned around to see that she hadn't moved and was watching him with worry in her eyes.

"You're not, I mean, you won't, uh, last night and, um, this morning, that's…"

Clark felt the urge to laugh even as guilt twisted through him. "I won't say anything to him, or anyone else, about that. I promise."

She looked so relieved — it made him feel even worse. You're just digging that hole deeper, he told himself. So deep he was trapped. There was no way to tell her anymore without her turning it into a felony.

***

It never failed to amaze Clark how differently people treated him when he was dressed as Superman. That same receptionist who had barely glanced at him before couldn't seem to take her eyes off of him as he waited in the lobby for Dr. Gatenby to meet with him.

Ken Randall was still lurking at STAR Labs, although he was camped outside the building now. Ken watched him intently through the glass but he didn't seem willing to approach. So who was he waiting for? Did Ken have a source here? Clark toyed with the idea of having Superman tell Ken to back off on harassing Lois but decided that would do more damage than good.

The elevator doors behind the receptionist's desk opened and a tall, wiry man with tousled black hair stepped out. "Superman," he said, smiling and holding his hand out as he approached.

Clark shook his hand as the man introduced himself as Dr. Weston Gatenby, the supervisor over electronics research at STAR Labs. Not wishing to mislead the man, Clark hastened to let him know the purpose of his visit.

"Dr. Gatenby, you should know that I'm here at the request of Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. Unless you specifically forbid it, I will tell them everything that I can concerning what we discuss."

"You trust them both?"

"Absolutely."

"I hope you can understand my hesitation. Both Tony Weir and Rachel Eames were working on a top secret project here at STAR Labs." Weston gestured towards the elevator. "Please, let's take this somewhere less public and I'll explain. If you feel comfortable sharing that information with your reporter friends, I will trust your judgment. But none of this can be attributed to me."

"I understand," Clark reassured him. "I promise they'll cite you as an unnamed source."

As the elevator doors closed, Dr. Gatenby began to explain. "Some years ago STAR Labs did contract work for the government on EMP weapons, electromagnetic pulse, that is. We had a limited success but nothing that was ready for the military. Last year we were asked to shift our focus and work on a creating an ESW weapon. That's short for electroshock wave. It's very similar to a taser, but they wanted something that could travel further and was less messy, no wires, you see."

Clark nodded his understanding. "And have you succeeded in creating such a weapon?"

"Ahhh," Gatenby ran his fingers through his hair. "Mostly. The human body is full of electrolytes, all those electrochemical impulses that make it possible for us to think and move. We were focusing on creating a short burst weapon, one that could scramble a person's electrolytes enough to impair them."

"Or kill them," Clark added. The elevator doors opened and he followed Gatenby down a brightly lit hallway.

"Or kill them," Gatenby allowed, "if necessary. And we were very close to having a workable solution when our funding was yanked and we were informed that since our research was the government's intellectual property it had to be turned over to Lex Labs. They had just won the contract and we were to cease and desist from going any further with the project. This was just a few weeks before Lex Luthor, well, you know, died unexpectedly." Gatenby pushed open an office door and gestured for Clark to enter.

"So you turned the research over to Lex Labs?" Clark asked as Gatenby sat down behind the desk inside the office.

"Yes. Please, have a seat."

"No, thank you. And then what happened?" Clark had found that it was almost always better to stand in the suit. It projected confidence and it made whomever he was talking with much more forthcoming in their answers.

"And then nothing happened. Mr. Luthor died just days after the information began to change hands. Right now the project, so far as I know, is in limbo."

"Who was working on it at Lex Labs?"

"We met with a man named, ahhhh," Gatenby closed his eyes and thought about it. "Something common, like Smith or Jones or… Johnson, that was it. His name was Johnson but that's all I knew about him. He took all our files and our prototype and that was it. It was no longer our project. I'm sorry I can't be of more help than this. It's tragic, what happened to Tony. Do you think his accident is related to the project?"

Clark gave Dr. Gatenby a grim smile and reached across the desk to shake his hand. "That's what I'm hoping to find out. Thank you for your time, Dr. Gatenby. If they have questions, would it be all right for Ms. Lane or Mr. Kent to contact you directly?"

"As long as they don't ask about anything proprietary, yes."

"Thank you. I'll tell them." Clark gave him a nod. "I'll show myself out."

***

As he stepped off the elevator at the Planet, Clark found himself face to face with Cat Grant. She flashed him an even more knowing smile than usual. "Clark," she practically purred, "are you ever going to let me make up that dinner to you?"

"I'm sorry?" Clark tried to move past her but she linked her arm through his and fell into step beside him.

"We never really did get to finish our dinner. Do you have a girlfriend now or are you still available?"

"Oh," Clark picked at an imaginary spot on his tie so he wouldn't have to look at her. "I, uh…"

"Back off, Cat," Lois said from behind them. "I'm pretty sure Clark's spent enough time at your place that he doesn't want to go back."

"Is that true, Clark?" Cat put on a hurt expression. "Don't I have anything to offer you?"

"I, uh, need to return a phone call," Clark gave Cat a polite smile and stepped sideways to free himself from the hand she had on his arm.

"You're not his type," Lois said with a smug grin.

"Lois, I'm every man's type. It's just a matter of whether they admit it. So, do you think you're Clark's type?"

Lois blinked and Cat noticed with delight that her gaze skittered over to the supply closet door. "I don't care."

Cat didn't say anything as Lois pushed past her to go to her desk. She grinned widely, relishing the feeling of being hot on the trail of good gossip.

They definitely weren't dating.

***

"And that's it?" Lois asked. "That's all he told you?"

"That's everything Dr. Gatenby told Superman. Did you want me to make up something more interesting?"

Lois rolled her eyes and sighed. "No, of course not. It's just that Lex Labs is defunct now. They closed down after…" She looked away from him and cleared her throat nervously.

"I did some checking. They're called Vibrant Technologies now. The board of directors took out a multi-million dollar loan and bought the lab outright from Luthor's estate last month."

"Oh," Lois said in a small voice. She hated that the mere mention of Lex's name still gave her chills.

Clark looked away as he continued speaking to give Lois time to compose herself. He'd noticed her reticence whenever Luthor's name came up in conversation. He knew the memory had to be painful for her, but he didn't dare to ask if it was because she still had feelings for the man. The longer it went, the more awkward it would be to ask her about him.

"I called Vibrant Technologies," he said, "but I couldn't get anyone to talk to me. A lady in Human Resources told me that Mr. Johnson no longer worked for the company. She wouldn't give me a first name or any contact information. She wouldn't even tell me when he left or why. She did hint that many people were let go after the lab changed owners."

Lois frowned. This wasn't going well at all.

"Did you get something from Bobby that we could follow-up on?" Clark asked.

She shook her head. "Bobby didn't know much. He said he'd keep his ears open and contact me if anything came up."

"So now what?"

Lois tapped her keyboard softly, not typing, just thinking. "We do a check of all the Johnsons in Metropolis? See if any of them are electrical engineers? Can we pull the last census and see if we can narrow it down by occupation and surname?"

"What if Johnson was an alias?"

"Not likely," Lois said. "Lex Labs did background checks on everyone working there."

"Okay, you compile a list of Johnsons from the phone book and I'll go pull the last census." Clark stood up and headed towards Research. He glanced back to see Lois still staring moodily at her keyboard.

Sensing his gaze, she looked over at him. He gave her a tentative smile and turned to leave, but not before he saw her smile back.

***

By six o'clock Lois was slumped over her keyboard, her eyes bleary from staring at the computer's screen. She rubbed the back of her neck and looked over at Clark. He was typing away, occasionally pausing to read his screen. Suddenly his head turned, looking across the newsroom with that puzzled expression that usually meant he had forgotten something.

No wagering, she told herself, but she had already made the bet in her mind. He was going to come over and tell her he had an errand to run.

Sure enough, he came over and touched her shoulder. "I need to check on my neighbor, Mrs. Dixon. She's diabetic and her husband is out of town; he wanted me to look in on her. Are you hungry? I can pick up something and bring it over. You still want me to come over tonight, don't you?"

Lois flushed. "Um, yeah. Bring dinner over and we can, uh, work on the story."

She shook her head as she watched him jog away. A diabetic neighbor? Either Clark was the most altruistic man in the world or he was the worst liar.

***

"Are you going to eat those?" Clark pointed at her chips. Lois pushed them across the table to him.

"Nope, take them."

"Thanks."

Lois crumpled up the wrapper from her sandwich and took aim at her kitchen garbage can about six feet away. The wrapper ricocheted off her cabinet, bounced against the rim of the can and fell to the floor.

Clark raised an eyebrow and began to slowly wad up the wrapper from his sandwich. He looked sideways at the can, then back at Lois. He tossed it in the direction of the garbage without looking over again. It dropped in easily, never even touching the sides.

"Show off," Lois said.

"If I was showing off, I'd do it with my eyes closed."

Lois gathered his chips wrapper into a ball and held it out to him. "Double or nothing," she told him.

Clark grinned. "What's the bet, exactly?"

"Who gets to be on top?" she blurted out before thinking about it.

His grin widened. "You're on." He took the wrapper from her, crunching it into a tighter ball.

"No peeking!" she warned.

Clark looked over at the garbage can, then turned his head away and closed his eyes. He lobbed the wrapper and it sailed in without making a sound.

Lois shook her head. "How did you do that?"

"Natural talent," he said with a wink.

"Hmph." She looked at the last wrapper left on the table. Clark followed her gaze and laughed.

"Are you sure you want to make that bet?"

"What bet?"

"You don't think I could make three in a row, do you?"

"I… don't know. Could you?"

"How about this? I make this one and you have to kiss me."

Lois laughed. "I was already going to kiss you."

"I didn't say where."

She flushed bright red. Clark picked up the wrapper, closed his eyes and threw. It landed directly in the can.

"Oh," Lois murmured, feeling like the world had just shifted into a slower gear. Her heartbeat seemed to echo in her ears. She made a mental note never to bet against Clark again.

"Tell you what," Clark stood up and held out his hand to her, "I'll call off the bet if you'll let me kiss you."

"Where?" she asked, her mind racing.

This time Clark blushed, too. "Your mouth," he whispered. "Unless you had someplace else in mind."

"No! The mouth is good." She took his hand and stood up, hating that she was already starting to shake a little in anticipation.

Clark took her face between his hands, stroking his thumbs softly over her jaw and smiled at her. "I've thought about this all day," he confessed.

Lois' eyelids slid shut. It was too overwhelming to keep looking into his eyes right now, knowing that he was about to kiss her and… whatever else he planned to do.

He kissed her softly, his lips barely brushing against hers. Gradually his kisses became stronger, a little more bold, but he made no move to deepen his exploration. It was like he was learning her — the thought sent a shiver through her.

//"Enjoying this was the whole point."//

She had to stop thinking so much and just let go and enjoy this. Lois threaded her hands into his hair and deepened the kiss. He opened his mouth to her, letting her explore. Their bodies began to shift restlessly against each other as they sought a more fulfilling contact.

Clark broke the kiss and looked down at her, his breathing ragged. "So, did we ever make rules about foreplay? Is it okay for me to touch you? Or do I have to ask first?"

"It's…" Lois blushed, completely flustered. "If we've already decided that we're going to do it…"

"And I think we have."

"…Then I guess it's okay. I mean you're not going to start ripping my clothes off, are you?"

"Did you want me to?" he teased.

"No!" Her mind reeled at the thought. Especially at the realization that it wasn't an entirely unpleasant thought.

"But it's okay if I touch you?"

"Um, sure."

"Let me get this straight, the rules, I mean. Is that permission to touch you just for tonight? Or does it extend to future encounters?"

"I, uh, I guess it can be for all of them."

"Same thing for undressing you?"

"Yeah," she whispered. "And vice versa."

"Of course. And you know all you ever have to say is 'no' and I'll stop, right?"

She nodded, no longer able to speak.

"That goes both ways, right? You have permission to do whatever you want, but if I say 'no', you have to stop, okay?"

Lois licked her lips. "Yes, right." She loosened his tie, her hands shaking with eagerness to get to the body beneath that shirt. Clark helped her, pulling the tie away and then taking over for her on unbuttoning the shirt. "All of it," she told him in a husky voice, her hands going to his waist. "Just take off all of it."

He obliged her, removing his pants and underwear as quickly as he dared. She kicked off her shoes and was working on her skirt as he finished undressing. Lois paused, fascinated by the sleek play of muscle on his body. The man didn't have an ounce of fat, which was amazing when you considered how much junk food he ate.

His hands moved to her waist, confidently unfastening her skirt. It dropped to the floor and she stepped out of it. Clark tugged at her hose for the second time that day. It wasn't getting any easier with practice.

"Maybe you should consider wearing thigh highs, or even a garter belt." He was only half-kidding.

"Would you like that?" she asked. The words were spoken in a breathy voice straight from his fantasies. His mind swam. Surely she meant that as a rhetorical question. He couldn't think of anything to say as he watched her work her panties and nylons off, kicking them to the side.

"I like you, regardless of what you're wearing," he finally managed to say. He took hold of the hem of the silk shell she'd worn beneath her suit jacket. "Why don't you raise your arms and I'll take care of the rest?"

She lifted her arms and he pulled her shirt off, throwing it behind him. "I really like you without the clothes, though."

As he bent to kiss her again Lois summoned up enough presence of mind to say, "Wait, we forgot…"

"Nope, wait there." He held up his hand and took a few steps back to search through his pants pocket. He found a packet and held it up for her to see. "After this morning I decided I'd better carry some around, just in case."

Lois blushed, looking away as he tore open the wrapper. A few seconds passed and then he was standing near her again, his hand coming to rest on her hip. "Ready?" he asked.

She nodded. In the next instant he lifted her against the wall. Damn, he was strong. Lois shuddered, running her hands along his arms and feeling the way his muscles shifted as he held her in place. Would Superman be the same way? Or was he so strong that it wouldn't be any effort for him at all?

Had Superman even asked about her this morning? Clark had promised he wouldn't say anything, and she believed him. She looked across her living room to where the curtains billowed on her window. What if he flew by now? Surely Superman wouldn't fault her for looking for love somewhere else? She tipped her head forward and kissed Clark's shoulder.

//"I can make you forget him."//

He had done just that, she realized. She hadn't thought of Superman at all that morning in the closet. And why should she? Superman didn't want her. Clark did. Why did she need that fantasy when Clark was more than adequate? Give him credit, she admonished herself. Clark was better than adequate. And Superman was so distant from her now. She mouthed his name, a kind of farewell, against Clark's shoulder.

"Superman…"

It was lower than a whisper, but he heard it. For a split-second he felt a kind of vertigo, feeling jealous and proud in the same heartbeat. Was she thinking of Superman? Had she done that the other times they'd made love? No, this wasn't love to her. She had made that very clear when she set up the rules. This was sex. Fine, then. She wanted Superman? She wanted this to be just sex? She was going to get both. What would she do if he levitated them? It was a fun thought, but not one he knew he could act on. His lone still-functional brain cell cautioned him not to do anything impulsive.

But he could do something. He'd put a little extra effort into tonight. She was just muddled enough that he could impress her without going overboard.

***

Lois lay on the bed, panting for air. Her entire body pulsed to the throb of her own heartbeat. "Oh my god… where did… you learn… to do that?" she gasped between breaths.

Clark's hand touched hers. "From you." His breathing was as ragged as hers.

Lois laughed, although it was more of a breathless 'haaaa' sound. "I don't think so."

"I just waited and listened to you. You make this sound like a drowning seal…"

"Seals don't drown!" She was laughing harder now.

Clark answered between laughs of his own. "Well… if they did… they'd make that sound." His toes poked her ankle. "Do you want me to tell you this or not?"

"I'm not sure anymore. Will it involve more aquatic creatures?" Lois looked over at him. Clark still had his glasses on, although they were a little crooked now. She smiled at the thought that they should have been fogged up, too.

"When you make that sound, I know you're close. I just have to push a little harder and…" He smiled as his words trailed away.

"A drowning seal," Lois murmured, her laugh fading into soft giggles.

They lay there, still chuckling, their hands just barely touching.

"Ork!" Lois poked him in the ribs. "Like that?"

"That's not it. I'll be happy to demonstrate."

"Okay, make the sound."

"I was thinking more along the lines of making you make the sound again. When you do, I'll tell you."

"Right now? You could do that again right now? I don't think I can even move!"

"Not right now!" he laughed. "The next time."

"The next time," Lois repeated, smiling stupidly at the ceiling as lethargy overtook her. "Next time."

***

Lois woke up to find the room painted in the half-light of morning. Her hand reached across the bed and found nothing but a cool pillow. He was gone. Something close to disappointment filtered through her.

She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. "Ork," she whispered to herself and then giggled. Did she really make that sound or was he teasing her? Had anyone else ever made that sound for him?

Who had he slept with before her? She wasn't jealous; she was just curious. How serious had he been about this woman? Or was it women? He said it had been more than three years so it must have been while he was in college. Was she his college girlfriend? He had been on the football team; was she a cheerleader? What had happened to end things between them? Did they break up after graduation? Did he still keep in touch with her? Was she going to come visit him in Metropolis? Would he sleep with her again?

He'd be well within his rights to see her. This wasn't a relationship. Clark could sleep with his old flame, Cat, or half the newsroom and there wasn't a damn thing she could say about it. She hated that she hated that thought.

Why had he gone for more than three years without sex? Had he been hurt? Burned so badly that he took some sort of vow of abstinence? Was that it? Why had he agreed to sleep with her? Was he that desperate?

The phone rang and she felt a flutter of hope run through her. There weren't many people who would call this early.

"Hello?"

"Lois? Hi, it's me," Clark said.

"Hi!" she chirped happily.

"They just found Wes Gatenby dead near the Hobbs Bay Tower."

"Who?"

"The supervisor from STAR Labs that Superman met with yesterday. He's dead. And the killer left a calling card behind."

"A calling card? With a name on it?"

"Yep."

"So what's his name?"

"Bad Brain."

***

Lois took a deep breath before getting out of the elevator. She was early, but she wasn't sure if she had beat Clark to work or not. She felt nervous — jumpy really. She wasn't entirely sure she had chosen wisely when getting dressed. Still, it was too late to go home and change now.

All that worrying had been a bit premature. He wasn't there yet. She was about to get a cup of coffee when her phone rang. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet."

"Lois! Good, you're in early. You heard about Dr. Gatenby at STAR Labs, yes?" It was Inspector Henderson.

"Yes, I heard."

"I just wanted to let you know that we've got a unit watching Rachel Eames. We don't want to take the risk that this guy tries to kill her again."

"Do you think this Bad Brain is the same guy?"

Henderson sighed. "It's plausible. You asked if I believe in coincidences — I don't think three co-workers in a week is a coincidence."

"How was Dr. Gatenby killed?" Lois asked.

"I can't really say until the after the autopsy. But we're fairly certain that he was killed somewhere else and then moved to the Hobbs Bay Tower plaza."

"Why's that?"

"No blood at the scene. And, after what this guy did to him, there should be blood."

"What did he do to him?"

"Sorry, Lois, you're just going to have to wait on the autopsy to get the juicy details. Oh, and the water on the manhole? It wasn't ordinary salt water. It was heavy water with salt added to it."

"Heavy water?"

"I'm just reading the notes the lab sent over. I'll have them send you a copy of the report; it should have all the details. I'll also send over a copy of the images from the bank's camera. We have a few shots of the guy in profile that Ms. Eames believes could be the same man who pushed her onto the manhole."

"Thanks. Let me know when the autopsy comes back." As Lois hung up the phone she caught sight of Clark sitting down at his desk.

"Hey, Clark, have you ever heard of heavy water?"

His eyebrows furrowed as he thought about it. "Water with deuterium oxide, it's ten percent more dense than normal water. They use it for nuclear reactors and in nuclear magnetic resonance."

"Say what?"

"NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance. It's done in laboratories where they study molecules."

She shook her head. "You are just a fount of useless knowledge."

"It came in useful right now, didn't it?" He grinned at her, daring her to admit that he'd known something she didn't.

Lois rolled her eyes, refusing to rise to the implicit challenge. "So which labs would those be? Someplace like STAR Labs? Or Vibrant Technologies?"

"Maybe we should be looking for this guy at another laboratory instead of pestering Vibrant Tech and STAR Labs?"

Lois stood up, pleased to see how rapidly his attention shifted to her legs. It wasn't her shortest skirt, but it was close. Encouraged by his distracted expression, she came over to his desk and perched on the edge of it, deliberately crossing one leg over the other. This raised the hem of her skirt just high enough that he could see the lacy band at the top of her thigh-high stocking.

For a moment his brain short-circuited. My god, did she have any idea that he could see her? He looked up in time to catch the trace of a smile on her lips. She knew exactly what she was doing. Clark called on all his willpower to appear calm and unaffected.

"Uh, we should call all the laboratories in a fifty mile radius and narrow down our list to those that have an NMR in the facility," he said, then cleared his throat nervously. She had to move. She couldn't just sit there, like that, for much longer. Could she?

"Henderson is sending over a picture from the bank's camera. Once we have a list we can take that picture around, just in case he's using a different name." Lois shifted as she spoke and her skirt hitched a tiny bit higher.

Clark took in a deep breath. A couple of new rules governing dress standards and behavior at the office would probably be a good idea. He hadn't dared to wear the suit under his clothes this morning. He knew that was just giving himself tacit permission to start something. Still, it might be worth the few extra seconds it would take to run home and change if anyone else needed him.

"What does Superman know about the tragic murder of Dr. Weston Gatenby? Stay tuned…"

It was probably the only thing in the world that could have lured him away from the promise of illicit sex. Clark looked over at the television. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

Clark stood up and went over to the television, waiting for the commercial to end. "They just did a tease about Superman and Dr. Gatenby's murder."

Lois and a few other staff members joined him in front of the television.

"As we reported last night in an exclusive story…" Displayed on the screen was grainy distant footage that had been shot through the front window of STAR Labs as Superman shook Gatenby's hand and then walked into the elevator with him. "…Superman met with Dr. Weston Gatenby yesterday afternoon — only hours before he was brutally murdered." Ken Randall's face appeared on-screen. "Here's what we do know about the circumstances surrounding Dr. Gatenby's death. Shortly after meeting with Superman, Dr. Gatenby left STAR Labs…" The jittery video continued, showing Dr. Gatenby crossing a parking lot and getting into a car. "… but we weren't able to discover where he went."

"Looks like Gatenby lost him in traffic," Lois muttered.

"We do know that someone calling themselves 'Bad Brain' is claiming responsibility for his death." They were shown a close-up on a card printed with a grotesquely grinning cartoon brain. "Bad Brain" was emblazoned beneath it in squiggly letters. "Who is this Bad Brain? What drove him to allegedly kill Dr. Gatenby? My investigation will continue until we have these answers. This is Ken Randall, WMET news, signing off."

"That idiot!" Clark seethed. "How can he blame Superman when he just admitted he's the one who aired it all over Metropolis last night? How does he know that he wasn't the one who led the killer to Dr. Gatenby?" He turned his head away from the television set. "Superman promised him we wouldn't use his name."

Lois touched his arm. "It's not your fault, or Superman's fault. We don't even really know if we can blame Ken. Maybe Bad Brain was already planning to kill Gatenby. The only thing we can do is find this guy and stop him. You call all the labs and I'll go through the census, we'll see what we can come up with."

By the early afternoon Clark had come up with a list of three labs in addition to STAR Labs and Vibrant Technologies that used nuclear magnetic resonance. All of them were located in Metropolis.

Lois had found fifty-three Johnsons who listed "electrician" or "electrical engineer" as their occupation on the last census. She called all of them and, unsurprisingly, had been forced to leave messages for nearly every single one. She could only eliminate seven names from their list. Two were dead, one had moved from Metropolis and the other four were women.

Clark closed his eyes, feeling frustrated on every front. Had he unknowingly led Bad Brain to Gatenby? Were Bad Brain, the man who pushed Rachel, and the elusive Mr. Johnson all the same person? Was Lois trying to seduce him at work again or was she just having a little fun at his expense?

What in the hell was she thinking anyway, teasing him like this the whole damn day? They couldn't just sneak off to the supply closet every time the whim took them — they'd been too careless the first time. He'd tried so hard not to look at her today, but he couldn't keep himself from listening. He could hear the whisper of the lace at the top of her thigh-highs every time she shifted in her chair, stood up, or — worst of all — walked across the room.

He could hear her walking over to him now. Please, please, please don't let her sit on the edge of the desk again. He opened his eyes and found she had stopped in front of his desk, leaning down and placing her hands flat on its surface. The neck of her shirt showed him a faint, tantalizing hint of cleavage.

"Well," she asked, "how many labs did you find?"

"Five, including STAR Labs and Vibrant. You feel like going on a field trip? We could take the picture from the bank around and see if anyone recognizes him."

"I can't think of anything else I'd rather do today. Can you?" She gave him a smile that reinforced his decision to go sans suit. He could only think of one thing he wanted to do today. The sooner, the better. And yet, they still had their jobs to do.

"Let's check out the labs first," he told her. "Then maybe we can… have a late lunch."

***

They checked with the three labs from Clark's list and Vibrant Technologies. No one working in the NMR departments at any of the facilities recognized the man in the photo from the bank. None of them had a Johnson working in that department. One lab had a Johnson on staff, but he was two weeks away from retirement and didn't recognize the man in the photo either.

Clark was torn between disappointment that they still had no solid leads and elation at the thought that maybe they could take a break for an hour or so.

"We're, uh, close to my place," he said hesitantly. "Did you still want to, um, have lunch?"

Lois reddened but nodded her head. "Yeah, lunch would be good."

Clark whistled and put up his hand to hail a cab. One pulled over and his hand brushed across the small of her back as he helped her into the waiting cab.

Had he always touched her like this? He had, Lois realized. It wasn't just a by-product of their current arrangement. He had always been polite and… was it slightly possessive or just good manners? Did he touch every woman he was holding the door open for like that? He didn't. He never touched Cat like that. Or Alice — he had held the door open for Perry's wife the week before.

As the cab took them closer and closer to his apartment, she began to feel a nervous flutter in her stomach. She had been thinking about this all morning. Even though he had seemed affected when he first saw her this morning; he had focused on work ever since. He hadn't even so much as glanced at her for most of the day.

To be honest, until he suggested they go to his place, she had wondered if he just wasn't all that interested. It was annoying, the way he had been studiously ignoring her all morning. Wasn't it his idea to see her in thigh-highs? After she had gone to all the trouble to cater to his little whim, he didn't even appreciate it.

Now, however, she noticed that his gaze was fixed almost exclusively on the hem of her skirt. It had crept up when she sat down and she could see a hint of lace from her stockings. It was heartening beyond belief to know he was looking. It was also nerve-wracking. Couldn't the cab driver go any faster?

***

Clark fought to keep his hands steady as he unlocked his door. The key seemed to have a mind of its own, and it wasn't inclined to make his life any easier. Lois trailed her hand down his arm and he nearly dropped the keys. He took a deep breath and tried again. This time the key slid into the lock. And a good thing, too, because he was about two seconds away from just breaking down the door and to hell with the lock.

Lois was trying very hard to be as cool and collected as Clark was, but it was taking him so damn long to open the door. Who was this man? Had he always smelled this good? Was his smile that knowing before? Why was she spending so much time lost in memories of those hands on her body? Had he always been like this and she'd just missed it? Or was the sex creating some kind of generous haze in her brain where he was concerned?

"Clark," she asked as she followed him inside, "do you look at me differently now?"

Clark knew a loaded question when he heard one, even at his advanced stage of arousal. "Differently?" he prompted, hoping like hell this wasn't going to turn into a long-winded conversation.

"You're just… you seem different to me now." She walked down the stairs, stopping in front of his couch. Should she sit down? Were they going to talk first or should she go in the bedroom and just start stripping?

"How am I different? I haven't done anything differently today than before." Clark watched her carefully. Was she talking because she was nervous? How invested was she in this conversation?

"I don't know. You're just different." Lois felt the idiocy of the words, but she couldn't think how to explain it. She sighed, wishing she had kissed him instead of trying to make small talk.

"Lois, I'm not the one sitting on your desk and flashing my underwear at you." He said it in a teasing voice, hoping it would draw her away from introspection and remind her that she started this.

She blushed and looked away. "You make it sound so dirty."

"Well to me it was. But I liked it." He put his hands on her waist and pulled her close against him.

"Really? I couldn't tell." Lois slid his suit coat off. "You were exactly the same as any other day. I guess that's what I'm talking about. You're acting just the same when you should be different."

He kissed her, murmuring his response against her lips. "You said I was acting different. Now you're telling me I'm the same? Make up your mind." His hands untucked her shirt from the waist of her skirt.

Lois tipped her head back. "Do you want to hear this or not?" She didn't give him time to answer; she had just realized what she was trying to say.

"It's like when I go to the store to get a hair color and I look for the girl on the box because I can never remember just which color it is. 'Dark Hazel'? 'Brazilian Brown'? I don't remember! So I look for the girl on the box because I can remember what she looks like. And then one day the box has a new model on it and suddenly I don't have a clue which color is mine!"

"So I look different on the outside but I'm the same on the inside?" He shifted, fitting their bodies closer together.

"No, you're the same on the outside. You're different underneath. You're… sexier… or something."

"Oh?" He grinned at her. That sounded promising. He bent and kissed her until her mouth opened to him. Then he broke the kiss to say, "I think I understand what you mean by the same but different."

"You do?"

"I look at you and I see the same person I've known for over a year a now." Clark kissed her lower lip, nipping it softly with his teeth. "And yet, I look at you and I can't help thinking about how it feels to kiss you or to touch you. I think about what you taste like. I think about that sound you make."

"Do I really make that sound?" Her head suddenly felt too heavy for her neck to support.

"Yes." His eyes had gone dark. "Do you want me to show you?"

"Yes."

He kissed her then with all the pent-up hunger he had felt since she first started teasing him that morning. They both grappled with getting the other undressed. Clark took off everything but her thigh-highs. When Lois went to remove them he stayed her hand. "No, please, leave them on."

She gave him a wicked grin. "Okay, but only because you asked so nicely."

He dropped to his knees and kissed her stomach. His hands slid up the back of her legs, his fingers lingering where the lace gave way to soft skin. He moved to kiss the inward curve of her waist and then he saw it. There was a dark angular bruise over her hip. His heart sank as he pulled his head back to discover an identical bruise on her other hip. He stood quickly, moving to look behind her. There were four more graduated bruises lined up low on each side of her back.

"No," he whispered, closing his eyes and swaying on his feet.

"Clark?" Lois turned to look at him, perplexed that he looked so ashen. "What's wrong?"

His eyes opened and she saw guilt and fear in his expression. "Lois, I'm so sorry."

"What?" Was something wrong with him? With her?

"I didn't mean to hurt you." His voice was choked.

"Hurt me?" Relieved, she laughed. "You didn't hurt me. What made you think that?"

She followed his gaze to her hip and saw the bruise. "That? You think that hurt me? Clark, honestly! Should I start getting freaked out if I scratch your back in the heat of the moment?"

He shook his head. She didn't understand. She didn't know that he had done that, well, not on purpose, but pretty damn close to deliberately. He had held her too tightly last night. And you did it intentionally, his conscience whispered. She hurt you by saying 'Superman' so you hurt her back. No — he hadn't hurt her by design. He had only wanted to… make her pay, his mind suggested slyly. You certainly made her pay, didn't you? You taught her a lesson.

"No," he whispered.

Lois put her hand on his chest, leaning closer to kiss him and he took a step back. "Are you kidding me? Clark, seriously, you didn't hurt me at all. Last night was amazing, I promise. If anything you were too gentle."

Clark wavered. He hadn't really hurt her. Surely she wouldn't lie about that. No, his conscience asserted itself again. She's not lying. You're the liar. You really want to hurt her? Tell her the truth.

"Lois," he started and then stopped. He couldn't tell her right now. She was mostly naked and it wasn't something she should hear in that vulnerable a position.

"Clark, listen to me. You're getting all upset over nothing." She shook her head. "And you're not weaseling out of this lunch, mister. It's my turn to pick how, right? Sit down." She nudged him backwards and he half-stumbled, half-sat onto the couch with an "oof."

***

Lois sighed, feeling lethargic as Clark smoothed his hands along her back, savoring the feel of her skin. She giggled into his neck.

"What?" he asked.

"I didn't expect this."

"Expect what?"

"That it would be like this, with you. I thought we'd just have sex a few times and work out some frustrations but this is just creating a whole new set of frustrations." She nuzzled his neck, kissing the pulse still racing beneath his skin.

"Am I frustrating you?"

"You know what I mean. I didn't think I'd want you, um, this, so much. So often, I mean. Sex was never like this before."

"Like what?"

"So… sexy."

She kissed him, long and deep, and his arms tightened gently around her. Breathless, Lois reluctantly pulled away. She stood up. Her legs seemed a little rubbery as she walked over to where her clothes lay.

"We should get back to work. Perry's going to kill us if we don't have something for him by four o'clock. At least we have the exclusive on Superman's meeting with Dr. Gatenby. I would imagine we can cite his name now," Lois said as she got dressed.

"Yeah, but Gatenby really didn't give us much to go on. I don't want to tip our hand to the elusive Mr. Johnson and let him know that someone is looking for him." Clark joined her, tugging his clothes on as he talked.

"Have you forgotten that I spent the morning calling every Johnson in Metropolis who works in electronics? I think he's going to figure that out soon enough."

He watched her pull on her skirt. "Hey, Lois, do me a favor. Don't sit on my desk like that again."

"Or what?" Her eyes sparkled with mischief. "What would you do if I did?"

"I'll help you redefine the word 'frustration'."

***

Her phone was ringing when she returned home that evening. Lois ran into the kitchen and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Lois Lane?" It was a man's voice, low and deep.

"Yes?"

"I hear you're looking for me."

A stab of excitement shot through her. "Who is this?"

"I want you to give a message to your buddy, Superman, for me. You tell him to back off or next time I'll pick your brain instead."

"Excuse me?"

The line went dead. Lois looked at the phone, irritated that he had hung up so soon. She put the phone back in its cradle, wondering if he might call back. Then she caught sight of what was sitting on her kitchen counter.

A brain. Pale gray and whorled.

Lois froze, blinked a few times and then reached for the phone. She dialed with numb fingers and the room seemed to shift seismically as she waited for Clark to answer.

"Hello?"

"Brain," she managed to say before the room went dark around her.

***

"Lois?" Clark heard the phone clatter onto a hard surface. Lois made a low moan but there weren't any other sounds. What had happened? Was Bad Brain there? Had she fainted? He hung up the phone and flew out the window as Superman.

When he got to her apartment she was lying on the floor as her phone intoned, "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try the number again… If you'd like to make a call…"

Clark hung the phone up, then paused as he noticed that there was a brain sitting on her counter. A card was propped up next to it with a drawing of a grotesque cartoon brain. It was signed "Bad Brain".

He knelt down next to her, touching her shoulder. "Lois? Can you hear me?"

"Clark?" Her eyelids fluttered open and she looked at him in confusion. "Oh, Superman. I'm sorry, I… I was talking to Clark and…" He helped her to sit up and she leaned heavily against him. He put his arms around her, letting his cheek rest against her forehead.

"Is there really a brain on my counter?" Her voice was muffled by his shoulder.

"Have you called the police?"

"Not yet, I called Clark… I have a brain on my counter. Did I tell you that already?"

"Yes, I saw it."

Lois knew she should probably tell him she was okay and stand up now, but this was nice. She had thought she'd never be this close to Superman again. He certainly didn't seem in any hurry to get away, unlike the last time she had seen him. She closed her eyes, tilting her head so that her cheek was touching his. His arms seemed to tighten, just a little, around her.

Don't say anything, she cautioned herself. Don't break the spell. He'll leave just as soon as he realizes you're enjoying this.

You can't do this, not as Superman, he chided himself. Clark pulled away and stood up slowly, taking Lois' hand and helping her over to one of her kitchen chairs.

"Are you okay now?" he asked, feeling awkward. Should he sit at the table with her? Leave and come back as himself?

"Bad Brain wanted me to tell you to back off or it would be my brain next," Lois said quietly. She could feel the panic bubbling up inside of her. Why her? Why had Bad Brain singled her out?

A ripple of anger went through Clark. "Bad Brain was here with you?"

"No, he called me. It wasn't until after he hung up that I noticed the brain." Lois looked in the direction of her counter. "Do you think I should throw that plate away now? Or would it be okay if I just washed it in really, really hot water?"

"What did he say to you, exactly?"

"I think I'll just throw it away. I couldn't bear to spend the rest of my life wondering if the plate I'm eating off of is the one…" She looked down, feeling her throat close off as tears sprang to her eyes. He had been here, inside her apartment. He had gone through her cupboards, taken out one of her plates and left a grisly warning in her kitchen.

"Lois?" He knelt in front of her, fighting the urge to hold her again.

"He was here," she whispered. "He got into my apartment and he left that sitting on my counter. I just feel so… exposed. My door was locked. How did he get in here?"

"The window?" he suggested.

"I guess I shouldn't leave it open for you anymore, huh?"

"No." There were so many reasons for her to lock her windows he couldn't begin to list them all. Only a few of them involved Bad Brain. The rest were concerned with his newfound lack of control around her.

"Do you think he'll come back?" She trembled a little as she asked this and he felt a tic jump in his cheek. It wasn't very often that Lois would admit to being scared — and it never failed to affect him deeply. An urge to protect her welled up inside him and he took her hand in his, kissing the side of her thumb before he could think better of the gesture.

"I'll keep an eye on you, I promise. He won't hurt you." His eyes focused on her mouth as he spoke. Little prickles of excitement danced across his skin as he thought about kissing that mouth only a few hours earlier.

Lois gave him a shaky smile, confused by his sudden tenderness. "Thank you," she whispered.

His other hand lifted to slip through her hair. The movement stirred up the scent of her shampoo. Leave now, he warned himself. Leave!

"Lois," he whispered, lured closer to her lips.

"Yes?" Lois shivered at the thought that Superman looked like he was about to kiss her. No sooner had the thought formed than his mouth touched hers. Startled, she let out a gasp that parted her lips.

Clark kissed her deeply, his tongue sliding over hers to taste the inner recesses of her mouth. She let out a soft moan and he answered her with one of his own. Lois was confused. This felt so right. It felt so natural and familiar and… deceitful. What about Clark? Are you going to turn around and do the same things with Superman that you did with Clark? Why did it matter? They had an arrangement, and nowhere was it specified that they were exclusive.

She turned her head, "Wait," she whispered. "I…"

"I'm sorry," he whispered. Lois gave him a curious look, her head tilting.

"Do you know, you sounded just like Clark…" her words trailed away. Suddenly she didn't know what to say to him. Luckily, there was a knock on the door.

"Speak of the devil," Lois jumped up, confused even more by the fact that she was grateful for the reprieve. How was it a reprieve — this was *Superman*! "I bet that's Clark now." She went to the door, peering through the peephole and furrowing her brow in confusion as she opened the door.

"Inspector Henderson?"

"Hey, Lois. Some nut-job called dispatch and insisted that you had a key piece of evidence in the Gatenby murder."

Lois stepped back to pull the door wide open and gestured towards the brain on her counter. Henderson entered along with a couple of detectives. They all nodded at Superman as they walked over to look at the brain. "What time did you get home tonight?" Henderson asked Lois.

"About half an hour ago."

"And the brain was here? Have you touched anything?"

"It was here before me and I certainly didn't touch it. I didn't even realize it was here right away." She told him about the phone call and relayed what Bad Brain had said.

"Are you attached to this thing or would it be okay if we took it with us?"

"Take it, please. And just keep the plate. I don't want it back." She turned to look at Superman. He was already halfway to the door.

"It looks like you'll be safe now. Be careful, Lois." He gave her a tight smile and left. Lois went to sit on her couch, not wanting to watch them fussing over the brain. There was a knock on her open door and she turned to see Clark.

"Lois? What's going on? Are you all right?" he asked.

"I'm fine. Bad Brain left me a present, that's all." She waved for him to come over and he took a seat next to her.

"Do you want me to stay here tonight?"

Lois considered the question for a moment. "No, I'm fine. But, thanks for asking." She gave him a shy smile.

After everyone left she found she missed Clark. Why had she told him to leave? She could call him… No, it was too late at night now. Besides, what if Superman came back? He said he would keep an eye on her, didn't he? Why had Superman kissed her like that? There was nothing in his kiss tonight that had said "not ever".

What about Clark? What about what they were doing? She meant it when she had told him that sex had never been so sexy before. Had three years of abstinence just dimmed her memory? His worry that he had hurt her had been sweet, if misguided.

Besides, hadn't she said her farewells, as it were, to the idea of Superman as a boyfriend? Well, sorta. But that was before he showed up and kissed her again.

Lois punched her pillow, ostensibly to plump it, but mostly in aggravation. She was a slut. That's all there was to it. She was in love with one man and having the best sex of her life with another. Worse, the two men in question were friends and it was only a matter of time before someone slipped up and ruined everything.

Should she tell Superman? What would she tell him? Um, sorry, I can't be with you because I'm kind of having a thing with Clark and, well, I just don't want to give that up yet. Why couldn't she just tell Clark that the arrangement wasn't working for her? Then she could pursue Superman again.

Except the arrangement with Clark really was working for her. Rather too well, actually. And Superman, for all his good qualities, sure seemed disinclined to make a commitment. His words were all "no" even if his actions were more positive. That was twice now that he had kissed her and then looked troubled about it afterwards.

Why was that?

Maybe he's afraid he'll hurt you, she thought. Not like Clark thought he hurt you, but like Bad Brain threatened to hurt you. Maybe Superman kept his distance because having a girlfriend could be hazardous to her health?

//"Lois, I can't really date anyone. Surely you can understand that."//

Superman had told her that when she asked him why he wouldn't go out with her. A curious kind of relief flooded through her. His actions almost made sense now. He wanted her, but he couldn't have her. And, unlike her, he couldn't make an arrangement with someone else to ease the tension.

***

Clark reached out and tested the window. It was locked, just like he'd asked her. He had wanted to protest when she kicked him out tonight but he knew she needed some distance. He was tempted to knock on the window. He could hear her muttering and sighing, he knew she wasn't asleep yet.

If only he hadn't already complicated things far too much tonight. He would have to start avoiding her as Superman again. Or he would have to tell her. Clark grimaced at the thought. He went to the next window and tested that one, too. It was also locked. He flew quickly past her bedroom window, checking the lock faster than she could see him. He was about to fly away when he paused, catching a glimpse of her through a break in the curtains.

"Good night, Lois," he whispered.

***

Clark held up a folder as she was sitting down at her desk the next morning. "Henderson sent over the autopsy report on Dr. Gatenby." He walked over to give her the folder as he spoke.

"Let me guess — his brain was missing." Lois took the report from him.

"Yep. Although he was dead before his brain was removed."

"What was the cause of death?"

"Cardiac failure." Suddenly Clark looked away. "Lois, can you handle this on your own for a little while? I have to run back to my place."

"Checking on Mrs. Dixon again?"

"Who?"

"Your diabetic neighbor?"

"Um, yeah. Be back soon."

Lois watched him go, toying briefly with the idea of following him to see where he was really going. She shook her head in resignation and went back to reading the autopsy report.

***

Lois wasn't the only person in the newsroom watching Clark leave. Cat was watching, too. Or, more accurately, she was watching Joe, the new sports writer, watch Clark leave. When Joe's attention shifted to Lois, Cat smiled. This was just too good to pass up.

"Hey, Joe," she purred. "Who's your buddy?"

Joe winced. He hated that damn tag-line and hated even more the upper management idiot who had insisted he use it. Even having a woman say the name in sultry tones didn't help. Still, this was a lucky break, if anyone would know the relationship status of his co-workers, it would have to be the gossip columnist.

"Hi, Cat. Tell me something, is there anything going on between Lois and Clark?"

"Lois and Clark?" Cat permitted herself a chuckle. Joe was going straight to the heart of the matter. You had to love a man who knew what he wanted. "I doubt it. She's never really liked him. He adores her, but she's always had a thing for blondes."

Joe unconsciously smoothed back his hair. "Really?"

"Mmm, yeah. Too bad for Clark. But good for you, huh?"

"What?"

"You. Don't you like her? I've seen you flirting with her before. And I've seen the way she looks at you when she thinks no one is watching."

"How does she look at me?"

"Very… tenderly."

"Really?"

"Really. One thing you should know about Lois. For her it's all about the thrill of the chase. She'll pretend she's not interested, but she really is."

"How do you know that's not what she's doing with Kent, then?"

"Oh, she's not doing anything with Kent. Go on, Joe, faint heart never won fair maiden, or whatever."

"Thanks, Cat."

"Happy to help."

***

Lois was making notes to follow-up on about the autopsy when someone touched her elbow. She looked up, expecting Clark. She blinked in surprise when she saw it was Joe instead.

"Hi, Lois." He gave her the smile that had half the newsroom a-twitter.

"Hi." She returned his smile. "How are you?"

"Great, thanks for asking. Hey, uh, I have these tickets for a play on Saturday night… would you be interested in going?"

"Oh." Lois looked down at her keyboard, caught off-guard. If he had asked her a week ago, she would have said 'yes'. She glanced over at Clark's empty desk. "I, gosh, I really would love to, but I don't know whether I can. I mean, I'm on this story now and I just don't know if I'll be able to… I'd hate to say 'yes' and then have to back out."

Joe shrugged. "Hey, don't worry about it. I understand. Some other time, then?"

"Yes, some other time."

Lois looked at the papers in front of her without really seeing them. Why didn't she say 'yes'? Why did she kiss Superman back last night? How could something feel so wrong and so right at the same time? Why had she sent Clark home when the truth was she had wanted him to stay? Why was it so hard to admit she had wanted nothing more than to be held by him?

No. That was exactly why she had sent him home. She needed time to think. She needed to get out of this building, preferably before he came back. She scribbled a note for Clark and was setting it on his desk when he stepped out of the elevator. She watched him walk towards her, a little shiver working its way through her when his eyes met hers.

"How is Mrs. Dixon?" she asked when he was almost to his desk.

"Doing fine." Clark pushed his glasses up, hating the lie more than ever.

"Are you okay?" Lois peered at him in inquisitively.

"Yeah, sure." He looked at the note she had put on his desk. "STAR Labs? What were you going to do there?"

"See if the receptionist recognizes the picture from the bank as the Johnson who came to pick up the ESW research. He would have had to wait in the lobby, maybe she'll remember him."

***

"Ohmigod! This guy? You think this guy is the one who killed Tony and Dr. G? I mean, yeah, I remember him. He had crazy eyes, you know? Really intense. He was just really intense. He sat here in the lobby for about twenty minutes and he gave me the creeps the entire time."

"Do you remember his name?" Lois asked.

"Oh," the receptionist closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against her forehead as she thought. "It was something common. Johnson or Jones or something like that." Her hand fluttered away from her face as though she were trying to snatch the name out of the air.

"What about a first name?" Lois pressed.

The receptionist opened her eyes and shook her head. "Sorry, no." She looked at the picture again before handing it back. "Mostly I remember his eyes."

"Thank you, you've been a big help," Clark told her.

"I was looking at the autopsy report after you left to check on your neighbor," Lois said as they walked away from STAR Labs. "The medical examiner said Gatenby's cardiac arrest was caused by a severe electrolyte imbalance. What if Bad Brain used the ESW weapon to kill him?"

"That would make sense."

"What confuses me is the heavy water from the manhole cover. Where did he get it from? That stuff is regulated by the government. It's not just sitting around in bottles at the corner market."

"Maybe he didn't know it was heavy water? It's hard to tell the difference."

"None of the labs in Metropolis that use the stuff recognized his picture, though."

"So maybe we need to start looking outside of Metropolis?" Clark suggested.

"Or we need to start looking somewhere else that would have it. Didn't you say they use it for nuclear reactors?"

"Yeah, they use heavy water to slow down the neutrons so that they can react with the uranium in the reactor. But Metropolis doesn't have a nuclear plant."

"No, but we almost did… Clark, isn't the Hobbs Bay Tower close to the nuclear power plant that Lex built? The one Superman shut down when we found out Lex was using it to create that heat wave last winter?"

Clark considered. "It's a couple of blocks away, yes."

"Close enough you could drag a body there?"

"Lois, Superman shut it down for a reason!"

"He also sealed the reactor so there wasn't a leak. We'll be fine! Bring a Geiger counter if you're so worried. My point is that the plant sits on top of an aquifer, that's how Lex was heating up the city. Didn't Kevin tell us that all the tunnels under Metropolis were connected? And that there were cisterns? If you have an aquifer, it stands to reason you'd put a cistern there. Cisterns have access tunnels, right? What if the reason no one has seen this guy is because he travels underground?"

***

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Clark said as he boosted Lois up to the open window — the open window she had just broken.

"Oh, honestly! It's an abandoned building. If I hadn't broken that window, someone else would have eventually." She disappeared inside. Seconds later the door near the window opened and she grinned at him. "Piece of cake," she told him.

"Lois Lane and Clark Kent!" Ken Randall exclaimed from behind them. Clark turned in the doorway to see Ken standing there, smirking at them. Behind Ken stood his cameraman, apparently filming.

"Hello, Ken," Clark said warily.

"Are those your real names? They're just so TV-ready! Lois Lane, all those soft alliterative syllables. It's very sexy, isn't it? Lovely, lissome Lois Lane. And Clark, you have those sticky consonants. Makes a name stand out. Clark Kent. Very strong." Ken struck a pose like a bodybuilder. "Never fear, Clark Kent is here!"

"I can't believe you're an award-winning journalist," Lois told him.

"Lois, that compliment goes double for you."

"Are you following us?" Lois asked, her voice pitched higher in irritation.

"Lois, if I was following you, you'd be the last person to know it. We were staking this place out when Mike," he indicated his cameraman, who waved to them but didn't stop filming, "and I saw a couple of vandals breaking into the building. It's a terrible thing, but luckily we caught them on film."

"Why you…" Lois started and then stopped herself, fuming. "Come on, Clark, let's take a look around."

Ken and Mike followed them into the building. They didn't get very far. As they came into the next room they all stopped in their tracks at the sight before them. Blood was pooled on the floor and spattered on the walls. On the far side of the room a man lay motionless. Clark focused on him but couldn't detect any signs of life.

Ken started to walk towards him but Clark grabbed his arm to stop him. "You're going to destroy evidence! He's dead, don't disturb anything."

"Please, give me credit," Ken snapped. He turned to face Mike, "Can you get the shot from here?"

Mike nodded and gave him a thumb's up.

"I'm going to go call the police," Lois said, then pointed at Clark. "You stay here and watch them."

"Does she always boss you around like that?" Ken asked after Lois had left.

"Maybe I like it when she's bossy," Clark replied. He smiled to himself — that was kind of true.

"We're still rolling," Mike said.

Ken's demeanor changed, his expression becoming concerned. "This is Ken Randall, bringing you another exclusive…"

***

Lois was pacing her apartment, unable to sleep. She kept checking and re-checking her windows, making sure they were locked. The dead man at the defunct nuclear plant appeared to have been a vagrant. None of the blood in the room was his. How had he died? How had he got in the building to begin with? It was frustrating to have to wait until the next day to get the answers.

Her phone rang and she nervously went to answer it. Would it be Bad Brain again, calling to gloat?

"Hey, Lois," Clark said. "What are you wearing?"

She smiled, looking down at her shorts and t-shirt. "Nothing but a pair of thigh-highs. What about you?"

"The same," he deadpanned, breaking into a smile when she laughed. "Actually, I called to ask you something else."

"What?"

"I got a copy of the plans for the nuclear plant. I was thinking they might show us where the access tunnels are."

"You sure know how to sweet talk a girl. I hope you were planning to bring them over."

"Only if you weren't busy."

"Come on over."

***

Two hours later they still hadn't found anything. All the old tunnels had been sealed off during construction. There had been one new tunnel constructed, but that had been sealed by the EPA during the ecological cleanup.

"So how did he get in?" Lois asked, standing up to go into her kitchen.

"Maybe he has a key? What if Johnson worked at the plant before it was shut down? We can check on that tomorrow." Clark looked over to see Lois leaning on her elbows on her kitchen counter, staring at the coffee maker. He got up and walked over to her. "Are you okay?"

Lois nodded, transfixed by the drip of dark liquid into the carafe. "I'm just tired," she sighed.

"Get some sleep, I'll go home now."

"Don't be silly. I'm making coffee."

"You look exhausted." He put his hands on her shoulders, giving them a soft squeeze and she stood up.

"I'm not. I'm just tired of thinking."

"So take a break from thinking." Clark began to gently massage her shoulders. Lois dropped her head forward, leaning into his touch. Soon she was sure she was about to fall asleep standing up.

"Are you still with me?" Clark whispered.

"Just barely," she said as she relaxed back against him. Her hands dropped to hang loosely at her sides. Clark put his arms around her, gathering her close against him, his cheek against hers.

Her hand came to rest low on his thigh. Without thinking about it, she began to caress the material, shaping out the muscles underneath. Feeling bold, she moved her hand to the back of his thigh, then up to the firm curve of his buttock.

Clark kissed the nape of her neck. She pressed back against him with her hip, shifting to give him a little friction. "I thought you were tired," he murmured against her neck, placing a line of tiny kisses to her ear.

"I'm not that tired anymore."

"Me neither."

She turned in his arms and kissed him, long and deep. Their bodies rocked slowly against each other as their hands explored and teased.

"Lovely, lissome Lois Lane," Clark whispered, breaking their kiss to lift the hem of her shirt and pull it over her head.

"More like lousy," she amended as she relieved him of his shirt.

"Laudable." He slid her shorts off her hips.

"Lunkhead." She unzipped his jeans and pulled them down.

"Learned." Her bra dropped to the floor.

"Lunatic."

"Legendary."

"Libidinous," she whispered with a soft giggle.

"Mmm. I like libidinous Lois." He leaned down to kiss her again. "My lovely, long-legged, luscious, lickable, lovable Lois." He punctuated each word with a kiss.

"Lucky," she added. "I think I'm about to get very, very lucky."

"Yes, I think you are," he laughed and scooped her up into his arms, carrying her towards the bedroom. "But I'm the lucky one."

***

Clark kissed the top of her head as he fought the urge to blurt out the truth, all of it, to her. Not now, he told himself. Not now while she's naked. Tomorrow. You can tell her tomorrow. You can buy her flowers, take her out to dinner and… fly her home.

Lois propped herself up on his chest and touched his cheek. In the dim light of her bedroom she could barely make out that he wasn't wearing his glasses. She leaned forward and kissed his closed eyes. "Do you know, I was starting to think you were entirely too attached to your glasses."

"Maybe I just want to be able to see you." His heart squeezed painfully. He couldn't do it. He couldn't lose her. Not yet.

"So why make a rule about turning the lights off?" she teased.

He couldn't think of anything to say. She had him there. "That's… different," he said lamely.

"We've broken so many of the rules tonight. I say we just turn the light on — it was kind of a dumb rule anyway." Lois reached over him for the bedside lamp.

His glasses were on the other side of the bed. There was no way to get to them when she was lying on top of him. Feeling panicked, he caught her wrist firmly to stop her. "No," he said quietly.

"Oh, come on," she laughed. "I bet you're really cute without the glasses."

"No lights, Lois. That was my rule and I get to say if we break it. You can break your rules, but not mine." Something in his voice sent a chill through her. She was only teasing and his response seemed out of proportion.

"You can let go of my wrist now."

"You promised you would stop if I said 'no'."

"Okay, fine! What is the big deal?" Lois shook her wrist and he let go. "Is it me? You don't want to see me?"

"No, that's not it."

"You don't want me to see you? I'm pretty sure you have nothing to worry about. Do you have some horrible birthmark? Is that it?" She moved away from him, clutching the sheets to her chest.

"Lois…"

"Actually, that can't be it. I've seen you without your shirt and, um, there's nothing wrong with you. Have you got an embarrassing tattoo?"

"No."

"Is that where you went this morning? Did you get a tattoo? It's not my name, is it?"

"No, Lois. It's nothing like that. I just think it would be easier to keep this from spilling over into our work partnership if we can maintain some sort of distance. It's not real, remember?"

"Not real? You think this isn't real?" Lois completely forgot that was her rule to begin with. Not real, she tortured herself. He doesn't think this is real. It's just sex to him. Well, what did you expect? That's what you asked him for. Did you think he would fall in love with you? He already was! Wasn't he? Why did it matter? It was just sex. That was the agreement. It was only sex between friends — it could never mean more than that.

"That was your rule," Clark pointed out. "You didn't want this to mean anything more than sex."

"What about friends?" Her voice was small and quiet.

"That hasn't changed, has it? We're still friends, aren't we?"

"Yeah, I guess." Lois sat up against the headboard, her throat felt like it was going to close off. She wasn't about to cry in front of him. She took in a couple of deep breaths, fighting for control of her emotions.

//"Not real…" //

"Do you want me to leave now?" Clark asked quietly. He hadn't meant to say this wasn't real. Those were just the first words that sprang to mind. If he tried to explain them away now it was only going to get messier.

"Yes." She hoped he didn't hear the waver in her voice.

He sighed. It stung that she wanted him to leave. You started it, he told himself. You hurt her first. Why couldn't you think of any other reason to leave the lights off? You're shy? Couldn't you have told her you were shy?

Lois rolled onto her side, not wanting to see him leave. She heard him walk through her apartment. She listened to the faint sounds of his getting dressed. She could smell the coffee she had brewed and it made her want to cry. What the hell had just happened? She lay there, blinking back angry tears as her front door clicked shut.

//"My lovely, long-legged, luscious, lickable, lovable Lois."//

He was such a liar! How could he say those things and still claim this was just sex? Would it kill him to admit that maybe, just maybe, he actually cared for her as more than just a friend?

***

"I think we're in the wrong tunnel," Lois complained.

"What makes you think that?" Clark asked.

"Can't you smell *that*? It's like something died in here!"

"Something probably did die in here."

"Doesn't it make you sick? The smell, I mean. It's…" she gagged, but continued to slog after Clark. What made him so certain he knew where they were going?

"Lois, I grew up on a farm, remember? I don't have your delicate urban sensibilities."

"There is nothing delicate about that stench!"

Clark had to agree with her. The air in this tunnel was gut-churningly rancid and foul. It reminded him of himself. Rotten to the core, he told himself. You are rotten to the core.

It had been almost a month since they started sleeping together. Two nights ago, as she was leaving his apartment in the middle of the night, he had realized this really wasn't what he wanted. He wanted Lois, more than ever. But it wasn't just sex for him like it was for her. He'd been wrong to think that a little tenderness would ease her into loving him.

It was even worse when he factored Superman into the equation. She hadn't given up on her Superman fantasy. She had kissed him back with ardor the night Gatenby's brain had been left in her apartment. The few times she had seen him in the suit since then she had given him hopeful little smiles that tore his heart to ribbons. She still wanted Superman, not him. He had to end the physical aspect of their relationship. He couldn't tell her the truth about Superman while they were still involved. She would hate him for it, and rightfully so. *He* hated himself. He hated himself for the deception. He hated himself for wanting her so much. He hated himself for not telling her. With every day that passed, with every time he made love to her, he hated the deception all the more.

To add to his frustration, they had come no closer to finding Bad Brain in the past few weeks either. After Henderson had cleared the crime scene at the nuclear plant, they had looked in every nook and cranny and come up with nothing. If there was a way into that building besides the door even his x-ray vision couldn't discern it.

Four other dead men, all of them vagrants, had been found around Metropolis in addition to the man left at the nuclear plant. If Bad Brain had killed them, he hadn't claimed responsibility. All of them had the same odd electrical burns on their ankles and across their chests. Was Bad Brain experimenting with a new type of weapon? What had happened to the ESW gun that STAR Labs had developed?

"Clark, wait up!" Lois called out and he stopped, his flashlight swinging back to light her way.

What was up with him? He was so aloof and moody lately. After the first flush of excitement, they had settled into an every-other-night routine of… Lois frowned, unsure what to call it. Sex sounded so dirty. Sleeping together wasn't really accurate. Fooling around? That was closest.

Her disappointment that he had voiced aloud the words "not real" still simmered below the surface. She knew it was her rule, but she had thought that maybe he actually cared for her as more than just a friend or a sex buddy. Most days she woke up resolved to tell him they had to end their arrangement. But then he'd touch her or give her that look as they were leaving work and she knew it was only a matter of time before they'd both be naked. He was never more attentive and sweet than when he got her naked. If only he wasn't so distant the rest of the time.

Today he seemed especially sulky. Joe had asked her out again this morning, this time within earshot of Clark. She hadn't been able to see Clark's eyes, the lights overhead had created a glare off his glasses, but he had been even quieter since then. Did it bother him? Was he jealous? If he was, why didn't he just ask her out himself?

She could hear her mother's voice — why should he buy the cow when he was getting the milk for free? Lois had always hated that expression and she hated it even more now. There was no mystery left to her in Clark's eyes. Why should he try to deepen their relationship, if you could call it that, when he was already getting everything he needed from her?

Why couldn't he even talk to her anymore?

She couldn't take his silence any longer; she had to say something. "So tell me, what is it you hope to find down here?"

"You were the one who thought Bad Brain was traveling underground." Now that she had caught up, he turned and began walking again.

"So your plan is just to wander around down here until we find him?" She tried, but failed to keep the irritation out of her voice.

"I was looking at a map of Metropolis that I marked to show where the bodies have been found. This tunnel triangulates to all of them. So maybe he's hiding out somewhere along here." Clark stopped abruptly, holding up his arm to keep Lois from walking over the edge. "Watch out," he said, pointing with his flashlight.

They had come to a long flight of concrete stairs, leading down into blackness deeper than their lights could illuminate.

"What now?" Lois asked. She didn't want to go down there. A sense of foreboding pressed down on her. It wasn't just the smell; there was something off about this place. She had never been claustrophobic, but she could feel herself working towards hysteria. She had the uneasy impression that something bad was going to happen to her in these tunnels. Not that she would ever admit that to him.

Clark started down the stairs, turning back to caution her, "Stay close to the wall."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Stay close to the wall," she mimicked as she followed him down the stairs. One good thing, she told herself, the lower they went, the more the smell improved, but the sound of running water became louder.

"You don't think we're headed down into the flood tunnels, do you? It's raining today," Lois pointed out.

"Do you want to go back?" Clark tried to keep his voice even but she was beginning to wear on his nerves. If she didn't want to explore the tunnel, why didn't she just turn around and leave?

"No, we've come this far. Let's see where this leads," Lois said grudgingly, wishing he hadn't made it sound like a dare.

The stairs ended in a small chamber with two tunnels leading off of it. Lois curled her lip when she took the final step and found herself standing in a few inches of water.

"Now what?" she asked.

"This tunnel looks older," Clark pointed at the one on the left with his flashlight. "I say we go that way first."

"Is there a logic to that?"

"The old tunnels have more access points. He has to be getting in and out somewhere."

"You first," she said. If there was anything furry and prone to biting, she wanted him to scare it away before she got there.

"Do you even remember how to get out of here?" she asked after a few minutes of walking when his silence began to annoy her again. "We should have left a trail of breadcrumbs. Except I guess those would float away. Maybe we should have put chalk marks on the walls."

"Shhh, wait." Clark stopped and tilted his head. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"Footsteps, splashing… I think there's someone else down here." He tipped his glasses and scanned the tunnel in front of them. He couldn't see anyone and the footsteps had stopped moving. He could only hear the faint distant beat of their heart — there was a mechanic tick to it. Someone with a pacemaker? He cocked his head. The sound was familiar. It was… "Ken," he muttered in irritation. And since he was ahead of them, they couldn't really accuse Ken of following them.

"Ken's here? How can you tell?" Lois asked. "Is that what the smell was?"

He was about to reply when there was a new sound coming from behind them. It was a low roar that confused him for a moment. When recognition set in it sent a chill through him. He took hold of her hand. "We have to get out of here, now!"

Lois tried to pull her hand away and turn around. If they were leaving, why didn't they just go back the way they came in? Then she heard it too, just as she realized the water at her feet was rising — fast.

Clark could hear Ken start running. He seemed to know where he was going if the certainty of his gait was any indication. Clark ran in the direction of Ken's splashing footsteps, pulling Lois along with him. Soon he couldn't hear Ken over the rush of the oncoming water. It was up to their knees now and Lois was having problems keeping up. He stopped and turned to her, ready to pick her up and just fly them the hell out of there.

Lois yanked her wrist free from his grip and ran past him. "Clark, this is no time to stop. Keep going!" She tripped and lost her flashlight in the swirling water. Clark pulled her to her feet just as a wall of water slammed into them, tearing her from his grasping fingers.

"No!" The word was ripped from his throat and he began frantically searching for her.

Lois cried out, choking on the water that knocked her into the wall. She was tumbling, bouncing off of brickwork as she was drawn along like a rag doll by the swift current. She fought against the inky liquid darkness that surrounded her, desperate to find some air. Then she was snagged on something and lifted above the water. It was an arm, she realized. An arm attached to something solid and steady.

"Clark," she sputtered, throwing her arms around his neck and clinging to him for dear life. The water rushing by seemed determined to pull her away from him.

"I've got you. It's okay," he soothed, holding her close and somehow managing to walk against the current.

Her lungs were burning and she choked and coughed up water as he held her above the torrent. Her previous annoyance with him was forgotten. They came into an alcove where the water swirled but seemed to have little effect on Clark. He stepped near the wall and she realized there were rungs on it. She looked up and saw a few small points of light.

"Can you climb?" he asked.

She nodded and grabbed one of the rungs. Her palms and knees stung as she climbed. She wished her hands would stop shaking. She got to the manhole cover but couldn't lift it.

"Hold on," he said, climbing up behind her, his arms encircled her as he grabbed onto the rung above the one she was gripping. She held tight to the ladder, watching as the little pinpricks of light from the manhole became full daylight when he reached up and pushed the cover out of the way. Lois started to climb out and slipped. Clark put his hand out to steady her, giving her a little boost as she tried again. As soon as she started to clear the manhole he nervously ruffled his hair, not wanting it to look slicked back.

Lois crawled out onto the sidewalk and looked around. "I think we're close to your apartment," she told him as he emerged. It was still raining heavily so their bedraggled appearance didn't draw very much attention as they walked toward his building.

Lois limped alongside him, feeling like a drowned cat. When they got to his apartment he led her into his bathroom, left for a moment and came back with a towel and one of his t-shirts. "Why don't you give me your clothes and I'll clean them up for you to wear home?" he asked. She nodded and he walked out, closing the door behind him.

Lois took a quick shower and changed into his shirt. The soft cotton felt warm and sensual against her skin and endlessly preferable to the clothes she had been wearing. She bundled her clothes together and walked into his kitchen. Clark took her wet clothes from her and threw them in his washing machine.

"Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up and we'll figure out what to do next, okay?" he asked. Lois nodded wearily and sat down on his couch.

She couldn't stop shivering. She desperately wished that she could just go home and crawl into bed. Clark came back, dressed in shorts and t-shirt now, his hair still damp. It was unfair, she thought. He didn't look like he had a scratch on him while her arms and legs were covered in scrapes and the beginnings of bruises. Clark went back in the bathroom and came out with a wet washcloth and a first aid kit.

He knelt down in front of her. "Let's take a look at you," he said gently, turning her left hand over to look at her palm. He dabbed at the cut there softly and went to open the first aid kit when she stopped him.

"No really, don't waste your bandages. I'm fine."

"You don't look fine," he said, his eyes worried as he looked at her closely. She seemed feverish, her eyes were glassy and her skin clammy.

"I," she started and then swallowed back the nausea rising inside her. "I don't feel so good. I think I swallowed too much water."

"Can I get you anything?" he asked.

Lois shook her head vehemently, the movement only made her dizzier and more nauseated. She stood up quickly, pushing past him and ran to the bathroom. She barely made it in time. After a few gut-wrenching heaves she sat down heavily, coughing as tears came to her eyes. Lois rose on wobbly legs and grabbed his toothbrush, put a little toothpaste on it and brushed her teeth. Another wave of nausea overcame her and she sank back down to the floor, sitting close to the toilet, just in case.

"Lois?" he asked from outside the open door.

"I'm okay," she said, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I always cry when I throw up."

"Can I come in?"

Lois let out a sound that was half-sob, half-laugh. "Oh god, please don't tell me you think this is sexy."

"Not really," he said, "but that doesn't mean I like you less." He came into the bathroom, still holding the washcloth. He rinsed it in the sink and then ran cold water over it before wringing it out. He sat down next to her, putting the washcloth over the back of her neck. Lois leaned against his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"Thanks," she murmured, feeling too drained to move.

"Would it make you feel better to know that I saw Mike this morning and he said Ken Randall got sick after wandering around in the tunnels? There must be something down there."

The corners of her mouth twitched in a smile. "Good." She opened one eye to look at him. "So why aren't you sick?"

Clark hesitated. Not now. Not when she's sick. He scooped her up in his arms instead, carrying her to his bed and setting her down gently. "I'll make you some tea."

"Okay," she murmured, snuggling gratefully into one of his pillows.

When he came back with the tea, she was asleep. Her forehead was damp with sweat, a few tendrils of hair stuck to the pale skin there. He brushed them back, kissing her softly just above her eyebrow. Then he worked the blanket out from beneath her and spread it over her.

***

Lois woke up to moonlight streaming in from the window. She was in Clark's bed, she realized. She had a hazy memory of him carrying her here and… something about tea? She got up and padded into his living room. He was lying on the sofa, bathed in transferred light from the television.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Better now, thanks. I'm sorry." She pulled self-consciously at the hem of his t-shirt. It hit her at mid-thigh but she was suddenly very aware that she had nothing else on beneath it.

"For what?" Clark sat up and stretched.

"For being a party pooper. I know it was your night."

"Lois, I don't care about that. All that matters is that you're okay."

"Oh, well, um, I'll get out of your hair now. Are my clothes dry?"

"It's two in the morning. Just go back to bed."

"No, it's okay. I'll go home."

"I'll take you." He bent over and reached for his shoes.

"No, Clark. Like you said, it's two in the morning."

"I wasn't tired anyway. You've been sick. I can't just let you wander out into the night now."

Lois sighed, "Okay, you win, I'll stay." She backtracked and climbed into his bed, hoping he would come and join her. She felt guilty about making him sleep on his own couch.

Clark came in to check on her, pulling the covers up a little higher before tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Good night, Lois," he whispered and turned to go back in to his living room.

"Why don't you sleep in here?" she asked, her heart racing. It wasn't just guilt because she had taken over his bed. She wanted him, she realized. Not for sex, just for… him. Was there any good way to ask him that without sounding needy?

"Are you sure?"

"I, uh, yes."

"Okay." He went back and turned off the television. When he came into his bedroom he pulled the blinds closed on the window and then climbed in on the other side of the bed.

Lois turned towards him. "Clark?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

"For what?" He rolled onto his back, turning his head in her direction.

"You saved my life today. And you were really nice when I got sick."

"Anytime, Lois."

She didn't say anything and he was about to roll away from her when she said, "I used your toothbrush."

He grinned at the ceiling. "That's okay."

"I just thought you might want to know, you know, in case that grosses you out."

He laughed. "Lois, after everything else we've done together I can hardly call foul over that."

She blushed. "I guess so."

"Would it bother you if I used your toothbrush?"

She thought about it. "I guess not. Not if it was just once. Or maybe twice."

"What if I confessed I was sneaking in to your apartment every day to use your toothbrush?"

"Yeah? How are you getting in?"

"The window?"

"I don't think so, I keep them locked now."

"Because of Bad Brain?" What if he told her now? Lois, it was me. I asked you to lock your windows because I can't always tell the difference between Clark and Superman when I'm around you. I love you. Please forgive me.

"Yeah," Lois whispered. She wondered if Superman ever flew by and felt bad that the windows were locked. Then again, he was the one who insisted she start locking them. Did he even fly by her apartment anymore?

Clark reached over and nudged her shoulder. "Did you ever wonder if maybe Bad Brain used your toothbrush when he broke into your place?"

"Clark?" She couldn't hide the smile in her voice.

"Yeah?" He was smiling, too.

"Do you want me to be sick again?"

He laughed. "It was just a thought."

Lois inched closer to him. "I'm cold, aren't you cold?"

"Come here then." He stretched out his arm and she snuggled up to him, resting her cheek on his chest. Her foot slid over his ankle, bringing her leg to rest between his. There was an interested twitch from his groin that made him take several deep breaths. Not gonna happen, he warned himself. Not tonight. She doesn't feel well and you can't take advantage of her like that. He closed his arm around her shoulders and rested his chin on the top of her head.

Lois let out a small sigh, soothed by the steady beat of his heart beneath her cheek. This, she thought as she slipped closer to sleep. This is all I want. Why can't he be like this all the time?

***

The next morning they were called into Perry's office. "Is there something wrong?" Perry asked conversationally, leaning back against his desk.

"Wrong?" Lois asked, trying to gauge just how loaded that question was.

"With you two," Perry clarified. "I don't see much chit-chat out in the bullpen between you these days. It occurred to me this morning that maybe there's something wrong."

"It's nothing between us, Perry," Clark said. "It's just this situation with Bad Brain. It's been a strain on our work."

Lois nodded her agreement. "Yes, that's it."

"So there's nothing… here," Perry indicated the space between them. "You don't have anything you want to tell me?"

Lois' eyes went wide in horrified surprise. Did Perry know?

"There's nothing, Chief," Clark said reassuringly. Lois looked at him in amazement. She had always thought Clark was a lousy liar — this was a revelation.

"All right then," Perry said, giving them a look that made them both squirm. "Get back to work."

Lois stopped in front of Clark's desk after they left Perry's office. "You're better at this than I thought," she told him.

"At what?" Clark looked up at her quizzically.

"Dissembling."

"You didn't think I could lie?" He tried to keep his voice neutral but he was feeling a rising panic.

"Not that well. I just never expected it from you."

"I hope that's a compliment."

"It is." She regarded him for a few seconds. "So what else are you lying about?"

"What?"

"A person doesn't lie that well without practice. And you seem to keep a lot of secrets. I bet there are lots of things you don't tell me."

"And there are things you don't tell me," he said, hoping to divert her.

"Like what?"

"Like Joe asking you out."

"I didn't say yes."

Clark shrugged.

"Why does it matter, Clark? It's not real, remember?"

Clark looked down at his keyboard and then he straightened it on his desk. "Lois, I, when I said that, I didn't mean it like that."

"No? How else could you possibly have meant it?"

He shook his head, hating himself more than ever. Then he looked her right in the eye. "Can I ask you out?"

"Now you want to date me?" Suddenly the idea of dating Clark seemed like a scary proposition. It might be easier if he only wanted her for sex. Dating implied commitment and commitment never ended well for her. Friends was better. Friends she could control.

"I need to talk to you." He looked so serious, her stomach bunched unhappily.

"So talk," she said flippantly.

He shook his head. "It's not that kind of conversation."

"What kind of a conversation is it?"

"One that we can't have here. Will you give me a chance to show you how real this is to me? Please?"

She looked at him for a few seconds as her curiosity warred with caution. "Fine. Pick me up at seven."

"Okay, I…" He rose from his chair quickly, flattening his tie down nervously. "I'll be right back."

***

A few minutes after Clark left her phone rang.

"Lois, heard you had a fun time in the sewers last night!"

"Hi, Bobby." Lois didn't want to know how Bobby knew that. Please don't let him be calling just to gloat.

"So I asked myself, what was Lois doing in the sewer?"

"It was a storm water run-off tunnel," she felt compelled to point out.

"Whatever. My guess is you're looking for Bad Brain."

"Do you know where I could find him?"

"I know that a lot of guys at the mission are worried for their health and safety these days. And that Mickey, the last guy who went missing? He was last seen heading into the sewers with a tall, thin guy. Next morning he turned up dead."

"Which manhole?"

"Fourth Street and Haines."

"That's close to the Hobbs Bay Tower, isn't it?"

"A few blocks away, yeah."

"Bobby, I owe you! I'll buy you dinner, but not until tomorrow night, okay?"

"If I have to wait twenty-four hours I get double portions."

"Deal."

Lois hung up and glanced over at Clark's desk. Should she leave him a note? She glanced at her watch; it was just past four o'clock. If she found anything she could tell Clark about it over dinner.

***

This tunnel, at least, smelled better than the last one. Lois picked her way slowly forward, then stopped, her heart hammering painfully in her chest. Was there someone else down here? She listened, becoming more certain she could hear the shuffle of footsteps. She switched off her flashlight and pressed herself against the wall, wishing she had somewhere to hide.

The footsteps were getting closer and now she could see a flashlight's beam approaching. It was stupid, she realized, to just stand against the wall like this. She took a step to the side, creeping just ahead of the beam. Then it swung and caught her in its glare.

"Why it's lovely, lissome Lois," Ken Randall laughed. "Did Lois lose her light?"

"Ken!" she snapped in irritated relief, switching on her light and shining it at his eyes. "Why are you here?"

"Is that an existential question? Or are you just wondering why I always seem to get here before you do?" He lifted his hand to block his eyes and she saw that he was carrying a small camcorder. "I'd advise you to shut the hell up or we're both going to lose our stories."

Ken resumed walking and she fell into step behind him. "Do you actually know where you're going or are you just trying to impress me?"

"Lois, if this impresses you, you're even easier than I thought."

She frowned and decided to change the subject. "Where's Mike?"

"He called in sick today."

Her stomach turned in a sympathetic reflex. "So where are you going?" she asked.

"You really don't understand what an 'exclusive' is, do you?" He dodged around a corner, reaching out and pulling her next to him. "Turn your light off," he whispered as he put his light out.

Lois did, but after a few seconds in which she could hear nothing but water dripping and her own heartbeat ringing in her ears she let out an exasperated sigh.

"Shhh," Ken cautioned. "He'll be along soon."

"What makes you so sure?" she muttered.

"I saw him earlier. He had the gun with him. I think he stuns them first and then drags them to his lair."

"You've seen him stunning someone?"

"No, I saw him walking with the gun earlier this week just before the last murder. But then he lost me in the maze and I couldn't find him again. The next morning there was another dead body."

"Do you live down here now? I was right when I said you were a sewer rat."

Ken didn't answer, but his hand smacked her arm as a warning to shut up. Lois listened intently. Then she heard it. Footsteps, further down the tunnel. Footsteps and a dragging noise. Light flickered off the walls of the tunnel. Then the light faded and the shuffling slowly faded away.

"If he has someone, we need to go help them escape," she whispered.

"You do that and you'll get us all killed. You do realize he carries that shock gun with him everywhere? I've seen him shooting rats with it and it just obliterates them."

The two of them crept through the tunnels in the direction that Bad Brain had gone. Soon they could see a large room ahead. Ken dropped to his knees, slung the camera around his neck and began crawling. He tilted his head at Lois, indicating that she should start crawling, too.

At least I'm not wearing a skirt today, she thought glumly. When she got home she was going to take the world's longest, hottest shower. Ken stopped just short of the room, staying in the shadows at the mouth of the tunnel. Lois squatted next to him, hardly daring to peer around him to see what was happening. Ken took the camera from around his neck and she saw a little red dot glow when he started recording.

Tensed and ready to run at the first sign of trouble, she peeked around Ken. The room ahead of them was filled with electrical equipment, tall racks that danced with blips of light from the machinery stacked on it. Next to one of the racks was a table. A man laid on the table, secured with two copper bands, one around his chest and the other around his ankles.

"Oh my god," Lois breathed, "that's how he's electrocuting them."

A tall, thin man came into view, carrying what looked like a plexiglass sarcophagus. He set this down over the man on the table, then went around the table locking it into place.

"We have to help him!" Lois urged quietly, nudging Ken.

"I think it's too late to help him."

"Then we go get the police." She turned and crawled back up the tunnel. She had gone around the corner when suddenly her hair was yanked from behind and she fell onto her knees. Her flashlight clattered away. A hand covered her mouth, stifling her surprised gasp and Ken hissed in her ear, "You are not going to ruin my story!"

Lois swung her elbow back, driving it into Ken's groin. He struck back at her, catching her under the chin with his flashlight. Dazed, she fell sideways, the taste of blood thick in her mouth. Ken roughly dragged her further down the tunnel. Suddenly he stopped, pushed her through a doorway and shut the door, leaving her in darkness. She started to yell but then let it die. What if Bad Brain was the one who opened the door?

Lois cursed under her breath and crawled towards where she had been thrown in. Her jaw ached. She felt along her teeth with her tongue, still tasting blood, but nothing seemed to be loose. That rat bastard, she fumed. He's going to pay when I get out of here.

There was a wall in front of her and she stood up, finding a door handle when her wrist smacked against it. No matter how much pressure she exerted, she couldn't get it to open. She traced the periphery of the door but the hinges were on the outside so there was no way she could work it open.

Lois put her right hand to the wall and started walking, mapping out the room in her mind. It was circular and it took her fifty-seven steps to come back to the door's handle. She leaned back, girding up her courage to leave the relative comfort of the wall. Putting her hands in front of her she slowly stepped out, hoping there wasn't a drop-off in the center. Her breathing echoed in the room, sounding harsh and much too loud. Surely Bad Brain could hear her. After seventy-nine steps her fingers bumped into the wall again. Probably half that many steps, she corrected herself. You shuffled more than stepped.

She followed the wall around again until she got to the handle. Then she turned, resting her back against the door. She listened to the faint drip of water, the ticking of her watch and her own anxious breathing. If only she had one of those watches that lit up. She couldn't even tell what time it is. It was near five when she came down here. She and Ken followed Bad Brain and watched him — was that another hour? Surely it had to be close to seven o'clock by now?

She was going to kill Ken the next time she saw him. First she was going to kick him in the teeth. Then she'd find a flight of stairs to throw him down.

Was it seven o'clock yet? Was Clark standing outside her apartment door right now, knocking? How long before he realized she wasn't there? Would he go back to the Planet to look for her? Why hadn't she left a note for him? How long until he asked Superman to look for her?

Her heart sank as she remembered that Clark had said Superman had been looking for Bad Brain in the tunnels. He still hadn't found him; how was he ever going to find her? Would Ken eventually relent and confess what he had done? Maybe call in an anonymous tip when they set up a search for her? Or would he just let her rot to save his own reputation?

Bobby! Bobby knew where she had gone. Wouldn't Clark eventually ask Bobby if he knew where she was? It didn't matter that she was blocks away from Fourth Street and Haines. It would at least give him a starting point.

It will be okay, she reassured herself. They'll find you. Clark, and Superman, neither of them will stop looking until they find you.

Then, she heard the screams. From the other side of the door came a rising wail of pain and panic. She put her hands over her ears, trembling at her own impotence to help the man.

Please, she thought desperately, just let them find me before Bad Brain does.

***

Where was she?

As near as Clark could tell, she hadn't come home from work at all. He took a quick peek through her door after his third knock had gone unanswered. Her lights were off. The first little stab of apprehension shot through him. Had she even come home tonight?

So where was she? Had she lost track of time? Had she gone back to the Planet? He rushed out of her building and headed back to the Planet, watching for her the entire way without success.

He looked around the newsroom but didn't see her. Her computer was turned off. He felt the top of her monitor. It was cold — she had apparently turned it off long ago. He asked around but no one remembered seeing her for at least a few hours.

Clark stood by her desk, telling himself it was too soon to panic. Think like Lois, he told himself. Or, try to think like Lois. The workings of her mind were still a mystery to him. You left work early today — why? Had she decided to go shopping for something to wear on their date? No, she still would have been home by seven o'clock.

So where else might she go?

It had to be a story. Something had come up. Something so urgent she didn't wait for him to come back. He looked at her desk again, trying to see if there were any hastily scribbled notes or some other clue. Had she gone to meet someone? If so, did she write down an address? There were notes about STAR Labs and a list of the Johnsons who worked in electrical engineering that had been shoved to the side of her keyboard. Had she gone back to STAR Labs? Had she decided to pay one of the Johnsons a visit?

She wouldn't be that foolish, would she?

Clark grimaced. Of course she would. But surely she would have left him a note before she did something that potentially dangerous?

The television behind him announced that Ken Randall was about to report another exclusive in the search for Bad Brain. Clark turned to watch. The video was grainy, the same poor quality as the video of Dr. Gatenby's meeting with Superman. It showed a man strapped to a table. It was hard to tell if he was dead or only unconscious.

Then he heard a whisper off-camera, so soft that it was barely audible. "Oh my god, that's how he's electrocuting them."

Lois! He stepped closer to the television, scanning the screen frantically while he listened for her voice again. Another man, tall and thin, came into view and set a clear sarcophagus over the man strapped to the table. The image shook and he heard Lois whisper again. "We have to…"

The screen went dark for half a second and then Ken appeared, sitting in a television studio and speaking gravely into the camera. Clark didn't understand a word he said, his mind was racing. Lois had been with Ken in the tunnel when that clip was filmed. So why was Ken sitting in the studio and Lois was nowhere to be found? Clark picked up the phone and called WMET. He used his Superman voice and demanded that they put Ken on the phone.

Calm down, he told himself as he waited through several long seconds on hold. Ken will tell you what they were doing. Maybe she told him where she was going next.

"This is Ken Randall," Ken said in a cheerfully pompous voice.

"Where is she?" Clark demanded with preamble.

"Where is who? Who is this?"

"This is Clark Kent. Where is Lois?"

Ken laughed, "What makes you think I know?"

"I saw your story, Ken. I heard her, at the end of the tape. We were supposed to meet tonight and she's not here."

"Gee, Clark, I don't know what to say. Maybe she stood you up?"

"Where is she?"

"How would I know?" There was the slightest hint of strain in Ken's voice and it made Clark certain he was lying.

"Ken, I swear to God, I'll come over there and shake the answer out of you. Where is she?"

There was a pause and then Ken sighed. "She was down in the maze the last time I saw her."

"The maze? Do you mean the tunnels? Which tunnel?"

Ken sighed again. "Underneath Haines Street. About Seventh Avenue, I'd guess."

"If I don't find her, I'm coming looking for you."

"Temper, temper." Ken hung up.

Clark slammed the phone down, splintering the plastic handset.

***

He flew to his apartment at supersonic speed, picking up his flashlight and then headed to Haines and Seventh Avenue. Once he was in the tunnel he turned, looking both ways. He couldn't hear her. Couldn't hear anything, really, except the frantic beat of his own heart and the taunting voice in his head whispering that it was too late. Someday you're going to be too late. What if today is that day?

He opened his mouth to call her name and then realized that would be folly. If Bad Brain was down here she couldn't answer him. Clark turned to the right and ran. After several blocks the tunnel diverged. He looked down both new shafts, but there was no sign that anyone had been there. Clenching his jaw in frustration, he raced back to where he had started.

Would it be quicker to search from above? X-ray the streets and see if he could find her that way? What if she was in a lead-lined room? He had noticed several of those on their trek through the sewer the night before.

What if the tunnels had flooded again? For a moment he relived seeing her swept away from him and his breath caught in his throat. He looked down; the muck underfoot was damp, but not muddy. So there had been no flood today.

Not in this tunnel, his mind whispered. But maybe she's not in this tunnel. If Ken had anything to do with her disappearance, do you really think he'd tell you where to look for her?

Clark kept moving. After two more dead ends he found himself in a large chamber. It looked like the room with the table from Ken's video, only the equipment was gone now. He looked at the floor, zooming in to see the outlines of the racks and table that had stood there. Ken was such an idiot. Wherever Bad Brain was now, he certainly wasn't coming back here. Clark listened, straining to hear her. Was she here?

He couldn't hear her. But she had been here, or near here. He turned, picking out the tunnel that seemed to correspond to the view in the video. He went to it and shone his light on the ground. He could see the impressions made by two sets of hands and knees. They had crawled to here and filmed Bad Brain. Then where did they go?

Think, he told himself. You're Lois. You came down into the tunnels with Ken… why? Why had she come here with Ken? Had Ken called her to meet him here? Or had they met up by coincidence? Concentrate! You're Lois and you're here with Ken. You see a man strapped to the table. Lois had said, "We have to…" before the clip stopped.

They had to… what? Help the man? Get the police? Get closer? Get out of there?

Help, he decided. Lois would want to help. Had Ken refused to help? Had Lois left without him? Was she lost? Maybe she was only wandering around in the tunnels disoriented right now. Maybe Bad Brain had heard them and followed? Had he strapped Lois to that table as well? Was her body going to be found in a back alley tomorrow morning? His dark thoughts spiraled and another one occurred to him. Had Ken, thinking he was going to lose the story, followed her? What would he have done with her?

//"She was down in the maze the last time I saw her."//

What did he mean by that? The maze? Was he referring to the tunnels as a maze? Or did he mean a particular section of the tunnels? Clark followed their tracks back up the tunnel and then his foot brushed past something. He shone his light down on it. It was another flashlight. No, it was *Lois'* flashlight. He looked closer at the ground and saw that the tracks changed abruptly — looking more like someone had been dragged. He followed the drag marks further along the tunnel until they ended in front of a metal door.

He heard a faint shaky sigh on the other side of the door. He tried the door but the handle was jammed. He pulled it off its hinges and shone the light inside. "Lois?"

Lois had shrunk away from the door when it suddenly opened, not wanting to reveal herself until she knew who was there. Then she heard her name and stumbled towards him. For half a second she thought he was Clark until she touched his arm and felt the smooth spandex of Superman's costume. That's twice now you've thought he sounded like Clark, she chided herself.

"Superman!" she said weakly, swaying a little on her feet as the realization set in that her ordeal was over and she was safe now. Clark felt her sway and he bent to lift her into his arms.

"What happened? Are you all right?" he asked.

"It was Ken," she said, her voice shaky. "I went to go get help and he locked me in here." She cleared her throat and pushed back the urge to cry. Not here. You can't fall apart here. It doesn't matter how nice Superman is; just hold it together until you get home.

As they emerged from the sewers Clark looked at her face. Was that a bruise? Or was it just a trick of the dim lighting and the fact that she was covered in mud? "Did he hurt you?" he asked her.

"I just want to go home now." Lois buried her face in his neck. "Would you please just take me home?"

As he flew them to her apartment Lois began shaking. You're just cold, she told herself. It's the fact that you're wet and flying that's making you shake. It has nothing to do with that dark place or that poor man's screams. You're just cold.

"Right here," she told Superman when they reached her building. "You can just leave me out here. I'll be okay."

"Let me at least walk you to your door," he said as he set her down in front of the building. "I can't just leave you like this."

Lois hurried up the steps into her building and he followed her. She kept her head down and he couldn't see her eyes. He had to see her eyes, to know if she was really okay before he left her. His heart ached for her as he watched her hands trembling as she unlocked her door. She hurried inside and he followed, his worry increasing the longer she went without looking at him.

"Thanks," she said softly, her head bowed. "I'll be okay now."

"Lois?" He reached out and tilted her chin up. It wasn't just the dim lighting; he could clearly make out a bruise along her left cheek. "Who did this? Was it Ken?" he asked, his own voice starting to shake as a blinding white-hot anger coursed through him.

Lois ducked her head again. Why couldn't he just leave? Couldn't he see she just wanted to be alone now? She shrugged. "We fought and I think he got me with his flashlight. Really, Superman, with everything else that's happened tonight, that's not the worst part."

"What's the worst part?"

Lois looked at his face. She had never seen Superman look so… angry. See, he does care, her mind whispered. Of course he does, she retorted. But just as a friend. And don't you need a friend right now? Of course you do. But not him. You have to start making boundaries. With him and with Clark.

"Superman, will you do me a favor?"

Please, let her ask him to track down Ken. He would kill him, he thought. He would gladly kill Ken Randall.

"Yes, anything," he said.

"Will you find Clark and let him know that I'm okay? I think he might still be out there looking for me."

Superman hesitated and then nodded. "Sure."

"Tell him I'm sorry about dinner. Tell him I'll talk to him tomorrow. Would you do that for me, please?"

***

Lois stood in her shower and cried. She could almost hear the dying man's screams still echoing in her ears. Mostly she could still feel the damp cold air of the room she had been locked in. No amount of hot water and steam could erase the chill inside her. If her eyes were closed she wasn't sure whether she was home or still trapped. When her eyes were open all she could see was how dark it was outside. It was like the dark was creeping in around her.

She almost wished she had asked Superman to beat Ken senseless on her behalf. The look on Superman's face when he saw the bruise made her believe he might actually do it if she asked.

No, it would be so much more satisfying to do it herself.

After her shower she laid on her bed but felt too restless to sleep. She tossed and turned. She tried to watch television but couldn't understand any of the shows. The night seemed so dark and there were far too many hours left until daylight. She rose and dressed quickly, slipping out into the night in the direction of Clinton Street. There was a still a light on inside his apartment when she got there. Feeling heartened, she knocked on Clark's door.

When Clark opened the door his eyes went immediately to her bruised cheek. He looked at it with almost the same horrified and angry expression that Superman had. Lois put a hand up to her face, feeling self-conscious. "Superman told you about Ken?"

He nodded.

"Is it too late to come over?"

"No, come on in." He stepped back to open the door wide.

"Thanks," she told him and went down the stairs into his living room.

Clark came down the stairs and stood in front of her, watching her with worry in his eyes.

"Did he tell you where he found me?" she asked, her voice starting to waver.

"Yes."

Lois closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. "I kept telling myself that one of you would find me. That you would know I was missing." She opened her eyes and whispered, "It was really dark in there. And I just couldn't be in the dark anymore tonight. Especially not if I had to be alone."

"You can always come here, Lois."

She nodded, her chin beginning to quiver. She stepped forward blindly and put her arms around him, the fear now overriding everything else. She just wanted to feel as safe as she had last night when he held her. Clark brought his arms around her, his hand stroking her hair.

"What if I said I just wanted to be held tonight?"

"Then I would hold you," his breath ruffled her hair.

"Can I stay here again tonight? The whole night? Would that be okay?"

"Yes," he told her, tightening his arms around her. "Anything you want."

"I didn't bring pajamas. Can I borrow your shirt again?"

Clark smiled. "Sure."

Lois pulled away, realizing for the first time that he was only wearing boxers and a t-shirt. He was obviously in bed or headed that way when she had shown up. "I know it's late, I'm sorry if I'm keeping you awake."

"I couldn't sleep either. I was worried about you. Come on, I'll get you a shirt."

She followed him into his bedroom and took the t-shirt that he gave her. Then she went into his bathroom and stripped down to her panties, pulling his shirt on. She nervously folded her clothes and brought them back out with her, setting them down on his window seat. Clark stood by the side of his bed, watching her quietly.

Lois gave him a tremulous smile and walked over to him, putting her arms loosely around his waist. He did the same and she leaned forward, resting her cheek against his chest as he enfolded her in his arms. She sniffled and then began to cry. For several minutes he simply held her, rocking her slightly, and smoothed his hands slowly along her back as she cried. Occasionally he murmured quiet words meant to soothe her, but mostly he simply held her. He could feel his own tension, his anger and the fear he had felt dissipating as he held her.

Once her tears subsided she thought about pulling away from him to crawl into bed. She didn't want to leave his arms, not even for the scant amount of time it would take for them both to get in bed. What if she fell asleep here? Would he put her in the bed with him? Lois smiled at the thought and kissed his chest. Then his shoulder. She kissed the skin just above the neck of his t-shirt. Then the underside of his chin. Clark made no move to kiss her back, his hands continuing to soothe over her back.

Lois tipped her head back to look up at him. "You said anything I wanted, right?"

"Right."

"Touch me, Clark. Make me forget, please."

"Forget?"

"Today. Last night in the tunnels. All of it. Just make me forget, just for a while, that anything bad has happened. I could hear him, Clark. I could hear him screaming as Bad Brain killed him. It was…" She shuddered and buried her face in his chest again. "It's like I can still hear him. Please, can you take that away?"

Clark sat on the bed and tugged on her hand so that she sat down next to him. "Come here." He wrapped his arms around her and lay down, bringing her along with him.

"Just relax, honey," he whispered. "I've got you."

Lois did as he asked, snuggling up next to him. His hands smoothed over her arms, her shoulders and her back. His touch was light, soothing all the tension and fear from her. Her head rested against his shoulder, her forehead against his chin. Had he just called her 'honey'?

"I know you were scared tonight, so was I. But we're here now and you're okay."

//"…honey…"//

Her mind raced, trying to pin down what he had meant by that. Was it just a term of endearment that didn't have to mean anything? He knew she was scared — he was just comforting her. Did he love her? Not just as a friend, but as more? Had any other friend ever made her feel so safe, so loved?

"You can turn off the light," she said quietly. "I'll be okay as long as you're here."

"You're sure?"

"Yes."

He reached over, turning the light out and she felt a moment of vertigo as the room went dark. His arms tightened around her and he asked, "Do you want me to turn it back on?"

"No," she said in an unsteady whisper. "I can't go the rest of my life sleeping with the lights on." But, her mind continued, you can't spend the rest of your life sleeping in his arms, either. Can you?

Boundaries, she reminded herself. You need to set some boundaries.

***

Lois woke up in the bright light of morning and fought a wave of nausea. Clark was cooking eggs and it wasn't a pleasant smell. Her stomach rebelled and she ran for the bathroom. She was never going in those tunnels again. If there was any justice in the world Ken Randall was also bent over a toilet right now.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked from outside the door.

"I'm going to use your toothbrush again," she said.

He listened to the sound of her brushing her teeth and then he said, "Lois, what if we kept a toothbrush here for you?"

She paused, drooling toothpaste as his meaning sank in. She spat into the sink, rinsed her mouth and then straightened up. Her reflection looked panicky in the mirror.

"Oh," she finally said. "I, uh, I don't know."

Clark winced. He should have known she wasn't ready. "It was just a thought," he said, feeling awkward. "It doesn't have to mean anything."

"Oh," she said again, feeling trapped and nauseated.

"Would you like some breakfast?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.

She opened the door, wishing he wasn't standing there. She pushed past him into the bedroom. "I'm not really hungry. I think I'm just going to go home and get ready for work."

"Maybe you should take the day off, get some rest." Clark turned and followed her into the bedroom.

"Are you my mother now?" Lois looked around frantically for her clothes. Where had she left them?

"What? No, I'm just worried about you."

There! She had left them neatly folded on the window seat. She rushed over and picked them up. "I hope you're not trying to work up to a lecture about the dangers of going into the tunnels without you."

Clark blinked in surprise. "No, I…"

She cut him off, pushing past him again to go back in the bathroom. "Just because we're having sex doesn't give you the right to run my life. You have no say over where I spend my time."

Anger flared in him. She wouldn't even look at him as she rushed past. How could one casual little question be so offensive? "A toothbrush, Lois! All I did was suggest that maybe you'd want to have a toothbrush here. I didn't ask you to move in with me."

Lois slammed the bathroom door shut. Her hands were shaking. Logically she knew it was just a toothbrush. But it meant more than that and he knew it. Having a toothbrush here meant this was a more permanent arrangement, not a fling. It would mean giving up Superman. It would mean giving up everyone else, for that matter. It would mean commitment, and commitments didn't last. Look at her parents, there was prime example number one.

Sure, the sex was great but what if it turned into something more? What was going to happen after two kids and a mortgage? Would the lure of Cat, or his college girlfriend, or some cute little intern turn his head? If she loved him it would mean giving up some of herself, her life, to him. He would be entitled to an opinion on where she spent her days and nights.

"Okay, so let's say for the sake of argument that I did have a toothbrush here. Would you keep one at my place? What about a razor? And then why not keep a change of clothes? You see how it starts? One little thing and everything else just falls into place!" She yelled all this at the door as she hastily got dressed.

When she threw the door open he noticed that her shirt was on inside-out. But she was far too angry for him to want to mention it. Hell, he was far too upset with her to mention it. "Falls into place? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Tell me the truth, Clark. Did you do this just for sex?"

There was no good way to answer that. If he said it was just sex, she would think he was using her. If he admitted what he really wanted, she was going to freak out even more.

"This was your idea. You said just sex. All I did was suggest that you keep a toothbrush here. That's not a commitment, Lois. It's a toothbrush."

"But it's not just a toothbrush, is it? If I have a toothbrush here it's because I'm sleeping here. And if I'm sleeping here it's not just sex! Or are you trying to make me feel better about it just being sex? Are you trying to give it the appearance of respectability?"

"What? No! Lois, I wasn't implying that you were being promiscuous!"

"There! That's the word! You used it — you must be thinking it!"

"I have never thought you were promiscuous! I know you better than that."

"Oh yeah, you *know* me, don't you! Do you brag about it? Would you give Joe a glowing recommendation for me? How about Superman? Are you going to tell him?"

For a moment he gaped at her. Then he decided to tell her the truth and to hell with the consequences. "You know what? You're right! I didn't do this for sex. I did it because I wanted to be with you!"

She stared at him with an expression of shock and horror. "Be with me? You knew from the beginning that I was in love with someone else!"

"Someone who told you that he can't be with you!"

She gasped. "You knew about that?"

He closed his eyes, now he had really put his foot in it. "Yes."

She was furious. He could only know that if Superman had told him. That explained Superman's uneasiness around her. He knew! He absolutely knew. He and Clark had been swapping Lois stories all this time. Superman already knew.

"Did he tell you that?" she asked, feeling a different kind of nausea roll through her.

"He didn't have to," Clark admitted. "Lois, there's something you should know."

"No! There's nothing I want to know! How could you! You promised me you would never tell! Or did he tell you he didn't want me first, is that how it happened?"

"No! Lois, you don't understand!"

"Did you think that maybe I'd learn to love you instead?" She shook with anger at his presumptuousness.

"I… yes," he admitted softly. "I love you. And I hoped you might feel the same way."

"What were you going to do if I didn't? Keep sleeping with me? Play subliminal tapes to make me fall in love with you? I've already told you, Clark, I just don't see you that way. Not then. Not now. Not ever." That last bit had been pure spite — she knew all too well how much those particular words could hurt.

For a few seconds they stared at each other, neither of them quite believing it had all fallen apart so fast. Lois waited, hoping he would say he would still love her, no matter what. If he'd say that, she'd tell him that it did mean more to her than just sex. Clark was still reeling from the words, "not ever". He remembered the hurt look in her eyes when he said those words to her as Superman. So this was how it felt.

Finally, Lois spoke. "I wish it had never happened."

She really meant it. Worse, he shared her feelings on that subject. He wished it had never happened as well, but he wasn't about to voice that thought.

"Then it never happened," he said quietly. "We were able to carry it off before. We can just go back to that. We'll pretend it never happened."

She nodded sadly. He wasn't even going to fight for her. "Okay," she whispered.

"So… we're still friends, right?"

"I don't think so. Not right now. It's just too weird."

She saw his expression flicker and had to fight the urge to take it all back. You're doing the right thing, she told herself. It's better to end it now than after two kids and a mortgage. You should never have crossed that boundary to begin with.

"What about work?"

"Work is work." She headed for the front door, wanting to get away from there before she started crying. "Maybe we should ask Perry to reassign us. If you're still going to cling to the idea that this could be more, I mean. If you can let go of that, then I don't see why we can't still work together. It was just sex, Clark. It never meant anything more to me."

He stood in the center of his living room after she left, staring in disbelief at the door. She was gone. It was over. He had blown it. At least you never told her about Superman, he comforted himself. At least you can still be friends with her through him.

He went through the motions of getting ready for work. The numbness inside him insulated him against thinking too hard about what he had just lost. He was doing okay — until he went to brush his teeth. He held up the toothbrush to put paste on it and then froze. For a moment he stared at his toothbrush, then he snapped it in two and threw it in the garbage can.

He stormed back into his bedroom and looked at the unmade bed. For a moment he wavered, almost able to tamp down the anguish he felt inside. But then it was too much for him and he sank onto the bed, feeling as though his heart had been shattered. He thought she had broken his heart when she turned him down to marry Luthor, but this was even worse.

It was ironic, he thought. The most powerful man in the world had just been laid low by a toothbrush.

***

"Hey, Lois," Jimmy said when she stepped out of the elevator. "Remember you asked for everything I could dig up on the construction of the nuclear plant? Well, I was finally able to get something for you. It's on your desk."

"Thanks, Jimmy."

"Are you okay?" he asked. She looked a little dazed, her eyes were puffy and there was a heck of a bruise on her cheek. "What happened to you?"

"Oh," she said, putting her hand to her cheek. "I had a run-in last night with Ken Randall."

Jimmy gave her a lopsided smile. "I hope it's one of those 'you should see the other guy' kind of run-ins."

"Not yet," she told him. "But the next time I see Ken it will be." Lois glanced hesitantly in the direction of Clark's desk. He wasn't there. "Has Clark come in yet?"

"I haven't seen him."

"Okay, thanks." Lois gave him an absent nod and went to her desk. She sat down and stared at the list Jimmy had left for her without really seeing it. She glanced at her watch. It was almost nine o'clock. She had been late coming in but Clark was even later. Where was he?

She knew she should be grateful he wasn't there. Part of her even hoped he wasn't coming in at all today. She cringed, remembering how petty and sullen he had been after she had told him she just wanted to be friends when he was trying to prevent her from marrying Lex. She was quite certain it was going to be even worse now.

She tried again to read the papers Jimmy had left but the words meant nothing to her. All she could think about was the stunned look on Clark's face as she was leaving.

//"So… we're still friends, right?"

"I don't think so. Not right now. It's just too weird."//

How could they go back to just being friends again? Obviously his idea of friendship was different from hers. He looked at it as some springboard to intimacy. She just wanted… what? She wanted someone to talk to and someone to make her laugh. Clark definitely had those qualities. There were only a handful of people in the world that she truly enjoyed simply spending time with and Clark was one of them.

//"I didn't do this for sex. I did it because I wanted to be with you!"//

What about someone to hold her when she couldn't sleep? Someone who could touch her and make all her dark thoughts disappear? That was more than just friends — that was intimacy. Real intimacy — not sex. It was the kind of intimacy that included leaving personal hygiene items in someone's bathroom cabinet. It was someone to carry you to bed when you were sick and make you tea. And he saved your life, she reminded herself. He risked his own life to save you in the tunnel that night. That's not intimacy, that's love.

//"I love you. And I hoped you might feel the same way."//

Lois let out a soft groan. How could he do that to her? He had promised it would only be sex. And yet, deep down, she had known it meant more to him than that. That knowledge was part of the reason she had slept with him to begin with. It seemed less immoral that way. It was because you love him, her mind whispered. You figured that out at the altar with Lex. It was Clark you wanted. It was always only Clark… Her phone rang, breaking into her thoughts.

"Lois!" Inspector Henderson sounded far too cranky for this early in the morning. "I heard you were dragged out of the sewer last night by Superman."

"Who told you that?"

"I have my sources. Those same sources tell me you were with Ken Randall when he made that video of Bad Brain."

"Did your source tell you what Ken Randall did to me last night?"

"The details of your personal life hold little fascination for me."

"He locked me in a room in the sewers when I tried to go get help!"

"I'm shocked to hear there's no honor among journalists. So you did see Bad Brain at work or not?"

Lois closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I heard more than I saw of what happened."

"I'd like you to come down to the station today and tell me all about it."

"I thought you said the details of my personal life held little fascination for you."

"Then make it interesting. I mean it, Lois, I want to see your statement on my desk by the end of the day, you hear me?"

"Fine," Lois sighed. She hung up the phone and put her hands over her eyes. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was re-live last night in the tunnels again. It probably wouldn't matter if she told Henderson exactly where Bad Brain had been. Since Ken had broadcast that video Bad Brain would have had to move on.

//"You do realize he carries that shock gun with him everywhere? I've seen him shooting rats with it and it just obliterates them."//

If Bad Brain had moved on, he had to be getting his power from somewhere. The electro-shockwave gun and that table contraption required electricity. Neither of those things were like a hair dryer that you could just plug into any old outlet. They had to be sucking up a lot of power. If he was stealing power from the city, maybe there was a way to track him?

Lois looked around her desk and found the business card Kevin from MetEd had given her. She dialed the number but only got Kevin's voice mail. She left him a message telling him her theory and asked him to call her back.

As she hung up the phone she saw Clark had arrived at his desk.

//"Work is work… I don't see why we can't still work together…"//

Was there any way to fix this? Lois tipped her head down and watched Clark through the veil of her hair. He sat at his desk, still looking slightly shell-shocked. He picked up the handset of his phone and it broke in two, the top falling away to reveal the wiring inside. Curiosity won out over caution and she called out to him, "What happened to your phone?"

He shook his head slowly, still staring at it.

"You should check with Communications. I'm sure they'll swap it out for you."

Clark lifted his head, disbelieving that she could sit there and act so natural, so utterly removed from their fight this morning. Fresh pain stabbed through him — she really didn't care.

"Are you my mother now?" he snapped, taking a bitter pride at the surprised and, he hoped, wounded, look on her face. He disconnected the receiver on his phone and stalked away.

Lois glared at his retreating back. He didn't have to be so nasty, especially when she was just trying to be nice. She forced herself to look at the list Jimmy had left on her desk. The names swam in front of her eyes. She stopped and went back — one of the names was 'R. Johnson'. He was listed as an electrical engineer during the construction of the plant. Was it possible that he still had a key to the plant? Was that how he was able to get inside to kill Dr. Gatenby and the homeless man?

Lois turned to the census, flipping through it to find the R. Johnson's. There were three of them listed. Robert Johnson, age 41, employed by MetEd. Roy Johnson, age 73, retired from Monroe Electrical. Rufus Johnson, age 37, employed by Cox Construction.

She looked at the list Jimmy had given her. Cox Construction was the company that had built the nuclear plant.

She glanced over at Clark's desk. Should she tell him where she was going? It was still his story, too. It was also just an apartment and not the sewers. Still, if it was Bad Brain's apartment it might be smarter to have someone else along. She sighed heavily, trying to resign herself to the thought of bringing a taciturn Clark along with her.

"Lois! What happened?" Joe asked, stopping at the side of her desk.

"Oh," she fought the urge to put her hand to her cheek yet again. No amount of makeup was going to hide that damn bruise. "I was on a stakeout last night and it turned nasty."

"I don't suppose I could convince you to try something a little less dangerous tonight, could I? Something like, say, dinner with me?"

Behind Joe she could see Clark coming back into the bullpen, holding a new handset for his phone. He was scowling at her and Joe and… to hell with him.

"Sure, Joe. What time?"

Joe's face split into a surprised grin. "Seven o'clock?"

"Sounds great. I have to chase down a few leads today. I'll just meet you back here at seven. Is that okay?"

"Perfect." Joe touched her shoulder as he started to move past her. "Be careful today, okay?"

"Yeah, uh, you too." Lois said.

Joe laughed. "Sports writing isn't nearly as dangerous as investigative reporting." He touched his own cheek and winked at her. "I've yet to come away from a story with a bruise."

Clark was trying not to listen to them but he'd already heard more than he wanted to. Just like that, she was going out with Joe. She sure moved fast when she wanted. Please, let there be some looming disaster tonight at seven. Preferably on the other side of the world. He plugged the new receiver in and listened for the dial tone. Then he set it back in its cradle.

"Clark?" He looked up in surprise to see her walking towards his desk. "Jimmy got some information on the construction company that built the nuclear plant. There was an electrical engineer named R. Johnson on the list. Did you want to come with me to check him out?"

Clark was so shocked that she could act so casual that he almost couldn't speak. Apparently this morning was all but forgotten to her. And why shouldn't it be? She'd already replaced him with Joe. His heart seemed to twist in his chest, feeling like it was breaking all over again.

"Do you have an address for him?" he managed to ask.

"One sixty-three Bessolo, number eight."

***

One sixty-three Bessolo was on the edge of the industrial section of town. Clark took a quick peek through the door while Lois picked the shoddy lock on the door. No one was inside. She opened the door to an almost empty apartment. The furniture consisted of a threadbare couch and a small table with two chairs. There was nothing in the refrigerator and dust covered every flat surface in the room. Lois opened a door and found an equally austere bedroom.

"I guess this is why he had such a cheap lock on the door," she said. "There's nothing worth stealing in here."

"Somehow, I don't think he's coming back," Clark said from the kitchen.

Lois looked around the apartment again, wondering if he had ever come here to begin with. "I guess it was too much to hope for that he'd leave a list of people he wanted to get even with or something."

"You can't always pin down someone's motives that easily," Clark muttered.

Lois sighed. She was trying so hard to be nice to him and act like there was nothing wrong. Would it kill him to do the same? "I hope that's not a veiled reference to what happened this morning."

"This morning?" His words dripped with feigned ignorance. "Did something happen this morning?"

She decided it would be preferable to go down to the police station and re-live last night in the tunnels for Henderson over sticking around and re-living this morning with Clark. He was always leaving her in the lurch, let him see how it felt for once.

"I, uh, have to run an errand," Lois told him. "I guess I'll see you at the Planet later."

***

By the time Lois got back to the Planet she was exhausted. She wished there was some way to get out of her dinner with Joe because she wanted nothing more than to go home, pull the covers over her head and find some way to rewind the day. Most of all she wished she could have found a more graceful way to exit Clark's apartment that morning.

"Lois, line three is for you," Jimmy called out.

"Lois Lane," she said, picking up the line.

"I saw you at my apartment this morning."

Bad Brain. A chill went through her. Was he watching them this morning? Or was he just watching the apartment and happened to see them?

"I hope you don't feel bad; I didn't leave you anything," she told him, trying to sound unaffected. "It didn't look like you were coming back. So where are you staying these days? I still owe you a housewarming present."

"Don't make this personal, Lois. You don't want me as an enemy."

"It's not personal. I just don't like you."

He laughed, a low chuckle that deepened the chill inside her. "Then we're even. I'm warning you now, stay out of it. You should also tell Kent and Randall and your pal Superman to stay clear."

"Superman?"

"It's a warning, Lois. I suggest you heed it." The line went dead.

***

Dinner with Joe was nice. Joe was nice. He was witty and urbane and had kept up both ends of the conversation as she had retreated further and further into her own thoughts. By the end of the date she only knew one thing about him — he wasn't Clark.

After dinner she had apologized and made an excuse to go back to the Planet instead of having Joe take her home. To her surprise Clark was still there. He had looked up when she entered the newsroom but now seemed to be perfecting his sullen avoidance of her. Lois sat for a few minutes, ostensibly going through the notes on her desk. It dawned on her that she was trying to work up the courage to go and talk to Clark.

Clark tensed when she stood up and walked past his desk. He could hear her moving around in the small break area behind his desk. She wasn't getting coffee. She was just shuffling items around on the counter. She was, he realized, only looking for an excuse to come past his desk. Was she planning to gloat now? Did she want to tell him what a wonderful time she'd just had with Joe? Did she really think he wanted to hear all the juicy details? He had spent the last two hours trying to chase away the images his mind too readily conjured.

He couldn't stay here and be happy for her. Clark stood up quickly, grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and moved as fast as he dared towards the elevator. As he pressed the button to call the elevator he heard her realize he was leaving.

"Oh," she said quietly. It took all his willpower not to turn around and look back at her. The doors opened and he stepped inside, moving to stand against the wall where he wouldn't be in her direct line of vision. The doors closed and he sagged back against the wall, grateful to be leaving.

As the elevator doors shut, Lois gulped in several deep breaths and tried to convince herself that Clark Kent was not worth crying over. Anyone who could be that immature wasn't worth hanging onto.

***

It wasn't until much later that night that she desperately wished she had found the courage to talk to him. Her apartment, once so familiar to her, seemed cold and hostile. Every noise was pronounced. The drip of the faucet was eerily like the drip in her temporary prison. She tried, but couldn't get the faucet to stop leaking. She kept her bedside lamp on, hating the dark. She couldn't go to Clark to escape it, not this time. Not ever again.

Why, oh why, had she panicked like that this morning? This time last night, he was holding her in his arms. Regret flooded through her — she had gone too far in ending their arrangement like that. No, she corrected herself firmly. It was never going to last. She had been right to end it. It couldn't last. Better a few regrets now than a lifetime of regret later.

But what about losing his friendship? Had she lost that irrevocably? Things had been awkward between them for weeks after she became engaged to Lex. But, in the end, he had been there for her. Would they eventually fall back into being friends or had she ruined it forever?

Last night seemed so much further away than just twenty-four hours. She pulled her pillow closer, burying her face in it, hoping there might be some trace of his scent on it from a few nights ago when he had been here. He had kissed her before leaving. She had been faking sleep. He had pulled the blankets up to her chin, smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead softly before he left.

She knew — she had always known — that his feelings for her were stronger than hers for him. She muttered to herself as she turned over, still looking for sleep. Did she love Clark, like that? She knew she cared for him. He was her best friend. He was no slouch in the bedroom. Or the kitchen. She blushed, recalling what they had done in his kitchen just last week.

She had wanted him to be attracted to her. She had wanted it to mean something — to him. She just didn't want to feel so much in return.

//"It was just sex, Clark. It never meant anything more to me."//

God, of all the things she could have said, she picked those words. Remember how it stung when he said it wasn't real, her conscience goaded her. What if you had said "I love you" and he told you it wasn't real? How much more would that hurt? You can't just say "I'm sorry" and fix it.

What if there was no way to fix it this time? She had tried to be nice and he had snapped at her and ignored her. She probably deserved that. So, if he wouldn't talk to her, who would he talk to?

***

The next morning Clark had to make an appearance at Metropolis Children's Hospital. He had agreed weeks before to the appointment and he didn't want to back out. The only problem was he was quite certain Lois knew that Superman would be there. Sure enough, she was there. She stood at the back of the room and didn't ask a single question during the press conference. Afterwards she still made no move to talk to him, just watched him, her eyes dark and wary. It was unnerving and he wished he could find a way to leave without talking to her. Unfortunately, while that was something Clark could to do to her now, it wasn't something Superman would do.

She waited until there were only a handful of people left in the auditorium before she approached him.

"Hello, Lois," he said, standing with his arms crossed and drawing himself up to his full height.

She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a moment. Had she figured it out? An icy chill shot through his body.

"I was asked to give you a warning," she finally said.

"A warning?" Clark raised one eyebrow, intrigued in spite of himself.

"From Bad Brain. He called me yesterday to tell me I should quit trying to find him. He also said that Clark and Ken Randall and you should stay away from him, too."

"Did he say why?"

She shook her head.

"I'll be careful," he told her.

She gave him a tight smile and looked past him, summoning up her courage. "Can I ask you a question?" She couldn't meet his eyes, her hands were starting to shake, she was so nervous.

Clark nodded, steeling himself for whatever she might ask.

"It's a personal question, but it's not about you. It's about Clark."

"Clark?" In spite of himself, he was surprised.

"Yeah, uh, we had a fight." She looked directly at him, trying to gauge his reaction. He seemed about to say something and then thought better of it. He already knows, Lois thought, her stomach fluttering nervously. Remember, he's the one who told Clark he'd never be able to love you.

"Did you know?" she asked softly. "Did you know about me and Clark?"

Clark bowed his head. "Yes," he finally admitted in a low whisper.

Something almost like relief ran through her. So he did know — but how did he know? "Did he tell you?"

"No," he shook his head. "I, I just knew."

"You flew past and saw us?"

His forehead furrowed and he sighed. "Something like that."

"Oh," she blushed. "It wasn't… I mean, it wasn't what you think it was."

"What was it?"

"Just two friends, helping each other out."

"It meant more than that to Clark."

She ducked her head. "I know. And I… Has he talked to you about it at all?"

"No."

"I miss him," she sighed. "It's not the same between us anymore and I miss him. He barely even looks at me."

Clark wanted to remind her that she was the one who said 'not friends'. Anger flared through him. What in the hell did she want from him? Sympathy? Absolution? Was she here to proposition him again as Superman? "You hurt him," he said bluntly.

Lois drew in a shaky breath. She knew that. She didn't need Superman to point it out to her. "I didn't mean to hurt him," she whispered, looking up at him through watery eyes.

It was the way her eyes had turned to liquid that softened him. "Talk to him, Lois."

"And say what?" She spread her hands in a helpless gesture. "I don't think I can tell him what he wants to hear."

Clark nodded at her sadly. "He already knows that much." He stepped back, afraid his facade would crack if he stood here much longer. "Excuse me," he said and walked away.

***

Late the next afternoon Kevin from MetEd finally returned Lois' phone call. "I think I've found it!"

"Found what?" Lois asked.

"There's a hot spot in the system. Once a day it spikes near overload for almost an hour and then goes back down to nothing. I checked and it's on a sector that shouldn't be seeing any activity at all."

"Where is it?"

"There's an old power line that runs deep beneath the nuclear plant site. It's been off the mainframe for years, so either we've developed a hell of a sudden intermittent leak or someone is down there."

"When are you going to check it out?"

"Can you meet me at the plant in an hour?"

"Yes!" Lois hung up the phone and looked over at Clark. He was watching her, his expression carefully neutral.

"Good news?" he asked.

"Kevin found a power leak underneath the nuclear plant. I asked him to look for places on the mainframe where Bad Brain might be recharging his sick gadgets." Lois stood up and started moving towards the elevator. She turned around and saw that Clark was following her. She flashed him a smile, excitement bubbling up inside her that they might actually have found Bad Brain.

It was the smile that nearly buckled his knees. It was the first time since their fight that she had smiled at him.

***

Lois' first misgivings came when Kevin began to explain just how deep underground they were going to go. She remembered her irrational fear the night the tunnel flooded, how she had stood at the top peering into the blackness and didn't want to go any further. It was that same feeling again. And she had been right — something bad had happened to her in the tunnels. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead. Now she was going to get into a cage elevator and willingly be dropped over a thousand feet into the earth beneath Metropolis?

Clark saw her turn pale as she stepped into the cage with him and Kevin. "Are you still feeling sick? You can wait here for us…"

He hadn't finished speaking before her eyes flared in anger. "When hell freezes over! Don't nag, Clark. You're not my mother."

Kevin gave them hardhats with headlamps again. "I should warn you that when we get halfway we're going to feel a little turbulence." He shut the cage door and locked it. Lois swallowed hard, telling herself it was all going to be okay. Nothing bad was going to happen.

Kevin flipped the lever down, the cage shuddered, and then began to descend rapidly. Lois felt a little lightheaded and swayed on her feet, bumping backwards into Clark.

"Sorry," she murmured and stepped sideways to lean against the frame of the cage. The cool air rushing past them made her wish she hadn't worn a short-sleeved top. She folded her arms, rubbing her hands along her upper arms in an attempt to keep warm.

Clark wordlessly took his suit coat off and placed it over her shoulders.

"Thanks." The scent of his soap and aftershave on his jacket was so comforting she wanted to cry. Was it her imagination or was the bulb on her headlamp beginning to weaken and dim?

In the near darkness the elevator cable's whine sounded like a distant scream. It brought to mind far too vividly the hours she had been trapped in that dark room, replaying the dying man's screams in her mind. Suddenly the elevator shook violently. Lois let out a small cry, reaching out to grab Clark's arm as a reflex. He put his hand on her waist to steady her, the weight of it oddly reassuring even as the elevator seemed to bounce off the walls of the shaft. Her body seemed to come alive at his touch as she remembered him helping her out of the tunnel the night Kevin showed them the manhole switch. Her cheeks turned warm as she remembered the night he had left those bruises on her hips.

"We're passing the other cage," Kevin told them. "They counterbalance each other. It's the change in air pressure that causes the shaking. It'll pass in a few seconds."

Sure enough, the shaking stopped and they continued to drop into the dark. Clark took his hand from her waist, suddenly the gesture felt far too familiar to him. Lois pulled her hand away from his arm, feeling self-conscious. For just a moment she was grateful it was too dark to clearly see her face.

//"Talk to him…"//

And say what? That she loved how he smelled and she really missed the way he touched her?

A buzzer sounded and Kevin lifted the lever halfway, slowing the cage in its descent. A few more seconds and it bounced lightly as it stopped. Kevin opened the cage and they stepped out into a tunnel blasted through solid rock. Lois took a deep breath and fought against the claustrophobia welling up inside her. Kevin turned on the large flashlight he held, sweeping it before them as they moved further into the tunnel.

"There!" he exclaimed, pointing with the light at a mass of cables. "See, there's a new line spliced in." He followed a cable running out of the mass and further into the tunnel. "He's tapped into the line here."

Clark tipped his head, picking up the sound of someone else's heartbeat and breathing, moving away from them at a rapid rate. Then he recognized the tick-tick sound of Ken's pacemaker. How in the hell had Ken got here before them?

"Be right back," Clark told them and broke into a jog, determined to catch Ken off-guard.

When he caught up to Ken he grabbed his arm to stop him. "I want to talk to you," Clark told him in a low voice.

"I have nothing to say to you. Stop following me." Ken's smug tone set off a chain reaction in him. Before he could think about it he had taken hold of Ken's shirt and pushed him against the tunnel wall.

"How could you do it?" Clark asked, his voice shaking with anger.

"Do what? You mean Lois? Oh please, like Superman wasn't going to find her. She was absolutely fine. She should be thanking me for putting her in there before Bad Brain could catch her."

"That's not the way I heard it." Clark let go of Ken's shirt and stepped back to give himself a moment to calm down.

"Then she's lying." Ken took a step away from the wall and Clark shoved him back.

"Lois doesn't lie."

"Step back, Kent."

"If you come near her again, I'll…" Clark stopped, fighting the urge to punch Ken's smug face. He wanted to break every one of Ken's fingers as a warning but he couldn't justify it.

"You touch her again," Clark permitted himself this much, "and I swear I'll kill you."

Ken blinked in surprise at the vehement growl from a man he'd always considered something of a milquetoast. "You don't know who you're dealing with, Kent."

"Neither do you. Leave her alone." He stepped away from Ken, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep himself from striking the man.

"I would have gone back," Ken said softly. "If she was still there the next morning, I would have let her out."

"You hit her." Clark spat out the accusation.

"She hit me first!"

"So?" What if he only broke one of Ken's fingers?

"Are you one of those guys who thinks that you should never hit a woman?" Ken sneered.

"You should never hit anyone." It was lucky for Ken that Clark didn't believe in deliberately breaking their fingers either.

"You threatened to kill me." Ken actually looked offended.

"And I meant it. You touch her again and they'll never find your body."

Ken laughed. "That's cute." He punched Clark's arm and pushed past him to walk away. Lois and Kevin came around the corner and had to step back to give Ken room to go past them. Ken stopped in front of Lois and pointed at Clark with his flashlight. "You should put a leash on your boyfriend there, Lois."

Lois wasn't sure what had just happened, but she was willing to give Clark the benefit of the doubt over Ken. "Forget about him, Clark. He's not worth the lawsuit."

"I'm not going to sue him. I can afford to be magnanimous. You see, I have the Bad Brain story and you don't. You're a little bit late, I'm afraid. Bad Brain has come and gone." Ken laughed and turned to walk away.

"Maybe," said Kevin. "But he'll be back again tomorrow."

"Not if Ken has the story," Lois said, pointing with her flashlight at the camcorder strap slung across Ken's back. "He airs that tape and Bad Brain will just move on again."

"Then I guess we get the police involved before Ken can get on the air," Clark said.

For a moment, no one moved. Then Ken began to run and the three of them chased after him. Clark got to the elevator first and held the cage open even as Ken tried to push him out and shut the gate. Once all four of them were inside, Clark pulled the gate shut and Kevin started the cage in its ascent.

Five more minutes, Lois told herself. Five more minutes and you're home free. When they hit the baffles and the cage bounced around Ken fell hard against her. She was so tense already that it seemed to magnify the pain, sending tender shooting stabs through her chest. She let out a startled gasp.

"Ooo," Ken mocked. "I'm touching Lois!"

Clark reached forward faster than anyone else could see and yanked Ken's camcorder loose from its strap. He crushed it in his hand and let it drop to the floor. Then he looked down, his headlamp illuminating the damaged camera.

"Son of a bitch!" Ken exclaimed, looking at the shattered camera in dismay. It looked like even the tape inside was ruined.

"Bad luck, Ken," Kevin said with a laugh. "I hope that wasn't too expensive."

As they reached the surface Clark had that twitchy look to him that Lois knew meant he was about to run off. True to form, he stepped out of the cage first, calling over his shoulder that he'd see her tomorrow as he jogged away. Too late, Lois realized that she was still wearing his jacket. She called out his name as she took it off but he had gone around the corner.

Kevin and Ken turned to look at her. Lois shrugged. "I guess he's off to report Bad Brain's location to the cops."

"He's a man of action," Kevin said.

"Or he's just avoiding you," Ken added.

Lois wasn't about to tell Ken how right he was.

***

As Lois walked home she passed a pharmacy. She went inside, needing to pick up a few things before she got home. She shifted Clark's jacket over her arm and picked up one of the wire baskets. Double Fudge Crunch bars. And a bottle of water. Oh hey, and tampons. She was almost out of those and… She stopped in the aisle, frowning. What day was it anyway? She did a little mental math and frowned some more. That couldn't be right.

She counted back on her fingers. No, still not right. She tried again. Then again. Oh crap, no. That *couldn't* be right. She was usually so regular — it had to be stress. Yeah, all that stressful sex. Who was she kidding — she'd never been that relaxed in all her life.

When she got to the counter the clerk took all the items out of her basket. Two Double Fudge Crunch bars. A bottle of water. A box of tampons. A home pregnancy test.

"Wow," the clerk said, giving her a wink. "Someone's gonna have a long night."

"Only the water is mine," Lois said. "Everything else is for my roommates."

"Sure," the clerk smiled genially.

She came home to find her answering machine message light blinking. She hit the play button and opened one of the candy bars.

"Lois?" It was her mother. "Lois, are you there? I hate talking to a machine. If you're there, pick up the phone… Okay, fine, you're not there. Where are you? I haven't talked to you in ages. What are you up to these days? Give me a call."

Lois looked at the bag from the pharmacy sitting on her counter. What was she up to these days? Nothing, she hoped. Lois sighed and picked up the little box, heading for the bathroom. There might be a very good reason why she was so sick lately. Please God, let her be wrong. It was just a stomach bug. It was just stress. The alternative was too awful to contemplate.

***

Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl and she was in an agony of waiting. She looked at her watch. It hadn't been two minutes yet, but it was close enough. She picked up the little plastic wand and thought she just might throw up.

The display showed a bright blue plus sign.

She hastily re-read the instructions. Yeah, that meant what she thought it meant. Lois bent over, putting her head between her knees and took several deep breaths to quell her sudden dizziness.

It was that time in the supply closet at work. It had to be. It was the only time they hadn't used protection. That made her what, four, possibly five, weeks along? How definitive were these tests anyway?

The dizziness, the nausea, the sudden tenderness in her breasts — were those just in her head?

She sat up straight and took a couple more breaths. She checked the test again. Still a blue plus sign. She set it aside and stood, pacing the confines of her bathroom while she tried to think. What was she supposed to do now? The answer was obvious. Take the other test — the package had come with two.

Two minutes later she was staring at another positive result.

Now what? Clark was barely speaking to her. What was this going to do to their now tenuous friendship? Did they even have a friendship?

She went in and sat on her bed, her hand trembling as she reached for the phone. Then she reconsidered. Should she even tell him yet? Maybe this wasn't news he should hear over the phone? Besides, there was nothing to be gained by telling him tonight. She was going to have to tell him sometime. Just not tonight. She'd make an appointment and go see a doctor, have a more definitive test done before she told him anything.

Feeling dazed she wandered back into her living room. Clark's suit coat was lying where she had left it over the back of her sofa. She picked it up, lifting it to her face and inhaling. It smelled like him and she bit her lip to keep from crying.

What if she called him, right now? Sure, and what was she going to say? She was the one who told him they weren't even friends anymore. She choked on a sob and put Clark's jacket on, wrapping herself in it and wished it were Clark. She had the same hollow, frightened feeling as the night of the asteroid. She was so screwed — literally, she thought.

What was she supposed to do now?

***

After hours of fitfully tossing and turning, Lois had barely fallen asleep when the phone rang. She cracked one eye open and saw that it was seven o'clock. She briefly considered not answering but her hand reached for the phone of its own volition.

"Hello?" she croaked.

"Did I wake you?" Clark asked, surprised that her voice sounded husky with sleep.

"No," she lied. "I, um, what's up?"

"I called Kevin last night and he agreed to meet us at the plant again this morning. I thought we should try a stakeout."

"Oh," Lois sat up, wincing as a wave of nausea rose with her, "what time did you say we would meet him?"

"Seven-thirty."

Lois swallowed hard and gulped in a few shallow breaths.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked.

"Yeah, I might be a few minutes late, but I'll be there."

"All right." He hung up the phone and looked at it thoughtfully. Since when did Lois sleep this late? She almost always beat him to work. Was she still sick from the tunnels? Ken seemed to have recovered just fine, although he hadn't seen Mike around for a few days.

***

Lois was more than a few minutes late. She showed up in jeans and a sweatshirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her face looked pale and tired. She was carrying a cardboard tray with three coffees. She handed one to Clark. "Whole milk, three sugars," she said with a shy smile.

Clark blinked, surprised by the gesture. "Thanks."

"Kevin, I got you a regular coffee and grabbed a handful of creams and sugars so you could fix your own." She took the cup of decaf for herself from the tray before handing it to Kevin with the remaining cup.

"Thanks," he said, pulling the lid off the coffee to pour some sugar in.

"I was going to bring doughnuts, too, you know, but I was already running late and I…" she shrugged and looked away. "I'm sorry. I should have got doughnuts."

"It doesn't matter," Clark said. "I already had breakfast. Look, let's just get going. We're running late enough as it is."

"Oh," Lois murmured. His reminder of her tardiness felt like a slap. What if she told him, right now, why she had still been asleep when he called? Would he feel at all bad that it was partially his fault she was so sick and tired lately?

Clark wondered if she was she trying to work up to an apology. Did she really think a cup of coffee was going to fix everything? Even if she had brought breakfast it wasn't going to magically take away her words and actions. Surely she realized that it was twice now he had told her that he loved her only to learn that she could never feel the same way. Coffee couldn't fix that.

//"I miss him. It's not the same between us anymore and I miss him. He barely even looks at me."//

Talk to me, Clark thought, watching her over the rim of the coffee cup as he took a sip. She was staring at the cup in her hands, her expression pinched with weariness. Was she as tired of the strain between them as he was? Tell me we're still friends, he thought. You don't have to say you love me but at least say you're sorry.

"Okay, let's get going," Kevin said, pulling the elevator cage open and stepping inside. Clark followed him in and turned to see Lois fiddling with the plastic disk covering her cup of coffee.

"Aren't you coming?" Kevin asked.

Clark looked at her, taking in the nervous movements of her fingers and the paleness of her complexion. She had seemed skittish yesterday about going down into the tunnels. He remembered the way she had trembled in his arms the night he found her locked in that room. Was she afraid to go down in the tunnels?

//"It was really dark in there. And I just couldn't be in the dark anymore…"//

He also remembered her fury last night when he had suggested she wait for him and Kevin to return. All it would take would be a little nudge to her ego and she'd rush headlong into danger. "Would you rather go notify Henderson? You can meet up with us later."

Lois looked shocked. "I thought you already told Henderson! Isn't that where you went last night?"

Clark flushed. He wasn't about to tell her where he went last night. He'd have to be insane to tell her the truth now. "Oh," he stammered. "I, I meant to, but I…"

"Oh my god!" Lois moved decisively into the elevator with them. "I can't believe you sometimes. Let's go down, see if it looks like Bad Brain really is camping out there and, if he is, we'll come back up and notify Henderson."

In spite of himself, Clark smiled. Sometimes it felt really good to push her buttons.

***

As the cage descended Lois braced herself against its wall. Where had he gone in such a hurry last night if it wasn't to report Bad Brain's whereabouts to Henderson? She didn't believe for a second that his diabetic neighbor still needed checking up on. If he even had a diabetic neighbor in the first place.

Maybe it was better not to get involved with someone so… unstable. Hadn't her father perfected the art of disappearing constantly only to come back with some lame excuse? Had she unwittingly fallen for a man just like her father?

//"A person doesn't lie that well without practice. And you seem to keep a lot of secrets. I bet there are lots of things you don't tell me."//

Now they were even, she thought. She had a whopper of a secret she hadn't told him.

The cage began to shudder through the turbulence and Lois leaned more heavily against the wall. She was trapped — trapped in this cage and also trapped in a situation she didn't know how to extricate herself from. What if she had never said those words to him? What if she had just smiled and said, "Hey, a toothbrush, what a great idea…" What if Clark had been there, pacing with her while they waited for the results of the pregnancy test?

What would his reaction have been? What would his reaction be now?

What did she want his reaction to be?

//"Friends. No matter what else happens. That doesn't change."//

Please, Clark, she thought. Just be my friend again. I really need a friend now. I really need for *you* to be my friend.

//"You can turn off the light. I'll be okay as long as you're here."//

It was true, she realized. She could handle almost anything if Clark was with her.

***

Kevin led the way deeper into the tunnels. He kept his flashlight trained on the unauthorized cable as they followed it. Lois followed Kevin and Clark trailed behind her. The floor of the tunnel was uneven and Lois stumbled. She pitched forward only to be caught at the last moment by Clark's hand on her arm.

"Are you all right?" Clark's voice asked softly near her ear.

"Fine," she said curtly to cover her embarrassment. His hand moved away and she wished she hadn't been so abrupt in answering. "Thank you," she told him.

Clark felt a small thaw in the anger he felt towards her. She was trying so hard to seem unaffected. For a moment he felt ashamed of goading her into coming down here. The frantic beat of her heart had thundered in his ears since they got in the elevator. She was terrified, but not about to admit it. He tilted his head curiously. There was a soft galloping kind of sound as well — maybe it was a sewer rat or…

"Look!" Kevin whispered, stopping in his tracks and holding his hand up. "There's light coming from up ahead."

The walls and floor now had a faint glow to them. Clark listened but couldn't hear anyone but them and the rat. They crept along, slower than before, still following the cable until it led them to a brightly lit chamber. Lois pointed at the equipment at the far end of the large cavern. "That's his stuff. There's the table."

They explored the chamber, finding two more tunnels which led into it. One of them continued in the same direction they had been walking. Kevin told them this was the tunnel that led to the cistern underneath the nuclear plant. The other tunnel ended in a metal door after about fifteen feet. Clark scanned through the door and saw an elevator shaft.

"Are we directly under the plant now?" Clark asked Kevin.

"Probably," Kevin said. "Or very close to being so."

"I bet that's an elevator that goes directly to the plant," Clark said, indicating the metal door.

Lois tried the door but it was locked. "So now what?" she asked turning back around to look at them.

"The lights are on, so maybe someone is coming home," Kevin said. "I say we hide and watch for him."

"I say we go tell Henderson there's someone down here." Lois found her enthusiasm for finding Bad Brain again was waning. She and Kevin looked at Clark.

"You could go tell Henderson while Kevin and I stay behind and watch," Clark suggested. Just then he heard the soft hiss as the cable in the elevator shaft began to move. "Whatever we decide to do, we should do it now."

"Why?" Lois asked peevishly.

"Because that elevator's moving."

Lois looked behind her at the door. She couldn't hear anything. "Are you sure? I don't hear it."

"Well, I think I do. If you're staying, you'd better hide." Clark took a step back and looked around the chamber. There was really nowhere to hide.

"Back up the tunnel the way we came?" suggested Kevin. "We can turn off our headlamps and hide in the shadows. Then, if we need to get away fast, he won't be between us and the way we came in."

The three of them moved quickly back the way they had come in, turning off their headlamps. After a couple of minutes minute a tall man came into the chamber, carrying a device that looked like a gun but was humming softly. Lois' heart was beating so hard she was certain Bad Brain could hear her. She touched Clark's arm and mouthed "That's him!" Clark nodded his understanding.

The man came closer to them, swinging the gun insouciantly at his side. Lois shivered, remembering what Ken had said about the gun and how it obliterated sewer rats. Ken had thought Bad Brain was using it to stun his victims and then drag them to his lair. She took a step back, lost her footing on the uneven floor and started to fall backwards. Clark caught her wrist, stopping her just short of the floor but not before she had let out a surprised gasp. There was a crackling sound. Kevin emitted a kind of squeak and fell to the floor, twitching and moaning.

"Didn't I warn you not to look for me?" Bad Brain asked.

"Go," Clark whispered, nudging Lois to move. She held her ground, pushing back against him and shook her head decisively. The whoosh sound returned and they looked over to see the man staring directly at them.

"Come on you two I know you're in there."

Lois felt rooted to the spot, wishing now that she had run when Clark said to. Her legs seemed to have turned to rubber now. She threw back her shoulders and said, "I never did follow instructions well."

"Actually I was hoping you were the kind of person who didn't heed warnings. You might say I counted on that fact." He gestured with the gun for them to come closer. "Please, come in. Let me show you around."

Clark glanced at Lois. She hesitated and her eyes slid shut while she took a deep breath.

//"That's not the worst part… I could hear him, Clark. I could hear him screaming as Bad Brain killed him."//

When her eyes opened again she was looking at him. Clark nodded his head at her in reassurance. He could get them out of this quickly, if he had to.

"Come on," Bad Brain said. "We need to have a little talk, just the three of us."

"I have nothing to say to you," Lois told him as she stepped into the chamber with Clark right behind her, "except to tell you that you should give yourself up. The police know we're here."

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to lie, Lois?" Bad Brain lifted the ESW gun and Clark stepped in front of her.

"What do you want from us?" Clark asked.

"Superman," Bad Brain said with a grin. "I'm told you two are his closest friends."

"Why?" Lois stepped around Clark to glare at Bad Brain. "You want Superman to be the one who catches you? Because you can't hurt him, you know."

"I think I can," Bad Brain laughed. "At least, I'm willing to give it a shot."

Clark blinked, feeling an uneasy tremor run through him. He ducked his head slightly and looked over the top of his glasses at the gun Bad Brain was holding. There, in the mass of wires and circuits, was a thin green disk. "You've made a Kryptonite lens for the gun," he said grimly.

"Bingo," Bad Brain stepped closer to them. "And I can't wait to try it out." He nodded at Kevin, still prone on the floor. "That's what happens when the gun is set on low. You tell Superman that I'm going to crank this thing up to full power and I'll shoot first and ask questions later."

"It will never work," Lois told him.

"Maybe, maybe not. How about I let you give your buddy a firsthand account of what it feels like?" There was a crackle as the gun discharged and Clark quickly moved in front of Lois, hoping that she was right and it wouldn't work.

Lois heard Clark gasp and then he, too, dropped to the floor, brushing against her as he fell. The contact sent an electric jolt up her arm, numbing it for a few seconds. Her stomach twisted uncomfortably at the sensation. "Clark!" she cried out, falling to her knees alongside him.

"Like fish in a barrel," Bad Brain said with a grin. "I'd go for three out of three but I can't afford to be caught without a little juice left in this thing. So stay right there and we can all still be friends, okay?" Bad Brain walked backwards, towards the elevator shaft, the gun trained on her the entire way.

As soon as he disappeared around the corner Lois turned Clark over.

"Clark"? She stroked his cheek, her heart squeezing painfully. "Clark, can you hear me?"

She placed her other hand over his heart, relieved to feel it beating beneath her fingers. "Clark, please, talk to me!"

His lips moved but he didn't make a sound. She leaned closer to his mouth. "What? I can't hear you."

"That really hurt," he whispered. "Is Kevin okay?"

Lois looked at Kevin, who had managed to prop himself up on one elbow and seemed dazed. "Kevin? Are you all right?" she asked him.

Kevin nodded, "Yeah, that was just… it just knocked the wind out of me. Where did Bad Brain go?"

"Back the way he came."

"I take it you didn't want to follow him?"

In spite of herself, Lois smiled. "No, I didn't want to follow him. Can you stand up? Can you make it out of here or should I go get help?" Lois stood up and held her hand out to Kevin.

"No, I'm okay." Kevin took her hand, letting her help him stand up. Then he caught sight of Clark, still lying on the floor. "Is Clark all right?"

"Just a little shocked," Clark said, wincing as he pushed himself into a sitting position.

"Ha," Kevin said with a shaky smile. "I'm a little shocked, too."

That should have been me, Lois thought as Clark struggled to his feet. If Clark hadn't moved to protect her it would have been her lying on the floor. Was it just instinct that made him step in front of her or did he still care?

"Tell you what," Kevin said to Clark as they slowly limped back towards the elevator they had come down in, "the next time Lois says we should leave, I think we should leave."

***

Lois double-checked her windows that night when she got home. Then she began to pace. She was filled with a nervous energy that made her feel jumpy despite the weariness she knew was just under the surface.

She was haunted by the memory of Clark, by the knowledge of what she had thrown away. She missed him. She missed his touch, his mouth, his body. Most of all she missed *him*. She missed his sense of humor. She missed the almost tangible feeling of security that being around him gave her. She had always felt safe with him. He had made her feel sexy and completely at ease in all the time they had spent exploring each other's bodies.

She missed the quiet affection in his eyes when he would look at her. She missed the reverence in his touch that no other man had ever shown her. Clark had always been so achingly gentle with her; it was almost as though he was holding back. She remembered the bruises he had left on her hips and how much that had upset him. Most men would have looked on those as a mark of possession. The fact that Clark didn't only seemed to establish his possession of her that much more in her mind.

The truth was he had her. He absolutely had her. And there was no way to get him back. Telling him about the baby was the worst possible idea. He had to know that she wanted him for him. Just for him.

//"So… we're still friends, right?"

"I don't think so. Not right now. It's just too weird."//

But how could she bridge that gap? She could bring him coffee from now until the day the world stopped spinning and it wasn't going to do any good. And yet — he had cared enough to step in front of Bad Brain and protect her. So there was still hope. She just had to figure out another way in. She had to apologize.

***

Clark lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Every muscle in his body still ached. His powers had returned but the effort it required to use them was excruciating.

//"That's what happens when the gun is set on low. You tell Superman that I'm going to crank this thing up to full power and I'll shoot first and ask questions later."//

Lois was wrong; Bad Brain could hurt him. He could probably even kill him if he shot him at full power. Frustration rippled through him — how was he supposed to stop Bad Brain? The police were installing sensors in the tunnels right now to watch for him, but what were they going to do, realistically, if they found him?

He had left a message at STAR Labes for Rachel Eames to call him back. She had helped to build the ESW gun — maybe she knew a way to foil it? His phone rang and he reached to answer it, wincing when his body protested. Was it an after-effect of the Kryptonite, the electricity or a combination of both? Wherever Kevin was, Clark hoped he was feeling better.

"Hello?"

"Hi! It's, uh, it's me, Lois."

"Hi," he said softly.

"I, um, I was just calling to see how you were feeling?"

"Still a little achy, but better than I was," he admitted.

"That's good," Lois told him, feeling like the words were clumsy. She put her hand on her stomach, hoping he would ask how she was. A few seconds went by, the silence felt awkward to them both.

"I called Rachel earlier," Clark said. "We need to find out if there's a way to disarm that ESW weapon."

Lois was greatly heartened that he still said "we". At least at work he still considered her his partner.

"What did she say?" Lois asked.

"Nothing yet, she wasn't there. I left a message."

"Oh." There was another pause and then Lois said, "Clark? Do you think Bad Brain killed Dr. Gatenby and Tony Weir and tried to kill Rachel so that there wouldn't be anyone who knew about the weapon?"

"I think it's a distinct possibility."

"How long ago did you leave the message for Rachel?"

Clark looked over at his alarm clock, grimacing at the slight effort that required. "It's been a couple of hours."

"You called her at home?"

"I left messages at home and at STAR Labs for her."

"Maybe she's still in hiding?"

"They said she came to work today."

"Then maybe she went to dinner or decided to call it an early night?"

"Sure," Clark allowed. The word hung heavy in the new silence between them. Finally Clark said, "Well…"

"Well," Lois echoed, feeling like an idiot for having called him. "Good night, Clark."

Clark closed his eyes.

//"I don't think I can tell him what he wants to hear."//

"Good night, Lois." He hung up the phone, the pain in the movement perfectly mirroring the pain in his heart.

The line went dead but Lois didn't hang up. "I'm sorry," she whispered too late for him to hear the words.

Why was that so hard to say?

***

The next morning Clark made another call to STAR Labs and asked to speak with Rachel. The man who answered the phone told him that Rachel wasn't there. She hadn't shown up for work yet. Clark felt a stab of guilt. He should have gone looking for her last night, regardless of how bad he felt. He was still a little sore this morning.

"Did she say if she was going somewhere last night?" Clark asked her co-worker.

"Yeah," the man said. "She was supposed to be interviewed for a story."

"Interviewed?" Clark had a sinking feeling.

"Yeah, you know, that guy from WMET?"

"Ken Randall?"

"That's the guy! She left work a little early yesterday to meet with him."

Clark called and left a message for Ken. "This is Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. I was trying to find Rachel Eames to talk to her. I understand you met with her last night. Please give me a call." There, he thought, Ken will know I'm on to him. If anything has happened to Rachel, I really will break his fingers.

Lois had been surreptitiously watching Clark all morning. She had spent another sleepless night, trying to figure out a way to apologize and tell him what had happened. There was simply no neat and tidy way to clean up the mess she had made. Dimly she knew she should be working on the story but it seemed she had used all her energy just getting dressed and to her desk this morning.

Every time she thought about talking to Clark she felt nauseated. Should she tell him? What would he say? Would he even want her now? If she told him she was wrong, that she was sorry, wouldn't he think it was desperation and not love that was motivating her?

She glanced at the supply closet and blushed.

This had all been her fault. Right from the beginning it had all been her idea. She was the one who stayed when he asked her to leave on the night of the asteroid. She was the one who propositioned him, offering him sex without strings. Even the supply closet had been her idea. She had pushed him and seduced him. She had secretly hoped that he would fall in love with her and then, when he did, she had spurned him.

Lois was quite certain she was going to be sick. She rose unsteadily from her desk and walked to the restroom, feeling like she might faint before she could get there. She stumbled into the first stall and dropped to her knees, choking up nothing but a little bit of water. Shuddering, she leaned sideways against the wall, grateful for the coolness of the tile against her cheek.

The door squeaked and a pair of stiletto heels tip-tapped in and then stopped alongside her.

"Lois?"

Great, it was Cat. Lois closed her eyes and silently willed her to leave.

"Are you okay?"

Lois nodded. "Just a stomach bug."

Cat looked at her skeptically. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"No," Lois said. Go away, she thought. Please, just go away now.

To her relief, Cat turned and walked back out the door.

***

"Clark?"

Clark looked up, putting a politely vacant smile on his face as he hoped like hell that Cat wasn't going to come on to him again. One look at her face told him that she wasn't. There was nothing flirtatious in her posture. She actually looked concerned.

"Yes?" he asked.

"It's Lois," Cat glanced over her shoulder towards the bathrooms. "I think she's really sick. She's sitting on the floor in one of the stalls and she doesn't look very good."

He had risen from his chair before she finished speaking and the two of them crossed the newsroom together. Cat stayed in the doorway of the restroom as Clark crouched next to Lois. He put his hand on her forehead; she felt a little warmer than she should. Lois turned her head to look at him with unfocused eyes.

"Clark? You do realize this is the ladies room?"

"Do you realize that you're very sick?"

She grimaced. "I'm fine. I was just a little nauseated, that's all."

Clark turned to look at Cat. "Cat, would you please get Lois' purse out of her desk? She's going home now."

"No, I'm not. I'm fine. Just give me a few minutes…" Lois weakly tried to push him away.

"No, you're not. I'm taking you home. Can you stand up?"

"If I say 'no', you're just going to carry me, aren't you?" she asked in a resigned tone of voice.

"Probably."

"Then I can stand up." This time she succeeded in pushing him away and he stepped back to give her room to stand.

Clark held the door open and Lois walked out of the restroom, trying to muster up as much dignity as she could. Cat came back and held Lois' purse out to Clark.

"Thanks. Would you please tell Perry I'm taking her home?" He gave Cat a thankful smile as he followed Lois to the elevator. Cat watched them as they moved into the elevator.

"That's one hell of a stomach bug," she muttered to herself and then she caught sight of the supply closet door. A small laugh rose in her throat. Poor Lois. The woman couldn't even have a fling right.

As the elevator doors shut, Lois swallowed back another wave of nausea. There's nothing left in your stomach to throw up, she told herself. Just get home and you can crawl back into bed. She looked at Clark, perplexed, as she realized he had just asked her something. "What?"

"I asked if you drove yourself to work today."

"No," she shook her head and then regretted it as it set off a feeling of vertigo. "I took a cab."

The elevator doors opened and she managed to make it through the lobby to the revolving door. Suddenly Lois wasn't sure she could push hard enough to get the door to move. Clark moved into the space with her and slowly eased the door, and her, until they were standing outside. His hand held her elbow as they walked to the curb. He whistled for a cab and she closed her eyes, desperately wishing that Superman were there to get her home faster.

"Come on," Clark opened the door of the cab and helped her get inside. She was both grateful and terrified when he climbed into the cab with her. He was taking her home. She had to tell him. God, no, couldn't she wait just a little longer? Couldn't it wait until they were friends again?

As they climbed the steps to her building Lois faltered. Clark scooped her up, ignoring the soft protest that she made. He carried her upstairs, not setting her down until they reached her door. She was so lethargic in his arms that it increased his apprehension. She was seriously ill — he had to get her to agree to go to a doctor. And if she wouldn't agree, he would force the issue and bodily carry her there.

"Thanks," she murmured, leaning against the wall when he set her down to open the door. She walked inside slowly, dreading the conversation she knew they had to have. What if she told him to leave now, would he do it?

He shut the door and said, "Lois, I'm really getting worried. You need to see a doctor."

"No, I'm not sick. Not really." Tell him. Tell him. Oh god, she was going to have to tell him.

"You practically passed out at work. I don't think I've seen you eat anything in days." Clark watched her slowly sit down on the couch. It was frightening that such a simple act seemed to take so much effort for her. She put her face in her hands and sighed.

"I can't keep anything down," she admitted.

Clark shook his head in disbelief. "And that doesn't worry you?"

Lois lifted her head and looked over at him. For a few seconds she didn't say anything and then she softly cleared her throat. She had to tell him. She should just do it quick, like pulling off a bandage.

"I'm pregnant," she said, watching him closely to gauge his reaction.

Clark said nothing at first, although his eyes widened and a sea change came over his features. Had he even heard her right? What should he say? What did she want him to say?

"That's why you've been so sick," he finally managed, hoping to get a clue as to how she felt about this before he said anything stupid.

"Yeah." Come on, she thought. Tell me we're still friends.

"Are you… are you okay with this?" No — that was the wrong thing to say. He mentally kicked himself. Of course she wasn't okay with this.

"I don't know." Anxiety rose in her — he wasn't rushing to reassure her that everything would be all right or that they were in this together.

She looked so tired. He had attributed her pallor to her being ill. The thought suddenly hit him that maybe she was so sick because this wasn't a normal pregnancy. What if this was all just a horrible mistake and they weren't really compatible? What if it was a mutant? What if it sapped the life out of her as it developed? He had to tell her.

"So what are you thinking?" she asked, feeling rattled that he was just standing there, staring at her with such evident shock. She realized that she had been hoping he would take her in his arms and tell her everything was going to be fine. Reality was so much worse — he was horrified, she could see it in his eyes.

"I… I, wow, I don't know how to say this. I, I'm sorry," Clark stammered, the words tumbling reflexively from his mouth. How could he tell her the truth when he felt so tongue-tied?

Lois' heart felt like it had just imploded. *Sorry?* That was all he had to say about it — that he was sorry? Was he sorry that it had happened? Sorry for her? Sorry for himself? What did that mean exactly?

"I'm fine. You can go now," she said, pushing herself up from the couch to go to her bedroom.

"Lois, we should talk."

"Now you want to talk to me? You've ignored me for days and now you want to talk?"

"Ignored you? Lois, you were the one who said we weren't friends anymore!"

"I tried to be nice, to be friends again, for all the good that did me. It's okay, Clark, really. You don't have to be sorry, or anything else, for that matter. I just want you to leave."

He blanched, feeling like she had just slapped him. "Lois…" He shook his head as pain flooded through him. She really didn't want him. "You know whatever you decide you want to do, I'll be here for you."

"Oh sure! Now you want to be supportive! If I give you long enough, will you find all the right things to say?" Lois saw the hurt and confusion on his face and was glad for it. Now he'd know how she felt. "Maybe you should be writing greeting cards."

He opened his mouth but could think of nothing to say when she was looking at him with so much anger in her eyes.

"What do you want me to do?" he finally asked in a pained tone of voice.

"I want you to go. Just leave. You've done enough."

"If you need anything," he paused in the doorway. "Just call me, okay?"

Lois locked the door behind him and almost made it to the bedroom before she started crying. Why couldn't he have offered to do anything for her when he first found out? She shouldn't have had to goad him into it. Why couldn't he just want to hold her?

//"You hurt him."//

Had she hurt him so deeply that there was simply no way to get him back?

***

Clark stepped into the hallway and shut the door softly behind him. He could hear her deadbolt lock sliding shut on the other side of the door, the sound a clear indication that she didn't want him anywhere near her.

What if he went back as Superman? Would she talk to him then? She might… until he told her he was really Clark. And then she'd never talk to him again. He leaned against the wall outside her door, still too stunned to move.

//"I'm pregnant."//

What had she wanted him to say to that? He'd barely had time to absorb the news before she had thrown him out.

//"Now you want to talk to me? You've ignored me for days and now you want to talk?"//

Maybe pointing out that she had told him they weren't friends was the wrong way to go. No, that was *definitely* the wrong way to go. How long had she known about this? How long had she known and kept this from him? Even as resentment bubbled up inside him he realized that he had no room to point fingers on that score. She had actually told him her secret.

//"I tried to be nice, to be friends again, for all the good that did me."//

He realized now that she had tried. She had tried starting the very morning of their fight when she asked him to come along with her to check out Bad Brain's apartment. And then she went out to dinner with Joe that night he reminded himself. She went out with Joe and wanted to gloat about it afterwards. Did she know about the baby then?

//"Oh sure! Now you want to be supportive! If I give you long enough, will you find all the right things to say?"//

Her sarcasm baffled him. What had she wanted him to say? He tilted his head to listen to her and his heart plummeted. She was crying. He couldn't just stand here and listen to her cry. Neither could he continue to upset her by going back in there again. She didn't want him. He should go find Rachel. Clark stood up straight and then wavered for a moment, longing to hold her and tell her that everything was going to be all right, that he would do anything in the world for her.

//"I'm pregnant."//

Who knew that there were two words that could so completely turn your entire world upside-down? He took a deep breath and one last longing look at her door. He knew two other words that would be just as shocking.

"I'm Superman," he murmured, testing the declaration and finding it wanting. He turned away, dreading the fast-approaching moment when he was going to have to tell her. Somehow he was certain she wasn't going to be greatly comforted by the knowledge.

***

Clark went to see Inspector Henderson first, telling him about Rachel's possible disappearance and his suspicions about Ken Randall.

"You think Ken is helping Bad Brain?" Henderson asked, his tone skeptical. "I know he's something of a blowhard, but come on!"

"I don't know what to think. I just thought it was worth mentioning."

"Uh huh," Henderson didn't look convinced. "Did you know that Ken Randall filed a complaint against you and Lois yesterday evening? He claimed that some video equipment was damaged while he was riding in an elevator with you."

"He filed a complaint?" Clark was aghast. Had Ken seen him smash the camera? He was pretty sure he had done it faster than anyone could have seen.

"I didn't say I took it seriously," Henderson grinned. "If I did I certainly would have tried harder to get in touch with you. If, and that's a big if, you had anything to do with the camera getting broken, I'm sure Ken had it coming to him."

"You're taking sides?" Clark wasn't sure whether he should return Henderson's grin or not.

"No, not taking sides. Just prioritizing. Lois said Ken trapped her down in the sewers. What do you know about that?"

"He hit her." Clark felt a tic jump in his cheek as he realized that not only had Ken hit and dragged Lois into that room, he had also endangered their unborn child.

Henderson's smile disappeared. "Lois didn't say anything about Ken hitting her."

"He hit her with his flashlight, when she tried to leave to go get help for the man Bad Brain was about to kill."

"Accessory to murder," Henderson's eyes went dark.

"At the very least," Clark said. "If Lois hadn't stopped him he probably would have filmed the entire murder."

"I'll ask that my guys keep an eye open for Ken. How's Lois doing, by the way?"

Clark hesitated, why was Henderson asking? "Lois? She's fine, why?"

"I just heard she was sick," Henderson shrugged. "Maybe my source was wrong."

***

It was the mention of Henderson's source that made Clark think of Bobby Bigmouth. He stopped by the Fifth Street Mission and asked for Bobby. He was directed to the back of the kitchen, where Bobby was busily stacking crates.

"Oh hey," Bobby said, "where's Lois?"

"She has the day off," Clark hedged.

"That's good." Bobby sat down on one of the crates, eyeing the paper sack that Clark was holding. "So is this a social visit or did you need something from me?"

"I'm trying to find Rachel Eames. She's a scientist who works at STAR Labs and she went missing last night after she did an interview with Ken Randall at WMET." Clark held out the sack and Bobby snatched it away, opening it and smiling in delight at the pastries it contained.

Bobby pulled out an apple fritter and licked his lips. "Ken Randall, huh? He's a nasty piece of work."

"What do you know about him?"

"I think he'd sell his mother if it meant getting a story," Bobby said around a mouthful of fritter. "I used to snitch for him, but I stopped. Even I have ethics. I'm not so sure about Ken. I'll ask around and let you know if I hear anything."

"Thanks," Clark said. "And quit telling people that Lois is sick."

"Moi?" Bobby's eyes went wide with feigned innocence as he licked his fingers. "Tell her I hope she gets better soon."

***

Clark stopped by Lois' apartment on his way back to the Planet. He was about to knock on the door and then he hesitated. He checked both ends of her hallway before he lowered his glasses. It only took him a few seconds to locate her. She was asleep, her body sprawled across the bed with her face buried in the blanket she was clutching. His eyes widened when he realized it wasn't a blanket at all, it was the jacket he had loaned her the other night. Her breathing was slow and rhythmic and he wondered if it was the first time in days that she had slept so deeply. He couldn't bring himself to wake her.

//"I'm pregnant."//

The words had echoed in his head all day. He was going to be a father. He, sole survivor of Krypton, was going to be a father. Jor-El had said that Earth was physically and biologically compatible with Krypton, but could he have guessed that they would be this compatible? Since learning for certain that he wasn't from here, he had shelved the dream that he might one day have children. He was adopted, he could adopt.

This should have been the best news in the world to him — and it was. But the circumstances were awful. This was an unplanned pregnancy arising from what Lois considered a loveless affair. It certainly wasn't the kind of news you could call home with and expect congratulations.

He pushed his glasses back up and reluctantly turned to go back to work.

***

When Clark got back to his desk the third message on his voice mail was from Ken Randall.

"Clark! I hear you've been looking all over town for me. And you've been making accusations that I made Rachel Eames disappear or some such asinine idea. I'll tell you the same thing I told the police. Ms. Eames was interviewed here at WMET by me last night. She left before I did. I have dozens of witnesses. I don't know where she went after she left here. I don't care where she went after she left here. And if you or your snooty little girlfriend continue to suggest otherwise, you're going to find yourselves slapped with a defamation suit."

Clark sat back and replayed the message, taking a grim satisfaction in Ken's rising discomfort as he rattled through his declaration of innocence.

"Clark?" Perry came alongside his desk.

"Yes, Chief?"

"How's Lois?"

"Oh, I took her home this morning. I think she's slept most of the day."

"Uh huh," the older man took in Clark's troubled expression and waited to see if he had anything to add. Give him enough rope, Perry thought, and he'll hang himself.

Clark shifted uncomfortably under Perry's knowing gaze. "There's some kind of bug or something in those tunnels. Everyone who's been down there has been sick. Ken Randall and his cameraman, Mike. Lois has. I have." Clark threw in the last, feeling a little desperate to keep up the ruse.

"How sick is she?" Perry asked.

"Uh, she's been pretty nauseated. I don't think she's keeping very much down."

"Uh huh. Has she seen a doctor yet?"

"I, uh, I don't know. I told her that she should."

"Son, you tell her I want her to take tomorrow off and go see a doctor. In fact, tell her she's not cleared to come back to work again until she brings me a note from her doctor."

Clark swallowed. "A note?"

Perry nodded. "If she's that sick, it might be contagious. I can't have the whole newsroom exposed to something like that."

Clark sighed. "I'll tell her. But you know Lois, she'll probably come in anyway."

"Go get some rest yourself," Perry told him. "You look exhausted."

Clark checked on Lois again late that night. She was still asleep, still snuggled up to his jacket. It had to be a good sign that she was holding his jacket, didn't it? If she truly didn't want anything to do with him she wouldn't be sleeping with a reminder of him. Tomorrow morning he'd try to talk to her again. He'd do whatever it took to let her know they were still friends. She had tried to be friendly, he would just try harder. He reached out and traced her on the windowpane, wishing he were able to truly touch her.

***

Lois woke up confused. Her room was filled with soft light and it took her a moment to realize that it was morning, not evening. Had she really slept an entire day away? Guilt filled her as she remembered how she had made Clark leave yesterday. She realized she probably should have given him a couple of minutes to let the news sink in before she threw him out of her apartment.

Her stomach felt hollow so she padded into her kitchen to make some toast. She was eating her second slice when there was a knock on the door. "Lois? It's me," Clark said, his voice muffled by the door.

He sounded so hesitant that it made her feel guilty all over again. Lois looked down, suddenly realizing that she was still wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Should she go change? No, if she took too long he might think she was ignoring him and leave. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly and then opened the door. "Hi," she said shyly.

Clark felt a little ray of hope at her simple greeting. He held out a cup to her. "Ginger tea," he said with a hopeful smile. "It's supposed to help with, uh, morning sickness."

"Oh," she said, taking the cup from him. "I actually feel a lot better this morning, but… thanks." She took an experimental sip from the cup.

"Perry said you're not to come to work today. He wants a doctor's note before he'll let you come back."

She choked on the tea. "What?" she coughed. "What did you tell him?"

"That it was a bug you picked up in the sewers."

"Did he believe you?"

"Honestly? I don't know," Clark said.

Lois turned away, not wanting to think about telling Perry or anyone else. She motioned for him to come inside. "Did you find Rachel yesterday?"

"No," Clark shut the door softly behind him, greatly heartened that she had actually let him in. "Ken claims she left WMET after the interview. He said we should stop accusing him or he was going to sue us."

"He still could have followed her home. He could have called and asked her to come back. There are all sorts of things he could have done after she left. What if Ken is working with Bad Brain? What if he lured Rachel somewhere so that Bad Brain could get her?"

"I thought of that, too. I just keep hoping even Ken wouldn't sink that low."

Lois touched the fading bruise on her face. "He can sink pretty low. Did you check the tunnels?"

"Only the tunnel that Ken trapped you in, but I didn't see anything or anyone."

"Well, I have the day off. I guess we could check again."

"Do you really think you ought to be going down in the tunnels now?"

"Please tell me you're not suggesting what it sounds like you're suggesting. I'm perfectly fine, Clark." A note of irritation had crept into her voice.

"I wasn't implying that you weren't. I just think, under the circumstances, that you should…" He stopped speaking and sighed, realizing that there was no way he could say this without her taking offense.

"I should what?" she pressed.

"Just be careful," he said. "That's all."

"You think I go running headlong into danger?"

Was there any good way to answer that question? "Sometimes, yes."

Lois was about to argue with him but decided against it. Hadn't she gone into the tunnels alone the night Ken locked her in that room? Hadn't she lashed out at Clark the next morning before she had considered the consequences? Come to think of it, hadn't she enticed him into that supply closet at work with only one thought in her brain? She really had to learn to think before acting or speaking.

She took another sip of tea, letting the warmth of it soothe her before she spoke next. "I'm going to look for Rachel today. Are you busy? It would probably be a good idea to use the buddy system in the tunnels."

"I should go home and change," Clark said, loosening his tie a little. "I'll meet you in Centennial Park in an hour."

***

Suddenly babies were everywhere. It was as though every other person in the park was equipped with one. She saw them in strollers and in those odd backpacks that put the baby in front of you. A mother and her toddler walked slowly in front of her, the child clinging to his mother's hand while he took tottering drunken-looking steps. Watching them it felt like her uterus cramped in glee. They were so damn cute, babies. Not when they were crying, then they were just irritating. But when they squinted and cooed and wrapped their fat little fingers around yours — they were so cute when they did those things.

That's going to be me, she thought, looking over at a mother gurgling to her baby on the next park bench. Only she wouldn't use baby talk. Lois had an image of herself sitting with a child on her knee. "Hello, junior," she said solemnly and the baby just peered up at her with Clark's guileless eyes, wide and full of wonder.

A miniature version of Clark. The thought made her smile. At least he would be a well-behaved baby.

Clark would be an excellent father. She, on the other hand, well, at least she'd have Clark to help her. Wouldn't she? What was going to happen to them now? Would he offer to marry her? He might, Clark was old-fashioned enough to think he'd have to do the honorable thing and chain himself to her.

Married to Clark — it wasn't the first time the idea had crossed her mind. She had wondered about him while they were on that stakeout at the Lexor Hotel. She had thought about him on that horrific day she almost married Lex. She had thought about it after they started sleeping together. She had thought about each time she woke up alone and longed for the warmth of his body next to hers in the bed.

And it wasn't the sex. Well, okay, it wasn't *just* the sex that made the idea of being married to Clark so palatable. It was the little things he did for her, like this morning when he brought her the tea. It was everything about him. It was all the things that had drawn her to his apartment on the night of the asteroid so many months ago. That night, and her need for Clark, had set in motion everything that followed. That night might have ended in sex, but she had gone there looking only for him. With or without his memories, it was the essence of the man — the gentleness and strength deep inside him — that had always made her feel grounded. It was the reason his hand on her waist, even when he wasn't on speaking terms with her, could calm her in the elevator's turbulence.

//"Lois, you were the one who said we weren't friends anymore!"//

She had blown that one. She blinked back tears. She had spent the last year pushing him away. No wonder he thought she only wanted Superman.

//"Be with me? You knew from the beginning that I was in love with someone else!"//

Why had she blurted that out? She wasn't in love with Superman, not like that. Was she only seeing Clark through new eyes now because she was pregnant and needed him? No — she had needed him all along. Needed him on some deep and primal level that had scared her witless the morning of the toothbrush argument. It scared her still and she found it ironic that she feared him so much because he made her feel safe.

Was there any way in the world that she could ever convince him she didn't want him solely because she was pregnant? She knew it wouldn't look good that she suddenly wanted to be friends again. After all the things she had said to him, she knew she would have to be the one who sucked up her pride and made the first move.

"Hey, sorry to keep you waiting," Clark said, breaking into her thoughts.

Startled, she looked up at him. Why was he so nice to her? Did he, could he, still love her? Even if it was just as a friend, she needed him in her life. She remembered how, on the night of the asteroid, she had realized that it was his solidness, his dependability that had made him so desirable. Those weren't boring qualities. They were the traits she most needed. Clark would never leave her. He was standing here right now even after the way she had treated him. He hadn't kept her waiting; she was the one holding them back.

"You were worth the wait," she told him with a shy smile.

Clark blinked and decided she was teasing, not flirting, with him. "Where did you want to start?"

"I say we start where Ken locked me in. He's obviously familiar with that part of the underground network."

"The maze," Clark said.

"The what?"

"The night Ken locked you in I called him when I heard your voice on the tape he broadcast. He said that he had last seen you in the maze."

For a moment she hesitated. The maze was the last place she wanted to go. You'll be with Clark, she told herself. You can trust him. He would never let anything bad happen to you.

***

They slogged through the muck for over three hours and found no trace of Rachel, Bad Brain or Ken. They emerged from the sewers near Centennial Park. Lois was sitting on a bench, her head tipped back and her eyes closed as she soaked up the welcome warmth of the sun while Clark went to buy hot dogs from a sidewalk vendor for their lunch. Someone sat down next to her; she opened her eyes, expecting Clark, but found Ken Randall instead.

"Are you following us?" she asked.

Ken laughed. "How could I scoop you if I was following you? Face it, you two are so far behind that you think you're ahead. Bad Brain has a lair, you know. And it's not underground, although I really like this look on you," he gestured at her muddy clothes.

"Who says we were looking for Bad Brain?" Lois shrugged.

"Oh, that's right. You think I did something to that STAR Labs scientist."

"You were the last person to see her."

"I think she took a cab home. Did you talk to the driver?" Ken glanced over and saw Clark walking towards them. The dark look on his face sent Ken scrambling to his feet. "Can I offer you some friendly advice?" he asked as he stood up.

"No." Lois tipped her head back again and closed her eyes.

"You're wasting your time in the sewers. Bad Brain has moved on."

She didn't want to rise to the bait, but her eyes opened anyway to regard Ken warily. "I suppose you know where he is?"

"Just watch the news tonight." Ken winked at her and took off at trot before Clark got there.

"What did he want?" Clark asked, even though he had been monitoring their conversation since the moment Ken had sat down next to her.

"He's just doing his bit to drum up some publicity. Apparently he's going to reveal Bad Brain's secret lair on the eleven o'clock news."

***

That night Lois was standing in her underwear in front of the mirror, shaping her hands over her stomach and trying to imagine what she would look like pregnant. How huge would she get? The phone rang and she smiled at her bare belly. She had been hoping he would call.

"Hello? Clark?"

There was a small pause and then a deep voice said, "Guess again."

"Bad Brain."

"I'm so touched you'd remember me."

"Is Ken Randall working with you?"

Bad Brain chuckled. "I wouldn't call it that, though he might."

"He says he knows where you are."

"Did you ask him what he traded for that knowledge?"

Lois' throat went dry. "Rachel Eames?" she rasped.

Bad Brain made an annoyed sigh. "Ken Randall is a heartless bastard. I'll prove it to you."

Something about the way he said the words sent a chill through her. "I already know what Ken is."

"Yes, but I'm going to show you. I'll see you soon, sweetheart. Oh, and Lois? Love the bra."

The line went dead and she hung up the phone, feeling like she was moving in slow motion. Little dots danced in her vision and she had to sit on the bed and take a few deep breaths. Could he see her? Right now? How else would he have known what she was wearing?

Lois picked up the phone and dialed WMET. She asked for Ken but got his voice mail instead. She hung up and tried the station again, this time asking for the newsroom. The technician who answered the phone told her that Ken had left in a hurry only a few minutes earlier.

She got dressed and rushed out of her apartment. There was only one place in the world where she would feel safe tonight. She could only hope that he wouldn't make the apology too hard.

***

Clark had just returned home from checking on the city when there was a knock on his door. He opened it to find Lois looking up at him, her eyes wide and fearful. "I, uh, got a phone call from Bad Brain," she said haltingly. She desperately wanted to touch him, to tell him that she had been wrong but she couldn't find the words. She longed for him, wishing she could lean against him and soak up some of his strength.

"Come in." He opened the door wider and she thankfully slipped inside. "What did he say to you?"

"Oh," Lois took a deep breath. "He said that Ken Randall was a heartless bastard and that he was going to prove it. I tried calling the station to warn Ken but he had already left."

"Did he threaten you?"

"No, not really. He knew what I was wearing and it scared me and I, I just wanted… Clark, please, can we be friends again?" She looked up at him, dreading the answer. He would be well within his rights to tell her that she was a lousy friend and that he wanted nothing to do with her outside of work.

"Not again," he corrected her softly, "Still. We're still friends."

She smiled and he took a step back, frightened by the depth of his feelings for her. She said friends, he reminded himself. A friend is all you'll ever be to her. Clark turned and went into his kitchen, he needed to find something to do with his hands before he reached out, touched her and spooked her into leaving. You can't touch her, not anymore, he told himself. Just friends. You're just friends.

"What are we going to tell people about the baby?" Lois followed him to the kitchen and sat down at the table. It had been too much to hope for that he would hold her. She was lucky that he would still call her a friend.

"That's up to you," Clark said cautiously as he filled the tea kettle with water.

"Is it wrong that I just don't want to think about it yet?"

"No. I'm sure this is something that takes a lot of time to figure out."

"I have seven months, give or take, left to figure it out."

Clark looked at her, understanding dawning on him. "The supply closet?"

She nodded. "I think so."

He tried not to smile but she saw the corners of his mouth twitch.

"You think that's funny?"

"No," he grinned as he shook his head. "It's just that was… a really good, um, memory."

Lois blushed and smiled. "Yeah, it was." She paused and then sighed, "One of my favorites, actually."

"*One* of your favorites? What are the others?"

She shook her head. "I didn't exactly rank them. Did you?"

"No," Clark shook his head. "Every time was my favorite."

She blushed and looked down at the table. There's another one, she thought. God, what he did to me on this table. Her blush deepened.

"I think you should stay here tonight, just to be on the safe side."

Lois' head jerked up, her eyes wide. "Oh, I, uh…"

Clark winced. That sounded wrong. "I'll sleep on the couch, I mean. I, I didn't mean…"

"No, I'll sleep on the couch."

"Lois, I'd feel guilty making you sleep on the couch."

"Then you'll have to feel guilty." Her chin tilted upwards and he knew better than to push her.

***

Hours later Clark lay in bed, listening to the steady rhythm of her heartbeat. Beneath that, he could clearly make out a rapid rat-a-tat that he realized with a jolt was the baby's heartbeat. He slipped out of bed and went into his living room. Lois was lying on her side, one hand beneath her cheek, her other arm across her chest. He sat down in the chair across the room and closed his eyes, savoring the dual heartbeats.

When he opened his eyes his vision went blurry for a moment. He loved her. He loved her so much that it was almost a physical pain. He had loved her from almost the moment she walked into Perry's office, full of confidence and impatience and had barely acknowledged him. He loved her for the moments she was vulnerable and the times when she was strong. She was so strong — did she know that? Did she realize how much of Superman's strength came from having her to believe in him?

He wished he could hold her. He wished he could tell her just how much he loved her and needed her. He wasn't lying when he said he didn't have a favorite time with her. Every single touch, kiss and smile she had given to him were forever imprinted on him. He wished he could tell her how much awe he had for her. Especially now, when she was doing something he could never accomplish, not even with all the power and strength in the world. She was growing a new life inside her. He couldn't match that. He might have contributed but she was the one who had the power to nourish and grow their child.

Ours, he thought. That's our baby. Me and Lois. Would the baby be like her? Headstrong and intelligent? Would the baby have his powers? Their baby. It was surreal — the knowledge that he and Lois had created a tiny new life.

He had to tell her. He had to give her that measure of trust and be vulnerable for her. He could only hope that she would understand and that, somehow, they could build a stronger relationship from there. Would she be angry? He flinched, of course she would be. But, after she'd had time to cool off, she would… what? Want him? Love him?

Never speak to him again?

Clark frowned, not wanting to believe that he had ruined things so completely. No, not just completely — utterly and for all time. It was bad enough that he had made her pregnant. She would never forgive him for lying to her. He was living in a dream world if he thought she would just accept his deception and still want him in her life. Not just her life, he corrected himself, her life and the baby's life.

He rose from the chair with a heavy heart and went back to bed.

***

Lois woke up the next morning to the sound of a phone ringing. She stretched and listened to the low rumble of Clark's voice in the next room. She couldn't make out what he was saying so she closed her eyes and tried to hold on to the memory of her dream. She had been in his arms; that was all she could remember.

She opened her eyes and saw Clark come around the dividing wall into his kitchen. She watched him knot his tie, admiring the deft play of his hands and fingers. He had touched her with those hands. He had pleasured her and comforted her and made her feel safe. Please, she thought, touch me. I don't care if it's just a tap on the shoulder. Just let him touch me again.

Clark looked over and saw that she was awake. Something about the look in her eyes gave him hope. Clark came over, hesitated and then knelt next to the sofa. For a few seconds they regarded each other, waiting for the other to speak first.

Terrified and exhilarated, Lois reached out to touch his cheek, a small smile spreading across her face at the familiar way his eyes darkened at her touch. Clark tentatively spread his hand protectively across her abdomen. She looked at his hand and felt a surge of love for him shoot through her. For the first time since that awful, ugly morning of their fight she felt secure. He didn't hate her. Maybe he even still had feelings for her beyond friendship.

No more head games, she told herself. This is Clark. He's not like anyone else. You can trust him.

"I have to be going," Clark said, his voice husky with emotion. "They found Ken Randall."

"Dead?" Lois asked. He nodded mutely.

The weight of his hand on her belly was making her teary-eyed. It's just hormones, she told herself. It's not because you're starting to like the idea of a miniature version of Clark running around or holding your hand. It's not because you're in love with this man and he's touching you. Maybe you're just sad for that putz, Ken.

Clark looked at his hand, amazed by the miracle that lay beneath it. Before he could think about the gesture, he moved his hand and bent down to kiss her tummy. Lois threaded her fingers through his hair, content in a way she had never felt before. Clark turned his head and rested his cheek on her belly, smiling up at her. Lois returned the smile, her eyes welling with tears. Damn hormones.

"You should get going," she reminded him gently. "I'll go home and change and meet up with you at the Planet."

"Okay," he said reluctantly. He lifted his head, hesitated and then leaned in to kiss her softly, his lips lingering against hers as he spoke. "Will you have dinner with me tonight? I really need to talk to you."

"Yes," she nodded. "I'd like that. We should talk. Or… not talk…" Her hand closed over the back of his neck, pulling him in for one more kiss. She teased his lips until he opened his mouth so she could chase the taste of his coffee deeper into his mouth.

Clark reluctantly broke the kiss and rose to leave. "Tonight. If you're still talking to me after we talk, we won't talk at all."

She laughed as she watched him climb the stairs. "I'm not sure that even made sense."

"I blame you," he said, turning at the door to smile back at her. "I can't think straight around you."

"Then it's unanimous. You'd better wipe that silly grin off your face before you see Ken's body."

His grin widened. "I'm not smiling about Ken."

"I know. Hey, Clark?"

He leaned his head back inside. "What now?" he asked in mock exasperation.

"Nothing," she giggled. "I just wanted to see if you'd come back."

"You'll never get rid of me." He winked at her and shut the door.

***

Clark was still gone when she got to the Planet. A paper cup sat on her desk with a note taped to it. 'Ginger tea, just in case.'

Lois smiled and took the cup over to the break area to warm it up in the microwave. As she was coming back to her desk her phone started ringing. She answered and felt a little lift when she heard Clark's voice.

"How bad was it?" she asked, referring to Ken.

"Bad," Clark said. "His heart was ripped out."

"Oh god," she whispered with a shudder. "That's awful. Poor Ken."

"I'm on my way back to the Planet now. Do you need anything while I'm out?"

"No, thanks. And thank you for the tea. I, uh, that was really sweet. Not the tea, I meant the gesture. Although the tea isn't bad, it's just…"

"You're welcome." She could hear the smile in his voice. "I'll see you soon."

Lois had barely hung up the phone when it rang again.

"Yes?" she answered, her voice teasing as she expected it was Clark.

"Ms. Lane?" It was a woman's voice.

"Yes, this is Lois Lane."

"This is Rachel, Rachel Eames? Do you remember me?"

"Rachel! Yes, of course. We've been looking for you. Where are you? Are you okay?"

"Yes, I think I know where Bad Brain is going to be. Can you meet me at the nuclear plant?"

"I'll be right there! Don't go anywhere!"

Lois hung up and scribbled a note for Clark, taping it to his computer monitor before she rushed away.

***

"Rachel?" Lois walked into the plant through the open back door. An overhead light flickered on and off, making a soft buzzing sound. Had Rachel left? Had Bad Brain found her? "Rachel, are you in here?"

"This thing works better than I thought," Rachel said from her left.

Lois whirled to face her and found Bad Brain instead of Rachel. He held a small metal box to his throat and spoke again, his voice sounding like Rachel's. "Check it out — I can make myself sound like anyone."

"Where's Rachel?" Lois asked, eyeing the ESW gun that Bad Brain held in his other hand.

"I don't think you're in a position to be asking any questions, do you?" He lifted the box to his throat again and spoke. "Mr. Randall, how quickly can you get to 163 Bessolo Boulevard?"

Lois gasped. It was Superman's voice coming from Bad Brain. "You called Ken as Superman last night."

Bad Brain only smiled. "I told you I'd see you soon. I'd hate for you not to believe me."

"So are you going to rip my heart out now?" Lois clenched her hands to keep them from shaking. Just keep him talking, she thought. Clark will be here soon.

Bad Brain smiled and wagged the voice box at her. "I'm just experimenting, Lois."

Where was Clark? Had he got her message yet? Was he on his way here? Please, let Clark be on his way.

"So now what?" Lois asked, her eyes darting back and forth between the voice modulator and the ESW gun.

"I hope you didn't like that watch," Bad Brain said as he leveled the gun at her.

"No!" Lois screamed as the electro-shockwave slammed into her. The fillings in her teeth hummed and every nerve in her body screamed in agony. She dropped to the floor, her limbs locked so she couldn't cushion her fall. At that point everything went mercifully dark. When she opened her eyes she was alone.

What had happened?

She was on a cold concrete floor in an empty, spacious room. The light overhead was flickering off and on. A large cramp overtook her and she groaned, wrapping her weakened arms around her abdomen as if that could stop the pain.

"Clark," she moaned. Wasn't Clark supposed to be here?

Another cramp seized her and she could feel dampness between her legs. Where was Clark? Shouldn't he be here by now? Had Bad Brain zapped him, too?

She needed to get out of here. Needed to get help. Needed Clark. She tried to stand but her legs buckled and she dropped to her knees. She could feel a gush of warmth running down the inside of her legs. Lois looked down and saw a dark puddle where she had originally fallen. Blood, she realized. It was too much blood. Her breaths were coming in short pants as she gritted her teeth against the pain.

The baby.

"No, please, no." Her ears were still ringing and the words were barely audible to her. She sagged back down to the floor again. She clutched her abdomen, keening cries escaping through her lips as she began to sob for the dark-eyed little boy she was certain she had carried. She would never hold him, never tuck him in at night, never kiss better his cuts and scrapes. Why hadn't she waited for Clark? Regret, as thick and real as the pain, coursed through her.

That was how Superman found her, crumpled on the floor, her body wracked with sobs.

Alarm and dread shot through Clark, he had never seen her like this before. What had happened? "Lois," he touched her shoulder and she looked up at him, her face tear-streaked and pale. "Lois, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I lost him," she whimpered.

"Lost who? Bad Brain?" Clark gently urged her into a sitting position, trying to assess what was wrong. She was shaking violently and low moans were coming from her throat.

Her face twisted in pain. "Oh god, it hurts."

Clark's apprehension rose. He felt helpless in the face of her pain. "It's going to be okay," he said as he started to pick her up. It was only then that he realized how much blood had pooled beneath her. The knowledge of who she had lost hit him harder than any amount of Kryptonite ever had. His legs wobbled and he sat down heavily next to her, pulling her onto his lap. "Oh no, Lois, honey…"

Dazed with fear and pain, she wasn't really listening to him. Lois put her arms around his neck and pleaded in a choked voice, "Superman, will you please take me to Clark? I need Clark."

Tears sprang to his eyes. "I'm here. I'm right here," he murmured into her hair as he wrapped his arms around her and rocked her gently. "It's me. I'm here. I'm so sorry. We have to get you to a hospital."

There was something off about his words, but Lois was too weak and dizzy to process them. "Please, Superman. Just take me to Clark." In her mind's eye she could see Clark from that morning, kneeling next to the sofa and placing that kiss on her stomach. She needed Clark. She needed that moment back. Desperation welled up in her, causing her voice to crack as she tried to make him understand. "I need to tell him. He has to know. It's my fault. This was all my fault," she sobbed.

"This isn't your fault," he soothed, unsure if she could even hear him. He shakily stood up with her cradled in his arms, uncertain for the first time in years whether or not he could fly. His vision blurred again and he ducked his head, pressing his cheek against hers for a moment as he blinked the tears away. "It's okay," he whispered to her over and over again as he stumbled towards the door.

Lois fought against the darkness that was overwhelming her. "Tell Clark… please… I love him…" she murmured and then she went slack in his arms.

***

Clark entered the ER through the ambulance entrance with Lois in his arms. A nurse in a bright, multicolored scrub top caught his eye and he strode over to her. "Please, can you help her?" he asked.

"Superman! What happened?" the nurse asked.

"She's had a miscarriage," Clark told her. "I think it was caused by an electrocution."

"In here," the nurse beckoned him into an exam room and indicated the bed. "Set her down here."

Clark eased Lois onto the bed. It frightened him how pale and still she looked.

"Do you know her name?" the nurse asked.

"Lois," he said, his voice thick with worry. "Lois Lane."

"You said she was electrocuted? Was she unconscious when you found her?"

"No, she was conscious, but in a lot of pain."

"What can you tell me about the electrocution?"

"It was from an electroshock weapon, but I don't know the voltage. I, please, excuse me." Clark left the room, wanting to get changed and come back before Lois woke up.

He went to a dark corner of the hospital basement to change into his clothes. He realized the suit was smeared with blood. He stuffed it into a large red bin marked with a "Biohazard" sign, unwilling to keep it on under his clothes. He jogged back to the ER and was about to go into Lois' room when he was stopped by the triage nurse.

"Are you hurt?" she asked him.

"No, my… partner was just brought in by Superman."

"Your partner? We'll need you to fill these out first." She handed him a clipboard with several forms attached to it along with a pen.

Clark went to the far corner of the waiting room and sat on the other side of the fish tank. He took a furtive look around. No one was watching so he quickly filled out the forms as best he could. He came back over and gave the forms to the registration clerk.

"I'll be in room two if you need any more information," he told her and then left before she could protest.

He came in the room to find the nurse had finished her initial exam of Lois and was now making notes on a chart.

"How is she?" Clark asked.

"Are you her husband?" the nurse asked. Clark glanced at her ID badge and saw that her name was Pat.

"No. I'm the… I was the father," he corrected himself clumsily.

Pat gave him a sympathetic look. "We need to get her in this gown. Can you help with that?"

"Yes," Clark said.

"You can leave her bra on, but take everything else off." Pat pulled a curtain in front of the door and stepped out of the room.

Lois blinked her eyes open and then slammed them shut. Wherever she was, it was too bright. "Clark?" She was certain she had heard Clark's voice.

"I'm right here," he took her hand and squeezed it gently. "Can you sit up for me? We need to get you changed."

In truth he raised her more than she sat up and she sagged gratefully against his shoulder. Her body felt like one large cramp. "What's going on?" she asked, feeling like her voice was coming from miles away.

"We're at the hospital. Do you remember what happened?"

"I went to meet Rachel and… Bad Brain was there. Oh god, the baby. Clark, I'm sorry…" Her voice trailed off and she let out a shuddery sigh.

"Shh, no. It's going to be okay, Lois, I promise. Can you raise your arms and I'll do the rest?"

"I've heard that one before," she muttered thickly.

Clark touched his forehead to hers, grateful that she was lucid enough to make a joke. He pulled the shirt off of her and put the gown on, tying it on her back before helping her to remove her pants and underwear. They were soaked with blood. Clark put her clothes into the plastic bag that the nurse had given him. "My Belongings" was printed on the side in blue letters with a space to write the patient's name and room number. Somehow he didn't think Lois would want to wear these clothes ever again. Like his suit, they seemed forever tainted now. Pat came back in as Clark was washing his hands.

"Lois? Can you hear me?" Pat touched Lois' arm gently and Lois nodded weakly. "The doctor is going to be here in a few minutes. He's going to do a pelvic exam and then we might need to do an ultrasound. I'm going to start an IV. We need to get some fluids in you. We'll be able to give you something for the pain through the IV."

"Is Clark still here?" Lois asked in a whisper, reaching out with her hand to find him.

"Right here." Clark took her hand in his again. Her fingers tightened on his as a small tremor ran through her. He desperately wished he could take this from her.

Lois had never before felt so cold and uncomfortable. Her entire body ached, but particularly her abdomen, which felt like it was experiencing the most intense menstrual cramps in the world. She had to take in short breaths to keep the pain at bay. She clung to Clark's hand, grateful that Superman had found him so quickly and brought him here. She could remember asking for Clark and then… Lois winced against the pain and the thought was lost. Something about Superman was wrong, but she couldn't for the life of her remember what it was.

"Lois?" A male voice, not Clark's, was talking to her.

"Yes?" She hated how weak her voice sounded.

"Do you remember what happened?" the man asked her.

"It was Bad Brain. He had a… gun, like a police taser, but without the wires."

"Did you lose consciousness?" Her eyelid was pulled open and a light was shone into her eye, making it water.

"Yeah, I think so. I don't know how long I was out."

The doctor looked at Clark and raised a questioning eyebrow.

Clark shook his head. "I wasn't there." That's right, he told himself. You always knew that someday you'd be too late. Today was that day.

"Why does it hurt so much?" Lois asked, her voice pitched higher than usual. Clark's hand squeezed hers again in reassurance.

"Your body has gone into labor and it's working to expel everything from the womb. We'll keep you here overnight since you've lost a lot of blood. You're going to continue having some discomfort and cramping for a few days. If you develop a fever you should go see your doctor immediately. It might mean that your body isn't able to cleanse itself and we'll have to do a D&C to make sure there's no tissue left."

Lois closed her eyes, wincing as another cramp seized her. When the cramp had passed she opened her eyes again and looked blearily at Clark. "Will you stay with me, here, tonight?"

"Yes, of course." He looked so tired, she thought. She really ought to tell him to go home instead. But the thought of having to be alone and in a hospital made her feel cold and empty.

"Of course," she echoed and almost smiled.

***

Clark sat listening to the sirens outside as ambulances arrived at the hospital. He couldn't bring himself to leave her. Not tonight, he thought. The world would just have to get by on its own for tonight. Whatever painkillers they had given Lois seemed to be working. She wasn't restlessly tossing back and forth in the bed anymore. If there was a hell, then he had found it — watching Lois suffer and being unable to do anything about it was the worst kind of purgatory.

Lois turned her pillow over, wanting to rest her cheek against the cool side. She looked at Clark and saw that his eyes were still open. "I didn't want this," she said softly.

"I know."

"No, I mean, I didn't want a baby. Or, I thought I didn't. Part of me thought it would be… I don't know."

"I know," he said again and she realized he really did understand.

"How can you miss something you didn't even think you wanted?" she asked wistfully.

"The same way you can miss something you never really had. Just because it wasn't tangible doesn't mean you can't grieve for it."

"Do you think I went there, knowing that something would happen? Do you think I unconsciously wanted something to happen?" Lois blinked rapidly to keep the tears away.

"Did you?" he asked cautiously.

"No. I didn't want the baby. But I didn't want this either." Guilt, heavy and insistent, weighed on her.

Clark heard the self-recrimination in her voice and his heart twisted. "No, Lois…"

"I'm not ready to be a mother. But I still… part of me wanted him. I know that doesn't make any sense." Lois turned away from Clark and pulled the bed's blanket higher. She wondered if she'd ever be warm again. Why were hospitals always so cold?

"Yes, it does. It makes sense to me," Clark said softly.

Lois bit her lip. He would say that. Even if he were angry with her, she doubted that Clark would say anything that might upset her. Not right now, anyway.

"It's for the best, really. I'd be a lousy mother," she said quietly, more to reassure herself than anything else.

"I think you'll be a great mother." Clark reached out, smoothing his hand over the blanket, uncertain if he should try to touch her.

"Obviously you haven't met my mother. She's an alcoholic control-freak." Was there any difference between a control-freak and being bossy? Clark had told her she was bossy before.

"You're not your mother." Even as he said the words, he knew that she wasn't going to find any comfort in them.

"Not yet," Lois said bitterly.

"Not ever. You can only be you, Lois. And, someday, I think you are going to be a wonderful mother. Look at it this way — you already know what not to do."

Lois sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "I have to, uh, go to the bathroom now." The truth was she didn't want to talk about the baby anymore but she didn't know how else to change the subject.

Clark stood up, ready to help if she needed him. "Do you want…?"

She flushed and shook her head. "No, really, I'll be fine." She wrapped her hand around her IV pole, pulling it along with her towards the tiny bathroom. She turned on the light and then looked back at him. "Actually, there is one thing you could do for me, if you wouldn't mind."

"What?"

"I need some clothes to go home in. Would you mind going to my apartment and bringing something back for me?"

"What do you want me to bring you?"

"Sweats? I think I have some old sweatpants in the bottom drawer of my dresser."

"I'll be back soon."

"Take your time, I'm not going anywhere."

***

When he came back she was in the bed again, her face wet with fresh tears as she pointed the remote control at the television mounted above the door.

"There's just nothing on," she said to him, swiping her hand over her cheeks in embarrassment.

He set the clothes he'd brought for her on the small table next to her bed. "I know. Late night television sucks."

She gave him a watery smile. "It does, you know. It really does."

"I called Perry and told him that you'd had a run-in with Bad Brain. He said to take as much time as you needed to recover."

"Did you tell him about the baby?"

"No."

Lois sighed and clicked through a few more channels before stopping on a black and white movie. She stared at the screen, unable to recall if she had seen the movie before.

What else, she asked herself. You're forgetting something else. Something important.

"Why don't you try and get some sleep?" Clark suggested.

"I can't sleep. I just keep reliving it all in my mind, over and over." Lois frowned. Her memory always seemed to short out after Superman got there. He had said something — something that wasn't quite right. What was it? Or was it Bad Brain who had said it using Superman's voice? She shook her head, trying to shake the hazy memory into focus.

"What is it?" Clark asked.

"He sounded just like Rachel. Bad Brain did. When he called me on the phone and then again at the nuclear plant… he sounded like Rachel. And then he sounded like Superman. I think he can make himself sound like anyone. He said…" Lois took in a slow breath, fighting to quell the panic the memory reawakened. "He said he was experimenting."

"To what end?" Clark felt a prickle of fear shoot down his spine. What else was Bad Brain planning?

"I don't know. But it scares me that he's still out there."

"I won't let him hurt you again," he said quietly.

Lois reached for his hand and he took hold of her, squeezing her fingers gently. "I don't mean for this to sound ungrateful, Clark, but he can hurt you, too, you know."

"I don't care about me."

"But I do," Lois whispered. "I care very much what happens to you."

Clark lifted her hand to kiss the back of it softly. "I love you," he said simply.

"I notice you waited until I'm half-sedated to tell me that again."

He smiled and kissed her hand again. "You're on to me, if you ran off in a huff now I'd get a fantastic view of your butt."

"You and everyone at the nurse's station." Lois paused, swallowing past the lump in her throat so she could whisper, "Clark? I love you, too." She freed her hand from his so she could caress his cheek. "I'm so sorry that I hurt you. I was just scared."

"Of what?" Clark asked, his heart feeling immeasurably lighter. Yes, she had said the words to him earlier, but now she was fully cognizant of who she was saying them to.

"You," Lois breathed. "You have no idea how much you scare me. I never thought I'd trust anyone or be able to love someone like this."

"I scare you?" His pulse raced, equal parts excitement and fear.

"It scares me that I care so much about you," Lois told him, stroking her thumb along his lower lip.

Clark closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. "Try and get some rest," he finally managed to say, "because I care about what happens to you, too."

***

By the time Clark brought her home the next morning Lois was exhausted. She hadn't slept much the night before and she leaned heavily against him as he led her into her bedroom. She sat down on the bed, staring at her hands. He knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

She shrugged.

"Can I get you anything?"

She blinked slowly and was about to shake her head, then she lifted her eyes and gave him an embarrassed look. "I'd like a bath."

"A bath?"

She nodded. "I just want a bath."

"Okay." He rose, kissed the top of her head, and went in the bathroom. He started the water running and added in some of the bubble bath sitting on the edge of the tub. When the tub was nearly full he turned off the water and returned to her room. She was sitting just as he'd left her. "The water's ready," he told her.

She gave him a tired smile. "If I raise my arms, will you do the rest?"

"Yes."

She raised her arms and he gently pulled her shirt off before helping her to stand so he could get her sweatpants off. Once she was naked he lifted her in his arms and carried her into the bathroom, carefully lowering her into the water. His shirtsleeves got wet but he quickly decided against taking his shirt off. He didn't want her to feel at all intimidated. He rolled up his sleeves instead and then grabbed a washcloth.

Clark lathered the washcloth and eased her forward so he could wash her back. Lois rested her forehead on her knees and closed her eyes. She sighed, her nerves enjoying their first pleasurable sensation since Bad Brain had lifted the gun. Clark rinsed her back and then gently urged her to lie back in the tub. She didn't open her eyes, just let him guide her until her head was resting against the rolled-up towel he had put on the back of the tub.

She wondered what his face looked like, but she was too tired to open her eyes. She relaxed under his ministrations, feeling herself drawing closer and closer to sleep. There was no one in the world she had ever trusted this much.

//"I won't let him hurt you…"//

Lois knew that was true. He had stepped in front of Bad Brain's weapon before to save her. She had a new appreciation for what Clark had done that night. She didn't doubt that he would do the same again, if he thought it would protect her.

"Are you ready to get out?" Clark asked softly.

Lois nodded and he reached into the tub and pulled the plug. He helped her out of the tub and dried her gently with a towel. He grabbed the blue robe hanging on the back of her door and wrapped her into it.

"Wait here," he said quietly and went back into her bedroom to bring her some underwear and the bag of hygiene products the hospital had sent home with her. "I'll be right out here if you need me," he told her.

When Lois opened the door she found him standing right outside. "Thank you," she said, reaching up to touch his cheek.

"Anytime you need a bath, you just call me." He gave her a soft smile and she ducked her head, letting it rest against his shoulder.

"I'll keep that in mind," she muttered into his chest.

"Come on," he put his arm around her waist and led her to the bed. "You should get some rest now."

"Clark?" she asked as he pulled the covers over her.

"Yes?"

"Don't leave me."

"I won't."

Clark took off his glasses, setting them on her nightstand. Then he ran his heat vision over his shirt to dry it before climbing into bed behind her. He gathered her into his arms, burying his face in her hair. The nape of her neck was still slightly damp from her bath and he found the smell of her soothing beyond words.

***

Lois woke up slowly. At first she was only aware that she wasn't alone. Someone was behind her, their arm lying protectively across her. Clark, it must be Clark. And then the memories flooded through her. She saw Clark, kneeling next to her, his hand on her belly. She remembered kissing him good-bye and teasing him as he tried to leave his apartment. She saw Bad Brain pointing the ESW gun at her. For a moment she relived the excruciating pain and spasms the electro-shockwave had caused. She remembered waking up in a pool of blood with the terrifying knowledge that she had lost the baby. And Superman, he had been there. He had taken her to the hospital.

There was something wrong, though. Something about Superman. He had been… she closed her eyes and thought. Something he had said was wrong. He had said…

//"Oh no, Lois, honey…"//

That was it! Superman had called her 'honey'. Why? Was he just being tender because he knew she was in pain? And yet, in all the times he had rescued her before he had never done anything like that. Even Clark didn't call her 'honey'.

No, that was wrong. He had, just once.

//"Just relax, honey. I've got you."//

The last time they had made love. He had called her 'honey'. She remembered being even more turned on by his use of the endearment — if that was actually possible.

Clark and Superman had both called her 'honey'. And they had both said it in the same soft voice.

Why wouldn't they, the thought popped into her mind, when they're the same person?

***

Lois opened her eyes, staring blindly ahead of her. For several seconds she laid there, not daring to move, as her mind raced. It was laughable, wasn't it, that Clark could be Superman? If he was that meant that she had been having sex with Superman for over a month without a clue.

//"I'm here. I'm right here. It's me. I'm here. I'm so sorry."//

Clark was Superman? That couldn't be right — that was just stupid. Her partner, her best friend was… no, she was the one who was stupid. Oh god, it was so obvious now that she thought about it. All those unexplained absences…

Lois let out a shaky breath as it all became unalterably clear. She had used Superman's toothbrush. It was Superman she had seduced, slept with, and then rejected soundly. It was Superman who had bathed her last night. He had been Superman all along and he had hidden the truth from her.

Why? Why had he never said a word?

//"You're better at this than I thought," she told him.

"At what?" Clark looked up at her quizzically.

"Dissembling."

"You didn't think I could lie?"

"Not that well. I just never expected it from you."

"I hope that's a compliment."

"It is." She regarded him for a few seconds. "So what else are you lying about?"

"What?"

"A person doesn't lie that well without practice. And you seem to keep a lot of secrets. I bet there are lots of things you don't tell me."//

How could he have ignored an opening that big?

He was still asleep behind her, if his deep and even breathing was any way to judge. Lois carefully shifted so she was lying on her back, wincing as her muscles protested. Her entire body ached, an aftereffect of the electrocution that the doctor had warned her about.

She looked closely at the man holding her, feeling like she was seeing him for the first time. Her eyes were drawn to the small freckle above his upper lip. They both had the same freckle — why had she never noticed that before? But she hadn't — it hadn't even occurred to her that it should occur to her.

With his face relaxed in sleep he only looked like Clark to her. There wasn't a trace of the stiff control of Superman in his features. He was just Clark without glasses. She realized now he had never taken his glasses off when she could see his face before. Lois lifted her hand and experimentally smoothed his hair back from his forehead. At her touch, his eyes opened and his arm tightened around her.

"How are you feeling?" he murmured, his voice scratchy with sleep.

"Numb," she said honestly, pulling her hand away.

Clark nodded. He felt numb himself. In fact, he was afraid of what he was going to feel when the numbness receded and he actually had to register emotions.

Lois was unable to meet his eyes. What was she supposed to do or say? Should she just confront him? Did he think she had remembered all along the things he said when he found her at the nuclear plant?

"It's you, isn't it?" she whispered through parched lips as she dared another peek at him. "You're Superman."

Clark let out a sigh as his stomach twisted into a swift cold knot. Instinct almost made him deny it, especially since he was unsure whether he should be relieved or worried that he no longer had to hide from her. "Yes."

He had been so sure that the confession would lift a weight off of him. The reality was exactly the opposite. The guilt seemed twice as heavy now because her body had become rigid and she wouldn't look at him. He hastened to try and explain.

"It's still me, Lois. I'm Clark. Superman is…he's what I can do. He's how I can help people and still have a life. Clark is who I really am."

Lois had rolled away from him as he was speaking even though her entire body protested the movement. She sat up and clutched her robe tightly closed. "Whoever you are, you're a liar," she stated flatly.

"Lois…" Clark pushed himself up to sit against the headboard of her bed and she moved a little further away from him, putting one foot over the edge of the bed as if she was getting ready to flee.

"I trusted you," she told him. "I bared my soul and every last inch of me to you and the entire time you were lying to me." Her voice sounded dazed and Clark realized he'd much rather she yelled at him instead of looking at him like she had found a stranger in her bed.

"I wasn't lying," he said vehemently. "Not really. I just didn't tell you one thing."

*One thing?* Was he kidding? His defensive words goaded her into anger and she scrambled off the bed. Her voice cracked as she sarcastically said, "Oh sure, that was just one little omission. How could I possibly be upset over one teeny tiny little lie? I was carrying Superman's love child — that wouldn't have interested me at all. When were you going tell me? Or were you *even* planning to tell me?"

Clark bowed his head, frustrated and guilty at the accusation in her words. "I was going to tell you last night. When I said we should talk yesterday morning, that's what I wanted to talk about."

"So what was the criteria for finally telling me? What little test did I have to pass first? Obviously it had nothing to do with intimacy or trust or friendship."

"Lois, there wasn't a test." He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "When I first became Superman I didn't tell you because I didn't know you well enough to know what you would do with that information. And then it just got more and more complicated when I fell in love with you. It didn't make it any easier that you only cared about Superman…"

"You think I didn't care about you?" she interrupted. "What about the first time we slept together? Why do you think I came to you that night?"

Clark shrugged. "I just figured you had nowhere else to go."

Lois gasped. "I came there because of you! Even without your memories I was drawn to you!"

"Are you really going to stand there and tell me that you cared just as much about Clark as you did Superman? Don't bother trying, Lois, you made it abundantly clear who you really wanted to be with." Clark got up and stood on the other side of the bed.

"Do you honestly think that little of me?"

"I never told you because I was afraid of your reaction. Surely you remember how you reacted over a toothbrush, Lois. A toothbrush! Are you seriously telling me that learning you had just unwittingly slept with Superman wouldn't have upset you? Because I don't buy that. Not at all!" He spit the words at her in frustration.

"Oh, spare me! Tell me why you couldn't even date me as Superman but you could have buddy sex with me as Clark. How does that work?"

"Because Superman isn't real! I made him up! He's a costume, Lois! He's a disguise! If we were dating, or having buddy sex, I wanted you to know that you were with *me*. Clark. Just me."

"Do you know what kills me?" she asked bitterly. "I actually fantasized about you while having sex with you. Is that sadly ironic or ironically sad?"

Clark winced. "Lois…"

"Remember we agreed that if either of us said 'no' that the other would stop?"

"Yes," he said, his heart sinking as he realized what she was going to say next.

"I'm saying 'no'. I want you to leave."

Exasperation flooded through him. He was angry with her, but he couldn't leave her. Not like this, especially not after what had happened yesterday. "You shouldn't be alone right now."

"Then why don't you ask Superman to keep an eye on me? Isn't that what you do when I'm not talking to you? I'm sure he'll be very understanding and steer me, ever so subtly, into making up with you."

***

Clark stood on the sidewalk outside, looking up at her window. He could hear her opening and slamming shut the drawers in her kitchen and muttering under her breath. He felt an equal irritation — why couldn't she just listen, really listen to him? He knew it was hopeless to go back to her right now and try and make her understand. He gradually let the sounds of the evening rush hour drown out her movements. It was late in the day, he realized. They had slept the entire day.

Would she be okay? Would they be okay? Once the initial shock wore off, would she allow him back into her life again?

What if she didn't?

His breath caught in his throat. He had lost so much since yesterday morning — he couldn't lose her, too. She was right, he realized. He had always been able to get through to her as Superman when his efforts as Clark failed. Now he had ruined everything. Why hadn't he told her?

//"Clark? I love you, too." She freed her hand from his so she could caress his cheek. "I'm so sorry that I hurt you. I was just scared."

"Of what?"

"You," Lois breathed. "You have no idea how much you scare me. I never thought I'd trust anyone or be able to love someone like this."

"I scare you?"

"It scares me that I care so much about you," Lois told him.//

He knew she had been blindsided when she realized who Superman was. He knew that her fear and anger were only going to compound from here, especially if he tried to explain away his lies. But would she ever realize how deeply she had hurt him? He knew she was frightened of getting too close — could she see why he was frightened of the same thing? Would she ever trust him again?

Clark shook his head regretfully and began to walk away. There was no way back in. There was nothing he could do to fix this. He would just have to wait and hope that she loved him enough to forgive him. It was much less certain whether he would ever be able to forgive himself.

***

By mid-afternoon of the next day Lois was feeling restless. The cramps were nowhere as bad as they had been but they were still there. That the cramps were a constant reminder of what she had lost made them even worse. She had been carefully trying to avoid thinking about the baby or Clark or Superman. She had tried reading but nothing could hold her attention. Feeling desperate, she found a notepad and began making notes.

She wrote down, 'Tony, Rachel, Gatenby — ESW weapon' and then tapped her pencil on the pad as she thought.

First Bad Brain had gone after Tony Weir, Rachel Eames and Dr. Gatenby — all of them had been instrumental in creating the ESW weapon he was currently using. But he hadn't used the ESW to kill any of them. Why? Had he still been modifying it to use against Superman?

Tony had died from an electrified manhole cover and Rachel had narrowly escaped that fate. Dr. Gatenby had been electrocuted, but he had the same burns on his ankles and chest as the homeless men. All three of them were connected by their jobs at STAR Labs and their work on the ESW gun. But then Bad Brain had started killing transients. Why? Was he experimenting on them?

//"…He stuns them first and then drags them to his lair."//

Ken had said that Bad Brain used the gun solely for stunning. So far he hadn't used the gun to kill anyone, but then he had told them that he had it set on low.

//Bad Brain nodded at Kevin, lying prone on the floor. "That's what happens when the gun is set on low. You tell Superman that I'm going to crank this thing up to full power and I'll shoot first and ask questions later."//

What made Bad Brain think that he could even hurt Superman? Clark, she corrected herself, he thought he could hurt Clark. Was Clark faking it when Bad Brain shot him that night? He had seemed genuinely stunned to Lois. What was it Clark had said, just before Bad Brain shot him?

//"You've made a Kryptonite lens for the gun."//

Kryptonite. Wasn't that the stuff Jason Trask had thought would kill Superman? With dawning horror she realized that Kryptonite might really be potentially lethal to Clark. And he had known that at least since their trip to Smallville — one more thing he had kept from her.

He had been sick while they were out there, she recalled. She had thought it a little odd that his parents were so doting at the time. Now she realized why they had been so worried. She remembered Clark's surprise when he got that paper cut. It was probably the first time in his life that he had been the regular guy she assumed he was all along. So Kryptonite could take away his powers — but could it kill him?

//"Clark, please, talk to me!"

His lips moved but he didn't make a sound. She leaned closer to his mouth. "What? I can't hear you."

"That really hurt," he whispered.//

He had been hurt that night. He wasn't faking it. Bad Brain had a weapon that could stop Superman in his tracks. Lois shivered at the thought.

//"That's what happens when the gun is set on low. You tell Superman that I'm going to crank this thing up to full power and I'll shoot first and ask questions later."//

If the Kryptonite made him vulnerable at the same time that Bad Brain hit him at full power… he could kill Clark with that thing. Lois doodled a spiral on the corner of the paper and wondered if Clark was out looking for Bad Brain right now. Surely he realized he could never show up as Superman in front of Bad Brain? His best chance at survival lay in never giving Bad Brain a reason to turn the ESW weapon up to full power.

//"I won't let him hurt you again," Clark said quietly.

She reached for his hand and he took hold of her, squeezing her fingers gently. "I don't mean for this to sound ungrateful, Clark, but he can hurt you, too, you know."

"I don't care about me."

"But I do," she whispered. "I care very much what happens to you."

Clark lifted her hand to kiss the back of it softly. "I love you," he said simply.//

Lois closed her eyes but the tears escaped anyway. She still cared about him, even if he was a liar. Frustrated she rubbed the tears off her cheeks. She couldn't think about him right now. Clark's betrayal and the loss of the baby were both too fresh, too close to the surface. Work — finding Bad Brain — was the only thing that could save her. It was all she had left.

Think, she told herself. At what point had Ken started working with Bad Brain? Was that how Ken had found out about the setup under the manhole after Rachel's near-miss? It had to be later than that — Ken was still stalking Bad Brain the night she ran into him in the sewer.

//"You're wasting your time in the sewers. Bad Brain has moved on."//

Ken was going to air Bad Brain's location the same night that Bad Brain killed him. Why had he decided to expose Bad Brain? Had his story aired? Lois called WMET and learned that no story from Ken had been shown that night. She asked the control room tech if she could view Ken's tapes.

"Can't help you there," the tech said. "All his tapes on the Bad Brain story are gone or we would have aired something."

"Did Ken take them with him when he left that night?" Lois asked.

"I don't know. The current theory is that maybe Bad Brain took them, but no one can figure out how he got into the station to do it."

"What about Mike, his cameraman?"

"Mike quit last week. He said he had found a job upstate. No one has seen him since."

Lois thanked the tech and hung up the phone. She heard Ken's name and turned to watch her television as a story memorializing Ken aired. She watched Ken greeting a series of dignitaries and rolled her eyes. While she wouldn't have wished him dead, it was a little sickening to see his non-existent virtues being extolled by people she knew shared her low opinion of the man. The tribute ended with Ken, in profile, looking broodingly at the Metropolis skyline from a vantage point across the Hobbs River. The screen went black and the young anchorwoman behind the desk arranged her sculptured features into an expression approximating regret.

"So long, Ken," she said. "You will be missed by all your colleagues here at WMET. In other news, the mayor is denying allegations that he released several highly confidential documents relating to city construction projects. In a press conference this morning …"

The screen changed to show the mayor's spokesman fielding questions at a press conference. Lois immediately picked out Clark on the periphery of the crowd. He was the only reporter not holding up a hand to be recognized for a question. The spokesman called on Kathy Beck, the Star's new reporter.

Lois didn't hear Kathy's question, all she could focus on was how Clark didn't seem to be paying attention either. He looked tired and sad. For a moment Lois was glad that he looked so awful. He should, after what he had done.

As Kathy was asking a follow-up question she saw Clark turn his head, pause for a second and then leave.

"So long, Superman," she whispered to the screen. She shook her head at her own idiocy. Why had it never occurred to her to be suspicious of Clark's constant disappearances? Probably because he had seemed so normal, boring even, that it never seemed possible he could be hiding something.

Okay, she told herself, let it go. Now try and figure out what Ken Randall was hiding.

//"Is Ken Randall working with you?" she asked.

Bad Brain chuckled. "I wouldn't call it that, though he might."

"He says he knows where you are."

"Did you ask him what he traded for that knowledge?"

Lois' throat went dry. "Rachel Eames?"//

Bad Brain hadn't confirmed that Ken had traded Rachel. But he had traded something. So where was Rachel? Where was Mike? Had he really taken a new job or had Ken sacrificed Mike to Bad Brain's sick experiments? If he had, why hadn't Mike's body been found? Were Mike and Rachel dead? Were they alive and in hiding? How had Bad Brain known what she was wearing that night? Did he have a surveillance device in her apartment? That was just too creepy to think about and she looked around uneasily.

//"I'm just experimenting, Lois."//

Why? What was he going to do?

//"Bad Brain has a lair, you know. And it's not underground…"//

So where was Bad Brain? How had Ken found him? Had he made a deal with Bad Brain? Where were all of his tapes? Had Bad Brain taken them or did Ken have them stashed somewhere?

Come on, she told herself. Think like Ken. Be a sewer rat.

//"The night Ken locked you in… he said that he had last seen you in the maze."

"I say we start where Ken locked me in. He's obviously familiar with that part of the underground network."//

What if Ken had hidden the tapes in the maze?

Lois looked at the phone. She should call Clark before she went into the tunnels. She weighed the risks of running into Bad Brain against the awkwardness of being with Clark. She made a face, then picked up the phone and called his desk at the Planet. To her relief, Jimmy answered.

"Jimmy? It's Lois. Is Clark there?"

"Uh, he was. I saw him just a few minutes ago but I guess he's stepped away from his desk. How are you feeling? I heard that Bad Brain zapped you."

"I'm doing okay," she said. "I'm just working on an angle for the Ken Randall/Bad Brain story."

"Do you want me to give Clark a message?" Jimmy asked.

"Oh, uh, yeah. Tell him I think Ken Randall may have hidden his tapes in the maze."

"In the maze? What maze?"

"Clark will know what I mean. Tell him that I'm going to go check the maze."

This was actually better, she thought as she hung up the phone. If Clark had answered he would have just argued with her over whether or not she should be out of bed. Did he honestly think she was just going to lie here, in her possibly bugged apartment, and wait for Bad Brain to come and knock on the door?

She went back to the television after she got dressed, hoping to get a clue as to where Clark might have gone. There had been an explosion at a chemical plant outside of the city. The reporter on the scene tensely informed the camera that Superman was working on containing the fire. She caught a glimpse of the red cape through the swirling black smoke in the background.

He should be busy for at least the next hour. Should she wait for him? Was there really anything left that Bad Brain could do to her? Besides kill her, of course.

//"You're wasting your time in the sewers. Bad Brain has moved on."//

Could she really trust Ken that Bad Brain had moved on from the sewers?

She'd have to, just this once. Lois picked up her flashlight and left.

***

Lois entered the sewer at Haines and Fourth, the same place as the night she had run into Ken and Bad Brain. She pushed away the memories from that night. She didn't want to remember the dying man's screams. Nor did she want to think about what happened afterwards. How blind could she be to mistake Superman for Clark, twice, and then never wonder why?

As she pulled the manhole cover closed the wind blew past her into the tunnel, making an eerie howling noise. She remembered what Kevin had said the first night he took them into the tunnels:

//"Some people say it's haunted. They give tours through here around Halloween."//

Lois climbed down the metal rungs set into the wall and looked around. Where to now? Should she go back to where Ken had locked her in or go in the opposite direction? There was a chalk arrow on the wall in front of her, pointing to the left. She didn't remember seeing that before. Impulsively, she decided to follow it.

After a few minutes she came to a junction. Another chalk arrow on the wall pointed to the left again. Lois hesitated for a moment and then decided to follow it. At least she'd be able to find her way back out by following the arrows backwards. Besides, she was curious to see what they led to.

After several more turns she began to imagine that she was going to find all the arrows erased when she tried to leave. She tortured herself with that thought for a few minutes as she remembered the warning Kevin had given them.

//"You guys need to stay with me. If we get separated, stop where you are and wait. Don't try and find your way out. You won't know the meaning of the word 'lost' until you've become disoriented down here," Kevin cautioned.

Clark leaned down to whisper to her, "He means you."

"Hmph," Lois let her elbow swing back and strike his ribs. "I never get lost. I have an innate sense of direction."//

That innate sense of direction only worked above ground, she decided. She checked her watch. It had been over an hour since she had first come into the tunnel system. Had Clark gone back to the Planet yet? Would he come looking for her?

Maybe she should find the nearest manhole and try to get out. She was tired, her legs felt shaky and her stomach was beginning to cramp. She should have taken some pain meds before she left home but she hadn't wanted her mind to be clouded. Now she was wondering what in the hell she was really trying to prove. Should she leave? Where did the arrows lead? What if the arrows were gone the next time she came down here to explore?

Two arrows later the cramps in her stomach had spread to her back. Feeling exhausted, she leaned against the wall and wished that she could just sit down somewhere dry for a few minutes. What if the arrows were just random? What if Ken had put them on the walls as a joke? If so, wherever he was now, he had to be laughing at her.

Lois closed her eyes, listening to soft trickle of water as she rested. She was going in circles, she was pretty sure. She should have brought her own chalk to mark the walls. Actually, maybe someone else already had. Most of the arrows were yellow chalk but some were white. Was there a reason? Which ones should she be following?

She pushed off from the wall and started walking again. The next arrow she came to was yellow and it pointed to the right. She rubbed out a section in the middle with her finger. She'd only follow the yellow ones from now on. And she'd mark them so she could recognize them if she saw them again.

At the next junction she cursed under her breath. There were no arrows, either yellow or white, on the wall. Dismayed, she turned and shone her light in the direction she had just come from. She had passed several smaller tunnels, but none of them had been marked so she had ignored them.

Then again, maybe Ken knew which tunnel it was; he just needed a guide to get there? Her instincts told her to check the smaller tunnels before calling it quits. She veered into the first one that she came to; it was much narrower than any she had been in yet. The walls were only a couple of feet wide and the ceiling was less than four feet high, she had to duck and walk hunched over. She followed it for about fifty feet and ran into a dead end.

Claustrophobia welled up in her, mixing with the pain in her back and abdomen until she just wanted to sit down and cry. She took a few deep, calming breaths and turned around, hurrying as fast as she could back into the main corridor.

She tried the small tunnel opposite and found the same thing. She was slowly trudging towards the next tunnel when she heard a distant whoosh. Lois froze — was that the wind? Had someone else just entered the tunnel system? Was it another flood? She frantically looked around, her heart racing, and then plunged into the next archway. She took several steps and the tunnel widened slightly on her right in an alcove. She ducked into it and turned her flashlight off.

What if it was Bad Brain? Or was it Clark? What if the sewers really were haunted? At that moment she would have rather run into the ghost of Ken Randall than either Clark or Bad Brain. Lois flattened herself against the back of the alcove and listened intently. She could hear soft splashes as someone walked closer to the tunnel where she was hiding. She held her breath.

The footsteps stopped. Whoever it was had to be directly in front of the tunnel she was in. Lois clutched her flashlight tighter, ready to club anyone who might walk past her. Please, her mind screamed, please don't let it be Bad Brain!

A flashlight's beam shone past her hiding spot and she pressed back harder against the wall. "Lois?"

It was Clark. She let out the breath she had been holding and was about to answer him when she realized it might very well be Bad Brain. He could make himself sound like anyone. She didn't move.

"Lois, it's me," he said. The light moved to focus on the alcove she was in.

Lois breathed shallowly, still not daring to reveal herself.

A few seconds ticked by and then he tried again. "It really is me. Or are you still not talking to me?"

Take a chance, she told herself. Only Clark would know that she wasn't talking to him right now. Then again, if Bad Brain was bugging her apartment…

"Clark?" she murmured, hoping that if he were Bad Brain he wouldn't be able to hear her.

"Yes," he said.

Frightened, and ready to run at the first sign of trouble, she turned her flashlight back on and stepped out of the alcove to shine it in his direction. He was about ten feet away — and he was wearing the Superman suit. She kept the light focused on his face, not wanting to acknowledge that Superman had just answered in the affirmative when she called him "Clark".

"What are you doing down here?" he asked, squinting against the light she was shining in his eyes.

"Didn't Jimmy tell you?"

"I called to check in and he said you thought Ken Randall had hidden something in the maze."

"Ken said he knew where Bad Brain was but they never aired his story that night. And his tapes disappeared. So I got to thinking — Ken knew the maze — maybe he was hiding stuff in it. Plus, he always seemed to be down here."

"You should have waited for me." Clark wanted to point out that she wasn't even supposed to be out of bed, but he knew that would only upset her further.

"I didn't know how long you would be," Lois said, feeling defensive. She could hear the note of disapproval in his tone. It would have been much better if she didn't agree with him. She was sorry she had even come in here to begin with. She was even sorrier that she had a long walk to get back out of the tunnels. She knew she could ask him to take her home and he'd have her there in a matter of seconds. She just couldn't make herself ask him.

"It's not like Ken is going to come back and get his stuff," Clark said. "If he even hid anything here to begin with."

Lois ignored him, mostly wishing to avoid another fight. "I was following the arrows." As soon as she said the words she wished them back.

At this admission Clark didn't even try to hide the disapproval in his voice. "Doesn't it seem slightly risky to be following a trail? How do you know you weren't being lured somewhere?"

"I don't," she shrugged. "But there's not much left that Bad Brain can do to me."

"He could kill you."

"Right now, that would feel more like a favor than anything else."

Clark bit back his reply, unsure what to say. He knew she had to still be hurting, both physically and emotionally, from the miscarriage. Given her current feelings about him, he didn't think anything he said could comfort her. If anything, his words would have the opposite effect.

For several seconds the only sound was the trickle of water. Lois swallowed hard before speaking. "You could help me look," she suggested. "I'm just checking these smaller tunnels. I'll take this one," she pointed with her flashlight at the tunnel she had just left, "and you can take that one." She swung the light to indicate the tunnel opposite.

"All right," he said, hoping he had read her right and this was meant as a truce.

Clark had to turn slightly sideways to work his way down the tunnel. He thought briefly about flying, but decided it was unfair if Lois still had to walk. He could hear the weariness in her voice when she had spoken. Why didn't she just go home? Why push herself so hard, and put herself in danger again while she was at it?

//"He could kill you."

"Right now, that would feel more like a favor than anything else."//

It wasn't like Lois to be so fatalistic. Foolhardy, yes. But he had never seen apathy drive someone before.

"Clark! Clark, come here!"

He cheated and flew to where she was at the end of the narrow tunnel. She had climbed the rungs on the wall at the end and was pushing ineffectually on a grate above her head. "There was mud," she told him excitedly, "on the rungs. Someone has been climbing around in here."

"Here, I'll get it." He floated up behind her and pushed the grate aside. "Let me go first, okay?" he asked quietly.

She sighed but agreed. "Okay."

Clark slipped through the hole above her. She could see the beam of his flashlight moving around.

"Well?" she asked. Just then light flooded through the hole. "What do you see?" Lois asked, climbing higher on the rungs.

"Wonderful things," Clark said, extending a hand down to help her. She took it and he pulled her up into a small room. It was about eight feet square and illuminated by a single bare light bulb dangling on a wire from the ceiling. An army cot with a sleeping bag was against one wall. On the opposite wall was a small counter on which sat a hot plate, a box of cereal, an overripe blackened banana and several cans of soup. A small combination TV/VCR sat on a crate at the foot of the cot. Along the wall over the television was a shelf full of video tapes.

Who was living down here? Ken? Bad Brain?

In the stark light from the bare bulb she found his Superman costume disconcerting. "Can you change or something?" Lois waved a hand at the suit. "If you really are 'just Clark'," she let the words drip with sarcasm, "then just be Clark."

He spun into jeans and a dark t-shirt. "Is that better?" His voice was just as sarcastic.

It wasn't. She realized it wasn't the suit that bothered her — it was just him. She couldn't look at him the same any more.

"I guess so." She turned away to look at the countertop. There was a small camcorder behind the hot plate and she picked it up.

"Tell me something," she said as the thought occurred to her, "did Ken's camera fall to the floor like I thought or did you break it?"

"I broke it."

Lois fought a smile. "Why? Isn't that sort of un-Superman of you?"

"I didn't break it as Superman. I broke it because I had told him to leave you alone and he was harassing you."

"You told him to leave me alone? Did you threaten him?" Lois was half-annoyed, half-pleased at the thought of Clark putting a little fear into Ken. She set the camera down and turned to look at him.

"Maybe, a little." He had his back to her and was looking at the shelf full of videos.

"You're lucky Henderson hasn't pulled you in for questioning about his murder."

"Actually, he did ask me where I was on the night Ken was murdered. Ken had told him that I threatened him."

"Why? What did you say to Ken?"

//"You touch her again and I swear I'll kill you."//

"I, uh," Clark said, feeling uncomfortable. He heard footsteps and reached up to turn off the light.

"Hey!" she protested.

"Shhh," he cautioned her.

"Is someone coming?" she whispered.

"Shhh," he told her again.

Lois fumed. Was there really someone out there or was he just avoiding talking to her? She listened hard but couldn't hear anything but the blood pounding in her ears. Normally she would have argued with him, but she couldn't really do that anymore.

//"Shhh, wait." Clark stopped and tilted his head. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"Footsteps… I think there's someone else down here…Ken," he muttered in irritation.

"Ken's here? How can you tell?"//

Duh, Lois, she told herself. How could he tell? How many other times had Clark seemed to sense something before everyone else? That was some brilliant investigative journalism on your part.

She stood absolutely still, hardly daring to breath, as her ears strained to hear whatever it was that had alerted Clark. A large cramp rolled through her belly and she felt dizzy. Sweat broke out on her forehead and she hugged herself to ease the pain. Lois swayed on her feet and then crouched down, afraid she would lose her balance in the dark. After a few seconds she eased the rest of the way down so she was sitting. The cold of the floor seemed to seep into her and she drew her knees up and wrapped her arms tightly across them.

"Okay, they're gone," Clark said softly and turned the light back on. Alarm shot through him as he caught sight of Lois sitting on the floor.

Lois stared at his feet, not wanting to stand up just yet. "Who was it?"

"I don't know. Someone was in the main tunnel but they turned back." Clark crouched down so their faces were almost even. "Are you all right?"

Lois shook her head impatiently at his question without looking at him. "Was it Bad Brain?"

"I couldn't tell. This room is lined with lead. Whoever it was, they're gone. Or at least, they're far away now and still walking steadily in the opposite direction." His voice went lower as he asked again, "Lois, are you okay?"

"I'll be fine. I just… I just need to rest for a minute."

"Do you want me to take you home?"

"No, I can't sit in my apartment any more. I need to…" Lois took in a quick breath, suddenly afraid that she was about to start crying. "I need to think about something else, okay? I can't just sit around doing nothing."

"Lois…"

"I don't want to talk about Superman or you or us or…" her voice dropped to a ragged whisper, "or the baby. I don't… I can't, not right now. Please, Clark, just leave it there."

"All right," he said softly, desperately wishing he could bridge the gap between them. He took one of the tapes off the shelf and said, "Let's see what Ken was hiding."

***

Clark turned before putting the tape in and gestured at the cot. "Why don't you come sit over here?" He held out his hand to help her up.

Lois was cold and uncomfortable on the floor. She struggled to her feet, ignoring his hand and sat down tentatively on the cot, as if she feared it might fold up unexpectedly beneath her weight. Clark turned back to put the tape in, the sting of her snub resonating through him as annoyance. Let her do it herself then.

Clark pushed play and leaned against the wall to watch. The screen came to life, showing three men sitting in an announcer's booth chatting about a basketball game that was apparently about to start.

"I think this was game four of this year's NBA Playoffs," Clark said as they listened to the men's discussion. He leaned down and hit fast forward. For several minutes they watched the silent, high-speed basketball game.

"Try another tape," Lois finally said impatiently. "This obviously isn't work-related."

Clark ejected the tape and picked up another off the shelf. "It would help if he had labeled these," he complained, picking up and then setting down three identical tapes.

"Are any of them marked?"

Clark looked through all the tapes and pulled out two. "These have the WMET logo on them."

"Try one of those."

Clark looked at the tapes again. "One of these is rewound and the other is near the end of the tape. How about we rewind this one just a little and see what the last thing he watched was?"

Lois shrugged. "Fine."

Clark put the tape in and pushed rewind. He waited for a few seconds and then hit play.

The camera panned across the side of a building and then showed Ken, jiggling a door handle without success. "Okay," he said to the camera. "We wait. Maybe your guy will come back. I'm betting that the ice queen from the Planet and her lackey show up before he does."

"Her lackey?" a voice off-camera asked with obvious amusement. "More like her boyfriend."

"Lane and Kent?" Ken tilted his head, looking thoughtful. "Really? You think?"

"Fifty bucks says they're involved."

Ken gave the camera a wicked grin. "You're on. She's too uptight to sleep with anyone, let alone a co-worker."

Lois shifted miserably on the cot. Ice queen? Uptight? Was that really how Ken, and everyone else, saw her?

Clark was fuming as well. Her lackey? Was that what people thought? He remembered something else Ken had said.

//"I'm going to go call the police," Lois said and pointed at Clark. "You stay here and watch them."

"Does she always boss you around like that?" Ken asked after Lois had left.

"Maybe I like it when she's bossy," Clark replied.//

The picture flickered and now the camera was a little further away from the building. On the cot, Lois let out a gasp as she and Clark came into view. Their lips were moving but the camera was too far away to pick up their conversation.

"How did you not hear them?" Lois asked. She was still smarting from the 'ice queen' comment and realized with dismay how petulant she sounded. "They can't be more than twenty, thirty feet away."

"We were near an office park and the wharf," Clark reminded her brusquely. "There were lots of people around. You know, if I'm not specifically listening for someone, it usually takes something drastic for me to hear them."

The picture jiggled and went out of focus as the camera moved close enough to pick up their conversation.

"…We just need to get inside and see if anyone has been here," the Lois on-screen said.

"The door is locked. I don't think anyone has been here."

"Just because we don't have a key doesn't mean that the killer didn't. Give me a boost and I'll get in through the window."

Clark shook his head. "What makes you think the window isn't locked, too?"

"Are you going to help me or not?" she ask in exasperation.

"You do realize that we're trespassing, right?" Clark sighed.

Lois picked up a rock and hurled it at a window, shattering it into a spider web of cracks.

"Lois! That's destruction of public property!" Clark exclaimed as Lois took off her jacket and wrapped it around her hand and arm.

"Lift me up," she instructed him. He did and she knocked out the rest of the glass. "Higher!" The camera moved in closer.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Clark said as he boosted her high enough that she could climb through the window.

Ken was right, Clark thought as he watched himself cave in to Lois' demand. He wasn't just her lackey, he was her step-stool, too.

On-screen Lois continued to harass him. "Oh, honestly! It's an abandoned building. If I hadn't broken that window, someone else would have eventually." She disappeared inside. Seconds later the door near the window opened and she grinned at him. "Piece of cake," she said smugly.

"Lois Lane and Clark Kent!" Ken Randall's voice sang out as the back of his shoulder entered the shot. Both of them turned and looked at him in utter surprise.

"Hello, Ken," Clark said warily.

"Are those your real names? They're just so TV-ready! Lois Lane, all those soft alliterative syllables. It's very sexy, isn't it? Lovely, lissome Lois Lane. And Clark, you have those sticky consonants. Makes a name stand out. Clark Kent. Very strong." Ken's arm came into view as he struck a pose like a bodybuilder. "Never fear, Clark Kent is here!"

"I can't believe you're an award-winning journalist," Lois told him.

"Lois, that compliment goes double for you."

"Are you following us?" Lois asked, her voice pitched higher in irritation.

"Lois, if I was following you, you'd be the last person to know it. We were staking this place out when Mike," Ken pointed at the camera, "and I saw a couple of vandals breaking into the building. It's a terrible thing, but luckily we caught them on film."

"Why you… " Lois started and then stopped herself, fuming. "Come on, Clark, let's take a look around."

Clark realized they were probably about to hear him admit to Ken that he liked having Lois boss him around. Even though the words had been spoken in jest, he'd be damned if he was going to let Lois hear them. Clark bent and hit the fast forward button and they watched as they sped-walked through the building with Ken and Mike. Ken did several different takes of his story, peering solemnly into the camera in a way that would have been laughable if he hadn't met the same grim end as the dead man behind him. The screen flickered and they saw themselves again, only this time they were sitting on Lois's couch and looking at blueprints.

"Whoa!" Lois exclaimed. "Slow the tape, play this."

Exasperation shot through him. He had already reached to adjust the playback when she spoke — did she really think he wasn't at all interested in why Ken had taped them sitting on her couch? On-screen Lois stood up from her couch and went into the kitchen. She started her coffee maker brewing and then leaned against the counter.

"He *so* was following us!" Lois said, infuriated to think that Ken had been lurking outside her building. "Where was he filming this from? The building across the street from mine?"

Clark shook his head in disbelief, watching with horrified fascination as he walked into Lois' kitchen and stood behind her. His hands lifted to her shoulders, massaging them as his lips moved silently. Lois' head dropped forward and Clark wrapped his arms around her, hugging her from behind.

"Oh my god, no," Lois felt her cheeks grow hot as the video Lois reached around to grope Clark's butt.

"It's a good thing Ken's already dead," Clark hit the stop button just as his on-screen self raised his hand to cover her breast.

"It's too bad we can't kill him twice, huh?" Lois said, suddenly engrossed in pushing back the cuticle on her thumbnail.

"I should destroy this tape," Clark said as his mind raced to remember what had happened next between them.

//"My lovely, long-legged, luscious, lickable, lovable Lois."//

"No… don't destroy it yet." Lois stared at the dark screen of the television. How much had Ken filmed that night? Just what happened in the kitchen or did he have them in the bedroom, too? She glanced at Clark and saw his bemused expression so she hastened to explain. "I just think we should fast forward through… uh, that… and see if there's anything at the end of the tape first. Plus we still don't know what's at the beginning."

Clark hit the fast forward button. After several seconds had gone by he pushed play. He was naked, his back to the camera, as he carried Lois into her bedroom. The camera moved to focus on her bedroom window but it was too dark to see anything.

"Good thing you insisted on keeping the lights off," Lois said, desperately looking for the silver lining in this sudden cloud.

A voice from the television suddenly asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

The camera's view changed, whirling past a glimpse of window ledge, floor and wall before focusing on a man. Both Clark and Lois gasped at the sight of Bad Brain, glaring at the camera. A line rolled across the screen and then it was filled with gray static. Clark hit the fast-forward button, letting it run through nearly a minute of blank screen before he ejected the tape.

"That's how Bad Brain knew what I was wearing," Lois said, still shocked and angry that Ken had seen, had *taped* her and Clark together. At this moment she fervently wished they really could kill him twice.

"Ken was working with Bad Brain," Clark said grimly. "That's how he always got there ahead of us."

Lois shook her head. "What if Bad Brain was using Ken? He said something about Ken thinking he was working with him but that he wouldn't call it that. He said that Ken was trading something for information."

"What did Ken trade?"

"Besides his soul?" Lois shrugged. "I asked if he had traded Rachel but Bad Brain didn't really answer me." She looked at the stack of tapes on the shelf and wondered what other nasty surprises Ken might have filmed.

Lois stood up and began pacing as a thought occurred to her. "Clark, that night in my kitchen happened before Ken locked me in the tunnels."

"And?" Clark prompted, not understanding why that mattered.

"Ken was still looking for Bad Brain — and still avoiding him — the night he locked me in. What if Ken wasn't the one who filmed this? What if it was Mike? He was the one holding the camera when we broke into the power plant. This is Mike's tape, not Ken's. Maybe he taped us so he could win that bet with Ken?"

"So Mike was working with Bad Brain?"

"Maybe they both were? Maybe Mike was just working with him first?"

"I say we take the tapes with us," Clark said. "I'm going to go check on that building across the street from your apartment. Maybe he's still there."

"When he comes back and finds the tapes missing, it's possible he'll realize we're on to him. What if we only take the two tapes with the logos? For now, anyway?"

"And what if there's something important on the other tapes?" Clark replied, not about to acquiesce to any suggestion she made. He went to the counter and pulled a plastic grocery bag from where it lay beneath the cans of soup. "We take all of them, just in case."

They put the tapes into the grocery bag and turned out the light. Lois pointed her flashlight through the hole in the floor as Clark climbed down the rungs. When he got to the bottom he called to her to drop the bag. She heard the rustle of the plastic as he caught it. Then she swung her legs into the empty black space of the hole and heaved a sigh, feeling too tired to keep going anymore.

"Jump," Clark said from below her. "Jump and I'll catch you."

Lois hesitated. She knew he would catch her — that wasn't the problem. Equal parts longing and loathing raced through her. She was tired. It would be so easy to let him help her. Then again, relying on Clark for comfort is what had started this whole mess. And since that night, no, actually since almost the moment they first met, he had been lying to her.

Not just some garden variety lie either. It had been a big lie, one that he had taken steps to nurture and protect. He had been so calculating in how he hid himself from her. *He* was the reason she had pain, both emotional and physical, to begin with. Well, okay, maybe the physical was half her fault, but the emotional pain was almost entirely due to him.

"I can do it," she told him and reached with her foot for the first rung. She found it and leaned forward, reaching out to grasp the edge of the opening. At that moment a cramp shot through her and she let out a small groan even as her fingers scrabbled to hold on. She pitched forward, the side of her head bumping against the opening as she fell.

She hadn't fallen for more than half a second before he caught her, lowering her with him back to the floor of the tunnel. Space was limited and when he set her down they were still too close for her comfort. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"You seem to be asking me that a lot lately," she said, carefully feeling her head where it had struck against the opening. She didn't feel any blood, but the spot was tender. Wonderful, she thought, another bruise.

"I'm going to close the grate," Clark told her and then his body slid up and away from hers.

Lois picked up her flashlight from where it had dropped and then lifted the bag full of videos before turning and making her way slowly back towards the main tunnel. When she reached the bigger tunnel she wavered for a second and then turned in the direction she had originally come from.

Clark walked alongside her, acutely aware of how slow and deliberate her movements had become. Even though there was enough room for him to stand upright, she was still hunched over and her breathing had become shallow. He thought about offering to take her home, but he was almost certain she would reject both the offer and him. Her snub back in the small room still stung. Why did she think she was the only injured party here?

He thought back to that night that had been captured on film. He remembered their banter as they undressed each other in her kitchen. He remembered hastily dressing in her kitchen later that night after he panicked and reminded her of their agreement. Had it ever been real to her? Her reaction that night seemed to show that it had meant something to her. But then she had pushed him away over a damn toothbrush. She really hadn't seemed to care for him until… the baby. Was it only the realization that she was pregnant that had opened her eyes to seeing him as something more than just a sex buddy?

//"I didn't mean to hurt him," she whispered, looking up at him through watery eyes.

It was the way her eyes had turned to liquid that softened him. "Talk to him, Lois."

"And say what?" She spread her hands in a helpless gesture. "I don't think I can tell him what he wants to hear."//

But she had told him that she loved him. And that was after they had lost the baby. If she loved him, and she loved Superman, couldn't she have been maybe just a little happy that she could have both?

//"Do you know what kills me? I actually fantasized about you while having sex with you. Is that sadly ironic or ironically sad?"//

It was both, he answered in his mind. If she thought that was sad, try being the person who had known she was thinking only of Superman all along.

Sure, she claimed to love him — or had loved him until she learned the truth. But what if he had shown up as Superman in her apartment one night? She would have said, "Clark who?" and gone for it. He was second in her heart. It wasn't his lie that angered her; it was her realization that Superman wasn't real. She still loved Superman more. What if he had allowed her to turn on the light? What if he had told her the truth? Perhaps it was just as well that he didn't, since it now appeared that Bad Brain was camped across the street from them the entire time.

"You shouldn't go home," he said to her. "Not if Bad Brain is still across the street."

"I'll get a hotel room then," she said softly. The handles of the plastic bag full of videos were cutting into her fingers and Lois started to worry that she was going to drop it. The cramps from earlier had returned, only now they were shooting down her legs as well.

"Or you could…" Clark stopped himself. Was he insane? She wouldn't stay with him. "A hotel is a good idea."

Lois stumbled, reaching out as a reflex to grab his arm. He quickly moved to hold her up, then caught the bag of videos just as she began to drop it. She hadn't pushed him away, was that because she was in pain or because…? Don't be so pathetic, he told himself. She doesn't want you. And you really shouldn't want her.

"Sorry," she murmured and then sucked in a quick breath as a sharp cramp rolled through her, obliterating her anger and leaving nothing but pain in its wake. "I, oh god, Clark, please help me."

The frightened tone of her voice overrode his annoyance with her. He put both his arms around her and held her against him to steady her. His traitorous body seemed to hum at her touch. "I have to change," he told her. "Can you stand here for just a few seconds longer?"

"Yeah," she said weakly. "I'm just tired, that's all."

There was a rushing sound and then his arms hooked under her legs and back, lifting her against him. Lois' head came to rest against his shoulder and she closed her eyes. It was the first time, she dimly realized, that he had held her as Superman when she knew that he was really Clark.

She had always felt safe in Superman's arms, she thought as pain and weariness overtook her. But she had never felt secure and cherished with anyone but Clark.

***

Clark paced, uncertain what to do. Should he have taken her to the hospital instead of bringing her here? Was this really exhaustion or was something else wrong? Why was she pushing herself so hard? Worry and anger surged through him in equal measure each time he glanced over at her. Was this the only way she knew to cope? Couldn't she find a less self-destructive way to grieve?

What about you, he asked himself. How are you coping? Besides snapping at her and being distant? How much longer are you going to keep hurting her before you admit this isn't her fault?

When Lois opened her eyes she was lying on Clark's bed. She pushed herself up onto her elbows and then began the slow process of sitting upright.

A few seconds later Clark appeared around the corner, holding a glass of water in one hand and one of her pain pills in the palm of his other hand. She took them from him with a murmured "thanks." Then she looked back up at him quizzically. Something was different… his glasses. He wasn't wearing his glasses.

"So I guess you don't really need glasses, do you?" she asked, looking away.

"No, not really. I started wearing them as a reminder not to use my powers."

"Oh." Lois swallowed the pill and set the water glass on his nightstand. "Why did you bring me here?"

"I didn't think it would look good for Superman to carry an unconscious woman into a hotel." Clark felt awkward, looming over her. He went to sit on the bed, realized she might not want him that close so he started to crouch down. That felt too subservient so he stood quickly and leaned against the wall.

Lois furrowed her brow, puzzled by his calisthenics. "Oh, um, good thinking."

"I, uh, brought you a change of clothes, when I went by your place to get your pain meds." Clark gestured at the window bench and the neat pile of clothes he had left there.

"Did you check the building across the street from mine?"

"Yes. There's an empty apartment almost directly across from yours. It has a rug on the floor that's the same as the one you can see when the camera turned away."

"I didn't see a rug," Lois muttered.

"It was really fast."

"Did you watch that tape again?"

Clark cleared his throat, "No, not all of it. Just the part where the camera turned around to see Bad Brain. I wanted to make sure I had the details right before I checked the building."

"When you say 'empty apartment' does that mean there wasn't any furniture?"

"No, there's a sofa and a table but nothing in the bedroom. And there were lots of fast food wrappers in the garbage can. According to the landlord it was rented to a Mr. R. Johnson two months ago."

"So Bad Brain moved in there just before he started the killings?"

"Looks that way."

"Do you think he did it because it was across the street from me, or is that just the mother of all coincidences?"

"You told Inspector Henderson you didn't believe in coincidences," Clark reminded her.

//"Do you believe in coincidences, Clark?" Lois asked him as they walked away.

"It depends," Clark said. "Give me an example and I'll tell you whether I think it's a coincidence or not."

"Take Superman, for instance."

"Superman?"

"Yes, he's always there to save us. Does he follow us around? Is he stalking us? Is he really that fast? Can he read our minds? Or is it just the most amazing coincidence that he's always there when we need him?"//

"I still don't believe in coincidences," she replied. "Let's watch the other tapes and hope that I kept my curtains closed."

***

Lois changed into the clean clothes Clark had brought her. He was on one end of the couch, remote in hand, watching the TV. She came in and hesitantly sat on the other end of the couch. Clark hit stop and ejected the tape. "This one is nothing but TV shows. I say we watch the other WMET tape and see what's on it."

Lois nodded and pulled one of the throw pillows onto her lap before hugging it to her chest.

The tape began with Ken doing various promo shots. Then there was an interview with the mayor about scandal in his office.

"I remember that," Lois said. "That was about five, maybe six months ago?"

"Something like that," Clark nodded.

To their surprise the next interview was with Anthony Weir. The footage was being shot from behind Ken.

"In light of recent events like the Nightfall asteroid, is STAR Labs working with the government to create a weapon that could destroy the next cosmic threat?" Ken asked.

Tony laughed. "That's pure science fiction."

"Really? What about the inclusion of a laser on the space station that's meant to take out nuclear missiles?"

"That's nothing but speculation on your part, Mr. Randall."

"Or it's top secret and you can't say."

Tony gave a tight-lipped smile and faintly shook his head. "Next question."

"I understand there has been a, uh, let's say 'legal disagreement' recently between STAR Labs and Lex Labs."

"I'm not sure I understand the question." Tony shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

"Something about an electroshock weapon," Ken prompted.

"Mr. Randall, I don't appreciate being ambushed like this. You know I can neither confirm nor deny any specific projects in development at STAR Labs. Perhaps you should check with Dr. Crowley's team at Lex Labs."

"Dr. Crowley hasn't returned my phone calls."

"That's unfortunate. I believe this interview is over, Mr. Randall." Tony stood up, pulled a small wireless microphone from his lapel. "Leave me out of your fishing expeditions in the future, won't you?"

The tape moved on to show several exterior shots of STAR Labs and then Lex Labs.

"It's still called Lex Labs," Lois murmured. "Lex was still alive."

Clark flinched — did she still have feelings for that monster? Was that the reason she never talked about Luthor?

The view changed to show the lobby of the LexCorp building. Lex was coming out of the elevator, his arm around Lois' shoulders. She looks so happy, Clark thought. She had been happy with Luthor. The man was a monster, and he had lied to her, but he had never put her in danger or knocked her up. What if Luthor were still alive? Would she have gone to him again after Superman told her he couldn't date her?

Lois teared up as contradictory emotions run through her. She felt the same old grief at Lex's sudden death mixed with anger over his deception. She glanced at Clark and saw that he was watching her. His face was rigid; it was Superman looking at her right now, not Clark. That realization only compounded her sheer discomfort at being reminded of her errors in judgment. She realized she was, quite possibly, the worst judge of character ever.

"Mr. Luthor!" Ken shouted on-screen, the camera following him as he pursued Lex and Lois to the limousine waiting outside. "Just a few questions about Lex Labs."

"Now, Mr. Randall," Lex said with a smooth smile, "you know very well we'll be having a press conference about this later today. Please, you wouldn't deny a man the simple pleasure of an undisturbed lunch with his beautiful fiancee, would you?"

Ken turned to camera. "Okay, we'll go at this from another angle." The screen went dark.

Neither of them spoke, they both stared at the screen, each lost in their own thoughts.

Clark lifted the remote and turned the TV off. "When I met with Dr. Gatenby, he said that STAR Labs had been asked to turn over all their work on the ESW weapon to Lex Labs. I wonder if it was Dr. Crowley's team that was supposed to receive the prototype and all the research?"

"So was Bad Brain on Crowley's team?"

"I don't know. It feels like we're missing something. Ken said there had been a lawsuit between the two labs over the ESW weapon, right?"

"Right."

"Was that because the contract was awarded to Lex Labs? Was there some kind of professional rivalry between them? Gatenby made it sound like a routine transfer."

"How could it be routine when they had just spent all that time developing it?"

"But why would Bad Brain want to kill the people at STAR Labs?"

"Maybe he figured if they were gone the lawsuit would be dropped?" Lois suggested, although the idea felt wrong to her.

Clark looked up suddenly, hearing a distant alarm. "I have to go. Will you stay here until I get back?"

Lois was too tired to want to get off the couch, much less leave, but his words made her wish she could just march out the door and not come back.

"Lois?" He was waiting for her to reply.

"Sure," she shrugged half-heartedly and then watched in disbelieving amazement as he spun into the suit in front of her.

"I'll, uh, just keep watching the tapes while you're gone."

He nodded and disappeared in a blur of motion through his patio door.

Lois ejected the tape they had just watched, setting it on top of his television with the other WMET tape. She looked at the pile of unseen tapes. Then she looked at the two sitting on his TV. She hesitated. Go on, she told herself. Chances are Clark already watched it.

She put the tape in and pressed play. Bad Brain scowled at her and the screen went blank. Lois looked over at Clark's patio. No sign of him. How long would he be gone? She hit rewind and watched as Clark came speedily walking backwards out of her bedroom and set her down. They dressed each other rapidly, the clothes flying to the hands. As her bra went back on in reverse she blushed to think that Bad Brain, Mike and Ken had seen this footage. She stopped the tape when Clark got up off the couch and came into the kitchen.

She watched as he massaged her shoulders and her skin tingled at the memory. She remembered how she had almost fallen asleep at his gentle touch. On-screen he put his arms around her and she saw herself relax into his embrace.

The camera zoomed in at the same time that Lois leaned closer to the TV, fascinated by the way Clark's lips parted when her hand had caressed his thigh before moving around to his backside. She saw the play of muscles in his arms when they tightened around her as he bent to kiss the nape of her neck.

Their bodies began to rock against each other. Lois swallowed; her mouth went dry just remembering the way his body felt against hers. She saw her own mouth open in a gasp of pleasure as Clark's hand covered her breast. She couldn't see his face now. He was kissing the side of her neck, but she could remember how that had felt.

On-screen she turned in his arms and they kissed. God, he was such a good kisser. That was part of what started this whole mess. She had, of course, sensed where his hands were when they kissed, but now she could see the gentleness with which he had touched her and guided their kisses.

The kiss broke and he began to pull her shirt off. Lois stopped the video, unable to keep watching and horrified that someone else had seen something so private. Something that Ken had said came back to her:

//"Do you actually know where you're going or are you just trying to impress me?" she asked.

"Lois, if this impresses you, you're even easier than I thought."//

He said that the night she had run into him in the tunnels. His comment had seemed like his usual crude humor at the time. Now it was filled with new importance. She remembered something else Ken had said:

//"There's a rumor that you boffed Superman."//

She had denied it, of course. Now she realized that was a lie. Did it still count as a lie if she didn't know better?

She frowned for a few seconds and turned the tape back on. Clark finished removing her shirt and they were grinning at each other as she unbuttoned his shirt. Lois hit pause, freezing the picture as she slid Clark's shirt from his shoulders. There I am, she thought, about to boff Superman.

//"How do I compare with Superman?"

"Not bad. Pretty damn close, I'd say."//

Pretty damn close, indeed. Duh. She shook her head as she looked at the powerful torso laid bare on the screen. Pretty damn close? Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

She hit fast forward, watching the corner of the screen as they quickly peeled the rest of their clothes off. It wasn't until Clark picked her up and turned his back to the camera that she hit play. That, she told herself, was one fine ass. It was a damn shame it belonged to the world's biggest liar. She watched until Bad Brain appeared and then stopped the tape and ejected it, setting it on top of the TV like it had been before.

Had he watched the video while she was asleep? Before yesterday she would have been certain that she knew Clark well enough to say that he wouldn't. As it was, she couldn't say with any degree of assurance that she knew him at all. She thought of the tender expression on his face as he had kissed her.

//"I love you. And I hoped you might feel the same way."//

If he had loved her that desperately then why couldn't he have been honest with her? If he truly loved her, wouldn't he have wanted to be with her however he could — even if that had meant letting Superman get close to her first? Close enough that he could confess he was really Clark?

//"Because Superman isn't real! I made him up! He's a costume, Lois! He's a disguise! If we were dating, or having buddy sex, I wanted you to know that you were with *me*. Clark. Just me."//

Just because Superman wasn't real to him didn't mean that he wasn't real to everyone else. He had been real to her. Couldn't he understand that learning Superman wasn't real was traumatic to her? Learning that Clark was a liar was even worse. Bitter regret flowed through her as she remembered what Clark had said to her when she tried to turn the lights on the same night that Bad Brain and god knows who else were watching from across the street.

//"I just think it would be easier to keep this from spilling over into our work partnership if we can maintain some sort of distance. It's not real, remember?"//

He had been right. It wasn't real. None of it was real. It had all been a lie. The only thing between them that had been real had been lost when Bad Brain shocked her. Lois trembled, looking around his apartment as her eyes filled with tears. There were too many memories here, too many lies. The same sick feeling of betrayal engulfed her. She had to leave. She couldn't be here when he returned.

***

Lois was climbing the stairs to leave when Clark came back. She spun around, the bag of videos falling from her fingers and dropping. Video tapes clattered down the stairs.

"Going somewhere?" he asked, his face impassive. He was still in the suit and it made her knees feel weak. All this time, it had been Clark in the suit.

"Home." Lois gulped in a breath and knelt down to gather up the tapes. "I was going home."

"I thought you were going to stay at a hotel."

"I decided it would look too suspicious if I didn't go home." Her hands were shaking as she tried to put a tape in the bag.

Clark shook his head slowly. It was pointless to argue with her. She was going to do whatever she wanted, no matter what the consequences might be. The best he could do would be to delay her. He held up a page taken from a magazine. "There was a fire at the former Lex Labs tonight, in Dr. Crowley's office, actually. I found this on a bulletin board there. Recognize anyone in this picture?"

Lois looked up from the tapes. Clark hadn't moved from where he was standing on the far side of the room. Her curiosity piqued, she came over to take the page from him. Tony Weir, Dr. Gatenby, Bad Brain and a fourth, vaguely familiar-looking, man were all lined and smiling at the camera. The caption beneath the picture read "Anthony Weir and Dr. Weston Gatenby of STAR Labs with their colleagues Rufus Johnson and Dr. Michael Crowley of Lex Labs at the 58th Annual Electromagnetics Conference".

"That's Dr. Crowley?" Lois frowned. "I've seen him before."

"Yes, you definitely have," Clark told her. "That's Mike, Ken's cameraman."

"Mike? You're right!" Lois looked at the picture again in amazement. Was there anyone she knew who really was who they said they were?

"After the fire was out I talked to one of the secretaries who was there working late tonight. She told me Dr. Crowley took a leave of absence four months ago. It was around that same time that Rufus Johnson left Lex Labs."

"I thought Bad Brain left Lex Labs when they became Variant Technologies."

"He did — four months ago. We need to check with the head of Variant Tech tomorrow and find out whether that ESW gun was ever officially handed over or not. Do you remember anything about the press conference that Luthor was supposed to have the day Ken followed you two?"

Lois closed her eyes and thought about it. "It was…" She shook her head. "I don't remember — it seems like he had a deal that he was going to close with the government. Some kind of military contract." She opened her eyes. "That would seem to square with what Gatenby said about the contract being awarded to Lex."

"Do you know what bothers me?" Clark asked slowly.

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Lois handed the article back to him and crossed to his stairs to continue gathering up the tapes.

Clark ignored the dig, staring distractedly at the clipping in his hand. "What bothers me is that STAR Labs was asked to turn over months, possibly even years, of research to a professional rival. And Gatenby made it sound like that was no big deal. It had to have been a big deal. There was a lawsuit. So why didn't Gatenby mention that when I talked with him?"

"I don't know." Lois started to kneel to pick up the tapes when there was a blur of motion and a sudden wind blew past her. No sooner had she registered that sensation than Clark was standing in front of her, holding the bag out with the all the videos inside.

"Oh," she said, somewhat taken aback. "I, uh, thanks." She stood up and reached to take the bag from him. Clark moved the bag, holding it just out of her reach.

"I really don't think you should go home," he said quietly.

Lois crossed her arms over her chest, frustrated and uncomfortable that he was still dressed as Superman. He had to know that was like rubbing salt in the wound — didn't he?

"Did you check my apartment on your way back here?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"Was anyone watching from Bad Brain's apartment?"

"No. There was no one over there."

She held out one hand for the videos. "Then I don't see what the problem is."

He thought about arguing with her. He thought about asking her to stay. He thought about the fight that was sure to start. He looked at the dark circles under her eyes — how long had it been since she had really slept? How long since he had?

"The problem is that if you go home neither one of us is going to get any sleep," he told her softly, still withholding the bag of videos just out of her reach.

"What?" She put her hands on her hips and he could see she was spoiling for a fight.

Clark wavered, torn between wanting to protect her and wanting her to just get the hell out of his apartment and leave him in peace. He decided to give it one last shot and let her know that he still cared, though he was finding it harder and harder to remember why.

"You'll sit up all night wondering if they're watching you from across the street. And I'll sit up all night watching the other side of the street." He held out the bag to her. "It's up to you, but I wish you'd stay at a hotel." He hesitated for a moment and then added. "Or you could stay here."

Lois took the bag from him. She didn't want to stay in a hotel. There was no way she could stay here. She didn't want to talk to him and staying here would lead to talking. She wanted to stay in her own bed, with the curtains pulled tightly closed and every deadbolt on her door locked. "Fine. I promise I won't go home. Happy now?"

He looked anything but happy as he gave her a curt nod. "I guess."

***

Lois went to the Planet instead of a hotel. It was almost midnight and the newsroom was eerily quiet and dark. She had spent many hours working this late and she had never before found the empty space this frightening.

Dismissing her fear, she set the videos down on her desk and turned on her lamp. The light cast long shadows from her desk across the bullpen. Wanting more light, but not wanting to turn on the overhead lights she went to Clark's desk and turned on his lamp. She hesitated for a moment and then sat down, taking a long look around the newsroom. Somehow everything looked different from where he sat. She looked down at the surface of his desk. It was so tidy, it was almost disturbing. There was a message taped to his computer monitor. Jimmy had written, "Lois said to meet her in the maze — she thinks Ken hid something there. She said you'd know what that meant."

Lois pulled the message off and crumpled it, tossing it into his garbage can. She pushed his keyboard back and leaned forward, staring at her desk and the bag of videos sitting on top of it. Where was she going to put them so that no one could find them? How was possible that Superman sat here every day and she had never recognized him?

//"It's still me, Lois. I'm Clark. Superman is…he's what I can do. He's how I can help people and still have a life. Clark is who I really am."//

What did that even mean?

She picked up the pencil lying on his desk and stared at the teeth marks indenting the metal band holding the eraser.

//"I'd love to be that pencil right now, wouldn't you?"//

If Cat only knew — Lois actually had been that pencil, so to speak. Clark had used her just as much as he ever used this pencil. Or had he? She closed her eyes, seeing the image of the two of them in her kitchen replay in her mind.

//"My lovely, long-legged, luscious, lickable, lovable Lois."//

How did they get from there to here? Where did it all start to go wrong?

//"I wish it had never happened."

"Then it never happened," he said quietly. "We were able to carry it off before, we can just go back to that. We'll pretend it never happened."

"Okay," she whispered.

"So… we're still friends, right?"

"I don't think so. Not right now. It's just too weird."//

Lois crossed her arms on his desk and rested her forehead on them. Too weird? She'd had no idea just how weird it was going to get. Or how badly damaged their friendship was going to become. Or that she was pregnant at the time. Her mind peered into the abyss that thought opened and she reeled, squinting her eyes closed and trying to redirect her memories. Not the baby, she told herself. You can think about anything but that.

//"I hope you didn't like that watch…"//

Lois flinched. No, she told herself. No, don't go there. Don't think about it.

//"Lois, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I lost him…"//

"Oh Clark," she whispered, feeling the first hot tears slip from her eyes. "Oh god, no, please, Clark, I'm sorry…" she muttered to his desk, as if it could absolve her somehow. Think of something else, she told herself. Her mind went in circles as she bit her lip.

//"Oh no, Lois, honey…"//

No, no, no. She couldn't go there. Couldn't deal with that loss. Not now, maybe not ever. It had been her fault — she should never have rushed off without thinking.

//"I'm here. I'm right here. It's me. I'm here. I'm so sorry."//

Don't go there either, her mind warned. You're not ready to deal with that. Your best friend is a liar. The man you love is also the man you lusted over. Which was which, she wondered briefly. It might have been Superman that she loved and lusted after to begin with, but it was Clark with his sweetness, his tenderness, and his gentleness that had won her over. He had wormed his way into her heart and she had thought he was different and would never hurt her and then…

//"You have no idea how much you scare me. I never thought I'd trust anyone or be able to love someone like this."

"I scare you?" he asked.

"It scares me that I care so much about you."//

She had been right to be scared. Look at what had happened when she let him in — into her life, into her body and into her heart. Her sister had mocked her for not having a life, but that had been a lot safer than life as she knew it now.

Lois closed her eyes and swallowed to work loose the lump in her throat. She was tired of this — tired of all of it. Tomorrow morning she would go and talk to Henderson. She'd tell him what they had found out about the apartment across the street from her and Mike Crowley. Then she would tell Perry that she wanted to cash in some of her vacation time. She'd go somewhere far away and lie on the beach and drink something fruity and liberally mixed with rum that came with a paper umbrella until she could no longer remember Clark or Superman or the baby.

//"Obviously you haven't met my mother. She's an alcoholic control-freak."

"You're not your mother."

"Not yet," she said bitterly.//

Oh Mom, she thought. I really misjudged you. From now on I'll give you points just for getting up in the morning and facing the day.

***

She woke up when a hand came to rest on her shoulder. Lois sat up quickly, causing Perry to jump back.

"Whoa, darlin', it's just me."

"Perry?" She blinked a few times, her eyes felt scratchy. "What happened?" She looked around, disconcerted, because the Planet bullpen looked different somehow. She winced, her neck hurt from falling asleep at her desk. Then she realized she was still at Clark's desk and not her own.

"I might ask you the same thing. You shouldn't be here. I told Clark to tell you to take a few days off."

"I know. He did tell me. I just came in last night to work on a few things…"

Perry looked over at her desk and then back at her. His expression became even more concerned when he caught sight of the fresh bruise on her forehead from her fall in the tunnel. "Lois, I know you aren't going to listen to me, but I'm telling you anyway, I want you to go home and rest."

Lois rose, all her muscles stiff and protesting, and walked over to her desk. She pulled the two WMET tapes out of the bag and set them on her desk. Then she took the bag over to Perry. "I'll go home if you'll hide these for me."

"What are they?"

"We found them down in the tunnels yesterday. I don't know if they were Ken Randall's or not, but someone down there has been following Clark and I around while we've been looking for Bad Brain. I think Ken was working with or helping Bad Brain."

"Can you prove that?"

"Not yet." She went back and picked up the two tapes on her desk. "But I'm working on it."

"You're not working on anything. Not today. Go home, Lois, please." Perry's voice dropped on the last few words and Lois realized she must look really bad for Perry to be so worried.

"Okay," she said softly, actually meaning it. She looked at her watch. It was just past five in the morning. Henderson wouldn't be at the station for a few more hours. She'd go home, shower, watch the beginning of the first tape and then call Henderson.

***

Lois trudged into her apartment and set the WMET tapes on her counter. Maybe she would just take a shower and then a nap before she called Henderson. Her enthusiasm for seeing what else was on the tape had waned considerably. She looked around her apartment slowly — something felt wrong. Nothing was out of place. She glanced at her windows. They were open, giving her a clear view of the apartment across the street. No lights were on over there, but that didn't mean that someone wasn't watching.

She shook her head. She was just tired and she was letting her imagination play tricks on her.

She walked into her bedroom and looked around. The curtains on her open bedroom window billowed with the breeze. Her bed was still unmade, just like she had left it yesterday. Her pajamas were lying in a heap on the floor. She had been in such a hurry to go check the tunnels that she had left without bothering to tidy up. She picked up her pajamas. Maybe she would skip the shower and just climb into bed…

Then it dawned on her. Her window was open. She had kept all her windows locked. She had been keeping all the curtains closed since Bad Brain had called and complimented her bra. The curtains in her living room were open — someone had been here. Someone who only opened the curtains and then apparently left. Heart pounding, she went to shut the window when she saw a neat circle cut out of the glass. Frightened, she stepped back from the window.

Her eyes automatically checked the apartment across the street. Was he sitting in the shadows over there right now, enjoying her fear? Lois turned around, feeling naked and vulnerable, and went to her bedroom phone. She picked it up but there was no dial tone. She checked the back of the phone and found the line had been sliced in two.

Her breath was coming in short pants now and she couldn't stop her hands from shaking. What if she yelled for Clark? Would he hear her? Then she realized that she couldn't call him here. Bad Brain was watching for Superman. He was just trying to scare her. He was hoping she would panic and yell for Superman. There was no way to warn Superman to just show up as Clark.

Lois went back into her living room, half expecting to find Bad Brain standing there. The room was empty. She glanced again at the building across the street. Was he there now, watching her? Was he waiting for her to leave the building? Was he, or Mike, waiting just outside? Would they follow her if she went to Clark's? Did they only want the videos back and they'd leave her alone if they got them?

She picked up the videos and left her apartment, taking the stairs down to the ground floor. She turned, heading for the back of her building instead of the front door. She prayed they were only watching the front as she slipped outside into the alley. No one jumped out at her. Lois hurried through the alley towards the building behind hers. Get rid of the tapes, she told herself. You can't have those with you if they catch you. There was an open door in the next building and she ducked into it, finding a rundown laundry room for the residents there. It smelled heavily of bleach and stale cigarettes. Lois glanced around at the coin-operated machines and then over her shoulder at the open door. They had to have realized by now that she had taken a different route than the front door.

What if she put the tapes behind one of the machines? Would anyone else find them before she could get back here? Feeling jittery, she stuffed the tapes far between the rows of washing machines that stood back-to-back in the center of the room. Then she darted out the door and turned sideways to slip between the buildings and come out on the next block.

Maybe they had realized she would go to Clark and they were headed there now to catch her before she could reach him? She dug into her pocket for change and slid into a phone booth.

She checked her watch as the phone started ringing. It was almost six o'clock now. He had to be home. Maybe even still in bed. Please, she mentally pleaded with him. Pick up, pick up.

He answered on the second ring, his voice sounding a little thick with sleep. "Hello?"

"Clark?" Even though it was irrational, she found herself unwilling to speak above a whisper.

"Lois?" His voice changed from tired to worried. "What's wrong?"

"I'm, I, uh, I spent the night at the Planet and when I came home this morning he had broken into my place. He cut a hole in my window and he cut my phone line and I went out the back door and now I'm in a phone booth and you can't be Superman, you just can't, because he's watching for you and he's going to shoot you at full power with that damn ESW gun if he sees you."

When she finally stopped to take a breath he tried again. "Lois, where are you?"

"In a phone booth."

"You said that already. Where?"

"I don't, I mean, I'm not going to stay here. And I can't go to your place because maybe he's watching it."

"So meet me somewhere. Name a place and I'll meet you there."

Where? Her mind raced. She was only a few blocks from the ferry terminal building.

"Lois?"

"The ferry building, can you meet me there? Only don't come as Superman."

"Okay. How long will it take you to get there?"

"Five minutes, if I run."

"I'll see you there. Be careful."

"You, too," she told him but he had already hung up the phone. Lois looked both ways on the street but didn't see anyone familiar. No one seemed to be paying her any attention either. She took a deep breath, wondered if she should stretch before running and then quickly discarded the idea. She set off towards the ferry terminal, her mind racing faster than her legs.

***

Clark got there in less than ten seconds; he didn't even bother to change into his Superman outfit. If anyone had been watching they might have noticed a dark blur shooting above the rooftops but the morning commute had not yet started in earnest and no one was watching. He stood outside the terminal building, his glasses tipped down his nose and watched for her.

//…Too late. Someday you're going to be too late. What if today is that day?//

A few agonizing minutes dragged by and he was considering going to look for her when he saw her round the corner at the far end of the street. She was moving at something between a jog and a run, one arm clutched close to her abdomen. Then she slowed, bending forward to rest her other hand on her knees as she fought to catch her breath. Clark started walking towards her. Lois straightened up, her arm still protectively covering her stomach, looked over her shoulder and then tried running again. She caught sight of him and slowed down to a walk.

"Are you okay?" he asked when they met up. She looked even worse than she had last night. The bruise on her forehead from the day before was dark now. Everything from her posture to her eyes screamed to him that she was exhausted.

"Fine," she told him and continued walking towards the terminal building. "We need to get out of Metropolis and then try to get in touch with Henderson."

Since it was early morning there were very few people in the ferry terminal. Most commuters were on the other side of the river, waiting to be taken into Metropolis for the day. Clark bought two tickets for the ferry and they climbed to the top deck. Their fellow passengers were sensibly staying inside where it was warm so they had the entire deck to themselves. Lois sat down on one of the benches, staring back at the city as the ferry pushed away from the dock.

Clark sat down next to her. He had scanned the boat and found no sign of either Bad Brain or Mike Crowley. He had no doubt that they had broken into Lois' apartment and he was filled with frustration that she would have gone there alone. After a long silence he sighed and said, "I told you not to go home."

Lois could hear the accusation in his voice and it irritated her. "Last night," she pointed out, trying to keep her voice even. "You told me not to go home *last night*. And I didn't go home last night — I waited until this morning. What was I supposed to wear today?"

"You know what I mean."

"No, I think you'll have to tell me." She turned to look at him, pushing her hair out of her face impatiently when the wind off the river blew it into her eyes.

"You never listen to me." Annoyed, Clark stood up and went to the rail in front of them. His finger worried at the flecks of paint on the rail, setting a few of them free to drift down into the trail of churning water behind the boat. "You do the most dangerous, asinine things and you expect me just to rescue you."

"I do not!" Lois fumed, disbelieving he was really going to play that card.

"Really?" Clark turned around, leaning back against the rail and glaring at her. "Do you want me to make a list? Let's start with when you broke into EPRAD and work forward from there."

"You may have saved my life a few times…"

"A few times?" he snorted.

"…but that doesn't mean you're entitled to make my decisions for me."

"No, of course not, you have *excellent* decision making skills. You seduced me when I had no memory of you — that was a great decision. Then you told me to act like it never happened. So I did. You pursued me as Superman and ignored me as Clark and I'm just supposed to believe that you woke up one day and realized you'd loved me all along?"

"You should talk! You lied to me, almost from the moment we met. So you didn't know me well enough to tell me your secret. I can accept that. But you didn't answer my question when I asked you why you couldn't even date me as Superman but you could sleep with me as Clark. Why didn't you tell me then?"

"I did answer you! I told you Superman wasn't real."

"He was real to me! He's real to everyone else in Metropolis and in the world, for that matter. He's as real as Clark is."

"Lois, how could you expect me to be honest with you when there was nothing but Superman on your mind? How many times did you turn me down? I told you I loved you and you went out and almost married Luthor! Do you have any idea how much that hurt? Do you have any idea how much all the little head games you play with me hurt?"

At that she stood up, throwing her arms wide in angry frustration. "Head games? What head games? I'm not the one lying to you every single second of every single day!"

"Yes, head games. You push me around and treat me like a second-class citizen and then just expect that I'll be there to pick up the pieces whenever you need a friend. What about being my friend, Lois? What about caring whether or not you hurt me?"

"How did I hurt you? At least I was honest about my feelings! Why didn't you tell me the truth that night when you came to see me as Superman? If you were so dead set against my being with Lex, you should have said something!"

"Why should I? You said you would love me if I was just an ordinary guy but I knew that wasn't true."

"No, the truth is you love the lie more than you love me! You love the idea of being Superman just as much as I loved Superman. You didn't want me to see you as an ordinary guy, did you? That might ruin the little fantasy world you have going for you."

"What fantasy world?"

"The one where you're always right and I'm always wrong. Don't deny it, Clark. You're a smug bastard when you think you're right about something."

"Me? You can't be serious! Have you seen yourself? Do you have any idea what it's like to trail around after you and clean up your messes?"

"My messes? And you don't think that's an arrogant statement to make? So sue me, Clark! I've been wrong, but so were you!"

"You're always wrong! You were wrong about me! You were wrong about Luthor! You were wrong to blindly run into Bad Brain's trap and look what happened!"

Her eyes went wide in shock.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that," he muttered, turning to pick loose more paint flecks from the rail again.

"Yes, you did." Lois felt absolutely numb. She had blamed herself, of course, but so had he.

"Not like it sounded." He flattened his palms on the rail, worried that he was about to just rip it free of its moorings.

"There's no good way to say it. You blame me for the miscarriage, don't you?"

"No, I blame Bad Brain."

He had hesitated a fraction of second too long before answering and her heart sank. "You're lying. I've seen you lie enough to know when you're doing it." She nodded to herself and stepped away from the rail. "Don't follow me."

"Where are you going to go?"

"I don't know. But I'd better not see you there."

He watched her push her way through the hoards of commuters making their way onto the boat. Should he follow her anyway? And then what would he do? He wasn't about to apologize again.

Clark stayed on the ferry, but never stopped watching her as the boat moved back into the river. He watched her during the crossing back to downtown. When he finally turned away to leave the ferry she was sitting on a bench, on the river walkway, her eyes closed and her head tipped up to soak up the bright rays of morning light.

***

It should hurt more, she told herself. Having your heart wrenched out of your chest and stomped on — it should hurt more than this. This was… nothing. She felt absolutely nothing. She couldn't cry, couldn't be angry, she couldn't be anything. She was just… nothing.

She had replayed their fight over and over until the words no longer held any meaning to her. Then she had stood up from the bench and started walking, aimlessly following the path along the river. How long ago had the city redeveloped this part of town? Three years? They had turned it from a warehouse district into a vibrant, artsy destination. Most of the buildings had been converted into museums, art galleries and lofts. They had really done a good job, she thought, as she took in the well-manicured flowerbeds that lined the walkway.

Three years ago she had finally cracked into the big time, career-wise. She had done that story on gun-running in the Congo that had won her that first Kerth. Perry had given her a huge raise, she had been courted by other papers and she had finally stopped blaming herself for Claude. Three years of careful work and even more careful isolation and then she had been blindsided by a hick from Kansas who could fly and bend steel with his bare hands.

Lois stopped in a small park dominated by a large abstract sculpture. What the heck was that thing supposed to be, anyway? It looked like a U being blown over in a high wind. She looked over at Metropolis, admiring the way the sun glinted off the buildings.

Where was he now? Had he gone to work? Or had he gone to talk to Henderson? Or was there some emergency somewhere? She glanced up but there was nothing but sky above her. He really wasn't following her. She focused on the city again and then furrowed her eyebrows. This view was familiar — had she been here before? No, she'd have remembered seeing that stupid sculpture before. So where…

//… Ken, in profile, looking broodingly at the Metropolis skyline from a vantage point across the Hobbs River…//

The memorial tribute to Ken, this was where he had stood in that closing shot. Lois turned to see what else, besides the eyesore U sculpture, was behind her. She let out a startled "oh!" as she realized someone was standing there. It only took her a moment longer to realize that someone was Bad Brain.

"Do you know what today is?" he asked her casually. Lois felt frozen to the spot, unable to resist as he took her arm and started walking her towards the building behind the small park.

"Today is an historic day," he told her. "Today is the day that Superman dies."

***

Clark walked away from the ferry terminal with the words of their fight ringing in his ears.

//"You were wrong to blindly run into Bad Brain's trap and look what happened!"//

He really hadn't meant that the way she took it — had he? It wasn't her fault, not really. She had given voice to that thought first, he told himself. But he was the one who had turned it into an accusation.

//"Do you think I went there, knowing that something would happen? Do you think I unconsciously wanted something to happen?"

"Did you?" he asked cautiously.

"No. I didn't want the baby. But I didn't want this either."//

How many times had he awoken in a cold sweat since she lost the baby? He couldn't sleep anymore because his unconscious mind seemed to revel in reliving those awful moments when he found her. Every time he closed his eyes he could see her lying crumpled on the floor, her body wracked with sobs and pain. He could still feel and smell all the blood that had pooled beneath her and then stained his hands and clothes. He could hear her choked cries as she called out for him and tried to explain.

//"I need to tell him. He has to know. It's my fault. This was all my fault…"//

What had happened before he got there? He could remember with perfect clarity when Bad Brain had shot him with the ESW gun. It had been excruciatingly painful. Hours later he had still been sore and weak. How much worse must it have been for her, considering the chain reaction the shockwave had started? How long had she lain there on that cold, unyielding floor blaming herself before he arrived? Why had he picked those words, out of everything else he could have said? Because, he told himself, you wanted to hurt her back. Unlike the bruises he had left on her hips, those words were never going to heal.

Clark looked over his shoulder towards the river and found her still sitting on the bench. She looked so small, so alone, and his conscience was screaming at him that he had been too harsh with her. She was right — he was arrogant. He should never have started out by telling her that he was right and she was wrong. She had been through so much and she was exhausted. And, instead of being supportive, he had lashed out at her when she needed a friend the most.

He turned around and took a few steps back towards the ferry and then stopped short.

//"Don't follow me."

"Where are you going to go?"

"I don't know. But I'd better not see you there."//

Even if he did go to her now, what was he going to say? 'I'm sorry' just wasn't going to be enough. The last thing in the world she wanted right now was to see him or be reminded of him. Give her some time to cool off first, he told himself. She still cared enough to warn you about Bad Brain this morning, so there's still some hope there.

Of course, her warning had come before he went and accused her of callous indifference. Right now she probably wished she had never met him.

Clark turned away and headed into a nearby alley to change into the suit. He flew to her apartment, landing on the sidewalk outside and looking up at the apartment across the street. No one was there. He left the suit on, hoping Mike or Bad Brain might show up and he could draw them out.

When he got to her apartment he found the door had been left unlocked. He let himself in and looked around, taking note of the open curtains. He went into her bedroom and a tic jumped in his jaw at the sight of the neat circle of glass missing from her bedroom window. He scanned the apartment across the street again. There was still no one there. So where were they? Had they gone back in the tunnels again?

Her pajamas were lying on the floor. Had she done that? Or had Bad Brain thrown them there? Her bed was still unmade. It looked as though she had left in a hurry yesterday. Clark picked up the pajamas and folded them, setting them on the end of her bed before pulling the covers up tidily. His hand caressed over her pillow and then he shut the curtains on her bedroom window. The hole bothered him, but there wasn't much he could do about it. It was too large for him to try and melt the glass to fill it. He went into her living room, checking the locks on her windows before pulling the curtains closed.

Clark changed into his regular clothes and headed towards Henderson's precinct. When he got there he was asked to wait in the lobby since Henderson had not yet arrived. Clark paced in the lobby for a few minutes, feeling a sense of urgency. He went to the pay phone on the wall and called WMET, asking to be connected with Personnel.

No one was answering in Personnel so he dialed again, this time asking for the newsroom. He asked the assistant who answered if she could tell him anything about Ken Randall's cameraman, Mike.

"Mike Crow? He doesn't work here anymore," the girl said, already sounding impatient with their conversation.

"I know. I'm wondering when he was hired."

"Oh, he was hired about two months ago because Ken knew him. The guy never did jack and he wouldn't work with anyone else. I think they were going to fire him if he hadn't left."

"Thanks," Clark told her. "You've been a huge help." As he was hanging up the phone he caught sight of Henderson coming down the hall. "Inspector Henderson!" he called out.

Henderson didn't even pause in his walking; instead he jerked his head indicating that Clark should follow him to his office. Once inside Henderson paced the floor while Clark told him about the apartment across the street from Lois, the room they had found in the tunnels and the connection between Bad Brain, Mike Crowley and Ken Randall.

Henderson stopped pacing and went to the white board on his wall, erasing the writing on it with his sleeve as he started talking. "So Ken's cameraman was actually Bad Brain's boss at Lex Labs?"

"Right," Clark nodded.

"Okay, help me piece it together. What happened first?" Henderson waited, marker at the ready, to write on the board.

"First, STAR Labs was asked to develop the ESW weapon."

Henderson wrote "ESW" on the board.

"Then STAR Labs was asked to turn all of their research over to Lex Labs. Rufus Johnson — Bad Brain — came and picked up the prototype from STAR Labs. This was all just a few days before Lex Luthor died."

Henderson continued to write, drawing an arrow from "ESW" to "Bad Brain" and then writing "Luthor".

"Right after Luthor died, Crowley took a leave of absence from Lex Labs and Johnson disappeared with the prototype. Two months went by and then Johnson showed up again as Bad Brain, electrocuting people. But he was only using the gun to stun them, not to kill them."

"Why?" Henderson asked.

"I don't know." Clark shook his head and blew out a frustrated sigh. "But, at the same time that Bad Brain started electrocuting people, Crowley showed up again. Only he didn't go back to his former job, he became Ken Randall's cameraman."

Henderson looks reflective. "So where was he for two months?" He opened the door and snapped his fingers at a passing cop. "Wylie! Pull the credit card records for Dr. Michael Crowley for the past six months. I want to know where he's been and what he's been doing."

"Did you hear that Crowley's office was torched last night?" Clark asked.

Henderson's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "You don't say? How would you like to take a field trip, Kent?"

***

They had only taken a few steps before Lois resisted and tried to pull her arm away.

"Let me go." Her voice was pitched low.

"No," Bad Brain said pleasantly. "Why don't you make some noise? You disappoint me, I really thought you would have screamed for help by now."

Lois pressed her lips together. She might be mad as hell at Clark, but if anyone was going to kill him they'd have to get in line behind her. Not that she wanted him to die; she just wanted him to hurt a little. She leaned back as Bad Brain tried to propel her forward. Passive resistance seemed to be the only avenue left to her.

Bad Brain had been keeping one hand inside his jacket and he pulled it away now to show her the ESW gun. "You remember this, don't you, Lois? Either you walk or I carry you, but we're going for a little ride."

She brought her elbow up, catching Bad Brain in the stomach. He let out an "oof" and his grip loosened on her arm. Lois started to run towards the building, hoping against hope that it was open this early and that she'd find help. And then the world went white-hot and she let out a muffled moan as all her limbs spasmed into stiffness. Her last thought was that she couldn't believe she had forgotten how much this hurt.

***

Henderson and Clark stood in the scorched remains of Mike Crowley's office at Variant Technologies along with David Morris, the president and CEO of Variant.

"Funny how the worst damage is confined to his filing cabinet and computer," Henderson commented dryly.

"Yeah," Clark said grimly. "Superman said he could smell an accelerant."

"Was the ESW gun officially turned over to Lex Labs?" Henderson asked Morris.

"According to STAR Labs it was, but we have no records here. Dr. Crowley told me that, because of the lawsuit, Gatenby had refused to hand anything over. Dr. Crowley left on sabbatical and the suit was dropped a few weeks later." Morris looked at the mess in the office and shook his head. "You're saying Rufus Johnson stole the prototype?"

"Rufus Johnson is Bad Brain," Henderson told him.

"And they were working together? But why? Why would they kill random strangers and their counterparts at STAR Labs? What could they possibly have hoped to gain from it?" Morris gestured helplessly.

"Didn't you write an article about Superman meeting with Dr. Gatenby just before he died?" Henderson looked thoughtfully at the blackened remains of Crowley's desktop computer. "What did Gatenby have to say about the prototype contract being awarded to Lex Labs?"

"He made it sound like it was no big deal. By the time we learned about the lawsuit, Gatenby was dead. He said the ESW gun wasn't fully functional yet when they turned it over. It was still in the experimental stages."

"Are you sure he's using the gun?" Henderson asked.

"Yes," Clark said grimly. "I saw him use it on a city worker just before he shot me with it. And…" Clark felt a shiver of pain at the memory of the gun's effect on him and the mental image of Lois lying on the floor of the abandoned plant. "And he used it on Lois."

"I heard she was in the hospital." Henderson frowned and nudged some debris on the floor with the toe of his shoe. "Is she okay now?"

Clark managed the barest of nods. "Yeah, she's doing okay."

***

As Lois woke up she was first aware of the vibrations of an engine idling. She opened her eyes and saw that she was lying on the floor of a service van. Two men were sitting in the front seats. Her wrists were bound painfully behind her back and she was lying on her side. She tried to push herself up but her body was still aching from the jolt of electricity Bad Brain had stunned her with and she slumped back to the floor.

"Look, she's awake." Mike Crowley turned in his seat and gave her a saccharine smile. "How are you?"

"How did you find me?" she asked, trying to keep the waver out of her voice.

"Your shoes," Mike grinned. "We put a little transponder in the heel of your shoes. We had one in almost every pair you own. Isn't that great? We've been able to track you both for a couple of weeks now. Every time you went down in the tunnels, we were watching. You and your… what do you call him? He's certainly more than just a co-worker, isn't he? We've got him too." He held up a small device and she caught a glimpse of a street grid and a flashing green light. "Looks like Clark has gone to the police. I'm sure he's telling Henderson everything he thinks he knows right now. Face it, neither of you knows anything."

"Why me? Why Clark?"

"Because if it weren't for you two, and your little flying buddy, we'd be very rich men right now!" Bad Brain erupted from the driver's seat as he turned to seethe at her.

"What?"

"Keep your eyes on the road!" Mike yelled and then turned back to Lois. "Lex Luthor had spies everywhere and when he heard about the ESW weapon he started taking measures to have it developed through Lex Labs instead of STAR Labs. He pulled some very large strings to get the contract awarded to his group."

"But why? Lex already had several contracts with the government for projects that were a lot less speculative."

"It occurs to me that you didn't really know your fiance, Lois. He didn't just have contracts with our government, you know. Luthor took a more pragmatic approach to world peace. He didn't think it was fair that only one government should possess so much power. Checks and balances, you know?" Mike shrugged.

A horn blared behind them and Bad Brain swore, stomping his foot on the accelerator so that the van lurched forward. He stopped just as abruptly and swore again. "I hate traffic!"

Mike glared at her with pure malevolence in his eyes. "It was all going so well. Until your *partner*," the word dripped in disdain, "just couldn't let you go so easily and he started investigating Mr. Luthor. It was Clark Kent, and your damn newspaper, that drove him to suicide. They hounded him to his death, you know. Over you!" Crowley sneered at her, making it plain that he didn't think she was worth much.

Bad Brain half-turned in his seat to look back at her. "And then Superman, who saves *everyone*, just let him jump to his death. After Luthor took his dive we had to scramble to keep our potential business partners happy. We're talking millions of dollars that we stand to lose. Hundreds of millions! Between the three of you, you have RUINED my life!" His last few words were screamed at her and she flinched. She tried to move her wrists but they were tied fast. She used her shoulder to push herself into a sitting position.

"So now what?" she asked, dreading the answer.

"Now we see if all our hard work pays off."

***

"He shot you with the weapon?" David Morris asked.

"Yes, he said it was on low power. They're planning to use it to try and hurt Superman. It has a special lens in it that they think will affect him."

Both Henderson and Morris looked surprised. "Can it?" Henderson asked.

"Yeah," Clark said quietly. "I think it can."

A secretary came to the doorway and cleared her throat to catch their attention. "Inspector Henderson? There's a phone call for you."

Henderson left and Morris sighed, looking around the damaged office. "So when he shot you was it an actual pulse of electricity? I apologize if you don't want to talk about it. I'm just curious how they got it to work. Is it grounded in any way?"

"Grounded?" Clark shook his head slowly. "I don't think it was."

"But he was using it on low, correct?"

"That's what he said."

Henderson came back with a smug little grin on his face. He looked at both of them and then asked, "Can you think of a reason for Crowley to visit Podansk two days after Luthor died?"

"Vacation?" Morris suggested.

"How many people take vacations to a country on the verge of civil war?" Henderson added, his smile growing larger.

"Someone who had recently come across a fancy new weapon and was looking to make a fortune on the black market?" Clark ventured.

Henderson nodded and continued, "Three days after Crowley returned, Dr. Gatenby dropped the lawsuit. What does that make you think?"

"That Gatenby was in on it, too. Or thought he was." Morris looked horrified. "My god, they were going to sell the weapon to Podansk?"

"I don't think 'were' is the right word to use. I think they still plan to sell the weapon on the black market," Henderson said.

***

Bad Brain put the van in park and shut off the engine. "Now, Lois," he said as Mike got out of the van. "Let's not make things harder than they have to be. Feel free to scream your guts out, but if you hurt either one of us trying to get away we're going to make you pay for it. Do you understand?"

Lois said nothing but her entire body tensed. Should she try to get away? Her limbs were still aching from being shot by the ESW earlier. She could accomplish nothing so long as they still had the weapon. She was still too weak to fight as Mike pulled her from the van. Even if she did try to struggle, she realized it wouldn't have been effective.

She looked around her in horror. They had brought her back to the abandoned nuclear plant. Her legs, already uncooperative, seemed to just give out beneath her. Lois' fear increased as Mike dragged her inside and she saw the table that Bad Brain had used to kill the man the night Ken had locked her in the tunnels. She could almost hear the man's agonized screams in her head which only increased her rising panic.

Bad Brain, seeing where her attention was focused, let out a low chuckle. "That's right, you've seen this table before, haven't you, Lois?"

Mike let her drop to the floor and she had a moment of vertigo as she saw that she was on top of a dark-colored stain. Was it blood? Was it hers, from the baby? Was it from Gatenby or one of the homeless men they had killed here? Lois felt ill and she struggled weakly against the bonds still holding her hands behind her back. Unable to free her hands, she wiggled until she was clear of the stain on the floor.

"Why didn't you just kill me when you had the chance?" she asked.

"Kill you? Nah, that'd be too quick. You don't deserve it. Besides we needed you to lure Superman here." Bad Brain hefted the ESW gun and she shivered involuntarily.

"I won't do it."

"No kidding." Bad Brain tsked at her. "That's why we created the voice modulator. You and Ken were both gracious enough to help us test it out. Alas, Ken had outlived his usefulness. You're lucky we still need you."

"Why do you still need me if you have the voice modulator?"

"We could have called Superman any old time, but he's got that x-ray vision. He's not going to show up unless he can actually see you're here," Bad Brain told her.

"He won't show up. He knows what you're planning." Her arms had gone numb behind her and she had to struggle to get onto her knees.

"He'll show up for you," Mike told her.

"No, he won't."

"Oh sweetheart, trust me. I stuck around that day and saw him find you. I couldn't hear what he was saying but the look on his face was unmistakable." Mike grinned. "You've been sleeping with Clark Kent, but you could have done better. Trust me, Superman is in love with you."

"Why Superman?" she asked.

"What story is guaranteed to make international headlines? What better proof could we give that our weapon works?"

"So why is the table here?" Lois asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

"That's just in case hitting Superman at full power only stuns him."

"You killed all those men just to test something you might not even use?"

"If you're going to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs, Lois."

"Where did you get the Kryptonite from?"

"From Lex Luthor, of course. He had us working on a little project for your wedding. An electromagnetic cage charged with Kryptonite. We kept a little in reserve, just in case."

Mike came over and cut the rope binding her wrists. She rubbed them, trying to restore feeling to her hands.

"Call for help." Mike held a cell phone out to her.

Lois didn't take it from him. "Call who? The police? You couldn't zap all of them before someone could get a shot off."

"Don't be cute, you know what I mean. Call your boyfriend and tell him I'll kill you unless he can produce Superman in ten minutes."

Lois swallowed down her panic. Who did they think they were kidding? They were going to kill her anyway. "No."

Bad Brain snatched the phone away from Mike. "Then I'll call him."

He had started to dial when Mike pulled the tracking device from his pocket. "He's on the move. You'll have to leave a message for him."

Bad Brain frowned, hung up and then started dialing again. He lifted the modulator and said, "I guess we can have him paged."

Lois gasped — it was her voice coming from Bad Brain. Crowley stepped behind her, roughly covering her mouth with one hand while the other rose to place the blade of a knife to her throat. "No talking now, Lois. We don't want to ruin the surprise.

"Jimmy? It's Lois…" Bad Brain paused and rolled his eyes at her. "No, I'm not working! I'm being held prisoner. You have to find Clark and tell him that I need Superman to come to the nuclear plant right away…" He paused again and then lowered the voice modulator, using his real voice. "Tell him Bad Brain has her." He laughed at whatever Jimmy said next and disconnected the phone.

Crowley took his hand away from her mouth, but still held the knife to her throat.

"Clark won't bring him. He'll know it's a trap."

At least she hoped so. Surely Clark wouldn't be that stupid?

***

Clark's pager began to beep. He checked the display and saw Jimmy's extension. He excused himself from Henderson and Morris and asked to borrow the secretary's phone. When Jimmy answered he sounded frantic.

"Bad Brain has got Lois and she said you had to find Superman and have him come to the nuclear plant right away."

"You talked to Lois?"

He should never have left her alone this morning. He should have gone back. He should have stayed with her.

"Yes."

"How did she sound?"

"Scared."

Should never have left her…

"What were her exact words?"

"Her exact words?" Jimmy repeated, confused by his request.

"Jimmy, it's important. Bad Brain can make himself sound like anyone."

Jimmy took a deep breath as he tried to remember. "She called and when I told her that she wasn't supposed to be working she said she was being held prisoner and that I had to find you and have you tell Superman to come to the nuclear plant right away. When I asked why a man spoke into the phone and said that Bad Brain had her. He can make his voice sound like anyone? So it might not have been Lois?"

Was he willing to take that risk? Clark closed his eyes. Maybe she was so angry with him that she didn't mind putting him in danger?

"I hope it wasn't her," he said to Jimmy. "I have to go now." Clark hung up the phone and went back to Crowley's office.

"I have to go find Superman," he said to Henderson. "How quickly can you get a SWAT team to the nuclear plant? It sounds like Bad Brain is there and he's requesting a meeting with Superman."

"You go find Superman and tell him we'll meet him there."

Clark started to leave and David Morris called out to him. "Mr. Kent! Wait!"

Clark turned, impatience obvious in his features.

"Tell Superman that if the ESW gun isn't grounded and he can reflect the energy back, he might be able to create an arc between Bad Brain and his target. If he could do that, he might be able to destroy the weapon."

Clark nodded at him. "Thanks."

***

Lois eyed the ESW gun. Bad Brain had been tinkering with it and it was humming louder than before.

//"Like fish in a barrel. I'd go for three out of three but I can't afford to be caught without a little juice left in this thing."//

He had already used it once today, to zap her in the plaza. How many uses were in it? What if she made a break for it now and forced him to use it again? Could she get him to wear it down enough that Clark might survive a direct hit at full power?

//"Clark"? She stroked his cheek, her heart squeezing painfully. "Clark, can you hear me?"

She placed her other hand over his heart, relieved to feel it beating beneath her fingers. "Clark, please, talk to me!"

His lips moved but he didn't make a sound. She leaned closer to his mouth. "What? I can't hear you."

"That really hurt," he whispered.//

He had to know this was a trap, she told herself. He won't come. Or he'll wait and get backup. But what if he didn't? Clark, she thought. Do it for Clark. Do it for Superman. The world can get by without you, but they need him.

Crowley had relaxed a little but she couldn't make her legs cooperate. If she could just duck, really fast, she might be able to slip free of the arm he had around her. She didn't have to get far — she knew she wouldn't get far. She just had to get Bad Brain to use the gun again. Every amp that he used now was one less to kill Clark with later. They were going to kill her anyway. She had nothing left to lose. Her heart ached as she thought of Clark, Superman, the baby… they were all lost to her. There was nothing she could do to make it up to Clark now. Nothing except spare him.

Lois turned her head so that her chin could slide beneath Crowley's arm and then she ducked, wrenching herself free and taking only one step before Crowley grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked her to her knees.

"Ow," she moaned as he pulled her back up against him.

"That wasn't very bright. You try that again and you'll be sorry," Mike growled in her ear.

"You're going to kill me anyway." She tried not to cry from sheer frustration.

"True, but if you do anything foolish I'll make sure it takes you hours to die instead of seconds. Wouldn't you rather have a quick and painless death?" The knife felt warm against her throat but the threat of what they might do to her sent chills through her.

Bad Brain shook his head at her. "Did you know that pansy Randall begged for his life? Don't you want to do the same?"

"No." The word came out far more defiant than she felt.

Don't call him, Jimmy. Don't come, Clark. Stay away.

//"Superman is in love with you."//

He was, she thought miserably. Or he had been until she told him he was a smug lying bastard and he blamed her for the loss of their child.

//"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that… Not like it sounded." //

But why else would he say that? How else could he have meant those words to sound?

//"I won't let him hurt you again," he said quietly.

Lois reached for his hand and he took hold of her, squeezing her fingers gently. "I don't mean for this to sound ungrateful, Clark, but he can hurt you, too, you know."

"I don't care about me."

"But I do," she whispered. "I care very much what happens to you."//

Clark was going to come. In spite of what he said to her earlier that morning — or maybe even because of what he said — she knew he was going to come.

***

Clark flew over the plant and his heart sank when he saw her. It may not have been Lois on the phone with Jimmy, but that was definitely her being held by Crowley with a knife to her throat. She looked pale and tired and he could see a new bruise starting on her cheek. Had they hit her? If he knew Lois she would have fought back when they tried to take her. What had they done to subdue her? Bad Brain was pacing back and forth in front of them, the ESW gun at the ready. Lois' eyes followed the weapon, her expression quietly terrified.

//"That's what happens when the gun is set on low. You tell Superman that I'm going to crank this thing up to full power and I'll shoot first and ask questions later."//

The urge to fly in there and free her was overwhelming. He fought it, watching to see if they had a routine, anything to help him judge what to do next. He couldn't chance them hurting Lois with either the ESW weapon or the knife that Crowley was carrying. There was no doubt in his mind that the ESW was fully charged and lethally ready for him.

***

Inside the plant they could hear the distant wail of sirens coming closer. Bad Brain ran to one of the windows and stood against the wall, looking out the window over his shoulder.

"The police?" Mike asked.

"Yep," Bad Brain nodded. "And I can see a news van pulling into the lot."

Crowley smiled. "Perfect."

"How are you ever going to get out of here? They're going to surround the place," Lois asked.

"There are more ways out of here than just the door, Lois."

Crowley began to edge her backwards with him, moving them so that they were closer to Bad Brain's torture table. Bad Brain followed them slowly, more concerned with watching the windows and door.

Clark stood in the next room, watching them through the wall and looking for something that he could use to reflect the ESW's pulse back on it. His gaze lingered on the table near Crowley and Lois. That might work. He took a deep breath and stepped into the room.

"Let her go." His voice echoed in the large room, making the command sound even more authoritative.

For the first time since she had met Superman there was absolutely no joy or relief in seeing him show up to rescue her. In fact, she couldn't even see him as Superman. All she could see was Clark standing there knowing full well that they had not only the means but also the intent to kill him. He had accused her of blindly running into Bad Brain's trap and yet here he stood, deliberately doing exactly that. Lois closed her eyes, deeply frightened for him.

"Aren't you going to add that we don't need her?" Bad Brain taunted.

"You don't," Clark said.

"But you do," Crowley smiled, pressing the knife close enough that he drew a little blood.

Clark took another step forward, his gaze lifting from the knife to Lois' face. Her eyes opened and she silently pleaded for him to leave.

Clark took a few steps closer. He just had to get to the table. And he had to get that knife away from Crowley.

Bad Brain moved backwards, keeping the gun trained on Superman.

Lois cast her eyes down, looking around frantically as she tried to figure out what was going to happen next. It was obvious that Bad Brain was headed somewhere, that he wanted to be right next to his exit before he shot Clark. There had to be a trap door or something. She just had to get away from Crowley — she realized Clark was holding back because he didn't think he could stop both Crowley and Bad Brain at the same time.

"Forget about me," she whispered. "Just take him out."

"Shut up!" Crowley shuffled further away from the table, dragging her along with him. She looked Clark in the eye and tipped her head back slightly to indicate that she was going to try and distract Crowley. Clark seemed to consider for a moment and then he gave her the faintest of nods.

Lois took a deep breath to steady herself first. She let the air out slowly and tipped her head forward, letting her whole body relax. Crowley was distracted enough that he took it as a gesture of defeat and loosened his hold just the tiniest bit. Lois brought her head back up, driving it backwards into Crowley's nose as hard as she could.

Clark launched himself towards Lois and Crowley as Crowley brought the knife back up towards Lois' neck. Bad Brain fired and the beam connected with Clark as he flew past. Clark dropped towards the floor, knocking over the table as he began to fall. The force of the beam propelled him forward into Lois and Crowley. Crowley dropped the knife on impact and rolled away from them. Clark tucked Lois against him as they continued to fall. The ESW's beam followed him down and struck the table as they fell behind it. Bad Brain found he couldn't release the trigger and the gun shook in his hands. For a moment a green arc was visible between the table and the weapon before the gun exploded. Bad Brain was sent flying several feet backwards. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.

As soon as Clark touched her Lois felt a ripple run through her. It seemed to her that the world had fallen away as a thousand images burst into her mind. Random moments flew by — the first one she could recognize was a tackle in football. It was more than a memory; it was the actual experience. She heard the dull crunch of her helmet meeting pads and the grunt from the opponent she had tackled. She felt the jarring impact of the ground as they hit and then heard the shrill whistle of the referee.

When had she ever played football?

And then she saw herself. She felt a welling of heat and desire as she watched herself perching on the edge of a desk and deliberately cross her legs so that the hem of her skirt rose to reveal the lacy tops of the thigh-high stockings she was wearing.

I'm Clark, she thought as the memories rushed past her.

She was sitting on the chair in his living room, watching herself sleep and listening to two heartbeats. Hers and the baby's. The most intense feeling of love and loss flowed through her.

//**//**//

He loved her. He loved her so much that it was almost a physical pain. He had loved her from almost the moment she walked into Perry's office, full of confidence and impatience and had barely acknowledged him. He loved her for the moments she was vulnerable and the times when she was strong. She was so strong — did she know that? Did she realize how much of Superman's strength came from having her to believe in him?

He wished he could hold her. He wished he could tell her just how much he loved her and needed her. He wasn't lying when he said he didn't have a favorite time with her. Every single touch, kiss and smile she had given to him were forever imprinted on him. He wished he could tell her how much awe he had for her.

Ours, he thought. That's our baby. Me and Lois. Would the baby be like her? Headstrong and intelligent? Would the baby have his powers? Their baby. It was surreal — the knowledge that he and Lois had created a tiny new life.

He had to tell her. He had to give her that measure of trust and be vulnerable for her. He could only hope that she would understand and that, somehow, they could build a stronger relationship from there. Would she be angry? He flinched, of course she would be. But, after she'd had time to cool off, she would… what? Want him? Love him?

Never speak to him again?

Clark frowned, not wanting to believe that he had ruined things so completely. No, not just completely — utterly and for all time. It was bad enough that he had made her pregnant. She would never forgive him for lying to her. He was living in a dream world if he thought she would just accept his deception and still want him in her life. Not just her life, he corrected himself, her life and the baby's life.

He rose from the chair with a heavy heart and went back to bed.

//**//**//

"Clark," she whispered and it sounded like stereo as she heard it simultaneously in her ears and in her head. In response she felt a surge of fearful emotion as she saw herself lying on the floor of the nuclear plant.

//…Too late. Someday you're going to be too late. What if today is that day?//

Apprehension, fear, regret, love and pain rolled through her as he lifted her limp body and tears blurred his vision.

//"I'm here. I'm right here," he murmured into her hair as he wrapped his arms around her and rocked her gently. "It's me. I'm here. I'm so sorry…"//

Then she saw herself from far away. She was sitting on a bench, her face tipped up into the sunlight.

//**//**//

She looked so small, so alone, and his conscience was screaming at him that he had been too harsh with her. She was right — he was arrogant. He should never have started out by telling her that he was right and she was wrong. She had been through so much and she was exhausted. And, instead of being supportive, he had lashed out at her when she needed a friend the most.

He turned around and took a few steps back towards the ferry and then stopped short. Even if he did go to her now, what was he going to say? 'I'm sorry' just wasn't going to be enough. The last thing in the world she wanted right now was to see him or be reminded of him. Give her some time to cool off first, he told himself. She still cared enough to warn you about Bad Brain this morning, so there's still some hope there.

//**//**//

Then everything went black.

Lois opened her eyes, disoriented for a moment as to where or even who she was. Clark was lying across her chest, his weight pinning her so she couldn't move. Or was her inability to move because of the shockwave? Men in dark uniforms were pouring into the room, their guns drawn and pointed.

"Cla…" she started and then realized that two of the officers were moving closer towards them. "Su… Superman," she managed to stammer and then her mind reeled — he wasn't moving. Why wasn't he moving? He's dead weight, her mind whispered.

"No," she said out loud, struggling to move from beneath him but finding it difficult. His body was so slack and heavy…

//…dead weight…//

… and her arms were still weak from the shockwave. One of the SWAT officers had reached them and he dragged Clark away from her. Clark's limbs were lifeless and unresisting as the man released him to the floor. He landed with a dull thud.

//…dead weight…//

The officer stepped back, shock apparent in his features as he, too, realized what had happened. Lois looked at Clark, recognizing with dawning horror that he was gone. She scrambled closer to him, her hands trembling as she reached out to touch him. His face was as ashen and still as the cold concrete floor beneath him. There was no rise and fall to his chest, no stirring of life beneath her frantic fingers as she felt for a pulse.

"Oh my god," the officer said in disbelief. "Superman's dead."

***

Her entire universe had narrowed to the man lying lifeless on the floor. She had just experienced the warmth of his skin from inside him. She had felt the blink of his eyes and the rise and fall of his chest. She had been him. It seemed impossible to her that he could be gone. Lois bent over him, breathing frantically into his mouth. There was no response. "Please don't leave me," she whispered. "Not like this."

Feeling desperate, she looked up at the officer who had pulled Clark off of her. He was still staring at Clark with stunned disbelief. "Help me!" she begged him. "Please, we have to help him."

The man seemed to snap out of his daze and took off his helmet. He knelt next to Clark and started chest compressions. "One and two and three," he counted.

She bent down and pinched Clark's nose, breathing into his mouth.

"One and two and three." Another breath. Still no response.

After another round she stayed with her ear near his mouth. She felt the whisper of the air leaving his lungs and she was terrified that it was only due to the chest compressions forcing the air back out. She waited through a few agonizing seconds and then felt another puff of air from his mouth.

Hope flooded through her. "Please," she whispered. "Please come back to me."

An EMT touched her elbow. "We'll take it from here, ma'am."

She didn't want to move away from him but she was too drained to protest when an officer pulled her to the side. She watched as the EMT efficiently put an oxygen mask on Clark and then sliced through the suit to expose his chest. Another medic used a stethoscope to listen for a heartbeat and Lois thought she might faint from sheer relief when he nodded and gave a thumbs up.

They moved him onto a gurney and she darted over to take his hand as they raised it and began to wheel him away.

"Ma'am, you have to let us take him."

"I won't leave him." She clung to his hand, wishing he would squeeze hers back or give some sign that he was going to be okay.

"We can't allow…"

"I *won't* leave him."

"Let him go, Lois. I'll have someone take you to the hospital, okay?"

Lois looked over to see Henderson standing there, his hands on his hips. She reluctantly let go of Clark's hand and they wheeled him rapidly away.

"You don't look much better than he does. Come on," Henderson said as his expression softened, "let's get you checked out." He took her elbow and led her outside. She saw the ambulance pulling away. Its lights were on but there was no siren. Henderson, seeing the expression on her face said, "That's a good sign, Lois. It means he's holding his own."

Henderson walked her over to an officer standing by a patrol car. "I want you to take Ms. Lane here to the hospital. Make sure she gets checked out and then make sure she gets to see Superman."

"Yes, sir," the officer replied.

//**//**//

The beam made contact with him in mid-air. An uneasy sensation shot through him, spreading rapidly as he began to fall towards Lois and Crowley. The sensation became more intense, radiating through his arms and across his chest as he deflected the knife's trajectory and gathered Lois against him protectively. As they fell to the floor he felt frozen, unable to move, and then suddenly he felt lighter, smaller…

…dizzy and nauseated. He opened his eyes and saw himself, kneeling on the floor in front of his couch. His hair was wet and his expression was full of tenderness. "Let's take a look at you," he said gently.

Clark watched in amazement as his hand, now small and pale, was turned over to reveal a cut on his palm. Not my palm, he told himself. This is Lois' hand. No sooner had he completed the thought than she pulled her hand away and he heard her speak. Only it was him talking. It was like… he was Lois.

"No really, don't waste your bandages. I'm fine."

"You don't look fine," he heard himself say. He didn't feel fine, that was for sure. He felt icy cold and absolutely miserable. Was that because he was soaking wet?

"I," he started and then swallowed back the nausea rising inside him. "I don't feel so good. I think I swallowed too much water."

"Can I get you anything?"

He shook his head vehemently, the movement only made him feel more dizzy and nauseated. He stood up quickly, pushing past himself and ran to the bathroom. After a few gut-wrenching heaves he sat down heavily, coughing as tears came to his eyes. He rose on wobbly legs and grabbed his toothbrush, put a little toothpaste on it and brushed his teeth. Another wave of nausea overcame him and he sank back down to the floor, sitting close to the toilet, just in case.

***

Nearly two hours passed before she was released from the ER with a clean bill of health. Lois was both frantic and furious. The policeman who had brought her to the hospital had long since left. No one would tell her anything about Superman. She had made the rounds of the information desk and several nurses stations but they all shook their heads and said they were unable to help her.

Then she spotted Henderson at the end of a hallway and she ran towards him. "Where is he?" she demanded when he turned to see who was running in his direction.

"Calm down, Lois, and I'll take you to him."

"How is he?" She tried to make her words sound calmer but, even to her own ears, she sounded anxious.

Henderson's mouth tightened into a thin line. "He hasn't woken up yet, but he is breathing on his own." He led her around a corner and she saw a set of double doors with two guards standing outside. "They put him in this wing; he's the only patient. The hospital doesn't want a media circus so they won't be releasing any information about him nor will they allow visitors."

They stopped in front of the guards. "This is Lois Lane," Henderson introduced her. "She's allowed in. And so is Clark Kent when he shows up." One of the guards nodded and made a note on his clipboard. Henderson opened the door and led her halfway down the corridor before he pointed to one of the rooms. "He's in there. The nurses come by about every hour to check on him. I'll make sure they know that you're allowed in there."

"Thank you." Lois swallowed hard, afraid of what she was going to find when she opened the door.

Henderson nodded and turned to leave. "When he wakes up, tell him we're all pulling for him."

Lois pushed the door open and tentatively went inside. The first thing she heard was the steady beep of his heart monitor. They had him hooked to several machines and an oxygen canula lay beneath his nose. He was in a hospital gown. He was as pale as the sheets he was lying on. His hair seemed to be the only color in the room.

"Oh, Clark," she whispered as she came close enough to touch him and found that his hands were icy cold. She had thought that seeing him would be reassuring but this bleak reality was almost more than she could bear.

//**//**//

The weight of his hand on her belly was making her teary-eyed. It's just hormones, she told herself. It's not because you're starting to like the idea of a miniature version of Clark running around or holding your hand. It's not because you're in love with this man and he's touching you. Maybe you're just sad for that putz, Ken.

And then he bent down, moving his hand so that he could softly kiss her stomach. Every nerve in her body came alive and she threaded her fingers through his hair, content in a way she had never felt before. Clark turned his head and rested his cheek on her belly, smiling up at her. She returned the smile, her eyes welling with tears. Damn hormones.

"You should get going," she reminded him gently. "I'll go home and change and meet up with you at the Planet."

"Okay," he said reluctantly. He lifted his head, hesitated and then leaned in to kiss her softly, his lips lingering against hers as he spoke. "Will you have dinner with me tonight? I really need to talk to you."

"Yes," she nodded. "I'd like that. We should talk. Or… not talk…" Her hand closed over the back of his neck, pulling him in for one more kiss. She teased his lips until he opened his mouth so she could chase the taste of his coffee deeper into his mouth.

He reluctantly broke the kiss and rose to leave. "Tonight. If you're still talking to me after we talk, we won't talk at all."

She laughed as she watched him climb the stairs. "I'm not sure that even made sense."

"I blame you," he said, turning at the door to smile back at her. "I can't think straight around you."

"Then it's unanimous. You'd better wipe that silly grin off your face before you see Ken's body."

His grin widened. "I'm not smiling about Ken."

"I know. Hey, Clark?"

He leaned his head back inside. "What now?" he asked in mock exasperation.

"Nothing," she giggled. "I just wanted to see if you'd come back."

"You'll never get rid of me." He winked at her and shut the door.

***

"Lois?"

She looked up, startled, to see Inspector Henderson had entered the room.

"Lois?" he said again. "I thought you'd want to know that Rachel Eames is safe. She came down to the station a few hours ago."

"Rachel?" For a moment Lois didn't have the faintest idea who he was talking about or why she should care. Then she remembered — Rachel Eames, the scientist from STAR Labs who had nearly been killed by Bad Brain's rigged manhole cover. It was Rachel who had unknowingly set off a fragmentation bomb in Lois' personal life with her 'it's just buddy sex' suggestions. "So she's okay?" Lois asked numbly. "Where has she been?"

"In hiding. After her interview with Ken last week he warned her that Bad Brain and Mike Crowley were looking for her. He told her not to even bother going home and just to get out of the city. He gave her the keys to his cabin and she's been staying there."

"Ken did that?" Lois felt a small twinge of guilt. "I guess he wasn't such a putz."

"No, he was still a putz. I'm sure he was more interested in protecting a source than protecting her personally."

"At least you got them."

"Correction, we took Johnson into custody at the plant but Crowley wasn't around."

"Have you checked the tunnels?"

"We've been looking but, let's face it, there are hundreds of exit points. We might not find him right away."

//**//**//

She was on a cold concrete floor in an empty, spacious room. The light overhead was flickering off and on. A large cramp overtook her and she groaned, wrapping her weakened arms around her abdomen as if that could stop the pain.

"Clark," she moaned. Wasn't Clark supposed to be here?

Another cramp seized her and she could feel dampness between her legs. Where was Clark? Shouldn't he be here by now? Had Bad Brain zapped him, too?

She needed to get out of here. Needed to get help. Needed Clark. She tried to stand but her legs buckled and she dropped to her knees. She could feel a gush of warmth running down the inside of her legs. She looked down and saw a dark puddle where she had originally fallen. Blood, she realized. It was too much blood. Her breaths were coming in short pants as she gritted her teeth against the pain.

The baby.

"No, please, no." Her ears were still ringing and the words were barely audible to her. She sagged back down to the floor again. She clutched her abdomen, keening cries escaping through her lips as she began to sob for the dark-eyed little boy she was certain she had carried. She would never hold him, never tuck him in at night, never kiss better his cuts and scrapes. Why hadn't she waited for Clark? Regret, as thick and real as the pain, coursed through her.

"Lois?" A hand touched her shoulder and, through her tears, she could see the bright blue of Superman's suit. "Lois, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I lost him," she whimpered.

"Lost who? Bad Brain?" Superman gently urged her into a sitting position as she shivered against the pain and the overwhelming sense of loss. Where was Clark?

"Oh god, it hurts." Please let him take her to Clark. She needed to tell him, needed to explain what had happened.

"It's going to be okay," Superman said as he started to pick her up and then seemed to think better of it. He pulled her across his lap as he whispered, "Oh no, Lois, honey…"

She put her arms around his neck and pleaded in a choked voice, "Superman, will you please take me to Clark? I need Clark."

"I'm here. I'm right here," he murmured into her hair as he wrapped his arms around her and rocked her gently. "It's me. I'm here. I'm so sorry. We have to get you to a hospital."

There was something off about his words, but she couldn't place what it was. "Please, Superman. Just take me to Clark." In her mind's eye she could see Clark from that morning, kneeling next to the sofa and placing that kiss on her stomach. She needed Clark. She needed that moment back. Desperation welled up in her, causing her voice to crack as she tried to make him understand. "I need to tell him. He has to know. It's my fault. This was all my fault," she sobbed.

Darkness was closing around her and the world seemed to lurch as Superman stood up with her in his arms. He was saying something else but she couldn't understand him. Why wasn't he listening to her? She just needed to tell him. "Tell Clark… please… I love him…"

***

Lois spent the rest of the afternoon and the entire night holding Clark's hand as she replayed his memories in her head. She tried to memorize the sensation of being him. She tried to hold on to the countless little moments she had been given. When she closed her eyes she could recall the small details of a flight over Metropolis, the way his heart raced every time she smiled at him, and the heavy tug of arousal he had felt when he woke up tangled in his sheets and haunted by dreams of her.

By the next afternoon she realized they were no longer his memories anymore. They had become hers alone. She knew she had shaded them with her own hopes and fears. But it was enough, for just those few moments to have been him. She had thought the world looked different from his desk; it was amazing to have seen it through his eyes.

A nurse came in to check on him. She looked at Lois and firmly suggested that she needed to take a break. "You don't have to leave the hospital, but at least go get something to eat. Take a walk and stretch your legs. If anything happens we'll page you overhead, okay?"

Lois reluctantly agreed and left the room. She wandered through the maze of the hospital, following the signs towards the snack bar. She picked a wrapped sandwich from the display and ate it mechanically, not even sure what kind of filling it had. On the way back to his room she became lost and had to backtrack several times. Why did they build hospitals to be so confusing? Wasn't it bad enough that most people who were visiting were already mentally taxed? Why go and make things harder?

She passed an alcove, glancing at the couple sitting inside as she passed. A few steps later recognition dawned on her and she stopped and went back. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent?" she asked softly.

The man's head lifted, his blue eyes meeting hers with surprise.

"You came," Lois said, her eyes filling with tears. "Of course you came, how awful for you. It was on the news, wasn't it?"

Martha opened her mouth but seemed at a loss for words. "They're such good friends," she finally said. "We knew that Clark would be worried…"

Lois sat down next in the chair next to Martha and then looked both ways up and down the corridor. No one was nearby. "I know," she whispered, reaching out to take Martha's hand. "I know his secret. He told me a few days ago."

Neither of his parents spoke; they only watched her warily.

"He didn't tell you," Lois said and wished she knew what to say next. "He didn't tell you any of it, did he?"

"Any of what, dear?" his mom asked.

"Clark," she started, noticing how they both sat up straighter at the mention of his name. "Clark didn't tell you that we, uh, we've become… um, closer… recently." Lois winced, realizing now why Clark hadn't said anything to them. Awkward didn't even begin to describe it.

Martha became almost instantly more alert and she leaned forward to grasp Lois' hand tightly. "How is he? No one will tell us anything."

"He's… he's not awake yet. I… Come with me." Lois stood up, still holding Martha's hand and helped her to rise. "They have guards on the room, but I'll get you in there."

When they got to the double doors of the unit only one guard was standing there. Lois told him that the Kents were with her. The officer looked at her dubiously. "That doesn't mean they're allowed inside."

"Get Henderson on the phone. He said the Kents had clearance to visit. Look at your list."

The guard looked down and mumbled that Clark Kent was on the list.

"Then it must be an oversight that they were left off. I'll take full responsibility," Lois told him.

The guard began to waver. They certainly didn't look dangerous and he knew a little something about Ms. Lane and her temper. "Okay," he relented. "But it's your butt on the line if Henderson blows a gasket."

Lois hurried the Kents through the door before the guard could change his mind. She led them to his room, closing the door softly behind them and then standing against it so that no one else could enter.

"Oh," Martha whispered, rushing to the bed and touching his hand. "Oh, my boy." She looked up at Jonathan with worried eyes. "He feels so cold."

Lois stayed near the door, watching sadly as Clark showed no signs of recognizing that they were there. Jonathan looked over at Lois. "What happened to him? The news only said that he was taken to the hospital and that his condition was unknown."

Lois shook her head. "He was…" // …dead weight…// She swallowed and tried again. "He was electrocuted by an electroshock weapon that had a Kryptonite lens," she explained.

Martha let out a small gasp and Jonathan grimaced at the mention of Kryptonite.

"He wasn't… breathing or anything afterwards. We did CPR and he started breathing on his own, but he's never…" Here her voice cracked and she gulped in air, unable to say the rest. She pointed at the machines next to his bed. "The doctors said that he has brain activity, and he's breathing on his own, it's just anyone's guess when he'll wake up."

"He's going to wake up," Martha said firmly.

Lois met her eyes and nodded. "I know. He has to."

//**//**//

She put the tape in and pressed play. Bad Brain scowled at her and the screen went blank. She looked over at Clark's patio. No sign of him. How long would he be gone? She hit rewind and watched as Clark came speedily walking backwards out of her bedroom and set her down. They dressed each other rapidly, the clothes flying into their hands. As her bra went back on in reverse she blushed to think that Bad Brain, Mike and Ken had seen this footage. She stopped the tape when Clark got up off the couch and came into the kitchen.

She watched as he massaged her shoulders and her skin tingled at the memory. She remembered how she had almost fallen asleep at his gentle touch. On-screen he put his arms around her and she saw herself relax into his embrace.

The camera zoomed in at the same time that she leaned closer to the TV, fascinated by the way Clark's lips parted when her hand had caressed his thigh before moving around to his backside. She saw the play of muscles in his arms when they tightened around her as he bent to kiss the nape of her neck.

Their bodies began to rock against each other. Lois swallowed; her mouth went dry just remembering the way his body felt against hers. She saw her own mouth open in a gasp of pleasure as Clark's hand covered her breast. She couldn't see his face now. He was kissing the side of her neck, but she could remember how that had felt.

On-screen she turned in his arms and they kissed. God, he was such a good kisser. That was part of what started this whole mess. She had, of course, sensed where his hands were when they kissed, but now she could see the gentleness with which he had touched her and guided their kisses.

The kiss broke and he began to pull her shirt off. Lois stopped the video, unable to keep watching and horrified that someone else had seen something so private. Something that Ken had said came back to her:

***

Three hours later, Jonathan was dozing in the chair in the corner. Lois and Martha were sitting on either side of Clark, each of them holding one of his hands.

"How did he tell you?" Martha asked.

"I… uh, I'd been hurt. I'd been electrocuted by the same gun they used to do this to him. He came as Superman to help me and I asked him to take me to Clark. And he said it was him, that he was there. But at the time I didn't really understand what he meant. All I could think about was that I… really needed him. I just wanted Clark." Lois began to cry, bowing her head and pressing his palm to her cheek. "I really need him. I love him."

"He loves you, too."

"He did," Lois corrected her miserably. "The last thing I ever said to him was so mean. We both said some terrible things to each other. I was wrong. But he was absolutely right. Everything he said to me was true."

"What was your fight about? If you don't mind telling me, that is."

"I called him a liar and told him that he was arrogant and he said…" Lois shook her head unhappily. "And he said…"

"You don't have to tell me," Martha said, feeling guilty as she watched Lois struggle for words. "I'm just being nosy."

"I was a terrible friend to him. I used him, Martha. I tripped over myself to idolize Superman and ignored the most amazing, gentle, loving man I've ever known and I don't know what I'm going to do if he… if he doesn't…"

"He will." Martha came around the bed and wiped the tears from Lois' cheek. "He will. I'm absolutely certain that he knows that you're here. He knows you love him and he'll wake up."

//**//**//

She swung her legs into the empty black space of the hole and heaved a sigh, feeling too tired to keep going anymore.

"Jump," he said from below her. "Jump and I'll catch you."

She hesitated. She knew he would catch her — that wasn't the problem. Equal parts longing and loathing raced through her. She was tired. It would be so easy to let him help her. Then again, relying on Clark for comfort is what had started this whole mess. And since that night, no, actually since almost the moment they first met, he had been lying to her.

Not just some garden variety lie either. It had been a big lie, one that he had taken steps to nurture and protect. He had been so calculating in how he hid himself from her. He was the reason she had pain, both emotional and physical, to begin with. Well, okay, maybe the physical was half her fault, but the emotional pain was almost entirely due to him.

"I can do it," she told him and reached with her foot for the first rung. She found it and leaned forward, reaching out to grasp the edge of the opening. At that moment a cramp shot through her and she let out a small groan even as her fingers scrabbled to hold on. She pitched forward, the side of her head bumping against the opening as she fell.

She hadn't fallen for more than half a second before he caught her, lowering her with him back to the floor of the tunnel. Space was limited and when he set her down they were still too close for her comfort. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"You seem to be asking me that a lot lately," she said, carefully feeling her head where it had struck against the opening. She didn't feel any blood, but the spot was tender. Wonderful, she thought, another bruise.

***

"What was he like? As a child?" Lois asked as she watched the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Martha let out a long sigh. "I won't say that he was perfect, but he came close."

"How old was he when you, uh, adopted him? How did that happen?"

"We were driving home one night and we saw a meteorite and went to check it out. It wasn't a meteorite, it was, well, I guess you could say it was a spaceship. He was maybe four or five months old. He was so cute and so obviously frightened. He had these wide, dark eyes and I absolutely adored him on sight. We took him home but we just couldn't bring ourselves to report finding him. I wasn't able to have children so he was like an answer to our prayers."

"He's lucky to have you."

"We're all lucky to have each other, really."

Lois smiled and brushed his hair back. Come back to me, she thought.

Martha had a faraway look in her eyes as she continued talking softly. "He loved to read. He had such an inquisitive mind. He was curious about simply everything. He'd take things apart just to see how they worked. It drove Jonathan crazy." She let out a small laugh and looked across the room at her sleeping husband, her expression full of affection.

"Did he put them back together again?" Lois asked.

"Well, he tried. Most of the time he succeeded in restoring them to what they were. Finally Jonathan had to put a moratorium on dismantling the farming equipment."

"So was he always, um, super? I mean, was he lifting tractors and stuff like that?"

"No, it wasn't until his early teens that he really started to be different from everyone else. Before that we just thought he was a tough kid since he never seemed to get hurt. He could fall from a tree and get up laughing. He knew he was adopted, but it wasn't until we realized how truly different he was that we told him how he came to us."

"How did he take it?"

Martha shook her head. "It really shook him. He had us show him exactly where we found him. After that he became more withdrawn. I noticed he spent a lot of time looking up at the skies. Jonathan always feared that he was a Russian experiment and that someday they were going to come looking for him. We had endless conversations about what might happen if people found out. Clark started to hide himself and all the things he could do. He became restless. He'd leave and not come back for hours. After college he broke down one night and told us that he felt like he didn't fit in anywhere. He started traveling but he never seemed to find whatever it was he was looking for. He'd spend a few months in a place and then he'd be off again."

"He's been in Metropolis for over a year now," Lois noted quietly.

Martha grinned at her. "Once he came to Metropolis we knew something was different. He'd only been here a few days before he came to me about making a disguise. I knew it was because he didn't want to leave."

"It's a great city."

"He doesn't stay here for the city, dear."

"Oh." Lois blushed but couldn't take her eyes away from his face. Had he really stayed in Metropolis because of her? "But I was so mean to him."

Martha laughed. "He's a very stubborn man."

"I guess he is. He never gave up on me." Come back, her mind urged him. Come back. Don't give up on me now either.

For a few minutes they sat in companionable silence. Then Martha cleared her throat. "So you two have been together for what, two months now?"

Lois looked away, feeling horrified and shy. "I, uh…"

"He stopped coming home to visit two months ago. He said he was busy. We guessed otherwise."

"Oh."

//**//**//

He had to know this was a trap, she told herself. He won't come. Or he'll wait and get backup. But what if he didn't? Clark, she thought. Do it for Clark. Do it for Superman. The world can get by without you, but they need him.

Crowley had relaxed a little but she couldn't make her legs cooperate. If she could just duck, really fast, she might be able to slip free of the arm he had around her. She didn't have to get far — she knew she wouldn't get far. She just had to get Bad Brain to use the gun again. Every amp that he used now was one less to kill Clark with later. They were going to kill her anyway. She had nothing left to lose. Her heart ached as she thought of Clark, Superman, the baby… they were all lost to her. There was nothing she could do to make it up to Clark now. Nothing except spare him…

***

At first he thought he was dreaming. He could hear them — three heartbeats as distinct and familiar to him as his own reflection. He opened his eyes, taking in the dim light of the room, the soft beeps of the monitors and the dark head lying near his left shoulder. In the corner of the room both of his parents were snuggled together in a reclining chair. The head lifted and he heard Lois make a small gasp.

"You're awake!"

"You watched that video," he muttered.

"Shhh." She stroked his cheek. "Your parents are here."

"I know."

"So it happened to you, too?"

"Mmmm."

"What else did you see?"

"I could have done without knowing what it was like to kiss Luthor." He gave her a weak grin.

She ducked her head and laughed ruefully. "I'm so sorry, Clark. For all of that."

"I know that. I hope you know…"

"I do," she whispered, stopping his words with a finger to his lips. "I know everything. It was weird… and amazing. It's like I was you."

He raised his hand to touch her cheek. "You are. You are everything to me."

She rolled her eyes. "I thought you were going to say I was your heart or something."

He wrinkled his nose. "That would be nauseating."

"You've made me sick before. Give it a shot."

"Clark?"

His father had sat up and was nudging his mother into wakefulness. "Clark? Martha, he's awake." Jonathan rose from the chair and rushed over to the bed with Martha close behind him. He held his hand out to them. He felt weak and drained, but utterly happy at the same time.

***

"…I hope you all will understand that I don't wish to take any questions at this time. I thank you for your concern and all of the well-wishes that have been sent to me here." Clark scanned the assembled press but didn't see Lois. His mother had been insistent that Lois go home and get some rest and it would appear his mom had won that battle of wills.

He turned and thanked the doctors and nurses who had cared for him, posing with them for one last picture before he waved and pushed up into the twilight sky. He still felt a little weak and dizzy, but he was pretty sure he could at least make it as far as home. He rose higher into the oncoming night until Metropolis was nothing but a twinkling collection of lights below him. He paused for a moment, letting the cool of the evening air rush past him. When he was feeling more like himself, he definitely had to bring Lois up here and let her see what the world looked like from here.

Then again, she might already know that. He sighed, thinking of how it had felt to actually *be* her. He had replayed those memories over and over until he was certain he had tainted them with his own embellishments. But the meaning of what she had seen and thought was not lost to him. She had been through so much — and it was all because of him. His carelessness, his lies, his words spoken in anger. Was there any way in the world that he could make it up to her?

It was incredible to him that after everything that had happened she still cared about him. Two days, his mom had told him. She had sat by his bedside for two days and waited for him to come back.

He focused on her apartment, able to pick it out from among the hundreds of thousands of lights below him in an instant. Her lights were on — was she home? He was too far away to see her, but it was enough to know that she was there. He looked over and found that his own apartment was also lit.

What had Lois told his mom? He wasn't sure he could endure one more knowing look from his mother. Then again, his parents weren't stupid. They had been just a shade too uninterested with his excuses for not coming home to visit lately. They had probably known all along.

Clark sighed and then rocketed towards home.

***

Clark pushed his food around on his plate. More than anything he wanted to go see Lois, but he felt like he was fifteen again and trying to sneak out to meet Lana behind her father's barn.

"Have you checked on Lois yet?" his mom asked helpfully.

He looked up in surprise. "No, not yet. If you two are okay here, maybe I'll go over there for a little while."

His mom smiled. "Sure. We'll see you in the morning."

"Mom! I'm going to come back."

"Then you're a fool. You both need each other right now. I'm locking the door after you leave." She stood up and came over to kiss his cheek. "Good night, son."

Clark glanced at his dad, who just shrugged at him. The twinkle in his eye was unmistakable and Clark looked away.

This was worse than being fifteen and sneaking out to see Lana. That had been mostly innocent. The grins his parents were giving him were anything but. Best just to get out of there while he still could.

"It's not… going to be like that," he stammered. "We have a lot we need to talk about."

His mom's eyes turned serious. "We spent a lot of time in that hospital room talking, Clark. I don't know much about the fight you two had, but I do know that Lois loves you and she needs you just as much as you need her. Nothing else matters but that. So you talk to her, if you think you need to, but I think what she needs more than anything else is to know that you aren't angry with her."

"She knows that," Clark started but his mom cut him off.

"Go make sure she knows that."

***

Lois was fumbling for her keys to open the door, the tapes she had just retrieved from the laundry were tucked under chin, when a low voice from behind her asked, "Watching movies tonight?"

"Oh!" Startled, she dropped both the tapes and her keys. "You shouldn't come sneaking up behind me like that!" She bent to retrieve the tapes and her keys but he had beat her to them.

"I wasn't sneaking up on you. I just came up the stairs and here you were." He unlocked her door and moved back to let her enter before he followed her inside.

"Clark, why are you here? I mean, your parents came all this way to see you, shouldn't you be spending some time with them?" she asked, feeling flustered as she eyed the tapes. She was torn between happiness at seeing him and nervousness that he might think she was about to watch that tape again.

"Would you believe my mom kicked me out?"

"Really? Why?"

"She could tell I'd rather be here."

The wistful tone of his voice brought her attention to his face. It was such a relief to see him, whole and walking around, and she admonished herself for acting less than happy to see him. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"Better. What about you?" He could see the worry and sleeplessness of the last couple of weeks etched into her features. Suddenly he wanted nothing more in the world than to just hold her. He wanted to cradle her in his arms and never let her go. She'd never go for it, he told himself. She was too… Lois… to ever stay in one place that long.

"Oh." She shrugged and eyed the tapes again. "You know, I'm okay, I, uh, I guess."

"You look tired."

"Some of us haven't spent the past few days catching up on their beauty sleep…" Lois stopped short, horrified that she had just said those words. "I'm sorry, Clark, that was mean."

"But accurate. It was mean of me to say you look like crap."

"You said I looked tired. You think I look like crap?" She wanted to glare at him but she couldn't work up enough indignation.

"You've looked better," he temporized.

"Is this part of some new campaign you're starting to always be truthful with me?"

"Sort of."

"I feel like crap," she admitted with a sigh and fought the urge to reach for the tapes. "What are you going to do with those?"

"These?" He lifted the tapes, holding them just out of her reach. Lois wasn't sure if he was doing it on purpose or not.

"Yes."

"What were you going to do with them?" he countered.

"I don't know," she said truthfully. "I guess we should probably destroy them, huh?"

Clark set them on her kitchen counter. "Your call."

Lois blinked as her mind raced. She wanted to get rid of every reminder of Bad Brain that she could, but… In her mind's eye she could see the gentle way his hands had touched her as they kissed. A flicker of his memory of that night played in her imagination. She saw herself, standing at her counter, as he moved across the room to join her. He hadn't walked over there to start anything, he had come to kiss her good-bye and go home so that she could get some sleep. Knowing that only increased her need to see that moment again, but this time she wanted to pay more attention to what had happened before their clothes started coming off. She wanted to see the way he had held her and whispered to her.

The words he said had been for her alone. Mike — and whoever else had watched the tape — had never known what had been said between them. And yet, for only having half of the truth, the camera had captured the one thing that had frightened her most about Clark. They belonged together. It was there in every soft touch, every unheard whisper and in the way their bodies had moved in synch.

"Do we have to decide this tonight?" She looked up at him, her mind swirling with memories of what was on that tape and him lying so still in that hospital bed.

"No." He shook his head slightly.

Lois looked at him thoughtfully, remembering what his mom had said about him feeling like he never fit in anywhere. Had he really stayed in Metropolis because of her?

"When did you know that you wanted to stay in Metropolis?" she asked, reaching out to take his hand.

"When you made it a challenge." His fingers tightened gently on hers.

"How did I make it a challenge?" She turned his hand over, smoothing her fingers over his palm as if she could read the answer there.

"I knew you were a challenge when Perry paired us up and you flounced ahead of me laying down the rules. And then you called me a hack from Nowheresville, told me you liked it on top, and that I was out of your league." He let out a laugh and shook his head. "I'd never met anyone so adorably egotistical."

"That's what you thought of me? That I was egotistical?" She dropped his hand, regretting that she had brought the subject up.

His expression softened and became distant. "And I liked watching you walk. There's just something about the sway of your hips when you walk that really does it for me."

She stared at him. "That was it? You stuck around because I insulted you and you liked the way I walk?"

Clark was pulled back to the present. "What did you want me to say?"

"What happened to 'you're everything to me'?"

"Lois, I had just met you. How was I to know that you'd be everything to me? You intrigued me. I was positive there was more to you than just attitude. And then, the more I got to know you, I…" He ducked his head and shrugged.

"You what?" she prompted.

"I never…" He tugged on her hand to pull her closer to him and brought his other hand to rest on her waist. "I never felt like I belonged anywhere until I met you. There was just something about you. I'd felt attracted to other women before, but what I felt for you, it was different. The more time I spent with you the more I realized that it wasn't just an attraction. It was like the emptiness inside me went away whenever you were there."

"That morning," she said haltingly, "that awful, ugly morning when I picked the fight with you over the toothbrush, I only did that because I was scared."

"I know."

"Afterwards I felt absolutely horrible. It's just, it scares me, Clark. The thought of letting someone that far into my heart scares me."

"I know."

"But you were already there. It was too late. I'd already let you in."

"I know."

"You know? Of course you know. You got those memories, didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"What else? What else did you see or, um, or feel? Because some of the stuff I got from you was, well…" She blushed and glanced away. "It was pretty interesting."

"I got to experience morning sickness. That was interesting."

She looked up at him, her eyes beginning to sparkle in a tease. "That's not what I meant."

"I know." His hand lifted to tip her chin up. "I know you think I'm a good kisser."

Lois swayed forward, putting her hands on his chest to steady herself. "You spend far too much time thinking about kissing me."

"Yeah, I do." He tucked a length of hair behind her ear. "But not tonight."

"No?"

"What if I said that I just wanted to hold you?"

"I'd think you were reading my mind." She slid her arms around him and rested her cheek against his heartbeat. This was real, she told herself. He was really here holding her. He wasn't lying in that hospital bed anymore. Her arms tightened around him to reassure herself that he was real.

"This was all I ever wanted, Lois. Just to be near you. Just to hold you."

"Me, too," she whispered.

"I'm so sorry that I lied to you."

"It wasn't so much that you lied to me. It was why you put off telling me the truth that hurt the most. And you were right," she hurried to add when he opened his mouth to speak. "You were absolutely right. I would have been furious. I was furious. I never gave a single thought to how it must have felt to be you. Your mom said that when you found out how you came to them you started hiding yourself from the world. I know now that your need to hide is every bit as ingrained in your psyche as my need to be in control."

"Yeah," he agreed, pulling her closer and resting his chin on top of her head.

"I thought about that a lot, while you were in the hospital, how isolating and awful it must have been for you to grow up knowing that you were… you." She stopped, feeling flustered. "Wow, that sounded wrong. Please tell me you know what I meant by that."

"I do." He rocked them slowly, wanting to reassure her.

"I'm glad you're you, Clark. I've never felt this safe with anyone else. That's what got us into this mess." She tipped her head back to give him a rueful smile. "If I hadn't gone to you on the night of the asteroid…" She left the words hanging, unsure she wanted to complete that thought.

"Do you regret it, then?"

Did she regret it? What if she hadn't gone to him for comfort that night? They would still be nothing more than friends right now. She would still be in the dark about who Superman really was. She would still be denying the sense of peace that being held in his arms gave to her.

"I regret some of the things I said to you," she said slowly, "and I regret what happened to…" She swallowed hard and shook her head as she thought about the baby. "But what happened between us in bed? That I could never regret."

"I regret not telling you the truth sooner. And, most especially, I regret what I said to you on the ferry. I didn't mean it. I never thought it was your fault."

"But it was," she said softly, her eyes begin to water. "It was my fault. All of it. It was my idea. Us, sleeping together, that day in the supply closet, running into Bad Brain's trap…"

"Shhh." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "No, please, Lois, don't even think that. You couldn't have known what was going to happen. Are you telling me that if you had known, you still would have gone there that day?"

"I wouldn't," she sobbed quietly. "I wouldn't have gone. I never would have gone."

"Then stop blaming yourself. It's over, honey, we can't change it. All we can do is move on from here."

"What if I can't?" Her voice cracked as she put into words the emotions she had held in check for days. "I don't think I can do it. I'm not that strong."

"You are the strongest person I know. I wouldn't, Lois, I *couldn't* be Superman without you. From the very beginning, if I hadn't had you to believe in me, I might have just given up. I wanted to help people, yes, but I also wanted to live up to who you thought I was."

She sobbed harder, her hand clutching and twisting his shirt. "Oh god, I don't think I can do this."

"Do what?"

"Be the reason you stay. Look at me! I've been terrible to you. I insulted you and ignored you and used you and…"

"But I stayed anyway." He met her eyes, his steady gaze reassuring her more than his words did. He cradled her face between his hands, his thumbs smoothing her tears away.

"Why?"

"Because I love you. Because I couldn't leave you if I tried." He leaned down, kissing away her tears before his lips moved to cover hers softly.

The kiss was soft, almost tentative, until Lois' hand rose to the back of his neck, pulling his lips more closely against her own. Her mouth opened beneath his as she tried without words to tell him just how lost she had been without him.

She was still crying as they kissed and Clark gathered her closer to him, answering the desperation of her frantic mouth with softness. She was looking for forgetfulness, he realized. She had carried the burden of her grief and guilt for far too long. His heart ached for her and all that she had gone through. Clark tried to break the kiss but then she hooked one arm around the back of his neck and buried her other hand in his hair.

"Clark, Clark," she murmured over and over again against his mouth. It was only then that he realized that he was crying along with her, mourning their baby and what might have been. He moved to kiss her cheeks, his lips brushing away the tears that she was crying even as his own fell to replace them. She whispered his name with each tear he cleared away and he realized she was comforting him. She was healing him, pulling the broken, isolated pieces of him together with each utterance of his name.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered to her. "I'm so sorry for everything."

She hiccuped and hugged him fiercely. "Don't ever lie to me again."

"I won't. I promise. No more lies. But you have to make me a promise, too."

"What? You know I'll never tell anyone your secret. Not ever. They'd have to kill me first."

He flinched at the thought. "If it came to that, Lois, I'd much rather you told the whole world. And that's not what I was going to ask you."

"What then?"

"Promise me you won't push me away if you get scared. Tell me the truth and I'll give you all the space you need, but don't run away from me, okay?"

"Okay." She hiccuped again. "So those are the new rules? You'll be honest and I'll be trusting?"

"And we can leave the lights on," he added, kissing the top of her head affectionately.

"And it's not just sex," she whispered. "This means we're in a relationship."

"You know I always thought that, right?"

"Yeah. And I did, too, I just couldn't admit it."

"I know." Clark closed his eyes and rested his cheek against her hair. "Even before I got your memories, I knew that."

Lois let out a muffled moan against his shoulder as grateful sobs shook through her. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry…" she said the words repeatedly, unsure that they could even begin to express the relief and the misery she felt.

"I know," Clark whispered over and over, crooning the words to her softly as he stroked her back. "I know."

***

When he woke up they were lying on her bed and she was snuggled up against him. Her leg was thrown possessively across his and her hand was lying slack on his chest. He didn't move, not wanting to break the spell. After a few minutes her fingers flexed against his chest.

"Clark," she mumbled.

"Right here," he said, smoothing his hand over the back of her head.

"Honey?" Her sleep-slurred voice combined with the endearment to send a tingle through him.

"Yes?"

She giggled and lifted her head to grin at him. "No, I meant why did you call me 'honey'?"

"Oh," he said, feeling a little embarrassed. "I think you're sweet." Even to him, the words sounded lame.

Her grin widened. "Sweet? Me? Really?" she asked with just a hint of sarcasm.

"You don't like 'honey'?"

He half-expected that she would roll her eyes. Instead her expression softened and she softly admitted, "I kind of like the way it sounds when you say it."

"I could call you something else."

"Like what? Sweetheart? Darling?" She wrinkled her nose. "I can't see myself answering to any of those."

"How about 'my little brown-eyed jellybean'?"

She rewarded him with a laugh. "I don't think so." She rested her cheek against his chest again and poked his rib. "Call me 'honey' again."

Clark let out a laughing sigh and self-consciously said, "Honey."

"Hmmm," she giggled and the vibrations tickled him where her cheek was pressed against him. "Now say the jellybean one."

"No."

"No?" She lifted her head to look at him. "Why not?"

"I think you're mocking me."

Her eyes crinkled at the corners as her smile grew wider. "Maybe I am, just a little." She tried to look serious but her eyes were still sparkling. "Why? Are you going to tell me I don't know who I'm messing with?"

"Oh, that reminds me," his expression equally mischievous. "There's a rumor that you boffed Superman. Would you care to comment?"

"What happens between me and Superman is nobody's business but our own."

"So that a 'yes'? You're sleeping with him?"

"No. I haven't slept with him. There's only one person I'm involved with and I've yet to see him show up in tights and a cape and make love to me."

"What if he did?"

"What if who did what?" she giggled, trying to confuse him.

"You're definitely mocking me," he chided her and rolled them so that she was beneath him.

"Oh," she said. "I can't, not yet, you have to let me up." He moved away from her immediately, worried he was pushing things too fast. Lois shook her head at him. "It's nothing like that. I have morning breath. And I got you something yesterday on my way home."

Clark grinned. "I've got something for you, too."

Lois giggled. "Not like that. You have the dirtiest mind." She slipped out of the bed. "Stay right there."

She disappeared into her bathroom. He could hear her brushing her teeth. Then she came racing into the bedroom, holding up one hand to caution him as she moved past him towards her front room. "Don't move yet."

Clark propped himself against the headboard of the bed and waited. A minute ticked by and he could hear her opening and shutting drawers in the kitchen. Then she came back, slightly out of breath, and held up a dark blue toothbrush still in its package. "Tada!" she sang out.

"Kinky," he said with a grin.

She rolled her eyes and threw the toothbrush at him. "I meant it to be a gesture of trust, you putz. You know, to show you how much you mean to me."

"I know," he said, catching the toothbrush and setting it on the nightstand. He beckoned to her. "I'm going to get one for you to keep at my place."

She gave him a delighted smile. "I was hoping you'd feel that way."

She crawled onto the bed and knelt next to him. Her hand reached out to rest on his thigh. "I still can hardly believe he was really you, all this time."

"Do you want me to put the suit on?"

"No, I have no idea how to get it off of you."

"That's easy. You say, 'Clark, I want to make love to you,' and I'll be out of the suit before you've even finished speaking."

She giggled and then said, "Clark, I want to make love to you."

"They're just jeans, Lois. I think you could get them off without my help."

She moved so that she was straddling him, letting her fingers brush enticingly along the waistband of his jeans. "I know I can get them off. And I will." She leaned forward and kissed him softly.

His hand rose and plunged into her hair, keeping her mouth where he could take a deeper taste of the minty toothpaste she had just used. Realizing that he was becoming too aroused, too fast, he broke the kiss. His mouth moved to her ear and he raggedly whispered, "When?"

Lois, still dazed from their kiss, asked, "When what?"

"When are you going to take them off?" His teeth nipped her earlobe. "I'm dying here."

"Soon," she whispered, kissing along the line of his jaw as she worked her way back to his mouth. "Very, very soon."

His expression turned serious and he tipped his head back when she went to kiss his lips. "Lois, this isn't too soon for you, is it? After everything that's happened? You're sure you're okay?"

"I'm okay. I want this." She gave him a shy smile. "We'll just go slow."

"Mmmm. I can do slow."

"Oh, I know," she said against his lips. "Wow, do I know that." She settled her weight onto him, exerting what she knew was just the right amount of pressure against his groin.

"Oh god," he gulped, closing his eyes as he savored the feel of her body pressing on his.

"I know you like this. I know lots of things about you, Clark." She wiggled her hips, enjoying the power she held over him.

"Do you?" He put his hands on her hips, shifting her just a little… oh yeah, right there was perfect. "Have you been investigating me?"

"I talked to your mom."

He opened his eyes and grinned at her. "Did you ever consider that right now might not be the best time to bring up my mother?"

Lois ignored him, stroking her hands along his chest. "Tell me again why you stayed in Metropolis."

"I'm a huge Met Net fan."

She gave him a knowing grin. "No. It's because you need me," she teased, rocking her hips against his. "You need me baaaaad."

His eyes slipped closed and he let out a faint moan. "Lois," he breathed.

"I know," she whispered in his ear, feeling his body tremble as her breath caressed him. "I know what this feels like for you."

"Oh, I…" his words ended in a moan as he remembered the sensation of being her. "When I was you… It was…"

"Sexy?" she suggested.

"Weird. But it was a good weird."

"Yeah."

She held his gaze until it was too much for him and he had to close his eyes. "Do you know how much I love you?" His words were thick with need.

"Yes. But I don't mind hearing you say it."

"I love you." He opened his eyes. "I need you."

She leaned down and brushed a kiss across his lips. "I love you, Clark."

He smoothed his hands up her back, urging her to lie down on top of him and then closed his arms around her. "You are…" he started but couldn't find the words to tell her how he felt like he was anchored because of her. Just being with her had made him a part of everything else. When he was with her, he wasn't a stranger in this world. He belonged here — to this world and to her. He marveled that he had found her — the one person in the entire world who so exactly complemented and strengthened him. It was the thought that he might never have found her that made her so precious. It was frightening to think of a life without her.

"You are everything to me," he said hoarsely. "Everything."

"I know." She kissed him again, their tongues meeting and mating until they were both breathless. "Don't ever, ever leave me," she whispered, kissing his shoulder. "I need you just as much as you need me."

"I won't. I couldn't. I think I need you more." He took in an unsteady breath, trying to organize his thoughts. "Lois, you have given me something that no one else ever could. A sense of belonging. Someone to belong to. When I'm with you I'm not a freak or an oddity or an abandoned science project. I can just be me. I can have…" He stopped speaking as he realized what he wanted to ask her. Wait, he told himself.

"You can have a home and a family of your own," she finished for him, remembering his amazement the night he had watched her sleeping on his couch.

"Only if that family includes you," he added softly. He nervously waited for her reaction.

"Me?" She raised her head to look at him, her eyes were wide with wonder. "Really?"

He smoothed her hair back. "There's no one else. There never can be. You've ruined me for anyone else."

"That's a little old-fashioned, isn't it?" she teased.

"Marry me, Lois," he said softly. "Make an honest man out of me."

She blinked, uncertain she had heard him right. A few seconds ticked by as she looked at him in astonishment. Then her eyes crinkled and she cleared her throat. "Will you promise to call me 'honey' if I say yes?"

He nodded. "Absolutely."

"It won't be easy, you know, making an honest man out of you. Especially since I'm going to insist that you lie to everyone about how you proposed to me."

He laughed. "I'll leave you in charge of making up stories from now on."

"You should. You're terrible at lying. Some of those stories were just… awful. I can't believe it never occurred to me to see what you were really up to all those times."

"I guess I just have an honest face."

"It wasn't your face, it was your mouth," she mused aloud and then blushed.

"I have an honest mouth?" He furrowed his eyebrows, trying to figure out what she meant by that statement. Then he remembered how she and Cat had watched him absent-mindedly chewing on his pencil in that long-ago staff meeting.

"I heard what Cat said about wishing you were that pencil."

She rolled her eyes. "I realize that *now*. God, I'm glad I didn't know it at the time."

"Know what? That I heard you or that Superman was flirting with you?"

Her blush increased. "Both, I guess. Wait — you were flirting with me when you put the pencil back in your mouth?"

"Of course. What did you think I was doing?"

"I thought you were just trying to be annoying."

He laughed. "Lois, believe me, the last thing I ever want to do is annoy you. Well, most of the time anyway."

"There are times when you *do* want to annoy me? Like when?"

"Like when you sit on my desk in a short skirt and thigh-highs and pretend not to notice that you're turning me on."

She grinned. "*You* were the one pretending that day. I was half-frantic, thinking you didn't want me."

"Lois, for future reference, I always want you."

"Remember how you told me all the places in your apartment where you wanted to make love to me?"

"Yeah, but you do realize my parents are still there?"

"No!" She smacked his chest and giggled. "Not right now. I was just wondering if my tub could be substituted for your shower?"

He lifted an eyebrow and pretended to consider the matter. "Are you going to light candles and insist on my being romantic?"

"Would that annoy you?" she asked coyly.

"It might."

"Good — I know you secretly like it when I'm egotistical and annoying. Now you just lie there like a good boy and watch me walk away."

She pushed off of him and started towards the bathroom, looking back over her shoulder to ensure that he was still lying there. He had propped himself up onto his elbow and was watching her with a feral gleam in his eye. She gave him a delighted grin and went to push the door open only to find warm flesh beneath her palm.

She looked up at him and shook her head. "You're cheating."

"You never made a rule I couldn't use superpowers." When she opened her mouth to speak he put a finger over her lips. "And, if I were you, I wouldn't make that rule."

She kissed his finger and then moved his hand away. "I wasn't about to make that rule. In fact, I want a rule stating that I'm allowed to proposition Superman from time to time."

"Are you going to offer him no-strings-attached sex?"

"Do you think he'll go for it?"

Clark smiled and shook his head. "No. He's going to insist on marrying you first."

She wrinkled her nose. "Then I guess I'm stuck with you in the meantime."

"Guess so."

She nudged him backwards into her bathroom. "C'mon then, Clark, show me just how dirty getting clean can be."

THE END

I started this story on June 28 and finished it on October 15. During the course of writing the story I painted my sister's new apartment but only got one test patch in the corner of my own bedroom completed. I helped her move all her earthly possessions and didn't nag my son about cleaning his room for over three months. I ignored laundry and housework until it reached the point that my son stood in my doorway and plaintively said, "Mom, I'm out of underwear."

Hasini gave me the idea in the first place. I didn't think I had any stories left in me, but her post on the nfic boards for a story idea intrigued me. Since I consider this just as much her story as mine, I sent her a rough draft of the first part. She wrote back and really cracked the whip. It was a massive rewrite and I questioned why I even started the damn thing. Now I must bow and pay homage to her and her vision of the characters. She was totally, completely, absolutely right. The story is so much better because she was brutally tactful. And then, during part four (and just as I thought things were starting to get interesting) she went on a trip halfway around the world and we lost touch. She has since written to explain where she went and why. Hasini — you know I will always love you! All of this *never* would have happened without you.

I also need to thank DJ, who went on vacation and did beta at the same time. Thank you, DJ, for always, always, always nudging me along and for pestering me for sneak peeks. Thank you for the repeated readings of various parts. I think you could probably recite half the story, you read it so many times. It was your enthusiastic response each time I felt unmotivated that got me working again.

Along the way I picked up three new betas, and they all contributed greatly to the making of this story. Julia was tough to please and there were a couple of times I wanted to cry when she would send a part back with a kindly worded "ummmmm". I can think of a couple of directions that she saved me from wandering into. Julia also did beta from her tropical vacation — which cracked me up. Thanks for making me feel irresistible!

alcyone, on the other hand, inspired me to really get dark and dirty with it. I can't begin to express how grateful I am for the direction that she gave the story. She came along just as it got angsty and I never could have been "evil" without her. She's working on a story of her own (still untitled) and I can scarcely wait for everyone to read it. I'll never write another A-plot after she posts.

Andreia bravely stepped in to let me know how the story came across to a non-native English speaker and I thank her for that. I especially have to thank her for the memories — she saved an entire part by telling me to back it up and remember what the hell had happened and why it mattered. She also did an amazing job of reminding me of Clark's true motivations.

As always I give thanks, praise and a chocolate-coated Clark to my crack dealer, Sara, who never fails to make me laugh until I cry at her snarky and insightful betas. Half the time I'm only writing to see what she says. Sara was my first beta in this fandom and it was through her patience and guidance that I ever found my voice. I would have quit writing after my first story if she hadn't been so enthusiastic. Or, at least, her emails sounded enthusiastic…

Hey, if you made it this far, think about the four months I gave to writing the story. Wouldn't four minutes to send me a little bit of feedback seem like a fair trade? It sure would to me — sistersuze@gmail.com