New Beginnings

By Matrix

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: October, 2006

Summary: A rewrite of the pilot episode with a twist. A new beginning for Lois Lane and Clark Kent… or is it?

Disclaimer: This is a *re*write of the Pilot. Some of the scenes will be familiar to you but it really is a different story. Oh, and there is a WHAM towards the end. Consider yourself warned.

All characters and settings are the property of someone else, definitely not me, and whoever else can legally lay claim to them. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written purely for fun, not for profit.

A thank you to the writers of Lois & Clark, without them we wouldn't have this wonderful world to play in. A special thank you to the writers of the pilot episode, which I have gratefully borrowed and used many lines and scenes from for this rewrite.

A huge thank you to Tahu for giving me the idea for this story. She shared some of her ideas with me and asked me if I could do a story based on one of them. So Tahu, this story is for you. I hope you like it. And, of course, last but certainly never least, a thank you to Sue for her, always wonderful, beta work. Sue, you know I couldn't post without you.

***

"Clark, remind me again why you decided not to move up here to Metropolis?" Chad asks me, getting in a little dig.

I sigh, tired of rehashing the same old, tired argument. I reposition the phone, propping it between my ear and my shoulder, so I can free up my hands to make myself a sandwich.

"Chad, do we really need to go through this again? You know if Lana had any way to transfer to Metropolis that we would move. She was really fortunate to get that internship in the Mayor's office. We can't exactly move the Mayor of Smallville up to Metropolis just so I can work for a big city paper." I take out two slices of bread and hesitate. Nah, why not make it three slices? And a couple of extra slices of cheese while I'm at it. Where did I put those pickles? Lana's working late tonight, so she won't be dropping by unexpectedly to catch me eating this triple-decker monstrosity. Better enjoy it while I have the chance.

"Yeah, but come on. This was your dream. Our dream. We were going to move to the big city together and take it by storm."

"Well, you made it up there. Are you "taking it by storm" yet?" I ask, preoccupied with spreading a thick layer of mayonnaise on each slice of bread.

"Not yet, but I've only been here for a few months," Chad says defensively. "I may just be a gofer now, but when I get my chance, big things are gonna happen. I still can't believe I'm working for the Metropolis Star. It's so exciting, so invigorating…"

"So second-rate. Why didn't you get on with the Daily Planet?" I ask, finding the bacon in my fridge and giving a few slices a quick *zap*. Mmm, a Club sandwich, even better.

"Hey, the Metropolis Star is nothing to sneeze at. They may be second to the Daily Planet in ratings, but they aren't second- fiddle."

"Well, next time I make it up your way, I expect a detailed tour of the Star's newsroom." Didn't I have a tomato somewhere? I poke around in the fridge a little further. Ah, there it is, hiding behind the lettuce.

"You got it. So how's life treating you as editor of your own paper? Mr. Bigshot?"

"Not bad. It's not a big-town paper, but the Smallville Post is beginning to feel like home. I have a couple of reporters working for me that are still 'wet behind the ears', but they're learning pretty fast. I'm actually beginning to enjoy working as an editor, but sometimes I miss the fast-paced, in- your-face work of being a reporter." Ah, just a few more slices of pastrami and that should do it.

"What? Are you kidding? What fast-paced work are you remembering? This is Smallville we're talking about… Not New York City."

"You know what I mean. I love the legwork. I love running the story down. I love the interviews and the writing. Editing someone else's stories just isn't the same." Now to toast the bread just a little…

"I hear ya. Okay, well take care, Clark. Try to get up here for a visit pretty soon. Tell your mom and dad I said hello and tell your mom to send some of her brownies with you next time you come. I'm aching for some of her homemade cooking."

"Will do, Chad. Take care."

"Bye."

"Bye."

I set the phone down on the counter and look down at the colossal sandwich sitting before me, my mouth begins to water. I lift it up to my lips to take the first tantalizing bite and there's a knock at my door.

I sigh, putting my sandwich back down on the plate, and I lower my glasses to have a look. It's Lana! Oh, no you don't. You aren't going to interrupt my eating pleasure tonight, and I'm not going to pay for eating it in front of you by listening to you lecture me about my cholesterol for the next two hours. Like I even need to worry about that. I pick up the sandwich and inhale it in a matter of seconds, enjoying every last morsel.

Running up to the door, I open it just in time to let out a small burp in satisfaction.

"Nice to see you, too, honey," she says, giving me a small peck on the cheek. "Have you been eating something bad for you again?" she asks me, giving me that *look*.

"Me? Never."

"Liar. I can smell the pickles and bacon from here. Oh, and there's *this*," she says, wiping a small spot of mayonnaise off my chin.

"It was just a light snack. So, what are you doing here? I thought you had to work late tonight?"

"I did, but the Mayor got a touch of food poisoning from the chili-cheese fries he ate at dinner. That kind of threw a wrench in things."

Chili-cheese fries? The Mayor? Actually, I can't remember the last time I had some of those. They sounded pretty good. "Well I'm sorry to hear the Mayor's sick, but I won't complain if it means I get to spend the evening with you."

"Mmm. What did you have in mind, Mr. Kent?"

"Well future Mrs. Kent, why don't I take you home; and we can curl up next to a fire, put in a good old movie, and take it from there?"

***

"Anthony, I think this is a great story, good job, but I can't print this last part here. It's just speculation," I tell him, circling the last paragraph in red. "You're going to have to rewrite this part."

"Aww, but boss, you know as well as I do that it's the truth."

"I agree with you, believe me I do, but we can't print this until we have solid proof. We'd have our butts handed to us in court without the evidence to back this up."

"Yes, sir," Anthony says dejectedly, taking his copy back from me and heading back to his desk.

He was a good kid, just a little green. I sit down at my desk and thumb through some of the other articles that had been turned in. Not bad for a small town paper. It may lack the intrigue that a big city paper like the Daily Planet or Chad's Metropolis Star have, but it also lacked the articles about crime and violence that those papers have to report on.

A knock at my door brings me out of my retrospection. I look up and see Steven standing there, waiting for permission to enter.

"Come in, Steven."

"Mr. Kent, I'm sorry to bother you, but while you and Anthony were talking, Lana called and asked if you could meet her for lunch today at your parents' house."

"Oh, okay, thanks. I'll make a note of that."

"Sure thing," Steven says, smiling as he walks back out of my office.

He is so eager to please, so willing to do whatever needs to be done. He just lacks self-confidence. Once he finds his confidence and gets up the nerve to ask, I'm going to let him partner up with one of the other reporters and see what kind of stories he can churn out.

My phone begins ringing and I pick it up. "Smallville Post, Clark Kent."

"Clark? It's Chad. Have you heard the news?"

"No. What news?"

"Apparently some lunatic came running into the Daily Planet building this morning ranting that the space program is doomed. He said that the Messenger is going to blow up and that Space Station Prometheus has been sabotaged."

"You're kidding! Was he verifiable? Or a loon?"

"Well, I don't know, several people are saying he's a loon. That he went off his rocker after his wife and kid left him a while back. But here's the weird thing, he used to work for the space program."

"That is interesting. Is anyone following up on the story?"

"From what I hear, the reporters at the Daily Planet are looking into his allegation, but I think I'm going to see what I can dig up, too. Anyway I just wanted to tell you about it. I thought it might get your old reporter's juices flowing. I'll call you and let you know if I find out any more details. Just because you're an editor now, doesn't mean you can't lower yourself back down to our level and do a little writing. Might give your readers something exciting to read about for a change."

"Hey! You don't think the upcoming annual Smallville Corn Festival is exciting enough? We don't want to give our readers a heart attack," I tell him sarcastically. "We do have real news you know."

"I know, I know. Things that are important to a small town paper, to small town folk. But this might just add a little spice to their lives, huh? Anyway, I gotta go. Boss is looking for me, but I wanted to pass that little tidbit along to you. Later, Clark."

"Yeah, thanks. Bye, Chad."

Sabotage in the space program? Is it possible? Maybe this is something I should look into. But not now, not this morning. I've got a paper to put out and a lunch to go to with Lana. I'd better get busy or I'll be late, and Lana hates it when I'm late.

***

"Oh, Martha, lunch was wonderful as always," Lana says, getting up from the table. "And Jonathan, your barbeque was a little spicy for me, but delicious nonetheless. Unfortunately my beeper's going off and that means I've got to head back to the Mayor's office," she continues, giving each of my parents a hug and then turning to face me. "Clark, don't be too late putting that paper to bed. I'm looking forward to a nice quiet pasta dinner at your place tonight."

"You got it. I'll pick up a bottle of something white on my way home."

"Love you," Lana says, giving me a soft kiss. "Bye, everyone!" And then she was out the front door in an instant.

"Are the two of you ever going to have time for *each other*?" Mom asks me.

I smile reassuringly at her. "Yeah, Mom. It's been a little more difficult to spend time together since she got her internship at the Mayor's office, but we'll work it out."

"I know you will, honey. I was actually just teasing you a little."

"Son, you seemed a little distracted during lunch, is something on your mind?" Dad asks.

"Actually, yeah. I spoke to Chad earlier today; he said to say he missed your cooking, by the way, Mom." I'm rewarded with a happy smile at the compliment. "Anyway, he was telling me about an incident at the Daily Planet newspaper up there."

"Doesn't he work for the Star?" Dad asks.

"Yeah, but he has some friends at the Planet. Apparently some man who used to work for the space program came running in telling everyone that someone was going to sabotage the space program; that the Messenger shuttle was in trouble. I've been considering *popping* up there to take a look at things."

"You can't do that. You know what would happen if you got caught?" Dad asks me.

"Don't say it, Dad. I've got the speech memorized. They'd take me away, lock me up, do experiments on me; I'd never have a life. Does that about sum it up?"

"Yeah, I guess," he says, smiling at me.

"But what good are these powers I have if I don't use them to help when I can?"

"You do, honey," Mom says, grabbing my hand and squeezing it. "You help out all the time in Smallville, with little things that no one will notice. If you go snooping around the space program and interfere, someone's sure to notice."

I sigh. "Maybe you're right. I'll have to think about it some more. Surely I can come up with some way to help," I pause to inhale another home-baked cookie. "Well, I'd better get going. The boys down in copy will be panicking if I don't get back pretty soon. Don't work too hard this afternoon, okay? I'll see you both later."

"Us work too hard? What about you?" Mom exclaims.

"Ha. Touche. Bye, you two," I tell them, giving them each a hug.

"Oh, Clark, if the two of you think your offices can get by without you for a little while, why don't you and Lana come over Friday morning for breakfast? We can all watch the live broadcast of the Messenger's lift off together," Mom says, her voice sounding hopeful.

"I'll see what I can do."

***

"Lana was sorry she couldn't come for breakfast this morning, just too much going on today. I, however, wouldn't miss your buttermilk pancakes for anything. Isn't it about time for the launch?" I ask.

"Oh, you're right. It's supposed to go up at nine a.m.," Dad says, getting up and turning the TV on.

We all sit around the TV in rapt attention. My conversation earlier in the week with Chad comes back to my mind. Had anyone tried to sabotage the Messenger? Surely they put on extra security after that little incident. It should be about impossible for anyone to get close enough to do anything.

The countdown had started: ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, ignition… Fire! The Messenger is on fire!

"Oh, Clark!" Mom exclaims, as we sit in stunned silence watching the Messenger engulfed in flames.

I slam my fist down on the table next to me, causing the table leg to shatter. The table wobbles unsteadily on its remaining three legs.

I curse under my breath. I know better than to let my emotions get the better of me. "I'm sorry. I'll get that fixed for you."

"Don't worry about it, Son. It'll give me a little project to work on this weekend," Dad says, grabbing my shoulder and giving it a squeeze.

"Honey, are you okay?" Mom asks me.

"No, I'm not okay. See, it's things like this. If I had gone up there and inspected things, given that shuttle a *once-over*, I might have found the problem. I was warned that there might be sabotage involved. I should have listened. I should have checked it out."

"It's not your fault. You have to have a life, too. There are problems all over the world, you can't be everywhere, fix every problem," Mom tells me, trying to console me.

"Yeah, but this is big. Space Station Prometheus is running out of time. This launch, this shuttle was critical to securing the station's orbit. If sabotage really was involved then that means someone doesn't want this to succeed. Who would benefit from the failure of the space station? The failure of the space program itself?"

My parents just stare at me in silence. They don't have any words of wisdom to offer this time. I know what I have to do now. I have to go up there to Metropolis and take a look around. I might be able to see something that someone else would miss. This is too important to not help. Besides, while I'm up there, I can pay a visit to Chad.

"I've gotta go up there. You know I do," I tell them, firmly. They nod their heads at me in understanding. "Now, how to tell Lana, that's going to be the tricky part. If I take the time to tell her what's going on, she'll just try to talk me out of going. In her eyes, I'll just be a foolhardy newspaper editor going up to poke his nose in where it doesn't belong."

"She might think differently if you told her about you," Mom reminds me.

A small spot of guilt tugs at me. I haven't told Lana yet. I keep coming up with all the same reasons not to tell her, none of them really good ones. I'm basically just afraid to tell her, when it gets right down to it. I'm afraid it will scare her; I'm afraid of rejection. But it's not fair to her — I know it's not.

"Yeah. I know. I'm working on it. I'm going to tell her soon," I promise.

"Do you think she's really the *one*?" Dad asks me.

His question catches me off guard. "I love her," I say simply. "How do you ever know that someone is ?the one'?"

"Trust me, you just know. This is one of the most important decisions of your life. Your mother and I both like Lana, and we want the best for you. But she already expects so much of you. I know you love her because of how much you've given up for her. I mean, she's the reason you didn't move to Metropolis. But just make sure she's the one for you, Son, your circumstances are so special — it's going to take a special woman."

"I know, Dad. I know. I think that's part of the reason I've waited this long to tell her." I pause, remembering that we're supposed to have dinner at my apartment tonight. She isn't going to be happy. "I think I'd better just leave a message with the secretary over at the Mayor's office, for her. I can call her up and talk to her when I get to Metropolis. Then she can argue with me all she wants to. At least I'll already be up there, and she can't talk me out of going."

"Okay. Well be careful, honey," Mom says, looking worried.

"Yes. Be very careful. Don't let anyone see you doing *anything*. You should probably wait until dark to fly up there," Dad suggests. "Call us when you get settled in."

"I will and thanks. I'll talk to you both soon," I say as I walk out the front door. I'd really like to leave as soon as possible, but Dad's probably right. I should wait for the cover of darkness before I attempt the flight up to Metropolis. No point taking chances.

I better go back to the office and find a replacement to cover for me while I'm gone and make that call to the Mayor's office. I'm not looking forward to the phone conversation I'll be having tonight with Lana.

***

I wait outside the entrance to the airport, watching for Chad. I would have just flown directly to his apartment, but when I called him to tell him I was coming, he insisted on coming to pick me up at the airport.

After a few more minutes of peering over the top of my glasses, watching for him, I see his rusted-out pick-up coming a few miles away. He's had that pick-up since we were back in high school, and it was old even back then. I can't believe it's still running.

I smile and wave at him when he gets close enough to see me. He pulls over and I throw my duffle bag in the bed of his truck. I open the door and climb inside; I'm greeted by one arm thrown around my neck in a mighty one-armed bear hug.

"Clark! It's so great to see you. I can't believe it took a disaster like this to finally get you up here to see me."

I smile at him sheepishly. "Yeah, sorry about that. You know how busy I've been lately."

"Hey I'm just ribbin' ya. So, you're here. Are you tired?"

"No, not too bad."

"No jet lag?"

"Nah. I never get jet lag," I tell him. Chad has no idea how true that is. I hold back a smile.

"Well, I've got a proposition for you then."

Proposition? I raise an eyebrow at him questioningly.

"See, through my connections at the Star, I was invited to this big event tonight called the ?White Orchid Ball'. It's hosted by Lex Luthor, the richest man in Metropolis and like in the top five in the world. Anybody who's anybody is going to be there. According to the invite, I'm allowed to bring someone with me."

"Chad, don't take this the wrong way. I like you, but I don't want to date you."

I'm rewarded for my humor with a slug to the arm. "Geez, Clark. You're still as solid as a rock," Chad says, shaking his hand gingerly. "I figured as busy as you are nowadays you wouldn't find the time to work out."

"Who says I work out?"

Chad frowns at me. "Some guys get all the breaks. Born with muscles and gets all the best dates, uh… me included."

I laugh at his joke. "No, seriously, don't you have some cute girl you'd like to take with you to the ball?"

"Nada. Zippo. It's just you and me pal, if you wanna go. I figured you'd be interested because it's rumored Lex is going to make some sort of announcement about the space program at the ball."

Hmm, that did sound promising. Well, why not, no sense in an invitation being wasted. Besides, these events usually held the promise of some great food… and Lana isn't even around to chastise me for eating it. The night is looking very promising. "Okay, it's a date then. But I expect you to act like a gentleman."

"Always," Chad says snickering. "Now, let's go see if we can find you a rental place in town with a tuxedo left."

***

"So which one is Luthor?" I ask Chad, glancing around the room.

"I don't know. I've never actually seen the guy; he rarely makes public appearances. I'm sure we'll know him when we see him. There's bound to be a big ?to do' when he arrives."

As if on cue, a man begins to make a descent down the large staircase in the room. Everyone stops dancing, pauses in the conversations, and sets down that bite of food they were about to eat, in order to turn and watch the man, presumably Lex Luthor, walk down the stairs towards them.

He is an elegant, handsome looking man, with an air of definite power about him. He walks down the stairs with purpose, with an arrogant confidence. He stops briefly along the way to speak to one person or another, shaking hands and smiling.

Something in his manner or presence sends a cold chill down my spine. I'm not sure why I don't like him, it's just a weird feeling I have. Usually men with that kind of power and that kind of confidence aren't my favorite people to be around. They think they're better than the everyday man. That somehow their life, their needs, their opinions are worth more than anyone else's.

Before I can study him any further a woman's voice speaks loudly from bottom of the stairs, grabbing my attention.

"Lex Luthor, why haven't you returned my calls?"

A hush falls over the crowd and everyone turns to look at the woman. I soon locate her as well. She's stunning. She possesses an innate beauty with her hair swept up off her neck and wearing her off the shoulder gown just a little too well. She too seems to have an amazing confidence, but not arrogance. There's just a certainty about her, as if she knows exactly who she is and what she wants. And she obviously wants Luthor's attention, right at this particular moment.

I continue to watch the pair as Luthor resumes his descent and walks up to his accuser. He takes one of her hands in his and she introduces herself.

"Lois Lane. Daily Planet." Daily Planet? How intriguing. I should ask Chad about her. Maybe she knows something about the man who came there to warn about the sabotage.

I let my hearing reach out to make out Luthor's response. "I can assure you, I'll never make that mistake again," he tells her. Suave, very suave.

"Beautiful, isn't she?" Chad asks me. I flinch a little bit at his unexpected voice. I was still attuned to the other conversation, so Chad's speech accosts my enhanced hearing.

"Yes, lovely. Who is she?"

"Lois Lane. She's one of the top, if not *the* top reporter at the Daily Planet. She's the one who Samuel Platt contacted that day at the Planet."

"Samuel Platt?" I ask.

"Yeah. He's the one who reported the sabotage. I dug around and found out his name. I tried to interview him but apparently he's not willing to talk to anyone but Lois. She's already had one interview with him and he's going to turn over a bunch of research notes and documents to her, according to my source."

Interesting. So if I wanted to find anything out, I was obviously going to need to speak with Ms. Lane. "Your source? Chad you aren't even a reporter yet, why do you have sources?"

"Hey, you never know when I might get my first break." He grins at me. "I keep in touch with another gofer, Jimmy Olsen; he works for the Daily Planet. He feeds me interesting tidbits and I feed him some of our more ?off-the-wall' stories, not that we run very many of those; but he loves them. He's been known to have been caught reading the National Whisper from time to time."

I shake my head and laugh. "Those magazines are awful!"

"Yeah, I know, but they can be pretty entertaining," Chad tells me, looking off, suddenly interested in something he spots across the room. "Hey Clark, don't take this the wrong way, I mean you're great company and all, but I just spotted Ms. Catherine Grant. She's the gossip columnist at the Planet and has quite the reputation with the men-folk in journalism, if you know what I mean — at least according to Jimmy. I think I'll go introduce myself."

I nod my head at him and hide my smile. Ms. Grant wasn't likely to give a gofer like Chad the time of day, but then again Chad could be pretty charming when he wanted to be. Who knows?

Once Chad is back out of sight again, I direct my hearing back to Luthor and Ms. Lane's conversation. She is the one talking.

"I hope you'll forgive me for being so bold, but…"

"Boldness is a trait I find very attractive in a woman, Ms. Lane," Luthor interrupts her.

Oh good grief.

She smiles prettily at him. Please tell me you're smarter than that Ms. Lane, I think to myself.

"Oh, thank you. Anyway, I was wondering, Mr. Luthor…"

"Lex."

I roll my eyes. Quit interrupting her and let her talk, I silently berate him.

"Lex, I know you're hesitant to give interviews…"

"I hope you can understand, a man in my position." Aaah, there he goes again. "I wouldn't want to be misinterpreted, and I have had one or two bad experiences with the media…"

"But not with me," Ms. Lane interrupts him. Good for you.

I cautiously allow myself to float just a little bit above the floor in hopes of peeking in on them a little. Success. Luthor is smiling handsomely at her, an amused twinkle in his eye. She is just a diversion to him, obviously.

"Why don't we make it dinner?" Luthor proposes.

I shake my head. Yep, I can't quite pinpoint it, but something about this guy really gets under my skin. I decide to see if I can get an introduction to Ms. Lane by introducing myself ? and maybe sucking up a little bit ? to Luthor.

I head over to where the couple is dancing and stride boldly up to Luthor. "Mr. Luthor," I say, extending my right hand. He gives me a look of slight annoyance, but probably not wanting to make a scene, he stops dancing with Ms. Lane and takes my proffered hand. "Clark Kent," I continue. "I just wanted to express my gratitude at being able to attend this magnificent event. You really do know how to make a night an eventful one."

"Thank you, Mr. Kent."

I nod at him and turn to Ms. Lane. "Sorry to have interrupted your dance, Miss…" I throw a meaningful glance at Luthor and to my surprise he indulges me.

"Ms. Lois Lane of the Daily Planet."

"Ah, Ms. Lane. I'm familiar with your work. Well pardon me for my interruption. Enjoy your evening," I tell both of them, pouring on the charm. I wouldn't have been nearly so good at this if Lana hadn't dragged me to all those political functions and parties at the Mayor's office. I was actually beginning to feel comfortable around celebrity types. They weren't too hard to figure out. Just woo them and charm them and throw out lots of compliments and then they generally didn't mind being gracious.

I walk off leaving them to dance, but I keep my hearing on them anyway. The conversation was sure to be more interesting than anything else going on at the party.

I find myself surprised to hear Luthor excuse himself from Ms. Lane. I turn to watch him head off in another direction, leaving her standing alone amongst the other dancing couples. I start to turn away… oh well, why not? Maybe I could get some information from her.

I walk up behind her and start talking, "I believe it takes two people to correctly execute this dance, Ms. Lane. May I?"

She turns around to face me and regards me with a calculating gaze. "Mr. Kent, right?" she asks me.

"That's right," I tell her as I boldly take her hand in mine and slip my other arm around her waist. She lifts her free hand and places it softly on my shoulder and we begin to move to the music.

"You know, I really should be mad at you for interrupting my dance earlier with Lex."

"Why aren't you?" I ask her, curious to what her answer will be.

She shrugs. "Maybe because I already got what I wanted from him."

"And what is that?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but a confirmed interview. It's taken me almost a year, but I finally got him cornered. He rarely gives interviews but he's going to give me one, and I'm going to make the most of it."

"You are ambitious for a woman your age."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asks, pulling back, trying to halt our dance. I don't let her. I pull her back in and resume the dance.

"Nothing at all. You have quite an impressive resume and are very accomplished for a woman as young as you are."

"Oh… Thank you. It's easy. I mean, it isn't. It's hard work, but it's easy when you know what you want."

"And you do?"

"Yes."

"Exactly?"

"…Yes." She hesitates just briefly this time, but I pick up on it.

"I see. And what do you want?"

"My first Pulitzer by the time I'm thirty." Wow! She is ambitious. "Mr. Kent…"

"Please, call me Clark."

"Okay, Clark. I don't mean to be rude, but if I'm going to get that first Pulitzer, I'm going to have to get back to my job."

"And that is?"

"Being an investigative reporter. And right now my story is Luthor. If you'll excuse me, I think it's time I do some looking around."

"Not at all. Do you mind if I tag along?" I ask.

She looks at me, curiosity written plainly on her face, possibly mixed with a little annoyance. "Why?"

"I used to be a reporter myself. I'm currently the editor for a small paper in Kansas. It's a good job, but I miss those days of gathering information, following up on leads, you know, the fun stuff. I might be a little rusty but maybe I can be of some assistance?"

She looks at me skeptically. "If you're from Kansas, what are you doing all the way up here? And at the White Orchid Ball, no less?"

"Oh, actually I came up to visit a friend, Chad Wilson, he works for the Metropolis Star."

"Ah, so you're a spy for a rival paper." I can't read the expression on her face. Is she teasing me, or does she actually think I'm a spy?

"Uh, no. I'm not a big fan of the Star, Ms. Lane."

"You can call me Lois."

"Okay, Lois. Chad actually wanted to get on at the Daily Planet when he moved up here but there weren't any openings. Anyway, he was telling me about the incident with Samuel Platt and the supposed sabotage."

Her eyebrows go up slightly at the mention of Mr. Platt. I continue, "When the shuttle blew up, I decided to come up here and visit Chad and see if I could do a small story on it for our paper back home. But back to your original question, I'm at the Ball tonight because Chad had an invitation and brought me as his date." I wink at her.

This time it's her turn to look a little confused, and maybe slightly shocked. I almost chuckle. "I'm kidding. Well, I mean he did bring me, but only because he couldn't find an actual date to bring."

If I didn't have enhanced-hearing I would have never heard her, but as it is, I hear her mumble under her breath, "Yeah, join the club." I smile to myself. All work and no play make Lois Lane a very… *intriguing* woman. What makes her tick? There has to be something besides work.

"So, back to my original question," I remind her. "Do you care if I tag along?"

"It's a free country, you can come along — just don't get in my way. But if we find anything interesting, I'd better not see it printed up in some small town paper before I can get my copy turned in." No confusion with the look on her face this time. She's dead serious.

I follow her down a hallway to a set of double doors that are closed. She brazenly opens them and waltzes inside as if she owns the place. I shake my head in wonder at this fascinating woman.

"Are you sure this is a good idea? Luthor might not be…"

"If he really didn't want people in here, he would have locked the door. Right? I heard he was giving private tours earlier. I just missed mine and I'm catching up. Look, Kent, you don't have to come. I didn't ask you to."

I sigh, conceding to her point. "What are we looking for in particular?" I ask.

"Anything of interest. Just poke around and see what you can find."

I see something that catches my interest almost immediately, an ornate and exquisite display of ancient weaponry ? swords, pistols, even a primitive looking crossbow.

I bend down to examine the collection more thoroughly feeling my heartstrings tug with slight regret at deciding not to take more of those trips I had planned after college, those trips to other continents, other countries, other cultures. I had taken a few, but not nearly as many as I had originally planned to. My plans had changed. I had chosen instead to be with Lana.

Lana! Yikes! I'm going to have to cut this party short so I can get back to Chad's place and give her a call. She's going to be steamed.

I turn around and almost run right into the tip of a sword that's being pointed directly at me. The man holding the sword is Luthor, calm and cool as a cucumber. So that's how he wants to play it huh? Two can play that game. "Macedonian," I remark nonchalantly.

Luthor nods his head at me. "Yes. It belonged to Alexander the Great, a brilliant tactician." He lowers the sword and turns it around to me, presenting it for my inspection.

I take the sword from him and look it over, admiring the beauty in the craftsmanship.

"Alexander's strategy was simple; always control the high ground. It was with this sword that he…"

"…defeated Darius the third and was proclaimed King of Asia," I say, interrupting him.

He raises his eyebrows in appraisal of me. "You surprise me Mr. Kent. I'm not often surprised."

Before I can reply, Ms. Lane comes back into the room and regards the two of us cautiously. "I hope you don't mind Mr. Kent and I looking around, we were just admiring your beautiful home."

Of course he minds. I can sense it. But he isn't going to tell Ms. Lane that. I get the feeling that he respects her and is possibly, no probably, attracted to her.

"Have you seen the view from up here?" Luthor asks, sidestepping the question. He holds out a hand to Ms. Lane inviting her to follow him out onto the balcony. My invitation was not expressly extended but I follow them anyway, out of curiosity.

"Tallest building in Metropolis. I must confess a certain pleasure in knowing that everyone has to look up in order to see me."

Ms. Lane smiles indulgently at him while I roll my eyes. He's not at all vain, is he?

"Let's get back to the party. I think my announcement will interest you." He holds out his hand to me directing me to step back inside.

"After you," I tell him, again all charm. Ah yes, the announcement. I had almost forgotten Chad mentioning that. Well, maybe that phone call to Lana could wait just a little longer. I follow Ms. Lane and Luthor back into the main guest area. This should prove to be interesting.

***

As soon as I can hear Chad's soft breathing and confirm that he's asleep, I slide comfortably down onto his couch and pick up the phone. Lana is going to be hacked at me for not calling sooner, but I didn't know that Luthor's little announcement was going to take so long. I had wanted to talk a little more with Ms. Lane about Samuel Platt, but she had gotten swept away by other members of the Daily Planet and I had left with Chad to come home.

I then had to spend a significant amount of time recounting the events of my evening to Chad, particularly to console him after the rejection he'd received from Ms. Grant. Poor guy.

But now, finally, I have peace and quiet and I could devote myself to Lana, even though I was dreading it. Charm. Remember charm.

I dial her number and wait. Kansas is a time zone behind Metropolis, so she shouldn't be in bed yet. It was late, but at least I wouldn't be waking her up.

"Hello?" came her voice.

"Lana, it's Clark."

"So you did call. I had finally decided you'd lost your nerve."

I can't help it; I clear my throat a little, nervously. "Ahem, ha ha, you're funny. No, I just got caught late at a little function I attended with Chad. Sorry. I would have called you from there, but it was so loud and busy, I knew I wouldn't be able to have a coherent conversation with you."

"Well, you get points for at least *wanting* to have a coherent conversation with me. I figured you'd be trying to avoid me like the plague."

"Now why would I do that?"

"You know why," she reprimanded me and then she started in with a proper scolding. "Clark, how could you do this? We're supposed to be a couple. A couple that is thinking seriously about getting married. How could you just run off like that without at least talking with me first?"

"I really didn't have time to propose an Act of Congress," I try for a little humor.

She's not amused. "If we're going to trust one another we have to be open, honest with one another. Willing to share everything."

Her words cut me a little. If she's upset about this, how is she going to react when I tell her about me, about the real me? I feel sweat breaking out on my palms. Not good. Definitely not good.

"I know, Lana. Believe me, I know, and I'm sorry. Chad had called me earlier this week to let me know that someone had reported to the Daily Planet that the space program was being sabotaged. Then the shuttle blew up this morning. I just wanted to come up and check things out. Dig around a little."

"Chad? I should have known he was behind this. You know he really needs to find a girl and settle down."

I chuckle a little to try and lighten the mood. She takes the bait and joins me.

"But seriously, Clark, what do you think you're going to do up there? You aren't a reporter anymore. You're an editor and a good one. You're needed at your own paper."

"I know, and I won't be gone long. But the paper has my cell phone if they need to get in touch with me. Smallville is usually pretty quiet; I think they'll be fine without me for a couple of days. The space program is something that is very dear to my heart, and I just want to do my part, know what I mean?"

"Yeah, sure, I guess. Just don't forget about something else that's hopefully dear to your heart, okay?"

"Lana, how could I ever forget you?" I ask her sweetly.

"Hmm, I miss you horribly. Hurry home."

"Love you, Lana. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Okay, bye."

"Bye."

I frown at the phone as I hang it up. Something dad said to me earlier in the day comes to my mind. ?Is she really the *one*? …She expects so much from you.'

How much more is she going to expect when she finds out about me? What is she going to do when I tell her? She already worries about me enough as it is and is way too protective. She'll want me to hide away from the rest of the world… never use my powers. And that's just not something I'm prepared to do.

I sigh heavily. If I know Lana there's going to be a bigger fallout from this than a nuclear bomb. At least I get to hide from it for a little while longer, at least while I'm in Metropolis.

?Is she really the one?'

Yes. Isn't she?

***

Pop Tarts, cold cereal, Fig Newtons, and a banana. Chad is a great friend, but definitely a bachelor. I crinkle my nose a little. At least if he'd had some Twinkies, Ding-dongs, or Ho- Ho's that would have been something. I opt for the closest thing and grab a Pop Tart.

As I head for the front door, I leave a note on Chad's entry table. If I'm going to try and talk to Lois Lane at the Daily Planet this morning, I need to get there early. I know her type, she wouldn't waste time talking to me once things got busy. I'll try and catch up with Chad later, at the Metropolis Star, unless he catches up with me first.

It's still early in the morning so there's enough darkness that I risk a short flight over to the Planet to save some time. I land a few blocks away and begin a relaxing walk towards my destination. As I walk I think about the events from last night. I definitely have good reason for not liking Luthor, and not trusting him. My suspicions about him were confirmed when he unveiled his plans for launching his own space station, ?Luthor'.

It wasn't much to go on right now, but it definitely put Luthor on my short list for those who would benefit from the failure of space station Prometheus.

I'm jolted out of my thoughts by an explosion a short distance away. I quicken my pace to see what's going on and quickly locate the problem. Smoke is billowing out of an open manhole.

"There's a man down there! Call the fire department!" A city worker yells.

I hang back, watching the open manhole. Come on… Be okay… Find your way out. No such luck. I don't see or hear any movement from the manhole.

People are beginning to crowd in around the manhole, looking down with concerned faces. There's no way I can help without revealing myself.

"Back off! One of my men is down there!" the same worker shouts. He must be the supervisor. "Where are the fire trucks! Hurry up! He's dying down there!"

Dying? I realize I have to help him. I step back away from the crowd, looking around. I spot another manhole not too far away. No one seems to be paying much attention to that area, everyone's is too busy eyeing the disaster unfolding in front of them.

At the fastest speed I can muster, I shoot down the manhole and locate the injured worker. He's pinned under some rubble and probably has a broken leg. I scan it quickly. Yep, it's broken. I scan the rest of him. He'll be okay once he gets to the hospital, but the sooner he gets there the better. Doing my best to stay behind the man where he can't see me, I lift him up and float him up through the opening of the manhole everyone's watching. Once the men have a good hold on him, I let go and shoot back down the tunnel and out the other manhole.

After I put the manhole cover back in place and try to dust myself off a little ? this suit is probably ruined — I walk back over to the crowd of people to inspect my handiwork.

"You okay?" the supervisor was asking the injured worker.

The worker coughs and then squints his eyes open. His eyes meet with mine briefly and they widen. Uh, oh. Does he recognize me? How? It was so dark down there. I was careful!

"That man! He saved me!" the worker cries.

Everyone turns to look at me. I hold my hands up in a defensive gesture. "I… He's delirious," I offer as an explanation.

I turn to walk off before anyone can ask any more questions and I run headfirst into Lois Lane.

"Ummpfff," we both exclaim. The force from our impact catches her off guard and she stumbles backwards. I reach out, grabbing her hand to keep her from falling.

"Ms. Lane? I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" I ask.

"Lois," she reminds me. "Uh, yeah, I think" she says, rubbing her shoulder. I wince. She definitely got the worse end of the collision.

She looks down at my hand, still clasping hers. "Thanks," she says, flashing an awkward smile at me. I didn't realize I was still holding it.

I give it a slight squeeze and nod my head at her. "You're welcome."

She smiles at me and then looks down at my suit. She does a double-take. "What happened?" she asks, pointing at it.

Yikes. "I don't know. I must have been too close when the explosion happened. I think I'll have a hard time finding a dry cleaner who can get this out." Will she buy it?

She buys it. "Yeah, I think that one's headed for the landfill. Too bad too, it was a nice suit."

"Uh, thanks. Believe it or not, I was actually on my way to see you."

She regards me with a little apprehension. Does she think I'm… what? Interested in her? My mind recoils in shock… am I? No, no of course not. I came here to talk about Mr. Platt and the sabotage. Nothing else. Get a grip, Clark. You just miss Lana.

Now, how best to get my foot in the door. If I just come out and ask her if I can accompany her on an interview with Platt, she'll be suspicious. She'll think I'm somehow trying to steal her story, especially since Chad works for the Star. "Yes. I was hoping you could give me a tour of the Daily Planet."

She stares at me for a couple of seconds and then blinks. "A tour? I don't think…"

"Yeah. For several years I had actually planned to move to Metropolis and try to get on with the Daily Planet. Chad and I were college roommates; we were going to move up here together."

"So what happened? He made it up here, why didn't you?"

I'm not sure why, but for some reason I don't want to introduce Lana into the picture right now. "Just had some personal reasons that kept me from moving. I've always kind of regretted it though. It was a dream of mine for a long time to work for a paper like the Daily Planet."

Lois smiles at me pleasantly. "I know just your type, Clark. You're a dreamer."

"Am I?"

"Yes you are. Cute farm boy from Kansas dreaming of life in the big city. Okay, I think I might have enough time to give you that tour you're wanting, if we hurry. Come on."

Cute? She thinks I'm cute?

***

"Wait here just a minute," Lois tells me and walks over to a desk, probably hers. The phone is ringing there and she answers it. While she's talking, I look around the newsroom and take it in. I love the excitement, the *vibe* that I feel from it — The voices talking all at once, the people scurrying around busily, the smell of strong coffee and fresh donuts. Mmm, donuts. Now there's something I haven't had in a while.

I start walking towards the smell of a freshly baked cinnamon donut, when a voice catches the attention of my enhanced- hearing.

"Mmm, who's the new tight-end?" a woman asks. I discreetly glance around me to locate the voice. It's coming from an attractive, vivacious-looking young woman who is scantily dressed. I can tell by the look on Lois's face that she's the one who'd been asked the question. Her eyebrows are knitted together in a frown.

"Why don't you just throw your usual forward pass and find out?" Lois tells her, and then looks aghast as the woman heads off in my direction. I get the feeling Lois doesn't like her a whole lot.

"Hi. Catherine Grant, ?Cat's Corner'," she says, extending her hand in a gesture that would almost indicate she wants me to kiss it. Hah! So this is Catherine Grant, the woman Chad had sought after ? and had been rejected by — last night.

"Pleased to meet you Ms. Grant…"

"Cat," she says, making a biting motion at the end of the T sound, and moving closer to me. Yikes, this woman is aggressive.

"Cat," I mimic back at her. "Clark Kent, Editor of the Smallville Post." I take her still outstretched hand and give it a hearty shake. Then I step back a little to put some distance between us.

She looks a little disappointed at my efforts to sidestep her advances. "Smallville Post, where's that? Kansas?" she remarks snidely.

"Yes, actually, ever been there?" I ask.

She looks slightly embarrassed. "Uh, no."

"Well it's nowhere near the size of Metropolis of course, but we are proud to have two newspapers, the Smallville Post and Press. I might sound partial, but I believe the quality of writing at our paper is definitely better. We don't run a lot of those gossip articles like the Press does." I give her a significant look.

She takes it in stride and lets it roll off her back. "So tell me, Clark, what brings you to Metropolis and what's a cute guy like you doing hanging around with ?ole Lois here?" she asks loudly enough for Lois to hear her. She glances over at Lois and gives her a pitiable look. Lois looks like she might like to get into a *catfight*.

"Well, actually," I proceed to tell her, "I'm here to see a friend of mine, Chad Wilson, perhaps you've met him? Maybe last night at the ?White Orchid Ball'?" I ask her, giving her a knowing look. Her face pales slightly. Yep, she remembers him. "Anyway, I wanted a tour of the Daily Planet and I asked Lois if she'd give me one. I know she's a highly respected reporter here and figured she'd be the best person to ask."

I may have rattled her a little bit, but not much, and it didn't last long. "Well, sure, Clark, if you want the librarian's tour. But you come look me up if you want to know the really *juicy* stuff that goes on around here, okay? Nice to meet you." And with that she walks off, still eyeballing me.

I walk over to Lois's desk where she is still standing, scowling. "Wow," I say to her.

"Yeah, I guess, if you like her type," she responds, looking disgusted.

"No, that's not what I mean. She's not my type. I just meant… She's so… forward. Is she that way with everyone?"

"Usually. If they have a Y chromosome."

Ouch, poor Chad. I'll definitely make sure he doesn't find *that* little tidbit out. He'd be down in the dumps for days. Although, in his defense, I'd seen dozens of guys clamoring all over Cat last night, so he probably didn't get a chance to make much of an impression on her. Well, I threw his name out there. She'd remember him now, if he ever works up the nerve to talk to her again.

The look on Lois's face seems to indicate that she's pleased I didn't fall for Cat's charms. I grin to myself. Definitely a little rivalry there, for some reason. She walks over and takes me by the arm leading me further on our tour.

"And, Mr. Editor, here is *our* editor-in-chief's office. Mr. Perry White," Lois tells me, waving at her editor through the glass. Mr. White waves back at her, turning his wave into an invitation into his office. She walks into his office, motioning me to follow her.

"Lois, did Jimmy find you yet?" Mr. White asks her and then seems to finally notice me as I shut his door. "Who's this?"

"No, not yet, Perry. This is Clark Kent, editor of… I'm sorry Clark, I actually don't think I caught the name of your paper."

"It's the Smallville Post in Kansas, Mr. White. I'm honored to get to meet you. I used to dream of working as a reporter for the Daily Planet. I was up here visiting a friend and met Ms. Lane at the White Orchid Ball. I asked her if she'd indulge me with a tour. But I can see you are all very busy this morning on that shuttle explosion. Maybe I'd better cut my tour short, I don't want to take up any more of your time." I reach out to shake his hand.

"Oh, uh, that's okay. I'm sure we have a few minutes we can spare. It's always nice to meet a fellow newspaper editor," Perry tells me, giving my hand a firm shake.

"Well actually I was a reporter before I became an editor," I tell him.

"Same with me," he tells me. "Do you miss it?"

"Don't you? The excitement? The hunt?" I ask.

"Boy, you know it," he admits.

We all share a knowing look and then Mr. White's office door is thrown open and a young man comes running in carrying an odd assortment of papers and notes piled together, all different sizes, colors, and shapes. "Lois! Here you are! I got them."

"Got them?" she asks him.

"Platt's notes. I picked them up from him earlier. I was going to take a copy of the report over to my buddy at S.T.A.R Labs to analyze but I can't make any sense out of any of this. If you can piece it together, let me know and I'll run a copy over to him." He hands the stack of papers to Lois and then turns to look at me.

"Hi, Clark Kent," I introduce myself and extend my hand.

"Jimmy Olsen. Nice to meet you," he says with a quick shake and then turns back to Lois. "Now don't forget; if you can get that stuff pieced together before tomorrow morning that would really be helpful. My friend at S.T.A.R. Labs is leaving town on vacation the day after tomorrow. So it's tomorrow or nothing."

"Here Jimmy, before you leave, take this article and run it back out over to Pete in Sports. There are more holes in this piece than you can find on a golf course," Mr. White says, shoving a paper at Jimmy.

"Sure thing, Chief." Jimmy takes the paper and starts to leave but stops and turns to me. "Clark Kent? Chad Wilson's friend?"

I nod my head at him.

"Tell him I said hi and that I want my copy of ?Bikes and Babes' back just as soon as he's through with it." And with that he rushes out of the office. ?Bikes and Babes'? I'd have to rib Chad about that one later.

Lois is busy flipping through the papers in her hands, a look of annoyance on her face. "Why is it all scientists are so smart but they can't keep a decent journal for their notes? This is a mess! It'll take me all day and all night to wade through this and piece it together by myself."

"Do you want some help?" I ask. Lois and Mr. White both turn to stare at me and then look at each other.

"The friend I'm visiting is at work today and I don't have much going on," I explain. "It would give me something to do. It sure looks like you could use the help, and maybe I could write a sidebar on the story for my paper… after you've published your story of course." I hold my breath.

"Well, you did say you'd always wanted to work for the Planet. If you're willing to donate your time, I don't see that we can turn you down," Mr. White says, looking at Lois for confirmation.

She looks unsure at first. I flash her a warm smile and she seems to soften a little. "I guess I could use the help. Come on, there's an empty desk across from mine we can put you at," she says, turning to leave Perry's office.

I follow closely on her heels.

***

"I'm starving!" Lois exclaims. "I wish I knew a good Chinese take-out."

We've been at these notes all day, trying to re-work them into something legible. I'm sure she really is starving. In truth I'd like to have a break too, and I can't remember the last time I've had some really good Chinese. It has too much MSG for Lana.

"Yeah, I could use a break. I think I remember Chad mentioning a good place. I'll be right back," I tell her, getting up from my chair.

"Wait. Don't you want to know what I want?"

"Nah. I'll bring an assortment."

I make my way downstairs and out the front door of the Planet. It's dark outside so a quick trip to China shouldn't be too risky.

I fly at top speed there and back, finding appropriate alleyways to land in and take-off from. I look down at the cartons in my hands as I walk back inside the Planet. Surely there will be something in here she'll like.

As I walk off the elevator into the newsroom, Lois looks up at me. I can see the surprise in her eyes.

"That was quick."

"I took a short cut." I set the food containers down on her desk and she begins tearing into them eagerly.

"Mmm, it smells great!" She grabs an eggroll and hungrily takes a bite. "Wow! Clark, this is out of this world," she exclaims.

Well, not actually, just out of this country. I smile at her. "So, did you piece together any more of the report while I was gone?" I ask, digging into one of the containers.

"No, you weren't actually gone long enough to give me a chance," she says quickly, in between inhaling bites of food. "Thanks, Clark. This really hit the spot."

I nod my head at her, my mouth too full of Chinese noodles to say anything. Mmm, these are so good. I had forgotten how much I missed them. Although, if I'd just suck it up and let Lana in on my secret, then I wouldn't have to eat all that health food she keeps force-feeding me.

After a few more minutes of silence and Lois devouring several more items, she starts talking again. "You know what I think I'm gonna do? I think I'm going to take all these notes over to Dr. Platt's and ask him to help me decipher them. I should have just done that in the first place. It would have saved you a tediously boring day."

"I wouldn't say the day was boring, at all," I tell her honestly.

On the contrary, I can't remember a day where I've felt more alive, more useful, more… happy, than I've been today. Not in a long time. Sometimes I get the feeling I'm not cut out to be an editor.

I look up at Lois to find her smiling at me. It's not your run of the mill smile, either. I feel a heat starting deep inside me — I'm definitely attracted to her. I glance at her left hand. No ring.

"It's getting pretty late," I tell her, looking at my watch. "If you are going to go by and see Dr. Platt, I'd like to accompany you. I just need to call and let Chad know to leave me a key under the mat."

"Oh, really, that's not necessary. I've already imposed on your vacation time enough as it is."

"It's not an imposition. I want to go." And I do. I *really* want to go. She smiles a little nervously at me, and then we sit in silence for a while, finishing our dinners.

I decide to break the silence first. I'm taking a risk, but something in me just really wants to get to know her better. "So I know all about your professional aspirations from our conversation last night. What about your personal ones?" I ask her.

I can tell the question takes her by surprise. I cringe, hoping I didn't put her on the defensive.

"I can't say that I really have any. At least not right now."

"Really? Not interested in marriage? A family? That sort of thing? I'm assuming you aren't married."

"No. Are you?"

Ouch. Difficult question. No, I'm not married. But if I simply say that and nothing more, could that be construed as ?leading her on'? I'm definitely in a relationship. In fact, I'm in a serious relationship. What do I think I'm doing? I should come clean with her right now.

I should. But, I don't. "No. I'm not."

She nods her head at me and looks down at the fortune cookie she's turning over and over in her hands. Am I making her… nervous? She finally stops playing with it and breaks it apart. She pulls out the fortune and looks like she's trying to read it.

"Oh, see, I hate that," she says, sounding frustrated.

"What?" I ask.

"It's in Chinese," she says, frowning.

I take the paper from her and read it. "A good horse is like a member of the family." I look up and note the stunned disbelief on her face.

"You can read Chinese? How? …Why?"

"During the summers when I was in college I would take trips to various countries. One of my other aspirations, besides working for the Planet, was to travel the world, and I managed to make it to a few places." I notice the impressed look she has on her face. "I had studied up on several languages in preparation. Chinese was one of them," I tell her, hoping she'll leave it at that.

She looks like she wants to press me further but instead she takes the fortune back from me, wads it up, and throws it away. "*That* is not a fortune."

An uncontrollable laugh escapes from my lips. It feels good. When I'm around Lana I have so many inhibitions, but around Lois I feel so… myself.

Lois smiles and we lock eyes for a moment, a long moment. She breaks the contact first and looks like she wants to say something to me, but she doesn't. What could it have been, I wonder?

"I'm going to call Chad and let him know I'll need a key to get in," I tell her.

"Oh, okay. I think I'll make a quick trip to the ladies room before we head off to see Dr. Platt." I'm not sure why but I get the distinct feeling that she's really going to get some air. I know I feel like I need to. Nothing sounds better right now than a quick flight around the block.

***

"It was awful, Mom," I whisper into the phone, trying not to wake Chad.

Today is his day off and he'll want to sleep in late this morning. If he hadn't set his alarm clock he'd probably sleep till noon. I honestly don't see how anyone could actually sleep that late; I don't care how late you stayed out the night before.

I'm probably just jealous, though. I wish I could have slept in this morning — Lois and I were up late last night. But I had to get up since Lois said she'd swing by and pick me up. I couldn't turn down a ride with her to the Planet.

"I'm afraid there's definitely more going on here than a simple mechanical malfunction. Dr. Platt believed there was sabotage involved and he died for that belief."

"So you don't think it was suicide?" she asks.

"No, definitely not. After talking with Lois and hearing some of the things he had told her, I think someone was trying to silence him. I think I'd better stick around here a few more days and see if I can get to the bottom of this."

"Clark?" Dad's voice joins the conversation.

"Hi, Dad."

"What was this about a worker caught in an explosion down a manhole? Your mother told me he recognized you."

"It's okay Dad, he was barely conscious and no one believed him when he pointed at me. I said he was delirious."

"Maybe, but one of these days you're going to pulls a stunt like that and some nut wit a video camera is going to…"

"What would you have wanted him to do? Let that poor man die?" Mom interrupts him. "Clark, did you pack enough clothes with you? I bet those clothes weren't salvageable after that rescue."

"Don't change the subject…" Dad pipes up.

"Hey, hold on you two. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. What if something like this shuttle disaster happens and I do want to help. If I try to help with something that big, with that many people watching, I'm going to expose myself. This might sound like a crazy question, but… Mom? How's your old sewing machine? Is it still working okay?"

"Yeah. I think so."

"Well, here's what I'm thinking. What if I had some kind of outfit…"

"Outfit?" Dad asks.

"Yeah. Like a disguise. Something I could wear when I want to help and I'm going to be seen. Then, I could…" I'm interrupted by a soft knock at the door. "Mom, Dad, I have to go. Lois is here and I'm still not dressed yet."

"Lois is there?" Mom asks.

"Yeah. She offered to come by and pick me up on her way to work. I volunteered to help her out on this story some more. I told her I was too involved to quit now. I didn't realize what time it was. Would you let Lana know what I've found out and tell her I'll call her again later tonight? Tell her I'm sorry. Thanks."

"Bye, Son," they say in unison.

"Bye."

I walk to the door, putting on my glasses as I go. I look down at the towel around my waist. Not really appropriate attire to answer the door in but I'm afraid if I take the time to dress, Lois will give up on me and leave. It's not like I can just throw something on ? I need to sort through my clothes and see if I have any left that can be salvaged. Between the few rescues I've made, quick flights I've taken, and the trip into the mud last night, my wardrobe choices are growing thin. I reach out hesitantly and open the door.

I follow Lois's gaze from my face, down to my waist, and back up again. "I said nine. I thought you'd be naked… Erm, ready." Her face is bright red with heat. She looks like she's pretty freshly out of the shower herself; I can smell the light flowery fragrance of soap on her. I feel some heat of my own starting, but not in my face.

"I was on the phone, sorry. Chad's still asleep and I was afraid if I didn't answer the door you'd either knock again and wake him up, or leave. I'll be right back," I say as I walk away and head for the bathroom. I need to get out of this towel, for both our sakes; it's way too revealing.

When I come back into the room, Lois is sitting on the couch staring ? dreamily? — up at the ceiling. What is she thinking about, I wonder? I cause myself to blush. "Ahem," I clear my throat.

Lois jumps up from the couch like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar. "So…" she says.

"So," I answer her.

"How often do you have to work out to stay in that kind of shape?"

"I don't. I don't have the time."

"Ugh. Must be nice to look that great and not even have to try."

"Do you work out?"

"Some, not enough. Same problem, no time."

"Well, I think for just ?some' that you look pretty great yourself," I say and smile at her. She smiles back at me, a little color coming into her cheeks again.

I mentally kick myself for my audacity. I have got to get a handle on this. What about Lana? Somewhere a voice in my head asks me, ?But is she really the one?'

Agh! I can't think about this right now. What's wrong with me? I feel like such a heel.

"Uh, well, we'd better get going before Perry sends out a search team looking for me," she tells me.

I nod my head and follow her out the door.

***

It's been a long day. Lois has been on the phone all day, following up leads and tracking down information. I'd spent my day compiling information for her and interviewing Mrs. Platt; her visit had been insightful.

She had come here to the Planet personally to talk about her husband's death. She and her husband had been separated for a while; she said he'd left because he was trying to protect her and their daughter. He thought someone was after him, and now, she's pretty sure he was right. She doesn't think her husband committed suicide anymore than we do.

The Congress of Nations had made an announcement that they were going to proceed with Space Station Prometheus and had declined to support the launch of Luthor's personal space station. I am positive that news isn't going to set well with Luthor.

That announcement has put the pressure on me to find out for sure what is really going on. I don't want to see another disaster like with the shuttle. The colonist launch for the space station is scheduled for next week. That doesn't give me a lot of time to figure this out, especially just by following Lois around ? as much as I may enjoy that. I'm going to have to do a little digging on my own.

I get up from the desk on loan to me in search of Lois and bump into Jimmy instead.

"Hey, CK."

I grin at the nickname Jimmy came up with. He's a cute kid. Reminds me a little of bit of Steven back at the paper in Smallville. Jimmy lacks that same kind of confidence that Steven does. "Hey, Jimmy."

"Have you seen Lois?"

Before I can answer, Lois answers for me. "I'm back, Jimmy. What'd ya need?"

"Since Platt wasn't able to help us decipher his notes any further, I went ahead and gave a copy of them to my friend at S.T.A.R. Labs. They did a recreation of the launch in a hologram, it was real smooth. Anyway, they concluded that Platt's theory is right on. There was deliberate sabotage. The transport explosion was no accident. Congrats."

I look at Lois. I can tell from the look on her face that she's overjoyed. I start to mention something when she cuts me off.

"He was right! Platt was right! Now I can write the story and we can stop them! Where's Perry?" She is flying so high that I really hate to bring her down.

"Lois?" I say her name.

"Perry!" she hollers. She runs up to a co-worker sitting just a few feet away. "Carl, have you seen Perry?"

"Lois?" I try again.

"No, can't say I have. I've been too busy to notice who's here and who isn't," Carl replies, sounding a little irritated.

"Has anyone seen Perry?" Lois asks no one in particular, out of frustration.

"Lois!" I raise my voice just a tad, trying to get her attention.

"What?" she responds, finally hearing me.

"You don't want to take this to Perry, not yet," I tell her.

"Why not?" she asks, looking suspicious. Why is she always so suspicious of me? Is she just that way with everyone? I'd really like to find a way to earn her trust.

"Because we don't have any actual solid proof to back up the story. Perry will turn it down without a moment's hesitation."

"Is that the editor in you talking?" she asks me.

I sigh. "Yes. If it were the reporter in me talking, I'd be just as excited as you are. But I know Perry can't run with this. You might as well save yourself the frustration of asking him."

"So what do you propose that we do?" she asks me, folding her arms in front of her.

"Go out and get him the solid proof he'll need. Let's see if someone at EPRAD will let us in to examine the wreckage from the shuttle," I offer.

"Ha. Good luck with that," Lois tells me. "I've already been to EPRAD and talked with a woman there, Dr. Baines. Pretty smug. I couldn't get anywhere with her. I say we go down there on our own and do some snooping around. Jimmy go grab your camera." Jimmy obediently runs off in search of his equipment.

"That sounds a little dangerous," I tell her.

"We're investigative reporters. We investigate. We do what needs to be done to get the story. Now are you coming with me or aren't you?"

"Right now? Shouldn't we wait until it gets dark?" I ask, a little more than concerned. It would be nice to have that disguise I had proposed to my mom ? it might come in handy if we go breaking in somewhere we aren't wanted. But I don't have it, so I'll just have to make sure we're careful.

"Yeah, you're probably right. Better to go when it gets dark," she agrees.

"Then why don't we go get some dinner while we're waiting for it to get dark?" I ask her. Gah! What am I saying? I'm practically asking her out on a date. Clark, you idiot! Lana will kill you if she ever finds out.

Lois looks at me, her face a flurry of emotions. I can see hesitancy, fear, hope, but also… desire? This isn't right. I open my mouth to say something and the look on her face changes ? to disappointment. I'm sure she can see the question mark written all over my face.

"Oh, I can't," she tells me, sounding regretful.

"Why not?" I ask, curious. I should just leave it alone, this is really what I needed to hear; it lets me off the hook.

"Um," she fidgets a little. "I already have that dinner interview with Lex Luthor tonight."

I feel my blood run cold. I had forgotten about her obtaining that interview with him. I hate to see her go out with him. He's slimy and I just don't trust him. "A date you mean," I accuse her.

"No!" she exclaims. "An interview. That's all it is. Strictly business."

"Sure it is," I say sulkily. What *is* wrong with me? This is not your girlfriend, I tell myself. You don't have the right to tell her who she can and can't go out with. You would do better to keep your mind on your own girlfriend.

"What do you mean by that?" she asks pointedly, narrowing her eyes at me slightly.

Uh-oh. She's starting to get upset, and this is not a woman I want to have upset with me. I'm being irrational and foolish about this. "Nothing, Lois. Nothing. I'm sorry. I just meant that you might look at it as business but I doubt that's the way Luthor sees it."

Her face softens. "Oh. Well, it doesn't really matter how he sees it. That's all it's going to be. Business."

I sincerely hope so. For her sake. "Where's he picking you up?"

"At my apartment."

"Care if I walk you home?" Here I go again. Well, a walk is a pretty innocent event, isn't it?

"No. That would be nice."

Jimmy, who I noticed was hanging back to give us some privacy, walks up brandishing his camera equipment. "So, no investigative reporting tonight?"

"No, Jimmy," I tell him before Lois can say anything. "Lois has something else to attend to and this way I can make that call to EPRAD in the morning and see if anyone can let us in the legal way."

That way I could sneak over there tonight and take a look at things myself first, without anyone around to hamper me from using my abilities.

Lois looks like she's about to object, but surprisingly she doesn't. "Yeah, Clark's probably right, Jimmy. I'll call you later tonight to go over some of those test results from S.T.A.R. Labs, okay?" she smiles at him super-sweetly.

"Uh, sure, okay," Jimmy says with a funny tone in his voice. Is there something going on here that I'm missing?

"Come on, Clark. You owe me that walk home," Lois says, sliding one arm through mine, and with that, we leave.

***

I've enjoyed the walk to Lois's apartment building more than I ever should have. She's an amazing woman. I have to keep reminding myself, though, that I have a woman who cares about me, who is waiting for me to come back home.

Lois doesn't have anyone, though. It strikes me as odd that she doesn't. Does she push them away? She should have a dozen men beating down her door as attractive and successful as she is.

"Back at the office, you acted outraged that I would even suggest your dinner tonight with Lex could be a date," I remind her. "Why? Is Lex not your type? I mean he is one of the richest men in the world, with plenty of charm and charisma to match."

"I know, most girls I'm sure would think he's a catch. I don't know. He is handsome. Powerful? Definitely. I do like how he gives so much back to the city with his donations and charity functions. I could probably go for someone like him, if I wanted to. But I wouldn't really say he's my type, no."

"Why? What is your type, Lois?"

She seems taken aback by my question and we walk for a while in silence. I don't say anything else. I just let her think and let her answer when she's ready.

When she lets out a sigh, I know she's ready to tell me something of interest.

"Honestly? I'm not actually sure. I've always been so wrapped up in my job — my career — that I've never really allowed anyone to get that close to me. Oh, there's been a few," she pauses to scowl a little. "And I've learned some valuable lessons from those few. I've learned that I don't know if you can ever truly trust anyone. If I've learned one thing, I know more than anything else I want someone who can be honest with me. I'm as guilty as the next person for telling a little white lie now and again. But on the important stuff… there has to be honesty. I'm not exactly sure Lex could be that honest with me."

Her admission cuts me to the bone. I haven't been totally honest with her. I've wanted her trust and now I would never have it. When she finds out about Lana, she'd never trust me again.

I look into her face and I can see the emotion she's trying to hide in her eyes. She's been hurt, deeply. Does she trust me enough right now to tell me about it? "What happened to you, Lois? To make you distrust people so much?"

Again we walk in silence for a bit. "I had a relationship, a serious one, with a co-worker once. His name was Claude. He was handsome and charming, and I was young and načve. He romanced me and played me and then he took me… for all I was." I can see the glassiness in her eyes but I don't let on.

"What happened?" I ask softly.

"One night, when he finally broke down my defenses completely, we…" she looks away from me before continuing, "…and the next morning I woke up and both he, and the story I was working on, were gone. I found out later when I came in to work that he had submitted it as his own."

She stops walking and looks up into my face. I can see such nakedness in her eyes. She really is bearing her soul to me. "He stole more than my story from me that night, though. He stole the remainder of my innocence, and he stole some of my faith in people." She looks away from me suddenly. I'm guessing she's trying to compose herself.

She raises her hand and stretches out a finger, pointing to the building in front of us. "This is me. I'm in apartment five-oh- one." Her voice sounds shaky and delicate, not at all like the intrepid reporter I was talking to last night.

I find myself wanting desperately to hold her, to comfort her. But I can't. I know I can't. But would it be so wrong? She is a friend and she's in pain. I would only be offering a little support, a little sympathy.

Before I even realize what I'm trying to convince myself of, I find my arm going around her, across her back, involuntarily. And much to both my delight and my dismay, I find her turning into my embrace and resting her head on my shoulder. I slide my other arm around her and fold her into my arms, holding her close.

She lifts her face from my shoulder and looks into my eyes. I feel as if she can see into my mind, my very thoughts. Can she see what I'm feeling?

She begins to lean up towards me. What is she doing?

What do you think she's doing, my mind berates me.

Her mouth is mere inches from mine and her eyes are beginning to close. I find myself being pulled towards her. Yes, I want this. Her lips look so inviting; the sound of her hurried breathing so intoxicating.

I close the remaining distance between our mouths, our lips almost touching, when I finally hear my mind screaming through the emotions flooding through me. No! Stop! What are you doing?

I halt and open my eyes ? not realizing I had even closed them. I look down into her trusting face. What did I allow to almost happen? I've taken this emotionally delicate woman into my hands and betrayed her trust, like others had done before me. I belong to someone else. I can't allow this to continue any further.

"Lois?"

"Yes?" she asks, hesitantly opening her eyes to look at me.

"There's something I need to tell you."

The honking of a horn interrupts our conversation. It's a limo.

It seems to snap her out of the momentary trance she'd been under. "Oh, Clark, I almost forgot," she says pulling away from me.

Her face is flushed. I can't tell if it's from embarrassment or from what we were about to do. To my dismay, I find I'm hoping the latter.

"That's Lex's limo," she explains, hurriedly. "I've gotta go. I'm sorry, can we finish this later?"

And that was that. Lois Lane, intrepid reporter, is back on the hunt, in search of her next great story. I grimace inwardly. Great, I get to put off my confession, yet again. I wanted so badly to come clean with her tonight. It would only get harder the longer I wait.

"Sure. Have a good *interview*," I say emphasizing the last word. I give her a soft smile to let her know I mean well.

"Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow at the Planet."

"Yeah." I watch her drive off with *him* and feel the slight stirrings of jealousy. Clark, you are a doomed man.

***

Chad is nowhere to be found when I get back home. I see a note taped to the fridge. It reads: Gone out, Cat called! ? Chad. I smile. Well, good for him, I guess. It's just as well — I don't feel like talking to him right now anyway. I glance at the phone sitting on the table by the couch. Truth be told, I don't feel like talking to anyone, but I promised Lana I'd call her tonight.

?Is she really the one?' I hear the question in my mind.

I dial her number and then hang up before it can ring.

?Is she really the one?'

I set the phone down on the table and lower my head into my hands. I'm startled when the phone begins to ring.

"Hello?"

"Clark?"

"Lana? I was just about to call you," I lie to her, feeling the worst guilt I've ever felt in my life.

"Looks like I beat you to the punch. I miss you. It sounds like I'm going to have to miss you even longer. Your parents told me that you're planning to stay up there a few more days. Why?"

She really has to ask me? Does she really know so little about who I really am?

"Because I have to see what I can do to help. That shuttle was sabotaged, Lana, I'm sure of it. If Lois and I can just find some solid proof of that, we can keep it from happening again. We don't have much time. The colonist launch is scheduled to go up in less than a week."

"Lois? Who is Lois?"

Another stab of guilt. "A reporter who works for the Daily Planet. I met her at a function I attended with Chad and she's the one who's been working on the possibility of the shuttle having been sabotaged."

There is silence on the phone for a bit.

"Well, that would explain why I haven't heard from you yet," Lana says softly.

The stab travels deeper, hurts more. "What do you mean?"

"Well obviously you're getting all the female attention you need from this Lois woman. You don't need to talk to me."

"That's not true, Lana." Is that another lie?

"No? Then prove it. Leave. Right now. Come home to *me*. This isn't your fight. You don't live in Metropolis. These aren't your friends. You have people here that love you, that need you."

"I can't. These people need me too. There are people in danger here."

"Clark, you're just one man. One man can't make a difference. The Daily Planet can print this, expose this, with or without your help."

After that final statement I realize something. I finally realize she's not ?the one'. And it's not just because I've met another woman and felt feelings for her. Lana really doesn't hold the same values that I do. I believe that one man, any man, can make a difference if he really wants to. She's only thinking selfishly, about her own needs.

But now's not the time to go into this. If things do progress to the point that I decide to break things off with Lana, it's not going to be like this. I do love her, and I respect her. I respect her enough to talk about this with her, and not on the phone, in person.

"Lana, it's late. I don't feel like discussing this anymore right now. I'm sorry, but I've made my decision. I'm staying. I have to see this through. As soon as things conclude here and I think things are safe, I'll come home and we'll talk. Okay?"

There is only silence on the other end.

"Lana?"

"Goodnight, Clark," she says, with an edge in her voice that I've never heard before.

I sigh. "Goodnight, Lana."

I set the phone down and get up from the couch. I can't stay here right now, if I do, I'll suffocate. I've got to get some fresh air. What I really want right now, more than anything, is to see Lois.

***

I feel guilty, and actually a little like a stalker, as I hover outside the top of the LexCorp building. But I just have to check in on Lois. I use my x-ray vision to peer inside the Penthouse.

To my relief I find that she's not here. It had taken me a while to work up the nerve to come and check on her here. Enough time must have passed that the dinner was over and Luthor had taken her back home.

I find myself a little excited at the prospect that Lois might be at home, where I could talk to her some more. But what would I say? How would I explain what I was doing at her apartment at this time of night?

I'll worry about that later. I fly up into the night sky and head over to her apartment building.

She said she was in apartment five-oh-one. So I scan the fifth floor of the building looking for her. There's no sign of her.

Where could she be?

Something Jimmy did earlier comes back to my mind. When Lois told Jimmy she'd call him later to go over the test results from the lab, Jimmy had reacted really strange. Why?

Maybe because of the fact that Jimmy had already given her the results, I realize. He didn't even have them anymore. And they were pretty self-explanatory from what I could see. There wasn't any need for her to call Jimmy to go over them with him. Was there?

Oh no! She wouldn't? …Huh, wouldn't she?

I turn around in mid-air to head off towards the EPRAD facility, where the wreckage from the sabotaged shuttle was being held.

I stretch out with my senses, listening for her voice, for any indication of trouble as I fly. I hear it, just barely. Distressful sounds coming from Lois; she's in the middle of a confrontation with someone.

I fly even faster and land just outside the building I'm hearing her voice coming from. She's making muffled grunting sounds. I *peer* through the wall to find her tied and gagged. Jimmy is lying beside her on the floor, unconscious.

Part of me wants to just go charging in there, rescue them, and fly them out of there. But of course, I'd have to reveal myself. I sigh. I've got to get back to my mom on that whole secret identity thing.

I wait patiently, keeping my eye on the situation. A blonde- haired woman walks behind the shell of the shuttle. She begins reaching towards a couple of valves on the back of it. I x-ray the content behind those valves and see some nasty looking liquids. I stretch my hearing out.

"…accidents do happen," the woman was saying.

"Accidents?" Lois asks.

"Yes. You see, while dissecting the orbital maneuvering systems, the monomethyl hydrozene leaked and mixed with the nitrogen tetroxide… Unfortunately, the blast killed two nosy reporters who didn't bother to read signs." She pointed to a sign on the wall. It read ?Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.' Then she reached out for one of the valves.

"Answer one question," Lois demands. "Why?"

"It's very simple, Lois. Profit. Outer space is no different from any new frontier. It will belong to those who get there first and seize the high ground."

High ground? Haven't I heard that phrase somewhere before? Yes, and I know who said it, too. He's got a lot to answer for, but I don't have time to think about that right now. I watch as the woman turns both valves and liquid begins spilling out of them.

I hide as the woman and her henchman exit the building. As soon as they're clear of the building, I head for the door. One well-placed shoulder and a little force and I'm through.

"Lois? Are you okay?"

"Clark? Clark you have to get out of here, this whole place is going to explode. Get Jimmy and get out!"

"I'm not leaving without you," I tell her as I come up beside her. I work quickly to untie the ropes holding her.

"Can we stop it?" She asks, pointing towards the liquids about to mix.

"There's no time. Come on," I say grabbing her hand and tugging on her. I stop to lift Jimmy up and lay him across my shoulder, holding him with my arm on the side he's lying on. I use my other arm to grab hold of Lois again and I rush us all out of the building as fast as I can.

Before we get too far, the building explodes. I use the force of the explosion and lift us into the air and across the ground to safety. Trying to help cover what I've done, I drop us into a nearby mud puddle. We all land with splattering thuds.

"What happened?" Lois asks, turning around to look behind her at the building now in flames.

"I'm not sure… I think the force of the explosion carried us here. It's fortunate we landed in this soft mud."

"Look!" Lois yelled, pointing up at the sky. A helicopter was flying overhead and suddenly it exploded in a spectacular fireball.

Lois covers her eyes and ducks back down towards the mud. What could have caused that, I wonder? It had been flying well above the burning building.

The sound of the explosion must have woken Jimmy; he is pulling on me trying to find his footing in the mud so he can stand up. Lois is now pulling herself up as well.

"Clark! You saved us!" she says, throwing her arms around me. I'm a little unsteady with Jimmy already pulling on me and we fall together into the mud. Her body is pressed against me and I can feel her trembling. Oh god, the heat is coming again.

Unable to resist, I put my arms around her. "Are you okay?" I ask.

"Mmm-hmm," she mumbles against my chest, and then she sits up abruptly and pushes me away. "Clark? What were you doing here?"

"What were you doing here?" I counter.

"I'm an investigative reporter, that's what we do… investigate. Your turn."

I give her a wry look. "I got bored at home alone. Chad wasn't home yet and so I thought I'd try being an investigative reporter. You know that's what they do, they investigate." I smile at her. She smiles back and smacks me lightly on the arm. "Anyway, while I was looking around I heard voices coming from the building you were in."

"I'm so glad you found us. That was too close. Jimmy, are you okay?"

"I think so. Except for being wet and dirty." We were all wet and dirty, some of us more than others. I grimace inwardly at the direction my mind was headed. Focus!

"Yeah, me too," she says. "I think the thing I want more than anything else in the world right now is a hot shower and a soft bed."

Soft bed? That did it. That blew my focus. I look at Lois in her bedraggled appearance. Even with mud in her hair she was still ravishing. I could think of a few other things I want more than a hot shower right now, but again I drag my mind away from those thoughts… Maybe I need a cold shower instead.

"I guess I'd better go by the police station and give a statement to Inspector Henderson about what happened here tonight," she tells us.

"Do you want me to go with you?" I offer. "Actually, they'll probably need statements from all of us."

"Yeah, but they won't need them all tonight. Jimmy was out unconscious for part of the time and you showed up after Dr. Baines left. You and Jimmy ought to go ahead and get some sleep; we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. I'll let the Inspector know you're coming by in the morning to give him your statements."

I reluctantly nod my head at her.

"CK do you need a lift back to Chad's?" Jimmy asks. It was sweet of him to offer but would Lois have offered if Jimmy hadn't? I'm a little disappointed.

"Thanks Jimmy. That's nice of you but actually I think I'll walk for a bit. I'd like to think for a while and the fresh air will do me some good. When I get tired I'll catch a cab," I assure him. If Lois had offered I would have taken her up on it, but otherwise I'd rather just rely on my own means of transportation.

"Okay, well suit yourself. See you in the morning CK, Lois."

"Bye, Jimmy. See you in the morning," Lois says.

"Yeah, see you in the morning," I echo. I turn to face Lois as Jimmy walks off. "Will you be okay?"

Ask me to come with you.

"I'll be okay. I guess I'd probably better get going, though. There's no telling how long it will take me at the precinct, and I'm pretty tired."

"Yeah, me too. Oh, but one more thing, before you go. How did your interview go?" I ask her, practically itching with curiosity.

"Oh, okay, I guess. You were right about him. It wasn't much of an interview. He was flattering, and was just mainly interested in talking about me, instead of answering my questions."

I feel my blood starting to boil. "He didn't try anything did he?"

"No… not really."

"Not really?" I exclaim. If he took advantage of her, he was going to answer to me.

"He kissed me when he dropped me back home, but just on the cheek. No big deal." I feel my hands ball into fists. "Anyway," she continues, "he asked me if he could see me again and I told him no. I told him things were too complicated right now."

I'm silent as she finishes speaking, thanking the stars that she hadn't agreed to see him again. Should I tell her my suspicions that he's involved in the sabotage? No, not right now. Later. When I've earned her trust. Much later.

Clark?"

"Yes?" my voice breaks slightly as I answer her.

"I'd really like to finish our conversation from earlier… but right now I just don't think I have the energy."

"Yeah, you need to get going or you're never gonna get any sleep tonight," I tell her, trying to both mask my disappointment at losing her company and at the same hide my relief. I'd told her I had something to tell her. She's going to expect me to tell her what that something is, eventually.

"Goodnight, Lois."

"Goodnight, Clark. Get some sleep. We've got a busy day tomorrow. We've gotta write up this story and get it to Perry."

We? We've got to write up the story? She wanted a partner on it? I'm floored. "You bet. See you in the morning." I watch her walk to her Jeep and get inside. I watch her pull away and drive down the road. I watch her until I can't see her any longer… and that's pretty far. Then I lift up and take off into the night sky.

***

When I open the door to Chad's apartment I find him sitting on the couch, waiting up for me. When he sees me walk in, covered in mud, his eyebrows shoot up. This is probably another suit ruined. I've only got one more with me. If this keeps up much longer I'll have to go home for a change of clothes. I've gotta look into that disguise, and the sooner the better, suits are just too expensive.

"Clark, buddy, are you okay?"

Good question. "Yeah, it's been a rough night, but I'm okay."

"What happened?"

"Are you sure you've got time?"

"Well give me the short, fast version."

I smile to myself. If Chad only knew how fast I could really give it to him, it would make his head spin. "I spent the whole day at the Planet helping Lois with the shuttle story ? did you hear that Samuel Pratt was found dead at his apartment? The police are saying suicide but Lois and I are positive it was murder, especially after tonight."

"Wow! How come there are never any stories going on like this over at the Star?"

I could venture a guess. For one thing they didn't have investigative reporter, Lois Lane, working for them. "Well anyway, Lois had her interview tonight with Lex Luthor."

"Date… go on."

"No!" I say a little too defensively. "I mean, it wasn't a date. It was just an interview."

Chad's eyebrows arch another notch higher, if that's possible. "Uh, sorry. I didn't realize you were so touchy about Lois."

Yeah, I know, join the club. Great. Now Chad was going to be on me about Lois, I could tell from the look on his face. "I came back here when she left for her interview but you weren't here and I got bored. So I thought I'd go check out the shuttle wreck over at EPRAD."

"And you were going to what? Break in? Trespass? That doesn't sound like you, Clark."

No kidding. I'd been doing a lot of strange behavior since meeting Lois, but somehow it had seemed like the right thing to do. "I was just going to take a casual look around and see what I could find. That's all. Anyway, when I got there, I heard voices coming from one of the buildings. I saw a couple of people leaving the building but heard someone calling for help from inside. So I busted in the door." I garbled the details a little, but he can get the gist of it anyway.

"Whoa! Buddy! I knew those muscles of yours would come in handy for something besides football. Cool. So then what?"

"I've been trying to get to that."

"Sorry. It's just that your evening was way better than mine. I spent all night at a nightclub waiting for Cat, who never showed up. So I ended up talking to a blonde named Kelli, with an I, who finally proceeded to tell me after a few hours had gone by that she was getting married next weekend to a doctor. What a waste of an evening."

I stay silent, staring at him.

"Sorry, sorry, please continue," he tells me.

"Well, Lois and Jimmy were tied up inside and these chemicals had been released and were going to cause an explosion. I grabbed them and got us out of there right before the building exploded."

"Wow! Cool! I've gotta remember to try and hang out with you more often!"

I smile at him. "Not that cool. If I hadn't happened to go there, or if I had gotten there a little later, they would've died."

The smile on Chad's face falls a little. "Oooh, yeah, I guess you're right." Then the smile comes back, slightly crooked. "And then we wouldn't have had a chance to explore your deep- seated attraction to Lois Lane."

"Chad!"

"Hey, I only call ?em like I see ?em. Are you, or are you not, attracted to her?"

I find myself unable to lie. Not about this, and not to him. I *need* someone to talk to, and while Chad had only ever been tolerant of my relationship with Lana, he'd never let anything slip to her. For one thing, he's a better friend than that, and for another, they never talk. "Chad you have to swear not to tell anyone, especially anyone back in Smallville."

"Wow, Clark, what are you going to tell Lana?"

"I don't know. Things between Lana and I have been a little rocky lately. I didn't realize it until just recently but I don't think Lana really understands me, or maybe even wants to. I get the feeling that she'd rather mold me into what she wants me to be."

"Uh, …duh. Are you just now seeing that? Man, are you dense or what?"

Yeah, obviously not just my molecular structure either. "This whole situation is so difficult though. I feel like I'm being disloyal to Lana. Like I'm cheating on her or something and yet I haven't done anything. I haven't even kissed Lois."

Chad whistles. "Whoa, buddy, but you've thought about it obviously, haven't you?"

I feel a blush creep across my cheeks. I've thought about more than that.

"You have!" he exclaims a little too happily. "So are you going to see her anymore before you leave?"

"Well, yeah, I'll see her tomorrow at the Planet. We're going to write up the story on the sabotage. We have the proof we need now after what Lois found at EPRAD."

"We? You're going to help her write the story?"

"Yeah. She asked me to."

Chad's eyebrow's creep up to that previously high level. "Asked you to? We're talking about the same woman here, aren't we? Lois Lane, aggressive investigative reporter who you told me wants to get her first Pulitzer by the time she's thirty? *That* Lois Lane asked you to help her write the story? Buddy, she's hot for you."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

That bit of insight sends a thrill through me. So I wasn't just imagining it. If I hadn't stopped her tonight, when we were walking to her apartment, she would have kissed me. My stomach hollows out and feels like it's sliding, and all the blood seems to have left my head.

We sit in silence for a few seconds and I can tell Chad is working on another way to harass me about Lois. I finally think of something to say to take the focus off of me. "Oh, by the way, Jimmy says he wants his magazine back from you, ?Bikes and Babes'?" I grin lopsidedly at him.

"What? What magazine? Never heard of it."

What is that old saying about one protesting too much…? I arch one eyebrow in disbelief and he gets a sheepish smile on his face.

"Um, yeah," he finally concedes. "I'll find it before I leave in the morning and lay it out so you can take it with you tomorrow."

"Sure thing," I say with a laugh.

"Well listen, I'd love to stay up and probe you some more about Lois, but I've gotta get to work early in the morning. So, night, Clark. And, eh, sweet dreams," he says with a snicker.

***

"Lois, Clark, Jimmy, I'm so proud of you three that I can't see straight," Perry says, his face beaming.

I glance at the copy he's holding up for everyone to inspect. It reads: MESSENGER SABOTAGED, SABOTEUR DIES IN FIERY EXPLOSION. The by-line is: Lois Lane. Contributing reporters: Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen.

"This headline warranted an extra edition! Good job everyone!" Perry exclaims, holding the copy higher.

My first by-line for the Daily Planet. I wish it wasn't my last.

"I just spoke to ground control over at EPRAD," Perry tells us. "They went back over the colonist launch vehicle with a fine tooth comb and discovered the same coolant problem in the protective bands and fixed it. The launch is all set for tomorrow morning," he pauses for a second before continuing. "But it's a no go for you, Lois. No reporters allowed."

"But, Chief, imagine the Daily Planet getting an exclusive personal account of being on the colonist transport?" she argues.

"No can do, Lois," he says firmly.

Lois nods at him, looking resigned. At least I'm hoping she looks resigned. She wouldn't try to sneak on board would she? Wouldn't she? I smile to myself. I know the answer.

"Okay, you kids, now get on out of here and go celebrate!" Perry tells Lois and I, his face beaming. Then he grabs my arm and pulls me off to the side out of earshot of anyone else. "Clark, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed having you here. If you ever decide that being an editor isn't your cup of tea ? believe me, I've asked myself that more than once ? I want you to know that you've always got a job waiting for you here."

Wow. I can't believe what I'm hearing. It's what I've always wanted. And yet, it's not possible, at least not right now. I have to get a few other things cleared up and make a few decisions before I could even consider something like this. "Thank you… Chief." I smile at him as I shake his outstretched hand. "I'll definitely keep that offer in mind. I may take you up on it one day."

Perry shakes my hand and nods his head before turning to walk back to his office. I turn to look at Lois who is still staring down at the paper in front of her.

"Basking in the glory?" I ask her.

"No," she says, blushing. "Actually, I was thinking how good your name looks next to mine. Mine being first of course."

"Oh, of course." I smile at her. "Lois, can I walk you home? There's something I still want to talk to you about."

"Yeah, sure," she says, hesitantly. "Is something wrong, Clark?" She can probably literally feel the tension flowing from me.

"Just walk with me."

***

"So what's your *type*, Clark?" Lois asks me as we walk, finally breaking the silence.

"Excuse me?" I ask her.

"Well the other night you asked me why Lex Luthor wasn't my type, and I told you that I was looking for someone who could be honest with me."

…looking for someone who could be honest. Ah, there's that little stab of guilt again. Keep your pants on, I'm getting ready to come clean, I tell myself. I turn to look at her. "Yeah."

"Well, you turned down Cat's advances, so I'm assuming she's not your *type*," she grins lopsidedly at me and I smile.

"Ha. No, Cat is definitely not my type," I assure her.

"So what are you looking for?"

After my last conversation with Lana, that's easy. "Acceptance."

"Acceptance?"

"Yeah. I want someone who can accept me for exactly who I am. Someone who doesn't think they need to mold me, change me, or force me to be someone I don't want to be."

"Hmm, yeah, that's a good one," she agrees. "I'll have to add that one to my list."

"You have a list? Hey, that's not fair. You only shared one item with me."

We both laugh together. It feels so good, so right. I wish it could last. I wish I didn't have to tell her. Did it even matter now? Lana and I probably aren't even going to stay together… Yes! Of course it matters, I tell myself. This is about being honest, coming clean.

"You know," she says, putting her arm through mine, "I bet if you wanted to fulfill that boyhood dream of yours and move to Metropolis, that Perry would probably give you a job," Lois tells me, giving my arm a squeeze.

"Hah. Then you'd be stuck with me."

"That's what I was hoping for," she says, stopping our walk and moving in close to me. Her face is just inches from mine, her lips just a moment away. Oh god, I want to kiss her so badly. She looks so beautiful in the light of the setting sun. I want to take her in my arms and just hold her and forget about the rest of the world. But I can't.

"I can't," I say softly, lifting my hand to brush a piece of hair that had fallen across her eyes. "Lois, there's something I really need to tell you before I leave."

"You're leaving?"

"Yeah. I've been away from my paper too long already and I've got some things I need to take care of back home. Now that the colonist mission is safe, I really need to be getting back; but not before I finish our conversation from the other night, when we were talking about honesty."

She pulls away from me slightly and I can see the concern filling her face. I press on, determined to tell her the truth. I'll be honest with her from here on out, if she'll still speak to me. "I should have told you this sooner. I don't know why I didn't — I'm ashamed I didn't. If you give me the chance to prove it, I promise I'll always be honest with you from here on out."

She takes a step back and lightly pushes my arm away. My heart sinks, but I push forward. "Remember when I asked if you were married and you said you weren't and then asked me if I was?"

"Oh my god! You're married?" she exclaims.

Whoops! "No, no, I'm not married." She visibly relaxes a little at that admission. "But I do have a girlfriend."

"I see," she says softly. She's upset, I can tell, and rightfully so.

"I'm sorry. It was wrong of me not to reveal that to you. I had the perfect opportunity that night we asked each other if we were married, and I didn't. Part of why I didn't is because she and I aren't going to stay together. That's one of the reasons I have to go back to Smallville, to finalize a few things."

She looks away from me and we walk a few paces in silence.

"Is she the reason you never moved to Metropolis?" she asks quietly. "You told me you'd always wanted to work for the Daily Planet, but yet you never moved up here. You said it was for personal reasons. Is she the reason?"

I nod my head at her.

"I think that would be a lot to give up for someone — your dreams — even if you love them. You must have one heck of a reason for calling it quits with her," she pauses for a moment and when I don't say anything, she continues, "Are you breaking up with her because of me?"

"No." That's not the truth, Clark. You promised to tell her the whole truth. "Well, yes, …maybe …partly. But that's not the main reason."

Is it?

"She's not in love with me for who I really am," I continue. "She's in love with me for whom she thinks she can make me be. I can't live a lie like that."

Can't I? I'm living another lie already.

"I want someone who can love me for who I really am," I tell her, still hoping she'll forgive my deception and give me another chance.

But can anyone ever love me for who I *truly* am? Could she? I wonder as I look into her face. She has a determined look in her eyes. What is she thinking?

Then she opens her mouth and says the one thing that catches me off guard. "Is that it? Is that everything? Are you hiding anything else?"

"Excuse me?" I feel the panic rising inside me.

She folds her arms across her chest. "You said you'd be honest with me, from here on out, always. So I'm asking. Are you hiding anything else?"

I'm floored. I don't know what to say. I promised her I'd be honest with her, but I can't, not completely, not yet. I can't tell her about *me* yet, I don't know her well enough. Could I trust her? What if she wrote an article about me? They'd take me away and lock me up for sure… But I promised.

"Yes."

The look on her face doesn't betray what she's feeling. She simply stands there, waiting for me to continue.

"There is one other thing. I promised you I would be honest with you, and I will, but you have to give me time to get to know you. We have to give each other time. It's something I would share with you in time; *now* just isn't the right time." A shadow seems to come across her face. She looks disappointed.

Please… please, don't, I think at her. Give me a chance.

"Then I think it's time for us to say goodnight, Clark." Her voice is deathly quiet as she turns away from me.

"Goodnight, or goodbye?" I ask her, holding my breath.

With her back to me I can't see her face, but I hear the soft sniffle escape from her. "Just goodnight," she pauses, standing a little taller and squaring her shoulders and then continues, "But if you're leaving I guess it has to be goodbye also. Look me up next time you're in Metropolis. Maybe we can take another walk. Maybe you'll have more you want to say." She starts to take a few steps away from me.

"Lois, I…"

She halts and when her voice comes, it's hollow and anguished. "You'd better go, Clark. I wouldn't want you to miss your flight." She doesn't make a motion to turn around, to face me. My heart is breaking.

"Goodbye, Lois," I say softly. I walk up behind her and place a kiss, ever so gently, in her hair. I feel a slight hesitation in her, as if she might want to turn around. But she doesn't.

And then I walk away.

***

"So when are you going to tell Lana, Honey?" Mom asks me.

"Tomorrow night, when she gets home from work. I haven't even figured out exactly how to break it to her, but I just can't stay with her any longer. Dad asked me if she was the *one*. I know now that she's not."

I sigh and rub my hands up my face and over my eyes. I'm so tired, but I know I won't sleep.

"I don't know how I'm going to get any sleep tonight," I tell her. "I was actually going to fly back in the morning, in time to watch the colonist shuttle launch with you guys, but I just couldn't stay in Metropolis a minute longer. Chad's going to be peeved at me that I didn't stick around and say goodbye. I left him a note taped to his door. I've gotta call him in the morning and apologize."

"Well, you need to try and get some sleep, honey, because I'm going to get you up bright and early in the morning. There's something we need to do," she tells me, getting up from the table and walking out of the kitchen into the living room.

"Bright and early? What are we doing, Mom?" I ask, chasing after her. I walk into the living room to find her holding a bag of various fabrics and articles of clothing. I raise my eyebrows at her.

"Well, you said you wanted some kind of disguise. You know how much I love art projects," she smiles at me. "I've got all kinds of ideas. Come on, let me take some measurements and then we can get started first thing in the morning."

I look down into the bag of items she has. Leopard skin? A mask? Colored spandex? Suddenly I'm not sure if this is such a good idea.

***

I look down at the latest outfit mom sewed for me. This one isn't *bad*. A heck of a lot better then the last two or three. I look down at the pile of rejects, the mask and the hat are definitely out. And that animal print? It made me look like Tarzan. Ugh!

"Well, what do you think about that one?" Mom yells from the other room.

"It's certainly colorful." Colorful yes, bright red and blue spandex, but definitely doable. As I'm staring at my reflection in the mirror and moving back and forth to see how the cape reacts, Mom comes walking back into the room.

"What do you think?" I ask her. She looks exhausted. I think whether I love this one or not, I'd better stick with it unless I want her to fall asleep at her sewing machine.

Then I notice she's staring at the yellow belt… actually, directly at the red briefs below it. Mom? What is she thinking?

"One thing's for sure. Nobody's going to be looking at your face," she says, as if in answer to my question.

"Mom!" I feel my face get hot. How embarrassing.

She laughs lightly. "Well, they don't call them ?tights' for nothing, Honey. Hmm, I don't know, I still think something's missing," she says, moving off to the bed and pulling an old trunk out from underneath it. She retrieves a red blanket from the trunk; it has a red and yellow S crest on it. "This is the blanket we found you in, so long ago." She holds the crest up to my chest and smiles at me. "Your parents would have been proud of you. We are."

"Thanks, Mom."

A few cuts and several stitches later and I'm once again standing in front of the mirror. She was right, there was something missing. I turn from side to side and the cape swishes behind me. "I don't know. I'm still not sure about the cape."

"Really? I love it. It'll look great when you're flying."

"Hey you two, get in here, launch vehicle's about to go up," Dad calls from the living room.

Mom and I walk into the room to find Dad glued to the TV. She sits down next to him on the couch and I stand behind them.

"The colonists are just about all on board," he tells us. "You know this is a historic occasion. Remember when you were little, Clark, and we saw the first moon landing?" As he's speaking he turns to look at me and then shakes his head. "Are you sure no one will recognize you?"

"I don't think so, Dad, because it won't be me," I say and reach up to pull my glasses off my face. I put them back up to my face and pull them away again for added effect. He smiles at me and turns his attention back to the launch.

"Forty-five seconds and counting," the public affairs announcer states.

"There she blows," Dad says, excited.

We all wait in eager expectation and then it seems as if something has gone wrong. The announcer's voice comes back on, "Due to a mechanical failure, we have suspended the countdown at twenty-nine seconds. We will advise."

It looks like I might have gotten my new outfit just in time to try it out. I run out the front door and take to the sky, hearing my dad's voice as I go, "I don't believe it. Something's gone wrong. Clark do you…?" And then I was gone.

***

On arriving at the shuttle, I carefully pry the doors apart and let myself inside. Where could the problem be? And would I even know what to do with it if I found it?

"Help! Someone!" I could hear a voice yelling. Wait! No! That isn't just any voice… that's Lois! Oh, Lois, what are you doing here?

Exactly what I had expected of her, to try and sneak on board. I shake my head and smile.

"Help! There's a bomb!" I hear her shout. A bomb?

I quickly locate where her voice is coming from and enter into the room to find Lois, dressed as one of the colonists, staring at a bomb in front of her. Part of me worries that she might recognize me, but I don't have time for that now. If I don't do something, she'll die, along with the rest of the colonists on board. I move towards the bomb, gently prying on it with my fingers. She's not going to die. Not today. Not if I can prevent it.

"Hey, what are you doing? Get away from that!" she scolds me.

I ignore her, pulling the bomb off the wall.

"What kind of lunatic…" she ponders out loud.

I turn the bomb over in my hands and find the C-4 explosive buried inside of it. What do I do? There's no time left. I do the first thing that comes to my mind. I *eat* it. I'm sure later, if I live through this, I'm going to realize that this was an insane thing to do ? Lana would die if she knew I'd eaten a bomb ? but right now my mind just keeps screaming, ?She'll die! She'll die! Just eat it!'

Lois gasps as she watches me put the C-4 into my mouth and swallow it. A second later and I feel an eruption inside of me. It's mildly uncomfortable, but I don't think it did any damage. I'm amazed! I *ate* a bomb! And then I feel it coming. Uh-oh. "Brrrrrpp."

I look at Lois. She doesn't seem to know whether to be amazed or disgusted. "Excuse me," I tell her.

"What…? What are you?" she asks me.

***

"I think, considering the fact that I saw you first, you owe me an exclusive," Lois tells me as I fly her down towards the floor of the Daily Planet newsroom. Everyone is staring at me. Surely someone will recognize me. Lois? Jimmy? Perry? But no one seems to.

"Is that the rule?" I ask her, setting her down.

"Well, um, no. But… I'd appreciate it, very much," she says, and she rubs a hand across my chest, fingering the edge of the S crest.

I smile at her as I lift back up into the air, feeling regret at having to leave her touch. I had been relishing in her touch the whole flight back to the Planet. Her arms had been around my neck at first. I think she was a little afraid of flying with me. But after a time, she had gotten braver and moved a hand down to my chest to feel my suit with her fingertips.

But it's time for me to go now. I don't want to push my luck that someone might recognize me. I fly back towards the open window I came through.

"Wait! How will I find you?" she asks me.

"I'll be around," I assure her.

"Real smooth." I hear Jimmy say behind me. I hide a smile to myself.

As I sail out through the window of the Planet and up into the sky, I'm flying high, both literally and figuratively. I had saved Lois and saved the shuttle mission, even managing to get the shuttle into space and docked with the space station.

And… she hadn't recognized me. No one had. I could do this. I could lead a normal life and still be able to help. I could do both!

I'm so excited. I have to go to Smallville and talk to my folks. I have to let Mom know that it worked. I increase my speed a little in my enthusiasm to get home.

As I get closer to Smallville, though, I hear something.

First, a loud crash… then a soft moaning coming from someone. It's coming from the highway below me.

There's been an accident.

I accelerate even faster, trying to get there as quickly as I can. Maybe I can help.

I listen for the moaning, trying to pinpoint where it's coming from, and then I see it, the wreck. My heart falls. It's Lana's car.

It's lying upside down on a caved-in roof, wisps of smoke coming from under the hood and fluid leaking from the radiator. I can see the spot where the car had hit the concrete divider on the highway. It had apparently hit with enough force to flip the car. What was Lana doing on the highway headed out of Smallville?

I land next to the car, leaning down to look inside. Lana's inside, her body suspended by her seatbelt. My breath catches in my throat. I reach out with my senses and I can hear her heartbeat. She's not dead.

I rip off the driver's side door and reach inside. I hesitate, knowing I should probably let the paramedics get her out, but if I wait that long she could die. I carefully release the seatbelt and lower Lana down and outside the car to the ground. I kneel down to the ground beside her. I don't think I could find the strength to stand.

Her face is cut up and bruised and there is a lot of blood on her clothes. "Lana?" I whisper. No response. "Lana!"

Her eyelids flutter and she opens her eyes to look at me. "No! No, get away from me. Who are you?" she wheezes. I had forgotten I was still dressed in my red and blue suit.

Before I can answer her, she's trying to talk again. "Wait, I know who you are."

Yes, it's me, Lana. Everything will be okay.

"They described you on the radio," she continues breathily. "You're the one who saved the shuttle."

"Yes, Lana…"

"How do you know my name?" she asks and then a groan escapes from her lips and her body spasms.

"You're hurt. I need to get you to the hospital."

"No, don't touch me. Get away from me," she rasps, trying to lift an arm to fend me off.

She's hysterical. I've got to get her to relax, to trust me. She has to get to the hospital. "Lana, it's me. It's Clark," I tell her.

"Clark?" She stops struggling and looks up at me. Her eyes widen and then she closes them as she starts to cough.

"Yes, Lana, it's Clark. Now come on, I've got to get you to the hospital," I tell her, gathering her carefully up into my arms.

Her face takes on a look of sadness as she opens her eyes and looks at me again. "I was coming to see you. A car… swerved over in my lane," she whispers and places her hand against my chest. "Please don't leave me. I'm so sorry."

My heart aches. That's what she was doing on the highway; she was on her way to the airport… to fly to Metropolis, to see me. I hadn't called her, talked to her, since the night we had argued. "I… I won't," I tell her. No, I won't leave her… at least not right now. "I'm right here. I'm going to get you to the hospital. Everything will be all right."

"Clark?"

"Yes?"

"I love you."

I feel my eyes start to fill with tears. She really does love me. She always has. And I do love her, even if we aren't meant to be together. I start to tell her that I love her, too, when I realize she isn't breathing. "Lana! Lana, don't do this. Stay with me. Please."

She doesn't respond. I fly as fast as I can to the hospital, taking care to shelter her body with my own as much as I can. She can't die. Not like this.

***

"I'm sorry, Mr. Kent. There was just nothing we could do for her. She had suffered too many internal injuries and had lost too much blood," the doctor tells me, placing his hand on my shoulder.

There are tears coming down my face. I don't even bother to wipe them away. Was it my fault? Should I have waited to move her? Could I have gotten here faster? "Can I ask your professional opinion?" I ask him.

"Certainly."

"If the paramedics had gotten to her first, instead of *him*, would she have lived?" I ask, afraid to hear the answer.

"No, Mr. Kent. I'm sorry. If the paramedics had been sitting there waiting for the crash to happen it wouldn't have mattered. She suffered massive trauma to her internal organs. There wasn't anything anyone could have done."

I feel a little pressure ease from my chest. There was nothing I could have done. No, there was. I could have stayed in Smallville, with her. I could have never left her. But if I had, all those people on the shuttle would be dead. She had died because I saved them.

I look down the hallway and *through* the emergency room doors until I locate her lifeless body. Yes, I had saved them, but I couldn't save her.

I turn away, unable to look any more. Out of the corner of my eye I see my parents coming through the front doors of the hospital.

"Honey, we came as soon as we got your message. Is she okay?" Mom asks me.

"She's gone, Mom." I feel more tears coming to my eyes. "She was coming to see me and she had an accident…" my voice trails off.

My mom comes to me and embraces me tightly. "Oh, Clark, I'm sorry."

"Can we just go home, to the farm? I just… I just don't want to talk to anyone right now. I just need to get away."

She nods her head at me and the three of us leave the hospital together in silence.

***

I hover just outside the Daily Planet building, looking inside. She's there, sitting in her chair with her legs propped up on her desk, reading something. Otherwise the place looks deserted. It's after-hours but it's not quite dark out yet.

After having paid a visit to Luthor earlier, I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted. I didn't have much to go on anyway with just having attended Lana's funeral yesterday. I really shouldn't have pushed myself so hard, but I just couldn't stay in Smallville right now. I didn't want to be there, at my apartment. There were too many pictures of Lana and I; too many things that reminded me of what I had let happen.

What I had let happen…

There had to have been some way I could have prevented it. What if I had flown faster, come home sooner, called Lana after our fight? What if?

There were too many "what-ifs".

I sigh, trying to release the continuing frustration I'm feeling. Couldn't just one thing go right? Even my little meeting with Luthor hadn't gone the way I wanted. He wasn't admitting anything and I didn't have any solid proof to back up what I knew. So for now, I would just have to watch him and wait, but I knew eventually he'd make a mistake, and I would be there.

After everything that had happened the past few days, I needed some reassurance. I needed someone I could confide in. Someone who could help me find my strength again. Someone who could help me forget.

What I really need is to see *her*.

I start to lower myself down to the ground below so I can change into my street clothes, but I hesitate. A part of me wants to visit her first as Superman. She would be glad to see him; she isn't upset with Superman.

I shake my head. I couldn't believe it when Luthor told me that was what people were calling me. But it's true. I saw the name splashed across several newspaper headlines.

I float back up and push a window open. I fly over toward Lois and the breeze ruffles the newspaper she's holding in her hands. She looks up and spots me.

"Superman!"

I nod my head at her. "I read your article and heard you were looking for me."

"All my life." My super-hearing picks up on her soft mumble. Even as awful as I've felt the past few days, her words still manage to make me smile. Yes, it was good that I came here tonight. "Everyone's looking for you," she responds out loud.

"I've noticed. But I'm here to see you, Lois." I watch the expression on her face change when I say her name. She looks almost a little dazed.

Maybe I shouldn't have come here as Superman after all.

"You know my name, but I don't know yours."

Clark. Clark Kent. Hmm, not just yet. "Superman seems to have caught on," I say instead.

She sets her newspaper down on her desk and takes out a pad. "Do you mind if I write some of this down?" she asks.

I shake my head at her.

"Who are you? I mean you, uh, seem to have all… the parts… of a man…"

"I am a man, Lois. Just like you're a woman," I assure her. Even in the dim lighting I can see the blush on her face. If I plan to talk to her as Clark, ever again, I probably shouldn't stay much longer.

"I'm glad you're here, but why are you here?"

"To help," I answer quickly, trying to think of some way to excuse myself.

"I need more of a quote, you know? Like ?I have not yet begun to fight', or ?Damn the torpedoes.' Something along those lines. I mean if you said you were here to fight for truth or justice or something like that…"

Hmm, that sounded like a decent quote for a newspaper article. "Truth and justice sound good. You can use that." She smiles broadly at me as she jots in her notebook.

Okay, I think that concludes this interview. I suddenly cock my head as if I'm listening to something far off.

"What is it?" she asks.

"Someone's in trouble." Yeah, me. It's just a little white lie. Lois herself said she's guilty of them every so often.

"This is a job for Superman, right?"

I nod my head at her. "I'll be seeing you, Lois," I assure her. Yeah, sooner than you think, too. And with that I take off, flying out the open window. I hear her soft sigh and her words ?Hope so', as I go. I hope she'll still want to talk to me as Clark.

I lower myself down to the ground and enter the Daily Planet through the main doors. Good, they haven't locked the place up yet. I know the stairwells will be locked; but it doesn't matter, Perry had given the elevator codes to me when I was here before. I ride the elevator up and take a deep breath as I step out of it onto the newsroom floor.

Lois looks up at the sound of the elevator door opening. "Jimmy? That you?" she calls.

"No, Lois. It's me," I answer.

"Clark?" I can hear the surprise in her voice.

"Uh-huh," I say as I head towards her desk.

She doesn't move to greet me, just watches me from where she's sitting.

"What are you doing here?" she asks me.

"I…" Her question takes me by surprise. Is she sorry to see me? Maybe it was a mistake to come. "Something's happened and I'm going to stay with Chad for a little while. I came up to make some arrangements with him."

"No, not why are you here in Metropolis, why are you *here*?"

I'm taken aback. She really doesn't know? "I needed to talk to you. I shouldn't have left the way I did… Are you busy?"

"No, I was, but not now. You just missed Superman; I'm sure you've heard about him."

"Yeah," I confirm for her.

"I got the first interview he's given," she tells me, sounding just a little smug.

"Congratulations." I can feel the slightest stirrings of irritation beginning. Why am I annoyed by this?

Her face takes on a bit of a dreamy look. "You should have seen him, Clark. He's the most magnificent looking man I've ever…"

"Sounds like he made quite an impression on you," I interrupt her, my frustration growing. Why am I upset about this? She's talking about me!

"He did… Why? Are you jealous?" She must have picked up on my reaction.

"Of Superman? Should I be?" I ask. Of course not. But yet I find myself feeling a little jealous. Ugh! Why was she asking about Superman? Why wasn't she asking why I was here, if I had finalized things between Lana and me? Maybe she didn't care. Maybe I had ruined things and there wasn't any going back.

This wasn't "going right" either. Maybe I should just leave.

I'm just about to excuse myself when she looks away from me and back down at the newspaper sitting on her desk. Her demeanor seems to change — a shadow passes over her face and her eyes take on a distant look. She hesitates a few more seconds and then finally answers my question. "No. You shouldn't," she says with a resigned sounding sigh.

What? Did I hear her right? "Lois, I…"

"Clark, I'm sorry." She finally gets up out of her chair and moves towards me. I'm speechless when she wraps her arms around me in an embrace.

"For what?" I enfold her in my arms. The warmth from her body seeps into mine, filling the empty void that I've carried the past several days. I lay my head down against her shoulder and just enjoy her support and the feeling of her hands as she rubs them across my back. No, it's good that I came.

She turns her face toward mine and whispers in my ear. "I'm sorry for how we left things before, and I'm sorry about… Lana."

I pull back from her and look into her face, my body tensing. She knew about Lana? How?

"Chad," she says softly, answering my unspoken question. "Chad sent me a copy of the Smallville Post with the article you had written about her death." She pointed towards the newspaper lying on her desk. So that's what she had been reading when I first came in as Superman. "He told me that you were taking it pretty hard and you were coming up to stay with him for a while."

I'm quiet; my body seems to have gone numb again. I had of course planned to tell her what had happened, eventually, but she's caught me off guard and I don't know what to say.

"I understand if you don't want to talk about it," she tells me. "It's okay. I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."

"Me too," I finally respond. "She was coming up here to see me when she had her accident." I hadn't wanted to talk about it, with anyone. I had avoided talking about it as much as possible, but with Lois it feels right, with her I can let go.

We're both quiet for a moment. This is it. This is the time to tell her. I made the mistake of not letting Lana know who I really am, and now I can never correct that mistake. She had loved me to the best of her ability without that knowledge. I won't make the same mistake with Lois. I don't care what happens, what she does with the information. I have to take that risk. I have to tell her the truth.

"Lois, I did love her, but I kept a secret from her, too. The same one I haven't shared with you. It's too late to share it with Lana, but it's not too late to share it with you. I…" I pause, is it too soon? No, I'm laying bare my soul to her tonight. "I want to be with you. I care about you, Lois, a lot. I want to be completely honest with you and I trust you enough to share this with you."

The phone at her desk starts to ring. Without her questioning eyes ever leaving mine, she moves her hand down to answer it.

No, don't pick it up. If I don't tell you this now, I might never work up the nerve again.

I reach out and take her hand in mine, keeping her from answering the phone. I bring our hands up to my chest and part my shirt where I had intentionally left it unbuttoned behind my tie; and I slide her hand inside. Her eyes widen as her fingertips feel the slick spandex of the suit and the ridges of the crest.

She brings her other hand up and rips my shirt apart further. She stands gaping at the exposed red and yellow crest in front of her. Her hand goes up to her mouth and she backs up and sits down hard in her chair. She looks up at me with wide, inquiring eyes. "Superman?"

I nod my head.

"Clark?"

I nod my head again.

"*This* is the other *thing* you hadn't told me?"

I feel like a monk, but I simply nod my head again at her.

"Why couldn't you tell me before? Before you left me to go back to Smallville? Why didn't you tell me that day on the shuttle?"

I finally find my voice. "I was afraid."

"And now you're not?" Her voice seems like it is just a little bit too high. What is she thinking? I wish I could see inside her mind.

Honesty, Clark, remember, honesty. "No, I'm still afraid. But I was even more afraid of not telling you, of losing you because of hiding from you."

"Why were you afraid?" Her voice came a little softer, a little lower in pitch this time.

"I didn't know how you would react for one thing. And I didn't know what you might choose to do with the information." The admission pours from my lips. I should have told her the truth before. Before I left to go back to Smallville. I had no idea it would feel like this ? like it was cleansing my soul.

"What? Like I'm going to write an article revealing you to the whole world? I'm a reporter, Clark. Not a tabloid journalist." I hear the edge in her voice and feel the regret in my heart.

"I'm sorry, Lois. I know you're not, and I know I can trust you. That's why I came here tonight. Why I shared this with you."

She turns her face away from me and looks back down at the paper lying next to her on her desk. "So what happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"I watched you save a shuttle full of people, Clark. I watched you eat a bomb, for crying out loud. What happened with Lana? Why couldn't you save her?"

Her words almost bring me to my knees. Does she know how many times I'd asked myself just that question? I feel the familiar ache in my heart beginning to return. What could I say? I fumble for words and can't seem to find them. "I couldn't save her because I was saving you."

I regret what I said as soon as the words leave my lips. I shouldn't have said it like that. She's looking at me like I just slapped her in the face. No, that's not what I meant.

I try again. "She had her car accident right after I saved the shuttle and brought you back here to the Planet. I was on my way back to Smallville when I heard the crash. I flew as fast as I could, but it didn't matter. It was too late. I couldn't save her."

"So she didn't know… about you?" she asks me.

"No," I whisper softly. "Not until that night… when it was too late to matter and she died in my arms."

Lois rises from her chair and comes to me, embracing me again. I just stand there and let her hold me for a while. I feel the warmth of her breath against my shoulder, and the soft touch of her hands as she rubs them against my back. She's a balm to my soul, as is my confession.

"It's okay, you know," she tells me.

What is?

"You shouldn't blame yourself, about what happened. It would be impossible for you to be everywhere, save everyone. What you did that day was enough. You saved the lives of all those people on board the shuttle. I've always believed that we all have a chance to make our mark on this world, to make a difference. Never have I believed in that more than I do right now."

Neither have I. I've always wanted to believe that one man, any man, could make a difference. But I never realized how much of a difference one woman, this woman, could make in my life until I was standing here, being held by her.

After a few moments of quietly holding one another, she breaks the silence. "So are you coming back to Metropolis, to stay?" Her head shifts against my shoulder and I can feel the warmth of her breath on my neck. It sends a shiver through me. "I saw your editor's note in the paper where you said goodbye to your readers."

"You read that?" I ask her, reaching up with one hand to stroke her hair.

She nods her head against me. "I thought it was very well written. I think you should."

"I should what?" I ask her. I drop my hand down to her back and stroke it lightly. Her body shivers slightly at the contact.

"Move to Metropolis."

"Why?"

She pulls back and gives me a look that says it should be obvious, but I stay silent. I want to hear what she says.

"Well, for one thing it was your dream. And for another thing, Metropolis needs Superman. You could do so much good here."

"And what about you?"

"Me?" she asks, looking confused.

"Do you need Superman?" My heart lurches in my chest. Please tell me you need him too.

"No," she replies as she places her hands on my chest, pulling my shirt back together and adjusting my tie. "I need you, Clark." She flashes a timid smile at me that sends a tingle through my body. I pull gently on her bringing her back to rest against me and I feel well, whole for the first time in days.

"So, do you still think Perry will give me a job?" I ask her. "I mean I could probably get him a lot of exclusive interviews from Superman. If I bring him one of those, he's sure to hire me."

Lois pulls back from me and looks into my teasing eyes and her lips part into a smile. Then she smacks me. "No way, Kent! I found Superman and I interviewed him first. That gives me rights to the follow-up interviews. Just because you think…"

I interrupt her by pressing my lips to hers. I've wanted to do this for a long time. I part her lips with my tongue and discover her thoroughly and intimately for the first time. Her body, rigid at first, soon softens and relaxes into my arms. I pull her body to me tighter and hold her, never wanting to let go. I drink in the softness of her lips and delight in the urgency of her tender draws against my mouth.

After several moments we both come up for air, making soft panting sounds.

"Well, maybe I could share some of the interviews," she concedes breathily. "You could always try to bribe me." She raises one eyebrow at me suggestively.

"I can try."

***

"Can you?" she asked, raising one eyebrow teasingly.

I smile at her, suddenly feeling just a little uncomfortable. It's too soon. Isn't it? What would she think of me if I made an advance on her? I would like nothing more than to take her in my arms and kiss her again, but I don't want to mess this up.

"It's getting pretty late," I say instead. Her smile falls a little. Oh that was a brilliant thing to say. I try to recover ground quickly. "Did you have anyone to walk you home?" Yes, a walk. We had walked several times before. A walk wasn't too forward.

Her face brightens and she takes me by the arm. "You." Her eyes sparkle and the corners of her mouth turn up in a flirtatious smile.

That smile could light the shadows in the darkest places. I know because it's blazing a path through my heart.

I remember the words I said to myself only a few nights ago…

<Clark, you are a doomed man…>

I smile at the memory. I'm doomed to forever covet this woman. I know I'll do whatever it takes to see that smile. I never want to make her unhappy again.

I let her lead me downstairs and out the front doors of the Planet, her arm still threaded through mine and our hands clasped together. Our fingers rub against each other in a rhythmic dance. Her thumb traces delicately along my thumb and down across the palm of my hand. Her touch is electrifying. It sends a jolt straight through me to my core.

"It's a beautiful night," she says, taking in a deep breath of the cool, crisp air.

"Yes, it is, but not nearly as beautiful down here."

"Down here?" Her eyes get a curious twinkle in them.

I nod my head at her. "I love our walks to your apartment, but tonight would you… perhaps… consider flying with me?"

I hear her soft gasp and by the look on her face I can tell she'd like nothing more. I step away from her, letting go of her hand. I move into the shadows and do a quick spin into my suit. She watches with a look of fascination on her face. I smile at her as I walk over to her and scoop her up in my arms, carefully tucking her tweed skirt under her so the wind won't catch it. She throws her arms around my neck and holds on tightly as I lift us up into the night sky.

As we fly the wind whips across our faces and over our bodies, ruffling the delicate white silk blouse she's wearing. I delight in all the little sounds she makes as we move across the night sky, and the way her breath comes hurriedly at times.

The raised flesh on her arms and the coolness of her skin cause me to hold her a little tighter, a little closer to my body. She takes her arms from around my neck and brings them inside my embrace.

There's a comfort in knowing that she trusts me so completely. That she knows I'd never let her fall.

I take us up even higher, where we're floating just above the first layer of clouds that had settled across the evening sky. They're light and airy but dense enough to obscure the view of the city below. We're alone in the night sky, just she and I, floating under the light of a waning moon.

"It's incredible," she breathes.

"Yes, it is," I agree, my eyes fixed on her.

"You're not even looking," she chastises me.

"Yes, I am."

I'm rewarded as a blush creeps across her face and a soft laugh escapes from her lips. "Oh."

I slow our movement across the sky until we come to a stop, just hovering above the clouds. I move the hand I have under her legs and allow them to drop down as I bring us together in an upright position. An almost imperceptible shiver courses through her body and I pull the sides of my cape around her.

She lays her head against my shoulder and brings one hand up, placing it on my chest. Her fingers begin to lazily trace the curves of the S on my crest. I close my eyes drinking in the scent of her hair, her skin. I can feel the racing of her heartbeat and it ignites a smoldering fire deep within me. I take a few deep breaths trying to compose myself. Don't rush this. Don't rush her.

"This is what I've always wanted," I whisper against her forehead. "Someone I could reveal myself to, who would accept me for who I really am. Someone who wouldn't be frightened by what they found, or try to use it against me."

Her head lifts up off my shoulder, her eyes searching for mine in the darkness. "Clark, the night that you told me about Lana, you said that if I gave you a chance that you'd always be honest with me from here on out."

"Yes, and I will. That's why I came to you tonight."

"You promise? No matter what I ask?"

I feel myself starting to squirm a little. What would she ask? "I promise."

"Then what were you thinking about just then? Before you said this is what you've always wanted?"

I'm glad it's dark because I can feel the heat in my face, as well as other parts of my body. She isn't serious, is she?

Of course she is. She made you promise.

But I can't tell her that. Can I?

She made you promise.

"I, um… was thinking… how much… I'd…"

She pulls back from me a little further and I realize that she's smiling at me, a little lopsidedly at that. She's… she's enjoying watching me squirm!

"You know for a writer, that's not very eloquently put and you still didn't answer my question. Why don't you try again?" She slides her hands around my body, holding me snugly against her and places a soft kiss against my neck.

Oh god. As if this wasn't hard enough.

"Come on. You promised," she goads me.

I sigh and close my eyes, not being able to look at her as I admit this. "I was thinking how much I'd like to hold you like this with no clothing to interfere."

A soft giggle escapes from her lips. "I figured as much, you know those briefs you're wearing don't do much to hide what they're covering."

If my face got any hotter it would be glowing. How can she tease me like that? And then I realize; she's doing what she can to help me. To drag my mind away from other thoughts, darker thoughts, and… it's working.

As I'm pondering these thoughts, there's a break in the clouds below us and I realize how close we are to her apartment. I'm almost a little sad that our flight is over so soon.

I decide to talk to her to prolong our voyage a little longer, allow myself to hold her a little while more. "Okay, you got to ask your question. Do I get to ask one now?"

Her face betrays her panic, but she responds smoothly. "Go on."

"You said you wanted honesty, but you also said you had a list. What else was on that list? How many things were there?"

This time it was her turn to blush. "Um, well, there were five things."

"Five? So what were the other four?"

"Do I really have to tell you?"

"Yes, if you ever want me to take you down from here."

"Is that supposed to be a threat?" she asks, smiling mischievously.

I drop us a few feet quickly and it takes her breath away.

"Oh!" she cries, her arms squeezing against me tightly.

"Well?"

"All right. Geez, I was just kidding."

I laugh softly and she smiles at me. "Okay, let's see… I can't believe you're going to make me admit these. Honesty was really the only one that mattered. The others were kind of silly and superfluous and more than embarrassing once you have to say them out loud…"

I move my body as if I'm going to drop us again.

"No, stop. Okay. I'll start at the bottom of the list… Good- looking."

"Good-looking? Wow. After the one about honesty, I was afraid they were all going to be these serious qualities like integrity, intelligent, impartial, give me another "I" word…"

"Impervious?"

I grin. "So far. At least to everything I've come in contact with."

"Hmm, including bombs," she agrees. We both laugh.

"Next," I prompt her.

"Oh, uh, and you made the check-list on the good-looking one."

"That's good to know."

She smiles shyly at me. "Good-natured."

"Really?"

"Yes, I want a guy who can lift my spirits and who isn't afraid to laugh. I think we've established that you've made the list on that one as well."

"Good. Only two left."

"Loyal." Her voice is a little quieter than before.

I don't make any comments after this one. I can tell it's an important one to her. "Tell me."

"My father cheated on my mother, and he abandoned me and my sister when we were young. *He* took some of my innocence too…" Her voice trailed off and she sighed quietly. "That's not how a family is supposed to be, Clark. A family is supposed to be loyal, to stick by each other through thick and thin, to be supportive of one another."

"I'm so sorry, Lois." So more than one man in her life had let her down. No wonder she had seemed so reserved when I first met her, why it was hard for her to trust people. "But believe me, not all families are like that, not all *men* are like that."

She nods her head silently, her eyes looking glassy with unshed tears.

"That's definitely a very important one," I tell her. "But there must be one even more important — you still have one left."

Her face brightens. "Acceptance."

"Acceptance? But that's mine."

"Yes, I told you I liked it and I was going to add it to my list."

"But what was there before? Didn't you already have five things before I told you that?"

"I'll tell you that one later. It was at the bottom of the list, under good-looking. It got bumped when I added yours to my list."

I'm amazed that she had made what I cared about so important to her. It took my breath in a way that no one ever had before. Lana had always tried to change me, make me into what she wanted. Lois was instead changing part of herself, no not changing, just supporting. She was aligning herself with me.

"Clark, would you take us down now?"

I feel a little disappointment that this night has to end, regretful that I can't find some way to extend it a little more. But I don't say anything; I just lower us back down, setting her down in front of her apartment building. I move into the shadows and spin out of the suit before rejoining her at the steps leading up to her building.

Not wanting to leave her any sooner than I have to, I walk with her up to the front entrance.

"Thank you, Lois. You'll never know how much tonight has meant to me."

"To me too," she says. There's a slight waver in her voice. Something isn't right. She seems almost nervous. I reach out with my hearing and realize her pulse has risen to a high level; her heart is beating wildly. I look down at her hands and they're clasping and unclasping in front of her.

"Is something…" That's all I manage to get out before she comes to me, capturing my lips in her own and drawing against them deeply.

She catches me off guard but I soon recover and my arms go around her, pulling her to me. I bring one hand up and slide it behind her head, bringing her in to deepen the kiss.

I feel her groan against my lips and the sound resonates through my body. Oh, god, Lois.

She pulls away from me, leaving my lips wanting. She opens the door to her building and steps inside. As my mind questions what I did to cause her to leave, her hand pulls on me, trying to bring me inside with her. When I don't immediately follow her, she releases my hand and takes a step back toward me.

"Please, Clark…"

"Lois, I don't know if I should…"

She takes my hand again and this time I allow her to lead me inside.

When we make it up to her apartment door, her hands are trembling and she can't seem to get the key into the door. I reach out and place my hand on hers, steadying it. She looks up at me and smiles shyly.

She manages to get the door open and leads me inside her apartment. She leaves me long enough to go turn on a small lamp in one corner of the room. It casts a low, soft light on her body and our surroundings, causing her to look like a beautiful apparition. I have to restrain myself from going to her and enfolding her body into my arms.

"Can I get you something to drink?" she asks me softly, smiling shyly at me through her lashes. "Maybe a glass of wine to help you relax? Unwind?"

"Alcohol doesn't really seem to affect me," I tell her, wishing very much that right now that wasn't the case. "So it won't help me unwind. Probably a good thing, though, because I might have drank myself into a drunken stupor otherwise." I try a weak smile out on her and realize that she looks a little disappointed. "But maybe we could each have a glass and the *company* will help me relax. I could really use someone to talk to."

I'm dying to hold her in my arms again, but I wait. Men had taken advantage of her before and I refuse to be one of them. I don't want to rush her into anything that she isn't ready for.

If she will just sit… sit and listen to me… talk with me… that would go farther towards healing my soul than anything. I've never known what it feels like to be drunk but I'm sure it can't provide the kind of relief that pouring yourself out to another human being can provide, for one thing the effects of alcohol are just temporary at best.

And yet, it would be nice to be able to forget, just for a while. To not have to think about the pain, the loss… the regret. But even if a drink couldn't ease the pain, maybe Lois could.

Please, Lois, help me.

I watch her walk back to me and feel the anticipation welling up inside me as she reaches out, taking my tie in her hands. "Well, let's see what *I* can do to help you relax," she murmurs as she loosens the knot and lifts the tie up over my head. She gives it a toss over to the couch. It almost makes it but instead slides down the side and pools on the floor.

She leans in close to me and brushes a kiss past my ear. "How does that feel? Any better?"

I feel the heat in my face. "Define better," I tell her, my throat suddenly very dry.

She reaches between us and unbuttons the top three buttons of my shirt. She leans back and slides the shirt apart, frowning at the blue spandex of the suit underneath. "You know ever since that morning I came to pick you up at Chad's, I've dreamt of seeing this chest again." She smiles softly at me.

My face flushes at the memory of answering the door in nothing but a towel. "It seemed to me that you might have been dreaming already when I came back in from getting dressed."

It's her turn to redden. "God, was it that obvious?"

I smile at her. "What were you thinking about that morning on the couch? You seemed a little jumpy when I came back in."

When her smile comes again it's seductive and it sends a shiver through me that almost breaks my resolve. "I was imagining ways that I could have accidentally relieved you of that towel." She slides her hands lightly behind my neck and pulls against me, bringing her mouth to mine. She takes possession of my lips, making slow pulls against them. Her lips are so soft, so warm and… inviting.

My arms finally seize hold of her body, unable to hold back any longer. One hand entwines itself in her silky tresses and the other clutches against her hip as we deepen the kiss, silently telling each other the things we haven't yet begun to say.

Her hand comes down to find mine, a surge of electricity again flowing through my body at her touch. She finally pulls away from me and I allow her to lead me over to her couch.

"Let me get us a drink and then you can give me a more *in- depth* interview… off-the-record of course." She smiles demurely at me. "I think maybe Superman might have been holding back earlier. I want all the juicy details." Her smile flashes and there's a curious twinkle in her eyes.

***

As I sit on Lois's couch with her body leaning back against mine, feeling the slow rise and fall of her body as she breathes in an out, I realize how fortunate I am to have found her.

All my fears, my doubts, the hurt, the pain, had all flowed out of me as I talked to her, as I told her about all the years I had hidden myself, been alone. Even with Lana, I just hadn't been able to be myself.

Lois had listened to me, had asked me just the right questions to allow me to open up. She had squeezed my hand when I couldn't find the words to go on and she had hugged me to her when I told her the details of the night that I found Lana.

We kissed, we touched, and we held each other. Her attentiveness to me, her acceptance of me — of who I really am — was the single most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.

I press a kiss in her hair and then to her cheek. "Thank you," I murmur in her ear. "I've never felt so… accepted before. I've never been able to share myself like that with anyone."

I give her a gentle squeeze before sliding out from behind her. I start to get up from the couch but her hands come out and take hold of me, bringing me back down next to her.

"Stay, please," she says, her voice tender.

"Just try to get rid of me."

She tilts her head questioningly at me. "Then where were you going?"

"To get a snack. I haven't eaten anything in days and this is the first time I've felt like I wanted to eat. Can I get you something?"

She grimaces. "I don't think I even have a package of crackers in my cabinets right now."

I grin softly at her. "I really don't think that's going to be a problem. I can go get something and bring it back. Tell me, what would you rather have? Some Chinese again or maybe some Italian?"

She frowns and then a smile creeps slowly across her face. "So, the other night, that was *real* Chinese." I nod at her, smiling. "Mmm, no wonder it was so good. Well, we've had the Chinese, but I think the Italian might be a little too heavy for as late as it is, or early, depending on how you want to look at it. Do you know any good little French bakeries?"

"Oui. Just stay here looking that beautiful and I'll be right back."

"Promise?"

"Always."

THE END