Rebuilding Superman

By Terry Leatherwood <>

Rated: PG13

Submitted: June, 2007

Summary: After three years of hiding from the world, Clark decides to face justice for what he did to Bill Church. But what Lois thought would be a mere formality turns into a trial — where Superman is accused of murder! Sequel to "The Masonry of Life."

Preface to "Rebuilding Superman"

My first attempt at a long Lois and Clark piece resulted in a story entitled "The Maysonry Of Life," which (should you wish to peruse it) is located at It was an attempt to explore what might have happened to Lois and Clark and their relationship if Lois's reaction to Clark's disavowal of his love for her at the end of season one was not stunned silence but expressively vituperative and monumentally insulting.

With the twin luxuries of time and hindsight, I can see its several flaws, but I'm still a little proud of it, like one would be of one's show dog which wins a ribbon despite having wet on the judge's leg. If you haven't read it, this is your opportunity to hop over there and take it in, warts and all, because this piece is a direct sequel to it. If you'd prefer to stay with this story, however, there is a brief summary at the end of this post.

My original intent with "Maysonry" was to present a stand-alone story in which Clark and Lois followed a different path to arrive at their destiny together, and when I wrote the final scene, I thought that was all there was to it.

Things are not always as they seem. Several readers took the time to write to me and let me know how much they enjoyed the story, but they also wanted to know the rest of it. More than one reader was particularly adamant that more must be told. Both the number and the intensity of the responses surprised me, because I thought I had written all there was to tell.

One of my muses (their names are Psychotropoia, the muse of weird imaginings, and Polyskitzodia, the muse of multiple and confusing timelines) gently nudged me last year and muttered something about writing the second half of the story. I responded, in a rather off-hand manner, that I wasn't interested because there wasn't any more to tell. The other muse became most indignant and insisted that yes, there was more to the story, here's the basic outline, now go do something intelligent with it, you big doofus.

(There ought to be some kind of union rule preventing muses from behaving like that. And my muses aren't on the list of the nine classic Greek muses. I think they're a little bit outside the box — or maybe outside this dimension altogether — but don't tell them I said that. They'll just get mad and give me a really difficult story to work on. Oops. Too late!)

Anyway, that "something" the muse inspired within me (which I hope is intelligent) is the piece you're starting now. "Maysonry" was submitted directly to the archive, because at the time I didn't know about this site, so I'm sure many of you haven't read it before. So I'm presenting "Rebuilding Superman" to resolve some of the conflicts and open situations from the first story, and to allow you, the gentle readers, to make constructive suggestions and comments. I hope it makes sense to you, both from a dramatic perspective and from the Lois/Clark relationship perspective. To give a timeline perspective, the events described in "Maysonry" would overlay everything following Luthor's last flight from his penthouse balcony, and "Rebuilding Superman" would take place in the beginning of Season Six (had there been one).

You will find no WHAMs in the following story, no sex, and little violence. But it is a serious piece which explores the legal ramifications of what might happen if Superman were to lose both his temper and his self-control to the point of causing someone's death (in this case, Intergang's evil leader, Bill Church). How would the legal system respond to such an occurrence? How would Clark's friends and loved ones respond to Superman? How would Clark deal with it? Most importantly, I think, how would the public respond, and how might Clark feel about being Superman? And since it's a Lois and Clark story, it also deals with the intense effect this struggle has on our favorite couple's relationship. Suffice to say there is a significant impact.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my Beta readers Chris (who had to drop out due to real life pressures but made some excellent suggestions) and Tricia (who persevered through many of her own personal stresses). If you like this, credit them, and if not, blame me. After all, it was my muses' idea.

I'm sure you'll let me know what you think. The FOLCs on this site aren't known for being bashful (unless that also means "full of bashing"). If such is my fate, well, it won't be the first time.

Enjoy. Please.

*—Warning!—* *—Warning!—* *—Warning— * *— Warning!—*

For those who might wish to dive directly into "Rebuilding Superman," I will briefly recap "The Maysonry of Life." It should go without saying that much of the emotional impact of the story is missing in this summary.


*—Warning!—* *—Warning!—* *—Warning— * *— Warning!—*


Following the interrupted Lex/Lois wedding at the end of Season 1, Clark recants his declaration of love for Lois. Feeling completely betrayed and totally blindsided, Lois loses every vestige of her temper and self-control and furiously insults Clark in the worst ways possible. She flees to the Planet, but because the paper isn't officially open yet, no one is there except Cat Grant, who is cleaning out her desk because her contract was not renewed.

Lois, feeling very alone, invites Cat to lunch, where they mend their relationship and begin a friendship. They share dinner at Lois's place, talk about men in general and Clark specifically. Catharine (her new name celebrates the new stage in her life) goes to Cincinnati to start her new job as a news reporter at a rock-and-roll radio station. Clark refuses to hear Lois's apology, breaks up the team of Lane and Kent, and has Perry move their desks as far apart on the news floor as possible.

Martha calls Lois to see if she can help to mend the relationship between Lois and Clark. Lois confesses her perfidy (and the circumstances) and Martha accepts her apology. They make plans to see each other the next time the Kents come to Metropolis.

Despite her repeated attempts to reconcile them, Clark continues to refuse to listen to Lois's apology. He won't let his parents intercede, either. Lois notes that Superman also seems out of sorts. Lois meets a police officer named Clay Mooney and begins a friendship with him, but she still loves Clark and is frustrated because he won't let her fix the breach in their relationship.

Independent of each other, Catharine (in Ohio) and Lois begin investigating Intergang. They combine their information and learn that other investigations are also in progress. Clark and Lois both write up a press conference where Superman declines a commission in the Metropolis police force and is deliberately rude to one of the Mayor's aides when the aid quietly threatens him with less official cooperation. Clark and Lois get into another argument about the coverage of this event, since Lois's piece was negative and Clark's was positive.

Several weeks later, Lois finds out that Clark is dating ADA Mayson Drake. Mayson meets Lois and they immediately rub each other the wrong way. Clark comes to Lois's desk to defend Mayson to Lois. They argue again and Clark loses his temper. He grabs Lois's desk and flips it over. Perry makes Lois take a walk and talks to Clark. Before Lois leaves, she finds four finger impressions in the underside of the edge of her metal desk which could only have come from Superman's fingers. The realization that Clark is Superman floors her.

She comes back from her walk and tells Perry that she and Clark can't work together. Perry tells her that Clark has volunteered to work in the Planet's overseas bureau, but Lois silently decides that Metropolis needs Superman more than she needs the Planet. So she submits her two weeks' notice and tells him she plans to accept an offer to be the editor of the Metropolis bureau of the Washington Standard.

After she leaves Perry's office, she visits Clark and confirms her deductions. Instead of thanking her for keeping the secret, Clark gets snotty and she tells him she hopes he and Mayson are happy together. Then she leaves.

Mayson pushes Lois for more data on Intergang, but Lois holds back because she suspects Mayson is leaking info to Intergang. She steals Mayson's pager, then returns it, along with an apology. Mayson uses the incident as leverage to get Catharine's name out of Lois, and she also asks about Clark's constant disappearances. Given Mayson's lack of enthusiasm for Superman, Lois is tempted to tell her the secret to break them up, but she refrains. Lois and Mayson still don't like each other, but they are learning to respect each other.

Lois and Clay are seeing each other, as friends, and Lois tells Clay that she's leaving the Planet and explains her reasons. He understands and offers to be her close friend, which overture Lois gladly accepts.

On Lois's last day, the staff gives her a going-away party. She checks out the cards she was given and doesn't find Clark's name. She cautiously asks him about it and he apologizes for not writing anything, but no one asked him to, apparently because their co-workers assumed that he still hated Lois. She tells him that it wasn't her doing and apologizes for the oversight. They smile at each other (for the first time in almost a year) and wish each other good luck. A fragile truce is finally established between them.

Lois meets her staff of reporters at the Standard and learns that her predecessor was a political animal who didn't care a fig for the people in his employ. In her first week, she defends a young Vietnamese woman named Laura Nyguen (pronounced "win" for us language-challenged Americans) from an over-bearing actuary, then pairs her with veteran reporter Ron Dombrowski for a feature on Metropolis's Little Saigon population. They work well together and the story is excellent. Another of her reporters tells her that there's an Intergang spy in the newsroom, but he doesn't know who it is.

Lois and Catharine continue to share both personal information and the Intergang investigation, mostly through e-mails. One evening, not long after Lois begins her new job, Mayson and Clark, without realizing it, get a secluded booth in a restaurant next to Lois, who's eating solo, and Lois overhears Mayson tell Clark that she loves him. She also overhears Clark tell Mayson that he needs to tell her something very important, but it has to be private. Mayson tells Clark that she'll be in Ohio for the next week, working on the culmination of the multi-state Intergang investigation. He tells her they'll speak when she returns, and maybe she'd like to meet his parents? She's all in favor of both of those ideas. Clark and Mayson leave without knowing Lois has heard almost everything.

Lois is devastated. She e-mails Catharine to commiserate. Catharine sends back appropriate comfort words and asks about Clay. Lois tells her that they're just friends and she's in love with Clark.

The reporter who told Lois of the Intergang spy disappears, but the other reporters tell her that he often goes underground for several days and reappears with a great story. But he doesn't show over the weekend. Catharine sends Lois information on the impending move of law enforcement on Intergang, along with information on the gang's leaders and a map of their underground complex in Metropolis.

Lois gets a call on Tuesday from Laura asking to meet that evening. Lois gets suspicious and types up all she knows about the Intergang connection to the Standard and leaves it with Ron for safekeeping. When she arrives at the meeting site, Clark is also there, waiting for Mayson to come out. He's going to tell her The Secret. Despite her desire to reconnect with Clark, Lois assures him that Mayson will understand. She also gives him the map of Intergang's underground headquarters which Catharine sent her, so he can "give it to Superman." He confirms that the Planet has pretty much the same information on Intergang that the Standard does.

Then Laura steps out of the shadows and points a semi-automatic pistol at Clark and Lois. She tells them she's the Intergang spy, that she killed the reporter who was getting too close, and that she's glad both of them are there to see the show.

Clark and Lois realize at the same moment what she's talking about. Clark turns to warn Mayson about the bomb. Laura shoots him in the back, he spins into Superman, and Lois takes advantage of Laura's surprise to attack her. As they struggle for the gun, it goes off and kills Laura. The recoiling pistol slide cuts Lois on the chin and breaks two of her fingers.

While Lois and Laura struggle, the bomb goes off and kills Mayson instantly. Lois comes over to check on Mayson, and Clark stands up and screams in fury and frustration, then leaves. Lois later finds out that Superman burst into Intergang's bunker, tore Bill Church's heart out of his chest and killed him, then tracked down all the other leaders on the video conference at the time and took them to various law enforcement agencies. A surveillance video record of the entire incident ends up in the hands of the police. Superman's actions break Intergang as a crime syndicate and as a business.

An EMT tapes Lois's broken fingers and treats her chin. The fingers heal fine, but she'll have a small scar on her chin for the rest of her life.

Over fifty people in various locations were targeted for death by Intergang on that same night, including Catharine Grant. Catharine is seriously injured but eventually recovers.

Clark quits the Planet and moves back to Kansas. Lois refuses to do a hatchet job on Superman to push the Standard's circulation above the Planet's, and she is relieved of her duties. Perry hires her back as his assistant at the Planet, because Franklin Stern and others want him to run for the US Senate at the next election, and he can't envision anyone else sitting in his chair in his place.

Lois goes back to the Planet as Perry's protege. Three years pass while Perry runs for and is elected to the Senate, Lois succeeds him as editor, Catharine moves back to Metropolis and the Planet and marries Clay, Clark hides in Smallville or travels as a civilian, occasionally submitting travel or light human-interest stories to the Planet and other publications. He also begins writing romance novels for income and becomes a best-selling author as the reclusive K.C. Jerome.

Superman is not charged with any crime and, officially, is wanted only for questioning in Bill Church's death. Superman has, by now, mostly disappeared, and only comes out to help at serious natural disasters, and almost never in the continental US. Lois has maintained a close relationship with the Kents (but not with Clark) and comes out to the farm for a vacation, and for the first time in a year she meets Clark face to face. It's also the first time in three years they talk about something other than work.

They pad around each other like porcupines with skin rashes for a few days. He and Lois finally talk, and she tells him he needs to resolve his legal situation in order to move on in his life. Clark listens but doesn't make any plans. He tries to get close to Lois but she pushes him away, saying that he can't just take up where he left off before. He reluctantly agrees

A few days later, Clark leaves the dinner table to check on an airliner that was having trouble maintaining altitude. It's the first time he's made a Superman appearance in the US in three years. He escorts the plane to its destination and returns to the farmhouse. Jonathan and Martha are in the barn, ostensibly discussing farming machinery. Lois and Clark confess to each other that there's still a definite romantic spark there, but there are things that must be addressed before they pursue a relationship. Lois convinces Clark that he needs to turn himself in. Clark asks her if that's a condition to their continuing relationship. She says there aren't any conditions, that it's two separate issues, that she loves him and wants to have a life with him. Separate from that, he needs to face justice and clear his name.

After a tearful conversation, they agree that Clark will turn himself in to the authorities in Metropolis and accept whatever fate is in store for him, and that Clark and Lois will begin a new chapter in their lives together.

And that's where "The Maysonry Of Life" ends.

*—Terminate Warning—* *—Terminate Warning—*


Chapter One

>>> Tuesday, August 20th

Lois snatched the phone from its cradle in the middle of the second ring. "Daily Planet, this is Lois Lane, Managing Editor. How may I help you today?"

"Hello, Lois. This is Superman."

"Superman! Oh! Yes! We've been expecting you to call back! Please! Let me put you on speaker!"

"If you prefer."

"Thanks! Okay, it's me, Catharine Grant-Mooney, and Jim Olsen. You remember them, don't you?"

"Of course. Hello, Catharine. How is Clay, now that he's made sergeant?"

"Wow! You know about that?"

"Of course. And I also know it's a well-deserved promotion."

"Well, we're doing fine. Thanks for asking."

"Hey, Superman! It's me, Jimmy! Except I go by just Jim now. Can you believe it? I'm assistant photo editor for the Planet! As of the day before yesterday! It's on the masthead and everything!"

"Congratulations, Jim. I hadn't heard about that. Does the new title mean you earn enough money to get married now?"

"Ha-ha! Sure, if Pam and I can ever agree on a date! It's actually more an increase in my responsibility than it is a salary bump."

"Keep at it, Jim. I'm sure you'll do an excellent job."

"Superman, it's Lois again. Could you tell us the reason for your call?"

"Yes. I wanted to give this story to the Daily Planet. I'm returning to Metropolis to surrender myself to the authorities."

"Wowee! When? Can I get pictures? Do we —"

"Jim, slow down! Superman, this is Lois again. When do you intend to return?"

"As soon as you can be ready. I'd like to do this with some sympathetic faces around."

"Sure! Cath, can you contact the DA's office and set up an appointment? Make sure you tell him this isn't going to be a media circus but Superman wants us to be there with him."

"I'll take care of it. Hey, Big Blue, you heard from Clark Kent lately?"

"Clark has been in Kansas with his parents, finishing his latest novel."

"His latest novel? I didn't know Clark was writing novels now! What's it called?"

"Sorry, Catharine, I can't tell you that. He's writing under a pen name and he doesn't want it made public."

"Oh, sure, I understand. I'll see you soon, Superman. Unless there's something else, Lois, I'll go call the DA now."

"Thanks, Cath. Jim, you make sure you have plenty of film."

"Film? Lois, this is the digital age! We don't need no stinkin' film!"

"No digital cameras. You go low-tech on this one. I want unadulterated negatives for these pics. You remember the vice-president's love nest pictures you took last year?"

"Those were all legit! None of them were faked! Every picture was real and the state high court agreed with us!"

"I know, Jim, but I don't want to go through that kind of legal hassle again. No one's going to accuse us of faking these pictures."

"Oh, all right. I'll take care of it! See you later, Superman!"

"Thank you, Jim. When should I call you back, Lois?"

"Give me an hour to make sure everything's set up. I think we'll aim for either late this evening or mid-afternoon tomorrow, unless you have other plans at those times."

"No, I'm free then. I just hope I stay that way."

"Sure you will! The DA only wants to question you about Bill Church. No charges have ever been filed."

"Yes, but the statute of limitations doesn't apply to murder."

"Superman, nobody's going to charge you with murder!"

"Okay, we're not past the limit for other crimes, either."

"Well, aren't you the eternal optimist now!"

"I'm a realist, Lois. I'll call back in an hour. And thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome. Bye for now."

Realist my left kneecap, thought Lois, he's positively gloomy. And he had no reason to be gloomy.

He didn't, did he?


Jim came bouncing back into Lois's office within five minutes. "I got it! Fresh battery and a backup, five rolls of film, two external flash units and spare batteries for both of them! Man, I feel like I've gone back in time with this getup."

"Like I said, Jim, I don't want any accusations of faked pictures. We save every negative, too, okay?"

He grinned like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. "Of course! Lois, this will be great, you'll see! Oh, man! We've scooped every other paper in the country on this one!"

Before she could respond, Catharine knocked on the door and leaned in. "Metropolis District Attorney Jonathan just-call-me-Jack Reisman says to meet him at two-thirty tomorrow in his office in the main courthouse. And if a pack of reporters shows up, he'll charge you with littering and exceeding the noise ordinance."

Lois frowned. "I hope you told him if we wanted to get loud we'd shout with headlines."

Catharine smiled back. "Something like that, just a little more subtle."

"Let's hope he's smart enough to understand what you meant. Two-thirty tomorrow, right?"


"Jim, you'll be ready?"

"I'm ready now! I was ready for this last week! Last year, even!"

"Save the adrenaline, you may need it later. I think we should meet here in my office and all four of us drive to the courthouse in my Jeep."

Catharine nodded. "Good idea. Superman will need the leg room and my Porsche only seats two."

Jimmy's jaw dropped. "You can't drive Superman to court in a Porsche convertible! He'd get mobbed!"

Catharine grinned wider. "Mmm, I sure hope so."

Lois finally smiled. "Catharine Grant-Mooney, you are a happily married woman! What would your husband say?"

She shrugged. "He'd tell me to save all my lovin' for him."

"And would you?"

She spun in place and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Of course I would! I am, after all, a happily married woman."


Exactly one hour later, Lois's phone rang again. "Hello!"

"Hey, boss lady, I got the —"

"Oh, Ron, it's just you."

"Sorry that it's just me! I only have a hot tip on that prison guard bribery story."

"I'll transfer you to Jim. I'm waiting for another call."

"Really? There's someone else important in your life?"

"Cut it out, Ron! I'm waiting for Superman to call!"

There was a pause. "Oh. Sorry, I didn't —"

"That's the other line! You're on hold! Jimmy! Get line one, it's Ron!" She slammed another button. "Hey! Hello!"

The man's voice sounded surprised. "Uh, it's me?"

"Oh, Cl — Superman! I'm sorry, I was on another line for a moment. How does two-thirty tomorrow afternoon sound?"

"I'll have to check my calendar, but I think I have an open slot."

"What? Oh, yes, ha-ha, very funny. The way I suggest that we do this is for you to come to my office about one forty-five and we'll sneak you down to the parking garage and get you over to the courthouse to meet with the DA. He'll ask you some questions and then you'll probably be free to leave by five o'clock at the latest."

He sighed. "What if I'm not free to leave?"

"Don't be silly, he won't arrest Superman! Especially if he wants to hold onto his job. Now is the timetable okay with you?"

"Yes. Just leave your window open. And make sure there aren't any loose papers on your desk."

She smiled. "Gotcha. I'll open the window at one thirty or so in case you're early."

"Thank you. I may take you up on that offer."

"I'll look for you then. Oh, I've got all kinds of meetings tomorrow that I have to move up, so I may not be in the office when you get here, so just make yourself at home, but try to stay out of sight. I'll close the door blinds to give you some privacy."

"Thanks again. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, Lois."

"Goodbye — Superman."

She put the phone down and tried to control the fluttering in her stomach. They'd talked about this day for several weeks, tried to anticipate all contingencies, planned until Lois was sick of planning, yet when the day came it still stunned her.

They had to do this. They had to clear Superman's name or she and Clark would never have any peace, never be able to be together without looking over Superman's shoulder. Clark had to face the justice system he claimed he respected or people would have a hard time trusting Superman again.

And he would face the music. She'd see to that. It wasn't just for him, it was also for her. Lois Lane's future was resting on what happened in the next thirty-six hours, and she was drawn tighter than a banjo string.

She took a deep breath and cleaned the loose papers from her desk, then pulled three folders out of her bottom drawer and slid them into her briefcase. She still had a morning meeting with the auditors, which she hoped would go smoothly, and two employee reviews to prepare before Superman arrived the next day, along with her usual crushing load of work to clear out of her 'in' box.

She also made a mental note to apologize to Ron Dombrowski when she saw him again. She wasn't usually that rude to her friends. Maybe it was because Clark still made her crazy, even now.

Paul Simon drifted through her mind, softly crooning "Still Crazy After All These Years." She smiled and hoped the insanity was still mutual.

>>> Wednesday, August 21st

At exactly 1:41 in the afternoon, Superman flashed through the open window of Lois's office and came to rest out of sight against the far wall. He glanced around and was mildly surprised that Lois had followed his advice and removed almost all the loose papers from her desk. The few that remained were secured by a heavy ceramic paperweight in the shape of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.

He nodded to himself as he noted the drawn blinds on the inside door and window. He closed the outer window and lowered the shade, then looked around the office more casually.

Lois's Kerth awards for her own articles weren't there; he assumed she kept them at home. But the Meriwether she'd won the year before as editor of the Planet was displayed modestly atop a bookcase. The walls were decorated with letters and photos, most of which had been taken since Clark had left the Planet, so he didn't know the story behind them.

The one that grabbed his attention most sharply was what appeared to be a recent photo of Lois smiling at a yawning baby held lovingly in her arms. Her expression was one of rapturous joy. He wondered fleetingly if this was Lois's child, and if so, who was the father? And how had he not known about this momentous event in her life? Had she not waited for him?

But then, why should she have waited? How much encouragement had he given her? If she had found someone else, even if only for a short time, it wasn't her fault, it was his. He'd walked out on her, on the Planet, on his career, even on Superman. He wouldn't be here now, ready to surrender to justice and move on with his life, if Lois hadn't given him the strength.

Then he shook himself. If Lois had borne a child, he'd know. She'd never keep something that momentous from him. There was no way she'd be less than rock-solid with him.

Unlike the way he'd been towards her.

He thought about the last three years and closed his eyes in silent regret. He'd wasted so much time, allowed so many criminals to go free, allowed so many people to be hurt, and all because he'd lost his temper and his self-control and killed a man. Could he still be Superman? Could he regain the trust of the people? Could the people of Metropolis trust a super-vigilante?

He had to find out. He had to know. He had to be strong, not just for himself but for Lois, who'd waited for him for three years. He had to be strong for his parents, who'd supported him and allowed him to mourn while still quietly insisting that he do the right thing. He wouldn't have blamed them if they'd called the FBI to arrest him, but they hadn't. They'd loved him and nurtured him and reminded him of his duty as a citizen, as Superman, as their son, but most of all as a man, to do the right thing no matter what it cost.

And it still stung that he'd not done any of that on his own. It had taken Lois's love and encouragement to tip his moral scales over to doing right despite the possible repercussions. He'd known what he needed to do, but he hadn't had the courage or wisdom or guts to do it on his own.

The idea that he'd lost — or at least misplaced — his ethical touchstone, his acknowledgement of what was good and right and just in the world, still bothered him. He'd avoided thinking for too long how he'd abandoned his principles. It had taken another person to remind him of who he was and what he represented. Only now was he trying to find the courage to face his accusers, and he knew they were out there. The New York Standard, the paper Lois had worked for briefly three years before, was still intermittently publishing editorials insisting that he be brought to justice, asking why he'd refused to stand up for himself and take responsibility for his actions.

His musings left him feeling empty and drained. Just how much had he lost in the last three years and in the months before that when his feud with Lois had nearly destroyed everything? What had he allowed Bill Church to steal from him? Would he ever recover? Could he ever make up for all that lost time?

He thought back to those days, when he thought he'd hated Lois Lane with all the passion with which he'd previously loved her. When he'd recanted his declaration of love after Luthor's death, and she'd spewed acid on his soul as she'd told him that he was a thousand times worse than Luthor and that she wouldn't spit on him if he were on fire, he'd reacted with fear, then hurt, then anger, then bitterness. He'd believed that Lois had destroyed any chance he'd have for happiness or love.

Then he'd met Mayson Drake. She'd come on to him, almost attacked him, and had at one point volunteered to spend a night, a weekend, a week, a year, any amount of time with him he might suggest to let her prove how much she cared him. He'd almost succumbed to her charms, but then he'd thought about how Lois had confronted him when he'd taken back his declaration of love and decided that waiting was the best option.

Then, during an argument with Lois in the newsroom, he'd lost his temper and almost destroyed a metal desk, leaving finger marks under the edge. He'd thought Lois would take all kinds of revenge on him when the evidence had helped her realize that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person.

But she hadn't. Despite the way he'd treated her even then, she'd kept the secret, and he'd come to realize that she wasn't the venomous harpy he'd believed her to be. He'd wondered if he'd made the wrong choice between Lois and Mayson. But Mayson had seemed so happy with him, especially when he'd offered to take her to meet his parents. That was when she'd first told him she loved him.

Of course, it hadn't been a big surprise. And he might have told her that he loved her if she hadn't insisted that he not answer at that moment. That was also the night he'd decided to tell her that Clark Kent, the man to whom she'd declared her love, was also Superman, the colorfully garbed vigilante whom she'd barely tolerated as an assistant district attorney. He'd hoped she'd take the news well.

He'd hoped she wouldn't try to have him arrested.

But before he could tell her, she'd been killed, blown to pieces in front of his eyes. He'd tried to save her but failed. He'd gone to Intergang's headquarters with the intent of taking Bill Church to the police, but when he'd realized that Mayson was just one of the many victims of Intergang's murderous rampage that night, he'd lost his temper and deliberately and viciously killed the man.

That was the moment when he thought he'd lost himself. Superman had hidden out in Smallville, cowering inside Clark Kent's clothing, for three years, until Lois had come to visit his parents and made him see that it was time to come back to reality. She had breached the wall he'd set up to protect himself from the outside world and made him realize that she still loved him. She'd always loved him. It finally penetrated the dense gray matter in his brain that when he'd told her he didn't really love her, she'd only hurt him to the degree that he'd already hurt her.

They'd spent almost a year getting past that anger to the point where they could speak to each other in a civil manner. And after Mayson's murder, he'd spent three more years running from his own life. He'd forgotten that old saying: Wherever you run to, no matter how far, wherever you go, there you are.

It hadn't been a pleasant awakening. He'd had to admit how stupid and selfish he'd been. He'd had to forgive himself for not being perfect and not saving every person Intergang had gone after that night. He consoled himself in that, after Bill Church's death, he'd only taken the other Intergang leaders to the police. Not one of them had been injured, as long as you didn't count the man who'd thrown up on him and the woman who'd wet herself.

And now he was going to face justice for the one death that he'd caused, the one man he'd killed. The taking of a human life wasn't an option for Superman. The hero needed to be above any suspicion that he might take personal vengeance on the lawbreakers he captured. Superman's reputation had to be an object of almost veneration, as long as people understood that Superman himself was not to be worshipped or looked to in awe.

Part of him hoped he'd have a brief conversation with the district attorney, shake hands, and go back to being the Superman he'd once been. Another part of him insisted that he had to pay for his crime. That part, the absolute justice part, also insisted that if he went to jail, it should be for the rest of his natural life, no matter how absurdly long that might be.

Yet another part of him was terrified of being confined in a cage without sunlight, without freedom, without the opportunity to fly anywhere he might wish to go, without the chance to help people in trouble, without the possible satisfaction of protecting the weak and preventing evil people from preying on the helpless. He wanted to be Superman again, but he was afraid he'd be denied that chance.

He heard two sets of footsteps approaching the office, so he quickly hid in the small closet. He recognized Lois's voice as soon as the door opened. He wasn't sure who the other person was, so he remained in the closet.

"— so the bribery story is a go as soon as you verify those last two items. You should be able to do that today, and if you do, it's page three in section 'A' tomorrow morning."

A man's voice responded. "I wish I had that Superman story you were talking about."

"Yeah." He heard the change in Lois's voice. She must have noticed the closed window. "I'd bring you in on this one if I could, Ron, but Superman wants as few people involved as possible. You understand, don't you?"

"Yes, I understand. I don't like it but I understand it."

"Thanks a bunch. Now shoo! Go get those details nailed down!"

"Yes, Commander! At once, Commander!" Superman peeked through the closet door and saw the man give Lois a weird salute involving stomping both feet several times and spinning his left hand around in a circle multiple times before extending it across his body and then touching it to his chin.

Could he possibly be responsible for the baby in the picture?

Or was Clark still being paranoid?

The man turned and bunny-hopped to the door, opened it, then bunny-hopped out. Lois laughed and closed it behind him, made certain the blinds were secure, then said quietly, "I'm alone now, except for you."

He pushed the door open a few inches. "You know, that was a silly performance. He could work for the Ministry of Silly Walks if he wanted to."

"Ron's a silly person sometimes, but he's also a very good reporter."

He stepped out of the closet. "Is that guy always like — hey!"

Lois turned and ran to him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and tried to burrow her face into his chest. He put his arms around her and laid his cheek on her hair.

They stood together, silent except for a few muffled sobs, for almost two minutes. Then Lois slowly pulled away, sniffling. "I'm sorry, I don't want to get your suit wet."

He wiped the tears from her face with his thumb. "I don't care. I'm glad to see you, too."

She cupped his face and brought it down for a soft kiss. "I love you. I'm so relieved that this is almost over."

His eyes clouded and his brow drew down. "Lois, this may not —"

"Shh." She put her finger over his lips. "Don't say it, I know. Let me be the positive one this time, okay?"

He smiled. "Okay." He wrapped her in his embrace once more, then stepped back and asked, "What's our next step, Madam Editor?"

She laughed lightly, then finished drying her eyes. "Sorry. That sounds so funny coming from you." She dropped her arms to her sides. "The next step is to call Jim and Catharine in here. They're part of our camouflage."

"Camouflage? What do you mean?"

"I'd rather show you than tell you. It's a writer thing; you know it very well." She picked up the phone and punched in a number. "Cath? It's time. Grab Jim and come on in."

She put down the phone. "It's good to see you again."

"It's good to see you, too." He turned and put his hands together behind him. "I was looking at your photo gallery before you came in and saw this one." He pointed to the picture of Lois holding the baby, hoping that his apprehension didn't show. "Who's this little bundle of joy?"

She smiled wider. "That's Lucy and Dan's little boy. They live all the way over on the other coast, in Sacramento, and Auntie Lois doesn't get to see her favorite nephew often enough. Jason's about ten months old now. He's a wonderful little boy."

"He's a cutie, for sure." He sighed in relief. Nephews were good. They were great, in fact. Wonderful, even. Truth be told, nephews were fantastic.

Then he had another thought. "Wait. Lucy and Dan who?"

"My sister Lucy and her husband Dan. Who did you think I meant?"

Chagrined, he shook his head. "I didn't even know Lucy was married."

"Yep," she smiled. "Two years ago this past May tenth. They are so happy together."

"What's Dan's last name?"

She opened her mouth to answer, but the door flew open and Catharine and Jim hurried in. Jim closed the door as Catharine walked to Superman and took his face in her hands.

Instead of her usual playful expression, she wore the most serious, most direct, most open, most grateful face Superman had seen in years. "You stopped Intergang. If you hadn't, they'd have finished me off. I owe you my life, Superman."

"Catharine, you really don't hammmpphhh!"

She curled her fingers behind his head and kissed him gently but thoroughly. As she slowly pulled back, she whispered, "Thank you."

Catharine stepped back and allowed Jim to lean in. "Hope you don't mind if I just shake your hand. Good to see you, Superman!"

They shook. "I don't mind at all. Congratulations again on your new job."

Jim beamed and stood ramrod straight. "Thanks! You're looking good."

"You too, Jim. I like the hairstyle. Much more professional."

Jim wiggled an eyebrow. "Had to. I couldn't wear coats and ties with that teenage soap opera hair I used to have. At least now some people take me seriously." They shared a chuckle. "Superman, I'll be taking the pictures today at your — uh, what do we call this shindig, anyway?"

"We call it a 'surrender to the authorities' because that's exactly what it is." Lois pointed at the blue-clad hero. "But you can't parade through the newsroom like that, Superman. You'd start a riot." She frowned in thought for a moment, then brightened. "I know!"

She opened the closet and searched madly for a moment, then grinned. "Hah! I knew this would come in handy one day!"

She pulled out a huge black slicker and handed it to Superman. "Let's see if it fits. Oh, and wrap this blue muffler around your throat. Can't have your Adam's apple spilling the beans."

He looked at it and frowned. "What beans? Lois, what are you talking about?"

"We're transforming you into K. C. Jerome, reclusive romance novelist. She's written three best-sellers in the last two years and eight of the top fifteen romantic titles in the last three years and no one know what she looks like, so you're it."

Superman's eyes expanded exponentially. "Uh, Lois, I'm not sure —"

Lois pulled a decrepit wide-brimmed hat and a stringy gray wig from the closet shelf. "Good, I thought these were gone. Ah! The almost-final touch, wraparound sunglasses, the eyewear of choice for the discerning senior. Let's see, yes, those wine-red gloves with the sequins on them are still in here." She tossed them at the superhero and resumed her rummaging. "Slip those on your hands, but don't flex too hard or they might split. And — ah-ha! — these will complete the ensemble, assuming they fit."

She held up a pair of immense black overshoes. "Put these over your boots. When you walk, bend over and shuffle like you have sore knees and a bad back. Don't make any sudden movements, take little steps, and look down. No chance anyone will spot you for who you really are."

He looked at her and caught the sharp smile and raised eyebrow, and he understood that her twisted sense of irony was in overdrive. No one else in the city knew that Clark Kent had been writing romance novels for the last three years under the pseudonym K. C. Jerome. The first book was something he'd thrown together and submitted just to have something to occupy his time, but the public had eaten it up and demanded more. So he'd complied. At first, it was just something to earn money while he waited for his life to settle down after Mayson's death, but since then his 'other' secret identity had taken on a life of her own. His publisher had been besieged with requests for personal appearances and interviews, and the more he declined them, the greater the demand grew for K. C. Jerome to appear in public, and failing that, for more K. C. Jerome books. Now Lois was taking advantage of his situation to goad him a little and get a minor scoop for the Planet at the same time.

Rather than react to her gentle taunting, he donned the getup and asked, "How do I look?"

Catharine frowned. "You look like Superman in a bad disguise. Do what Lois told you to do."

"What are you talking about?"

"Bend over. Not that far! That's it, just hunch over a little. Now look down at the floor and walk like your knees are tied together."

He tried it. Jim started laughing first, then Catharine and Lois joined in. Superman groaned and straightened up. "Okay, that's the end of that experiment. Next suggestion, please."

Catharine coughed back her jocularity and waved her hands. "No, no, it's great! It'll work on anyone who doesn't know who you really are."

"Come on! I look like a giant penguin on a lousy feather day and you know it."

That set the three of them off again. Lois was first to regain control. "No, Superman, it's okay, really! You just — cough-cough — you just have to do that for everyone in the newsroom. All we have to do is get to the elevator, ride it to the basement parking garage, and we're home free!"

Superman nodded. "You make it sound so simple."

"It is! Oh, look, it's close to two already! We have to get going."

Jim lifted his hand. "Wait. What if someone talks to him?"

Lois shook her head. "We'll all hover around like a bunch of mama chickens."

Jim crossed his arms. "We need a backup plan. It's best if he doesn't talk, but if he has to, we need to decide now how he's gonna sound."

Catharine grinned. "I'd guess Julia Roberts is out of the question."

Lois smiled back. "Maybe Katharine Hepburn in 'Rooster Cogburn' or 'The Lion In Winter'?"

Jim smiled lifted an index finger. "I've got it! Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire."

Superman shrugged, then spoke loudly in a high, reedy voice with a slight English-Irish accent. "Oh, hel-looo!"

Catharine grabbed her stomach and almost fell over. Lois leaned against her desk and laughed herself breathless. Jim pressed one hand to his mouth and said, "Maybe — maybe a little less enthusiasm next time, okay?"

Superman began taking off his disguise. "I'm done. I'll meet the three of you in front of the courthouse at precisely 2:25 p.m.

Lois grabbed his arm and held on frantically. "No! We have to do it this way! The DA is expecting us to all drive up together and he doesn't like surprises!"

"Lois, I promise I'll be there at —"

"What if there's an emergency? An accident on the freeway? A bank robbery? An attempted kidnapping? A kitten in a tree?"

"A kitten? Lois, I —"

"No!" Her expression was part pleading and part commanding. "I won't risk losing control of this situation! We do it this way or I call the DA and tell him you've changed your mind!"

He looked into her eyes. "You'd do it, wouldn't you?"

She squeezed his arm as hard as she could. "In a Metropolis minute."

He held her gaze for a moment longer, then nodded. "Catharine, would you give me back that slicker? Thanks. Jim, you said a little less over-the-top with the voice, didn't you?"


Ron looked up in time to see Lois open her office door and slowly lead an older woman out into the newsroom. He thought he heard Lois call her 'Miss Jerome' but he wasn't sure. At the rate the old lady was moving, he was surprised she'd managed to sneak past him. Besides, she was really tall. Even bent over, she was still bigger than either Lois or Catharine.

He watched as Jim Olsen and Catharine Grant followed them to the elevators. He wondered who she was and why she rated the editor's special attention, then he turned back to review his article once again.

He heard a thin, high-pitched voice from the direction of the unlikely quartet, so he turned to look. Ralph was talking to them, and he seemed energized by something. Ron stood and walked closer to listen.

By this time Ralph was gesturing enthusiastically. "Oh, Miss Jerome, I'm so pleased to meet you! You're my mother's favorite author! She has all your books! She only wishes she had a signed copy of one!"

That thin, keening voice answered from the black-clad figure. "Thank you, young man. You're very kind. I shall send you a signed copy in care of Miss Lane if you wish it."

Ralph almost jumped on the old woman, but Lois blocked his hands just in time. "Oh, thank you, Miss Jerome! Oh, if it's not too much trouble, could you send a copy of 'The Willow Whispers at Midnight?' It's my absolute — my mother's absolute favorite."

"I believe my agent will have an extra copy or two lying around. Yes, I shall send that one to you."

For a moment, Ron thought Ralph would faint, but he steadied himself. "Oh, Miss Jerome, that's wonderful, that's so wonderful! Thank you, thank you, thank you —"

Lois pushed him aside. "That's enough heroine worship for today, Ralph. Miss Jerome has to get back to her hotel and rest up for her trip home."

"Sure, sure! I understand! Wow! K. C. Jerome! My mother'll have a fit!"

As the elevator doors closed, Ron made his way over to Ralph. "Hey, Ralph, who was that woman?"

Ralph turned starry eyes towards him. "You mean you don't know who K. C. Jerome is? She's only the hottest romance writer in the Western Hemisphere! She's sold over seven million copies of her books in the last three years and she never appears in public! Don't you keep up with stuff?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah, I know who she is now. Funny, I thought she'd be younger and shorter."


The doors closed on the four, but they didn't dare break character. Franklin Stern and Ingrid Bliss, one of the Planet's actuaries, were already in the elevator.

Lois tried to control her face as she greeted them. "Hello, Mr. Stern, Ms. Bliss. Late lunch?"

Stern beamed at her. "Yes, actually. A working lunch with some of our investors. How about you, Miss Lane?"

"Ah, we're just escorting Miss Jerome to her car."

Ingrid Bliss's deep blue eyes lit up behind her thin wire-frame glasses. "Miss Jerome? This wouldn't be the reclusive K. C. Jerome, would it?"

Oh, good, thought Lois, yet another fan. "Yes, it is. Miss Jerome, may I introduce our publisher, Franklin Stern, and Ingrid Bliss, our head actuary."

Superman extended his gloved hand and spoke in his Mrs. Doubtfire voice again. "Hel-looo, both of you! It is so wonderful to meet a fan."

Bliss lived up to her name as she gushed all over Superman. "Oh, Miss Jerome, I'm so thrilled to meet you! My husband even reads your books! I have all nine of them in hardback, even the first one!"

Superman lifted his face to hers. "My dear, you have a copy of 'The Morning Cries Softly?' I thought they all went to be where unsold books go to wither away!"

"Oh, no! I think that one's my favorite! In fact, I've been in contact with your publisher, and they told me that they plan to reissue the volume and that you're planning a sequel! Isn't that wonderful? Can you tell me what it's about?"

Superman's mouth dropped open. Catharine leaned in and said, "Now, Ms. Bliss, we can't let this story out before it appears in the morning edition, can we?"

Ingrid's face fell, but she nodded. "Of course, I understand. I wouldn't publish preliminary trial balance figures before they were verified, so it stands to reason —"

"Exactly!" cried Catharine. Just then the doors opened at the ground floor. Mr. Stern gestured for Ingrid to precede him.

Stern stopped in the doorway. "I enjoyed meeting you, Ms. Jerome, and thank you for coming to the paper for your interview."

"It was nothing, Mr. Stern. Thank you for your kind words."

"I won't keep you. Have a safe trip."

"Thank you, sir, and you have a tasty lunch."

Stern's boisterous laugh echoed off the walls of the Planet's lobby. As the doors closed and they continued down, Superman stood up and sighed. "That went well, I thought."

Lois threw her hands in the air. "Oh, sure! Now we have to come up with an interview with K. C. Jerome for tomorrow's edition! Ms. Bliss isn't going to forget about it, either, even with a Superman exclusive on the front page."

Superman smiled. "Well, I think I can share this secret with the three of you."

Lois blanched. "What? What are you talking about?"

He gestured and drew them all closer. "It's about this. It's about K. C. Jerome."

Catharine's eyes were saucers. "I'm dying here! What's the secret?"

He looked to each of them in turn. Catharine was desperately eager, Jim was intensely curious, and Lois felt as if she were about to have a coronary. "It's simple, actually. I happen to know that K. C. Jerome's real name is — Clark Kent."

Lois heaved a deep sigh, which was unnoticed by Jim, who began laughing hysterically, and by Catharine, who gulped and almost choked. Superman smiled broadly and stood tall again.

Catharine managed to control herself and ask, "Are you serious? Clark Kent is actually K. C. Jerome? That's just too funny!"

Lois smiled despite herself and shook her head. "Jerome is Clark's middle name." The elevator chose that moment to stop. "That must be our stop. Superman, would you impersonate an old woman for a few moments more?"

The thin, reedy voice quavered out of his mouth again. "Of course, my dear. I shall be happy to accommodate you." He looked at Jim, who was holding on to the elevator rail inside the car to keep himself upright. "If only to get away from this most hysterical young man."


"Superman, you comfy back there?"

"Yes, Lois, I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"If you keep asking me that question, I'm going to start asking you 'Are we there yet?' every ten seconds."

From the front seat, Jim guffawed again and earned a sharp glare from Lois. Catharine leaned over and patted Superman's hand. "Don't worry, Superman, she always acts this way when there are people in the passenger seats."

"Do not!"

"Do too!"

"Cath, I do not either!"

"Sure you do! Don't you remember last year when I rode with you to that interview with Rick Stewart? You had to brake suddenly and I got jerked against the seat belt and you almost freaked out."

"I did not freak out! Besides, you'd been in your wheelchair for a couple of days before that."

Catharine smiled. "Oh, yeah, I remember that."

Superman frowned slightly. "Why were you in the chair? I thought you only needed it if you overworked your back."

Before Catharine could answer, Lois snapped, "Don't answer that! Superman, she was in the chair because of Clay."

Superman frowned harder. "Because of Clay? What did he do, hit you?"

Catharine chuckled evilly. "No, no! He was definitely responsible, but there was no hitting involved, I promise."

Superman looked at Lois's ear and cheek, then he smiled. "Lois Lane, you're blushing."

She threw an irritated glance over her shoulder at him. "You'd blush, too, if you knew any of the details of that week."

Jim leaned his elbow on the divider. "So, you know the details and you're not talking?"

Lois stopped at a traffic light and turned in her seat. "I'm only going to say this one time: Change the subject. Now." She straightened and stared at the light, willing it to turn green.

Catharine and Jim shared a stifled laugh. Superman crossed his arms and tried to look stern and forbidding but failed. Lois did her best to ignore the giggles and splutters in the Jeep.

No one spoke again until they stopped in front of the courthouse precisely at 2:23 p.m. Superman exited, removed his disguise, and strode up the steps with Jim on his right, Lois on his left, and Catharine bringing up the rear. Without actually planning it, the effect was that they escorted the superhero up the stone steps to the building's front door.

DA Jonathan "Jack" Reisman opened the door and offered Superman his hand. Jim had his camera ready and snapped four quick photos as they shook hands. Catharine managed to sneak into two of the shots.

Reisman asked, "Are you ready for this, Superman?"

"It's a little late to ask that question, don't you think?"

Reisman laughed and Jim snapped another shot, this one a candid frame with all parties smiling. The DA then led the entire group into the courthouse.

Inside, an assistant DA smoothly cut Lois, Catharine and Jim off from Superman. She pointed them to her office and said, "I hope you don't mind, but the DA wanted to interview Superman without any media present."

Lois stopped. "That's Superman's decision to make, isn't it?"

The tall, willowy brunette smiled perkily and tilted her head to one side. "DA Reisman is hoping that you'll cooperate as well as Superman is cooperating."

Lois nodded. "We may as well introduce ourselves. I'm Lois Lane, editor of the Daily Planet. This is Catharine Grant-Mooney and James Olsen."

The brunette smiled. "I'm assistant District Attorney Melanie Welch. Can I get you anything? Soft drinks? Coffee?"

Catharine scowled. "Unless your coffee is better than the newsroom sludge we get, no thanks."

Melanie laughed lightly. Lois noticed that Jim seemed to like her laugh. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Grant-Mooney, but —"

"Please, just call me Catharine."

"Thank you. Our coffee is barely a step above the carbon remover available in almost every police precinct in the city, so I guess we'll just go with soft drinks or water. Any preferences?"

Jim stepped forward. "I know what these ladies like. I'll go with you if you want. To, uh, help you pick out the drinks."

Melanie flashed him a bright smile. "Thank you, Mr. Olsen."

"Please, call me Jim. Everyone else does."

"Thanks, Jim. I'm Melanie. The drink machine is this way."

Melanie led Jim outside and down the hall. Lois picked a couch and sank down on the cushion. Catharine pulled a chair in front of her and settled into it.

"What's the matter, Lois? You look like you've just run out of your favorite ice cream."

Lois didn't smile. "I don't like this. Something's wrong."

Catharine shook her long auburn tresses. "This is just the DA saving face. He has to make a show of investigating Superman as thoroughly as he would anyone else. Don't worry, we'll be taking Big Blue out for a celebration dinner before you know it."

"Oh, yeah, that'd be subtle, taking Superman to a restaurant."

"Not in his super-suit! He could use that K. C. Jerome disguise again."

Lois looked up and saw the mischief dancing in Cat's eyes and smiled. "Yeah, that would be funny." Lois looked out the window for a moment, then suddenly chortled.

Catharine tilted her head to one side. "What was that for?"

Still grinning, Lois answered, "I was just thinking about what he'd order. I'll bet K. C. Jerome doesn't have good teeth!"

Catharine laughed out loud. "He'd have to eat nothing but mashed potatoes and pudding!"

They were still laughing when Jim followed Melanie back to the office and began handing out sodas. "Here you go, Lois, cream soda, and Catharine, this is some kind of flavored diet water."

Catharine made a show of examining the label. "Oh, I suppose it'll do, Jim."

"Hey! I passed up three other bottles for that one! I was sure I saw its cousin on your desk yesterday."

"And why are you hanging around the desk of a married woman anyway? Your love life that bad?"

He frowned and opened his mouth, but Melanie's desk phone buzzed and she snatched it up. "ADA Welch here. Yes, all three of them. What? Jack, you did what?" She paled and sat down in her chair. "Are you sure? Second degree? You're kidding! Oh, no, I'm sorry, no! Are you sure? Yes, I'll tell them."

She put the phone down slowly and turned to the trio staring at her. "I — don't quite know how to say this — but — but the Metropolis Police Department, acting under the direction of District Attorney John Reisman, has taken Superman into custody."

Lois leaped to her feet and almost took off. "WHAT! They did what?"

The startled young ADA rolled her chair back against the wall. "Please, Miss Lane, I'm only repeating —"

"Call him back! Call him back right now and — Let me go!"

Jim tugged her back by the elbow. "Lois, stop! This won't help!"

Catharine stood close but didn't touch her. "He's right, Lois. Calm down. Keep your cool, okay?"

Lois allowed herself to be pulled away from Melanie's desk, then fixed the younger woman with a glacial glare. "Exactly what is the future ex-district attorney of Metropolis charging Superman with?"

Melanie gulped. "One count of murder in the second degree in the death of William Church."

Lois's eyes glowed with rage. "Murder! Why, you — you —"

Catharine leaned closer and spoke in a low, gentle tone. "Calm down, Lois. Easy, now."

Lois visibly controlled herself and pulled back slightly. "Why arrest him now? Why wasn't there a warrant out before now?"

"Th-the grand jury convened this morning. They must have handed down the indictment then, but I wasn't there, just Jack — DA Reisman. I didn't know this was going to happen, I swear it!"

Lois braced herself to do something, anything, but Catharine gripped her shoulder and said, "Lois. Let's go get the story, okay?"

Lois hesitated a moment, then nodded shortly. "Okay. We'll get the story." Then she snarled, "And that's not all I'm going to get!"


Chapter Two

>>> Thursday, August 22nd

Lois stared at the morning's headline, wanting desperately for it to be untrue but knowing it was absolutely true, knowing that it wouldn't change no matter how long she glared at it. 'Superman Arrested,' it blared. The subheading read, 'Charged with Second-Degree Murder.' The body of the article told how Superman had agreed to surrender to the DA and be questioned about Bill Church's death, but had then been arrested and charged. The arraignment was scheduled for ten o'clock that morning, and every media outlet on the coast wanted a piece of this one.

But the Planet had the inside track, the personal relationship with Superman, and therefore was first in line for any scrap of news. Even LNN was calling them for info, pictures, rumors and innuendo, or speculation. Lois had issued one of her rare executive orders that all requests for Superman data — and she meant every single solitary hint — was to be funneled to her. She would release what she saw fit to release, and keep the rest under cover.

She folded the paper on her desk and laid her head on her hands. She had almost two hours before the arraignment hearing. Superman would have a public defender, since Murray Brown was out of state on a business trip for the Superman Foundation. He wasn't a criminal defense attorney anyway, so Superman would have to search for a lawyer once he was released.

And he had to be released. She'd see to it if they wanted bail, but surely the judge wouldn't order bail for Superman! The very thought was absurd, but then, so was the entire situation. So she picked up the phone again to make a call about that very issue, but the sight of the receiver in her hand gave her pause.

She'd made a frantic phone call to the Kents before leaving work the night before and broken the news to them. They were disappointed, but resigned. And Lois had managed to make them all laugh when she'd described K. C. Jerome's first public appearance. They'd even given her a couple of tidbits for the interview which Lois had concocted and printed under Catharine's byline.

She thought about poor Clark — poor Superman — in jail with a bunch of deliberate lawbreakers. They couldn't hurt him physically, of course, but who knew what kind of verbal or psychological abuse he'd be subjected to in there?

She forced those thoughts from her mind and began dialing.


From his seat on the bench in the cell, Superman looked at the huge man looming in front of him. "No, sir, I agree that you're a lot bigger than I am, that you're probably the baddest fighter in the city of Metropolis, and if I were a normal human you could defeat me in seconds, but I'm not a normal human, so I'm not going to fight you for any reason whatsoever."

The man was almost seven feet tall and built like a shipyard crane. He leaned down and roared drool into Superman's face. "That ain't good enough! I'm gonna whip you right now! Get up, Bubba! Get up and get ready to bleed!"

Superman shook his head. "You don't understand, sir. I really am Superman."

He sneered. "Sure you are! You in here cause you forgot to register your cape, right?"

The other prisoners laughed, some harder than others, but no one wanted to cross the man Superman had mentally nicknamed Tiny. "Actually, I'm here because I killed someone."

"Oh, really? Who'd you knock off, anyway?"

"Bill Church, the head of Intergang."

The dozen or so men paused and stared at him, then Tiny burst out laughing again and the rest followed his example. "You killed the head of Intergang, huh? You don't look so tough to me, shorty!"

"I was a little worked up at the time."

"Ha-ha-ha! A little worked up, huh? Let's see how worked up you can get now!"

"I told you, I'm not going to —"

Tiny clenched his massive fist and slammed a giant roundhouse punch into Superman's jaw. A normal human would have sustained multiple broken bones and been knocked against the bars and onto the floor, unconscious if not comatose.

Superman simply finished his sentence. " — fight you under any circumstances. Okay?"

Tiny stared at him for a moment, astounded, then unleashed two more horse-killing blows. Superman continued to stare calmly. Tiny looked at his hands as if wondering where they'd gone. "I hit you real hard. I know I hit you hard! How'd you do that?"

Superman stood. "I told you. You didn't listen. Now this can go on until you break your hands, but I'd rather you didn't punch me again. It's a little irritating."

Tiny roared with rage and lifted both fists over his head, then brought them down with crashing force atop Superman's head. The scream suddenly careened from anger to pain as Tiny hugged his bruised hands to his chest. His anger won out, and he clenched his hands together again and swung horizontally, trying to take his target's head off.

Superman ducked under the blow, then took a quick breath and blew out. Tiny stumbled backwards as the force he'd put into his punch, combined with the puff of air from Superman's lungs, spun him completely around. He tripped and sat down hard on the bench against the far wall.

"Hey, man, how'd you do that?"

Superman glanced at the guard station to make sure no one was watching too closely, then levitated in the air and floated above Tiny and his accomplices. "I told you how. I'm Superman. Now, if you'll stop trying to injure me, which you can't do, I won't tell the guards you were trying to start a fight with me. Deal?"

Still angry, Tiny reached up and tried to snatch Superman out of the air. He intercepted the huge man's grab and lifted him off the floor by the wrist. "Are you done now?"

Tiny wriggled and squirmed like a shark on a hook. Superman shook him slightly and asked, "Once again, are you done now?" Tiny just glared at him. "Okay, then, count on being up here all day."

Tiny looked down at the floor, then around at the top of the cell, then glared sullenly at his captor. "We're done, I guess."

"You sure? I don't want to have to do this any more."

"Hey, you obscene deleted expletive —"

Superman bounced him again. "Or we can play for a while. Your choice."

Tiny stifled a cry of pain and grabbed his shoulder with his free hand. After a moment, he nodded. "Yeah. We're done."

Immediately he was lowered to the floor. "There. See how easy that was?" Superman sat down in his previous spot and crossed his arms. "I'm going to rest now."

Tiny stood in front of him for a moment, then turned and waved his massive arms at the other prisoners. "Y'all make room, now, and let Superman rest. Nobody bothers him! Y'all got that?"

The others muttered and nodded, then turned away from Tiny's glare. To Superman's surprise, Tiny sat down gently on the bench beside him and leaned back against the wall. "Won't nobody bother you now, Superman."

"Thanks. Hey, what's your name?"

"Walter Macklin. But folks generally just call me Tiny. Cause I'm so big, y'know?"

Superman grinned, partly at the pun and partly at guessing the big man's nickname correctly. "Yeah, I can see that. Thank you, Tiny."

"No prob, man. Hey, can I ask you a question?"

You just did, thought Superman, but said, "Sure."

"How come you didn't take me out? I mean, when I slugged you and all."

He lost his smile. "Why should I? You couldn't have hurt me."

"Yeah, but you said you was here 'cause you knocked off Bill Church. What makes me so special that you don't wanna kill me?"

Superman frowned. "I promised myself a long time ago, before I even knew that Bill Church existed, that I'd never use my powers to harm people, only help them. But Intergang killed a lot of people and tried to kill more, all at the same time, and I — I guess I just lost it." He looked at Tiny and willed him to understand. "I did something I promised myself I'd never do. I took a human life. And by doing that, I also caused a lot of people to trust me less. I broke man's law and violated my own moral code. And I don't ever want to do that again." He sighed and leaned against the wall. "I hope I explained it clearly enough."

Tiny nodded. "Yeah, man, you did. I understand. Like my uncle, when he smuggled some dope up from Mexico and got caught. Said he never wanted to before, just seemed like the right thing at the time. But it wasn't. He got busted and convicted. Doin' two to five in New Mexico State Correctional Facility right now." The immense man slapped him jauntily on the knee. "You just rest yourself, SuperDude. I got your back."

"Thanks, Tiny." Superman closed his eyes. Friends are where you find them, he mused.


"Yes? May I help you?"

"I'd like to see Mr. Stern."

"Do you have an appointment, ma'am?"

"Just pick up your phone and say, 'Lois Lane to see Mr. Stern.' I think he'll let me in."

"Oh! Ms. Lane, I apologize for not recognizing you. I've only been in this office for about a week and —"

Lois leaned over the desk and fixed the girl with a lancing stare. "Is Mr. Stern busy or can I see him?"

"Uh, let me check." She picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Lois Lane to see you, sir. No, sir, no appointment. She hasn't said, but I'd guess it is urgent. Of course, sir." She lowered the phone. "If you can wait five minutes, Mr. Stern can see you."

Lois controlled her first impulse to snap back at her and tried to smile. "Thanks. I'll wait."

From the little blonde's reaction, Lois wondered if she'd grown long sharpened canines since she'd brushed her teeth that morning. The girl told Stern that Lois would wait, then offered her something to drink.

Lois shook her head. "No thanks, I'm good."

She sat down in a plush chair and idly wondered how much it cost, and whether or not the money might have been better spent on software upgrades or improved security or increases in reporter's salaries. Then she frowned and told herself to focus on the reason for her visit.

The young secretary's phone buzzed and she picked it up. "Yes, sir? Of course." She hung up the phone and smiled at Lois. "Mr. Stern will see you now, Ms. Lane."

"Thanks." Lois pushed through the heavy double doors and tugged them shut behind her. Franklin Stern stood up, and his personality and voice filled the room.

"Lois! My dear, it's so good to see you. You should come up here more often. You make this office brighter by just being here."

"Thank you, Mr. Stern."

"How is the paper doing today?"

"Quite well, sir, thank you for asking. I hope you don't mind if I'm direct."

"Not at all! I like a person who gets to the point. Saves time."

"I'm glad you feel that way, so here's the point. Superman's arraignment is this morning and my sources tell me the DA plans to ask for a ridiculously huge bail. If the judge is dumb enough to fall for it, I'd like for the Planet to post bond for Superman."

Stern's smile lost some of its luster. "Bail for Superman? We don't usually bail out people who don't work for us, especially not accused felons."

Lois focused on being patient and convincing at the same time. "True, but these aren't the usual circumstances. I know I'm asking a great deal, but Superman isn't going to blow off his trial date any more than you would refuse to pay your electric bill. This is an extremely low-risk investment, sir, and the positive publicity that would accrue to the Planet would be more than worth any lost interest."

"Hmm." Stern picked up a sheet of paper. "These are the circulation projections for Superman's trial. We stand to increase point-of-sale revenue by at least twenty percent, and the subscription rate will go up by eight to ten percent. Or so the actuaries tell me." He put the paper down. "How high do you think the bail will be?"

She didn't bat an eye. "I'm hearing the DA will ask for ten million dollars."

Stern was equally poker-faced. "Ten million, eh? Hmm. Let me think for a moment."

He sat down and folded his hands below his chin, then slowly turned aimlessly in his chair. Lois wanted to shake him, to give him more information, to appeal to his sense of justice and fair play, to convince him to stand up for Superman, but she knew Stern had all the information he wanted at the moment. If he thought he needed anything else, he'd ask for it.

After thirty seconds that felt like thirty hours to Lois, Stern spun his chair to face her again and stood up briskly. "We can go as high as five million. I just don't have the cash reserves to risk more right now. Besides, the Superman Foundation will also have a legal presence there today, and we can join with them to come up with the money." He walked around the desk and held his hand out. "Lois, I agree with you. Superman should be free, and the Planet will do all it can to ensure his freedom. I will personally match the Foundation's contribution to Superman's bail."

Her hand disappeared into his huge mitt. "Thank you, Mr. Stern. I promise you, this is money well invested."

His smile lit up the room again. "I'm sure it will be. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with some real estate people. I'm buying some very nice property upstate but I don't want to pay what they're asking."

Lois chuckled. "Buy low and sell high, right?"

He lifted an eyebrow and lowered his voice. "That's what I do to people. That's not what people do to me."


Lois and Ron got out of the cab at nine thirty-two AM. The streets outside the courthouse were jammed with sightseers, out-of-town press, police, and people simply caught up in the craziness. Ron physically forced a path through the crush up to the police line where he and Lois showed their press credentials. Even so, they had to appeal to the lieutenant in charge of the detail before they were allowed to enter the building.

There was more security inside, in every hallway and office and even in the restrooms, as Ron found out when he went inside one to get some mysterious sticky substance off his shoe. The officer inside nearly arrested him when Ron removed his shoe and started scrubbing the sole.

Lois was pacing in front of the men's room as Ron exited. "Where have you been? The arraignment starts in ten minutes!"

Ron gave her a hangdog expression. "It isn't my fault, honest. I almost got arrested in there."

"What? Why? Oh, never mind! I really don't need to know about your personal problems. Come on, we've got to find the Foundation's lawyer."

He pointed. "I think the guy holding up the sign that says 'Lois Lane' will have a clue."

"Huh?" She followed the direction of his finger. "Wow. You'd think this was an airport. Come, Sancho, let us return to the quest."

Ron followed at her shoulder. "Ooh, a medieval literary reference. Be still, my beating heart."

"Be still your flapping mouth. Hi, I'm Lois Lane and this is Ron Dombrowski from the Daily Planet. And you are?"

"Wayne Anthony, head of the litigation department at the Superman Foundation."

Lois's mouth quirked sideways. "A man with two first names. Convenient."

Ron frowned. "The foundation has a litigation department? How much litigation is the Foundation involved in?"

"Oh, not that much really, just the occasional knock-off action figures and some unlicensed t-shirts, that sort of thing. Doesn't keep me all that busy, which is why I drew the short straw and ended up here." He hesitated, then noticed the serious expressions on his new associates' faces. "Not that I'm not thrilled to be here, I mean pleased, no, I'm not pleased that Superman's been arrested, I mean it's wonderful to meet you, but —"

Ron lifted his hands. "Whoa! Lois, take pity on the guy, okay? Let's do what we came to do and not let him embarrass himself all over the place. Besides, I don't think his backup lights are working."

Lois allowed herself a small grin. "Okay, Mr. Anthony. We think DA Reisman will ask for an outrageously high bail for Superman. Franklin Stern, the owner and publisher of the Daily Planet, has agreed to pay half of Superman's bail as long as the bail is ten million or less."

Anthony's face paled and his jaw dropped. "What! Oh, my! You — you mean you'll — I mean Mr. Stern will contribute up to five million dollars? For Superman's bail?"

"Yes. And it's almost time to start. Let's see if we can get closer, okay?"

Without waiting for a reply, Lois turned and began elbowing people out of her way. Several people objected momentarily, until they either recognized Lois or saw the intense determination on her face. Ron followed with Anthony in tow, and they managed to secure a place at the rail behind the defendant's desk.

The arraignment judge looked out over the crowded gallery. She stood and lifted her hands, asking for quiet. Eventually the babble petered out and she smiled.

Her voice was pleasant but firm. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am Municipal Court Judge Evita Rodriguez, and I have the dubious privilege of overseeing the arraignment of Superman today. I realize that this is a most unusual situation for all of us, but this is still a court of law. I have already instructed the bailiffs to forcibly remove anyone who impedes the progress of this court.

"That means that, despite the large number of media people here today, we will not have any planned or impromptu interviews with any of the participants here in the courtroom. You may, if you wish, approach any of the court personnel or other participants on their personal time and speak with them, assuming they're willing to respond, but you will not disrupt this court today. Anyone who does so will be arrested and charged with contempt of court. Anyone who suffers that fate will have any cameras and or recorders removed from their person and the data contents destroyed, whether analog or digital. That means anyone and everyone."

She paused and swept the room with her gaze. "If you feel you can't conduct yourself within these boundaries, leave now. Otherwise, you had better be on your best behavior."

Anthony leaned forward and whispered to a tall, slender young black woman who was standing at the defendant's desk. After a moment, she nodded and motioned to a bailiff to let Anthony join her.

Judge Rodriguez waited until Anthony was standing beside the other attorney, then she sat down and said, "We're ready for our first case. Clerk of the court, please call it."

"Yes, ma'am. First case, People of Metropolis versus Superman. The charge is murder in the second degree."

A quiet gasp went up as Superman was escorted into the courtroom. He made momentary eye contact with Lois, and she smiled her encouragement. Lois noted to herself that he wasn't wearing handcuffs, and the bailiff escorting him didn't touch him, but only gestured to guide Superman to his proper place in the court. She also noticed that the district attorney himself was there to represent the state.

Rodriguez frowned as she glanced at the folder the clerk handed her. "Second-degree murder. Mr. Reisman, you're swinging for the fences today, aren't you?"

Jack Reisman puffed up his chest. "Your Honor, the people stand on the charge as read."

"It's your career, Mr. Reisman. Superman, have you retained legal counsel?"

The fiercely attractive black woman spoke with a slight but musical Georgia drawl. "Your Honor, I'm Blair Collins from Legal Aid. Mr. Wayne Anthony will assist me today if need be."

Rodriguez raised one eyebrow. "And is Mr. Wayne Anthony an attorney?"

"I'm head of the litigation department for the Superman Foundation, Your Honor, and licensed to practice in this state."

"Very well. Ms. Collins, how does your client plead?"

Blair looked at Superman and mouthed "not guilty." Superman crossed his arms and repeated the plea aloud. Again, the crowd 'oohed' at the statement.

Judge Rodriguez looked up and stared until the murmuring stopped. "Thank you, Superman. Mr. Reisman, does the state have any bail recommendation?"

"The state requests a bail of ten million dollars, Your Honor."

An audible gasp ran through the gallery. Blair immediately responded. "Your Honor! Superman is a well-known law-abiding person and has no plans to escape this jurisdiction. The defense asks for his release on his own recognizance."

Reisman objected. "The defendant is charged with second-degree murder, Your Honor! The state wants some assurance that he won't simply fly away and not come back."

Blair didn't wait for the DA to take another breath. "The very fact that Superman is here right now is proof that he's willing to undergo this trial! It wasn't the cell that kept him in custody last night but his own sense of duty and his desire to see justice done. The state has no facility that would keep Superman incarcerated against his will. Your Honor, bail for Superman is unnecessary. He will be available durin' the trial."

"Your Honor! This woman —"

Rodriguez slammed her gavel down once. "That's enough, both of you! Superman, does the court have your word that you will be available for the trial irrespective of other circumstances?"

He nodded. "Barring an event such as an asteroid heading towards Earth, Your Honor, nothing will keep me away from this trial."

"Fair enough. One million dollars bail, cash or bond. Please return Superman to the holding facility until bail is posted. I assume that's going to happen?"

Lois and Anthony said "Yes, Your Honor" in unison.

Rodriguez smiled. "I always wanted a good stereo system in my court. Very well." She whacked her gavel down again. "Pending the clearing of the court, we'll take the next case. See the bailiff to arrange for bail, Mr. Anthony."


The cashier fast-tracked the paperwork for Superman's bail and the officers took care to keep him updated on each step of the process. It was the first time since Luthor's attempt to run him out of town with the heat wave that he'd experienced the 'other side' of the justice system, and it was sobering. He'd seen first-hand, despite the deliberate courtesy the officers showed him, how dehumanizing jail could be. Prison had to be even worse, since the inmates there were more isolated and more regimented than in the city jail.

Between updates from the guards, Clark thought about doing something about the conditions in the jail, some kind of long-term solution, but without a lot more thought and huge amounts of research, he wouldn't come up with any viable alternatives. Everything he suggested to himself at the moment he promptly shot down as unworkable, incredibly expensive, or impossible to maintain. Maybe he'd write something about it. Maybe he could get some experts together and make some solid, constructive suggestions.

Lost in his thoughts as Clark, he didn't answer when the guard called for him twice. It wasn't until Tiny shook him by the shoulder that he responded.

"Hey! Superman, you okay?"

"Uh, yeah, Walter, I was just — thinking."

Tiny grinned. "Yeah, I done that a time or two. Usually gets me in big trouble." He stood and gestured to the cell door. "The man wanna see you. I think they're gonna spring ya."

Superman stood. "Thanks, Tiny. Hope you get a break from the judge."

Tiny laughed. "Don't matter. I'll land on my feet anyways. You go be a hero again."


Lois and Jim met Superman as he was escorted out of the holding area. The officer held out his hand and said, "I'm sorry about all this, Superman, I was just doing my job. I hope you don't hold it against me."

Superman took the officer's hand and gave it a manly squeeze. "I don't. And I appreciate you guys keeping me in the loop on my bail. Say, you should keep an eye on Walter and try to keep him out of trouble."


"Walter Macklin. He goes by the name of Tiny. He's not a bad guy, at least I don't think he is, but he's a little hot-tempered at times."

"Macklin? Big guy, built like the Lexor Tower?" Superman nodded, and the officer grinned. "I know him. Don't worry, we won't let him hurt anyone, including himself."

Jim lifted his camera and took the shot. It was too good to miss. Lois knew it was a Meriwether-quality photo, but somehow she regretted it. The moment was personal, private, and she'd pushed it into the public eye.

But it was too late to turn back. She pointed her pocket recorder at him and said, "Superman, how does it feel to be free again?"

He gave her a look as if he'd been expecting her to ask him something else, then said, "It feels great. I know the air in there is just about the same as it is out here, but there's something indefinable about breathing the air in a jail cell. It just smells like — like the inside of a cage."

Lois nodded briefly, then asked, "What are your plans now?"

He answered as he walked towards the exit. "I need to find an attorney. Ms. Collins told me she isn't qualified to be lead counsel for a trial like this, so I'll have to locate one, although I'd like for her to assist in my case if she can get a leave of absence from the Legal Aid department, assuming my actual attorney agrees. And please tell your readers that I appreciate any suggestions they might have, and that they should contact the Daily Planet with them."

Lois's eyes narrowed. That sounded like he was getting a little payback for his being K. C. Jerome the day before. And that didn't bode well for their personal relationship.

She forced herself back to the task at hand. "How do you think the trial will go? Do you expect to be exonerated?"

He stopped suddenly and turned to her. "I expect that justice will be done, Miss Lane. I don't expect any special treatment or any favors because of my name or what I've done in the past. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get started on a lawyer hunt."

He turned and pushed through the outside door. The media frenzy surrounding him went into overdrive, but only for a moment, as Superman glanced around and quickly launched himself into the sky.


Chapter Three

>>> Thursday, August 22nd

Lois arranged the place settings for the fourth time, then shook herself and stood straight. She smoothed her slacks and tugged her blouse into place again.

It was still five minutes before seven, and Clark was neither late nor early for social engagements. Besides, he might have a Superman emergency to deal with. He might even prefer that to spending time with her. That was certainly the impression she'd received that morning at the courthouse.

No, she told herself, he was being Superman for the public. He wasn't her Clark, not at that time. For that matter, he wasn't her anything yet, at least not officially.

That was what she wanted to talk about tonight. She didn't want the news business to intrude, she didn't want Clark's career as a novelist to be at center stage, she didn't want his upcoming trial to dominate their time together, she only wanted to be a woman having dinner with the man she loved. The fact that he was also facing a felony murder charge was incidental. Surely he'd get off.

She stopped herself. Get off? Was she actually hoping for a not-guilty verdict because of her relationship with Clark and not because she believed the charges were unjustified? If that were true, it sure messed with her journalistic integrity and her detachment. She'd have to think about that. But not now. Later. After dinner. After Clark went home.

Maybe some time tomorrow.

A soft tap sounded from the front door. She glanced at the clock. Seven on the dot. She peeked through the spy hole and saw Clark standing there. He wore a tan sport coat, a brown turtleneck sweater, gray slacks, and he was holding a bottle of wine. He was also shifting back and forth from one foot to the other as if he were nervous.

Or maybe he had to go to the bathroom.

She put on her brightest smile, undid the bolts, and opened the door. "Clark! I'm glad you could be here on time. As if I thought you'd be late! Or early."

She said to herself, You're babbling, Lane! Shut up! "Come on in. Dinner's almost ready."

He handed her the bottle. "I brought something for us for later, if you'd like."

"Sure! Let me put this in some ice to keep it cold."

She put the bottle into a small bucket and poured ice cubes around it. While she did, she wondered if Clark felt as awkward as she did. If he did, maybe he'd explain why she felt that way.

Clark's voice from the dining room startled her. "What's for dinner tonight?"

She calmed herself. "Chicken parmesan and tossed salad. I thought I'd keep it simple tonight."

"Sounds good. Smells good, too. Need any help?"

She opened her mouth to decline, then reconsidered. "Sure. You can get the chicken out of the oven. That way I know I won't burn myself."


Lois was puzzled. His voice didn't seem to have any charge, any juice, any humor or enjoyment in it. On one hand, she hoped it wasn't something she'd done, but on the other, she hoped she had done something so she could fix it.

"Clark, would you like the wine with dinner or after?"

"After is fine, if that's what you prefer."

"I'll pour some iced tea, then."

"Iced tea?" His voice finally sounded alive, albeit only slightly. "Since when do you drink iced tea?"

"Since your mother introduced me to it. I have since learned that the tea I drank the first time I visited Smallville with you wasn't made especially for me. It was what she usually makes, and I've learned to like it. I even bought a sun tea brewing pitcher. I just drop the water and sweetener and tea bags in and put it on my balcony." She carried the salad and dressing to the table. "Works better in summer than in winter, but I can use it whenever the sun shines."

Clark looked at her with a hint of laughter in his eyes. "That's the Lois Lane I remember."


"It was refreshing, that's all."

"What was refreshing?"

"A little bit of babble."

"I was not babbling!"

He cracked a smile. "No, not really, but you were holding up your end of the conversation quite well."

She quirked her mouth back at him. "Well, is there a problem with that?"

"Not at all. I just didn't realize how much I missed it until now."

She started to reply and the phone rang. She grunted and stared at it as if daring the instrument to ring again.

It took her dare. She ripped the receiver off the hook and said, "This better be important."

There was a moment of silence, then her mother said, "Lois? Are you okay?"

"Duh! Mom, I'm sorry, I thought it was someone from work."

"I would hope talking to your mother would be a privilege and not a chore."

Lois sighed. "Normally it is, Mom, really, but I have company for dinner tonight."

"Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't know. Can you call me back when you have some spare time?"

"Sure. Can you tell me what this is about?"

"Except that it's not bad news, no. And it's not that urgent either, so don't trip on your guests to call me back."

"Okay, Mom, I won't. Tonight's Thursday, so I'll get back to you, oh, before Sunday for sure. Is that soon enough?"

Ellen chuckled warmly. "Of course, dear. Like I said, it's not urgent. We'll talk later. You have a good time, okay? Love you. Bye for now."

"Love you too, Mom. Bye."

She turned as she hung up and saw Clark watching her with raised eyebrows. "What's wrong, Clark?"

He shook his head. "I've missed a lot in the past three years. Do you get along with your father, too?"

"How do you — never mind, I forgot about your hearing gizmo. Yes, my dad and I speak on a semi-regular basis and we don't argue. And so you'll know, they're still divorced but they're getting along better than they have in years. Mom is seeing a very nice man who's a patent lawyer, and they may be serious. In fact, that may be what she called about." Lois ducked her head and smiled. "I never thought I'd think this way, but they make a nice couple."

"I thought you told me your folks were back together."

She shook her head. "I thought they were, but they were just working together. They left that project about the time you and I were at your parents' farm a few weeks ago. They both told me that they don't dislike each other, they simply don't want to be married to each other."

"What does your father think about that?" His face dropped as she looked up. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

"You're not prying, Clark, you're just making conversation. I'm not upset." She shrugged. "He's actually okay with it. He told me last Christmas that if Mom can't be happy with him, she ought to be with a man who can make her happy." She kept talking as she brought the glasses and the tea pitcher to the table. "Dad finally seems to have stopped chasing his interns. He's working for a subsidiary of Star Labs in Florida now, doing research on the feeding and migratory patterns of seagoing mammals as related to their general health and feeding habits."

"Really? That's kind of a different field for him, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is. He's going to be published this winter in some terribly important scientific journal. He's really gaga about it, too. I think he's found his niche at last."

"That's good to hear." He hesitated. "How about you?"

She turned and gave him an intensely casual look. "How about me what?"

"Have you found your niche?"

She frowned. Tonight was supposed to be about the two of them as a couple, not either one as an individual. How had they gotten on this subject? "I think so. I enjoy being editor, more than I would have thought a few years ago. That short stint at the Standard whetted my appetite for it, and when Perry offered to hire me back as his assistant, it really hit the spot." She motioned for him to sit down and then took her own chair. "Besides, I'm getting a little old to be dangling myself over the jaws of death on a regular basis."

He canted his head to one side as he selected a chicken breast and deftly slid it onto his plate. "You're not old, Lois. You're what, thirty, thirty-one?"

He didn't remember, not really. She tried to hide her disappointment. "Thirty-two on my next birthday."

He nodded. "See? That's not old. And you're keeping up with your martial arts, aren't you?"

"Yes. I passed my fourth degree black belt test this past spring. My sensei has me help out with the women's self-defense classes when I can make the time."

"That's great, Lois. I bet there's not a reporter at any paper in Metropolis who could take you hand-to-hand. You can still take care of yourself."

She frowned. "Maybe so, but I'm a little too old to take guns away from assassins or sneak through a broken window into a warehouse to burgle a file cabinet or sit in a car on an all-night stakeout on a regular basis."

She stopped to take a breath. "Now I'm the one who tells the young ones to watch their steps and bring back the story and not make me update and print their obituaries."

He nodded. "Sounds like the kinds of things Perry used to say."

"I'm in charge, Clark. It's me who sits up and worries about them now."

He silently offered to trade the plate of chicken for the salad bowl and she complied. "Hey, I'm just making conversation here, remember?"

"I know. I'm sorry if I sounded upset." She sighed. "Sometimes I just feel old, that's all."

"You're younger than Ron."

She gave him an eyebrow. "What? Where did that come from?"

"Wasn't Ron the guy in your office yesterday afternoon? Before we went to the courthouse."

She frowned in thought. "Oh. Yeah, that was Ron. What about him?"

"He seems like a nice guy."

She hesitated, wondering where Clark was going with this. "He is. He came over from the Standard about four months after Perry hired me back as associate editor. He's been a big help to me, and he's a very good reporter."

"I know. I've read some of his stuff." Clark played with his salad for a moment. "He's at least as good as I used to be, if not better."

"You're still that good, Clark. You just have to get back into the swing of things."

He shook his head. "I dunno. I've been writing, sure, but not investigating. I don't know if I have the skills for it any more."

"You could do it if you wanted to."

He looked at her. He wasn't smiling. "Is that career advice or a job offer?"

Now she understood. She hadn't intended to talk about his working for the Planet again — and working for her — so soon, but apparently he had. "It's encouragement. I know you can do the job. All you'd have to do is say the word and the Planet would take you back so fast even your head would spin."

Instead of acting pleased by the compliment, he simply nodded once and returned to his meal.

Lois decided to change the subject. "Have you found a lawyer yet?"

"I think so. I met with a woman named Constance Hunter this afternoon. She had an urgent appointment with another client today, so I'm going to talk to her again tomorrow. She said she doesn't take court cases any more, but the other attorneys I spoke with today are all gung-ho take-no-prisoners stomp-their-faces-flat type of people. I don't want that kind of legal representation."

She hesitated, thinking that her next question ought to be innocuous, but her journalistic reflexes beat her brain to her mouth. "But don't you want to win at any cost?"

He stopped his fork and leaned back, apparently surprised. "No, Lois. I don't want to win at any cost."

She closed her eyes and called herself several rude names. "I'm sorry, Clark, I guess my mouth wrote another bad check."

He didn't smile at the weak joke. He also didn't let it slide. "Of all people, Lois Lane, I'd expect you to understand that Superman can't simply win this case. He has to be perceived as not guilty by the public, not just be acquitted on a technicality. He's got to recover his reputation and win back the trust of the people. That won't happen if he has a tiger shark for a lawyer."

She nodded slowly. "I do understand, Clark, but I've got a stake in this too. If you go to prison, you take my heart with you."

He stopped again, but this time he looked stricken. She mentally called up a few more choice appellations for herself. Despite her plans for a quiet, relaxed dinner with the man she loved, circumstances — and her own lack of verbal control — seemed determined to defeat her.

He reached out and touched her wrist. "I'm sorry, Lois. I — kind of forgot about that part of it. I've been selfish, been focused too much on my own situation. Please forgive me."

Her heart melted a little. "Of course, Clark. I understand. You've been under a lot of stress lately, and it's probably not going to let up any time soon." She tried for a pixyish look. " And you're still referring to Superman as a totally separate person, too. Don't you think it's time to put the two of you together? After all, Superman wouldn't be who he is without you."

His eyes widened and he stared at her. "Clark Kent is who I am. Superman is what I do. We're not really the same person. In fact, Superman is not even a real person. He's just me in brightly-colored underwear and a cape."

She propped her elbows on either side of her plate and settled her chin on the backs of her hands. "I know that's how you look at it. But the hero persona, Superman, is just an extension of the real person, Clark Kent. He's not a separate individual, just like Lois Lane the editor is not a separate individual from Lois Lane the cook. It's simply another role in my life that I fulfill." She sighed and stared into his eyes. "You're not as different from the rest of us as you think."

He didn't answer, but began cutting and eating his chicken. After he finished the meat, he said, "I read your editorial this morning. You really laid into the DA."

She swallowed and took a sip of tea. "He had it coming. Nobody attacks Superman on my watch and gets away with it."

He put his silverware down and leaned back in the chair. "Superman isn't above the law, Lois. I'm not above the law."

"I didn't mean that you were, Clark. What I wrote was that Reisman's predecessor didn't go after Intergang three or four years ago when doing so might have stopped a lot of the bloodshed. Instead of making up for that oversight — which I also made clear wasn't his fault in any way — Reisman is chasing a hero who has saved more lives and prevented more crime than any police or fire department in any city in the nation. It's a waste of the taxpayer's money and squanders resources which could be better used to prevent real crime."

He sighed again. "I'm in the same position any other citizen would be in who gave in to a fit of rage and killed someone. What I did was against the law and I deserve to be tried and judged by a jury of my peers."

She put her own silverware down — less gently than Clark had — and slid her chair back. "How are we going to find twelve superheroes to judge you? Batman doesn't live in this jurisdiction, Wonder Woman would laugh and just walk out, who knows what the Flash would do if —"

"Lois! The DA is doing the best he can. Cut him some slack, okay?"

She bit back a caustic retort and realized that they were arguing. It was the last thing she'd wanted to do tonight. Dinner was just about over and all they had done was disagree over and over.

She pushed back from the table and stood. "Maybe we should open the wine."

He frowned. "Maybe I should just go, Lois. I haven't been a very good guest tonight and I'm sorry." He waved ineffectually and stood without looking at her. "I should go."

She checked her first, angry response, and stepped closer to him. "Not before I apologize to you. I haven't said the most important thing on my mind yet, and I should have said it the moment you came in."

He met her gaze. "What's that?"

"I love you." She slipped her arms around his chest and pressed herself close against his shirt. "Please don't forget it, please don't doubt it. I love you, Clark."

He folded his arms around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "I love you, too. I should have said it first."

She smiled through the dampness in her eyes. "Why, because you're the man?"

She could feel his return smile. "No. Because I love you more."

She leaned back and caressed his cheek. "But I've waited for you for years. Doesn't that mean I love you more?"

He grinned wider and kissed the tip of her nose. "No. It means I love you for loving me so patiently, even when I didn't deserve it, so no matter how much you love me it only means that I'll love you even more."

She tugged his face to hers and kissed him gently. "This isn't a contest, Clark, it's our lives."

"True, but no matter which of us wins, I come out on top."

She giggled and put her palm on his chest. "No, I'm on top. Don't you remember? That first day, when I told you that I was top banana?"

They shared a rueful chuckle, and Clark stroked Lois's hair. "You win. Again."

"Don't I always?"

He smiled and kissed her forehead. "You know, I think we should open that wine after all."


They finally made it to the easy small talk Lois had envisioned for their time together. Lois filled him in on Clay and Catharine, how they still seemed more than happy with each other, and how well Jim Olsen was fulfilling his responsibilities as photo editor. Clark repeated some embarrassing gossip about Smallville's new county sheriff and his difficulty in driving below the speed limit, that Maisie from the cafe was being courted by the widowed pastor of Smallville's Methodist congregation, and that former sheriff Rachel Harris had taken a position with the Kansas State Highway Patrol.

Lois lifted her glass and saw that it was empty. "Oops. I drank all of mine. You want a refill?"

"Sure. We'll get blitzed together."

She laughed as she stood. "You can't get drunk and two glasses of wine won't affect me noticeably."

"Well, if you can't get rip-roaring drunk with the woman you love, who can you get rip-roaring drunk with?"

She laughed again as she walked to the kitchen. As she poured the wine, she thought about suggesting that Clark write some pieces about the trial for the Planet. Maybe even a couple of interviews with Superman. He didn't need the money, but she thought he needed the work.

She handed him his glass and offered a small toast. "Here's to love. Specifically, to our love."

He smiled and tapped his glass to hers. "I can certainly drink to that."

He put her glass down and sat down beside him on the couch. "Can I make a suggestion?"

He leaned close and smiled warmly. "Of course you can."

"Not that kind of suggestion!"

"Oh." He leaned away and crossed his arms.

"What are you doing now?"

"I'm pouting. Can't you tell?"

"You're not very good at it."

"I'm doing my best!"

"Maybe I can help. Push your lower lip out." He did so. "No, more than that. It needs to curl down towards your chest."

He did his best. "Good boy. Now duck your head down."

He complied and she tried to stifle a giggle. "Hunch your shoulders up and together. That's it. You've got it, Clark! Now you're pouting."

"You sure this isn't just a bad Nixon impersonation?"

She pointed at him with her index finger. "Pout, Mr. Kent!"

He sat there in his pout pose for almost ten seconds before Lois lost control of her giggle. He was infected almost immediately, and the giggles mutated into huge belly laughs before either of them knew what was happening.

Lois slid off the couch onto the floor. Clark followed her a moment later. Somehow they ended up lying on the floor, heads together and feet pointed in opposite directions.

After a few minutes their laughter fit ended and they smiled warmly at each other from the carpet. Lois reached out and captured his face for a long upside-down kiss. He didn't resist. In fact, he cooperated whole-heartedly.

She finally pulled back and sighed, then propped herself on one elbow and rested her head on her hand. "That was a very effective pout."

They shared another laugh. "I'll have to remember how to do that. Might come in handy in the future."

She stroked his forehead and smoothed away some slight wrinkles. "You'll have to save it for special occasions. I don't think that kind of behavior is appropriate for the newsroom."

His eyes popped open and he quickly turned to face her. "The newsroom? What are you talking about?"

She chuckled and brushed his cheek with the back of her hand. "You coming back to work, silly."

He straightened and leaned slightly away from her. "I have a job, thank you very much."

"You mean the romance novels? You can still write them. Heck, you could grind one of those out in a couple of weeks. It's formula stuff, just get a template and fill in the blanks and wham, there's your romance novel. I'm talking about you doing real writing and real reporting again. It would do you a world of good."

He sat up. "Lois, I'm not sure I want to work at the Planet."

"What?" She rolled to her stomach and pushed up to her knees. "What do you mean, you don't want to work at the Planet?"

He waved his hands. "It's like I said before, I don't know if I can do investigative reporting any more. I'm not sure I want to. I wouldn't mind writing some more serious stuff, longer articles on a freelance basis, and maybe some non-fiction books, but I don't know if reporting is what I want to do now."

Shocked, she reverted to 'boss editor' mode. "You're out of your mind! This is what you were born to do, Clark! You were one of the best I've ever worked with, or that I've even heard about. For that matter, you were one of the best Perry had ever seen! He told me often enough!"

"Lois, I don't —"

"No! You need to get back in the groove and you need to do it now! The longer you wait the more difficult it will be, and despite being Superman you're not getting any younger!"

"But this is —"

"No, Clark!" She sat up, crossed her legs and then her arms, and glared at him. "No objections, no discussion, this is what you need to do!"

He stared at her, silent, until she broke eye contact. Then he stood. "I'm not going back to work for the Daily Planet or any other newspaper, Lois, at least not as an investigative reporter. And after tonight, I doubt I'll be sending anything new to the Planet."

She was stunned by his sudden mood swing. In complete disbelief, she watched him walk to the front door and take his coat off the rack. "I'll be in touch. I promised you Superman's exclusive account of the trial, and I'll deliver it." He put on the coat and stopped with his hand on the knob. "Maybe you should have Ron interview Superman. Good night, Lois."

And he was gone.


Catharine was leaning back and relaxing in her husband's arms on the couch. Clay gently stroked her hair, caressed her cheeks, and kissed her suggestively. Because of their inconsistent work schedules, this was an evening of the sort they rarely got to enjoy, so they were making the most of it.

She turned to face him, then kissed the hollow of his throat, unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, and rubbed her hands gently over his chest. He responded by crushing her gently in a strong embrace and finding her lips with his. She moaned slightly and arched closer to him —

And the phone rang.

She managed to pull herself away from him long enough to glance at the oversized caller ID display on the wall above the phone. She read the number, realized it wasn't the Daily Planet calling, and turned back to give her husband her full attention. She captured his tongue with her lips and —

And she suddenly realized that the number displayed was Lois's. "Clay, baby, I'm sorry, Lois is calling."

He stopped, then heaved a huge sigh that wasn't all acting. She got up and walked to the phone stand.

"Hello, this is Catharine. What? Lois, is that you? What's wrong? What? He what? You what? No! Oh, Lois, no! Yes, I can —"

She broke off and turned to Clay. "Honey, she really needs a friend right now."

He clenched his jaw and nodded shortly. She said, "I'm sorry. I can tell her 'no' if you really want me to."

He hesitated, then shook his head. "Don't do that. Lois doesn't call this late unless there's a good reason, and from what little I heard it sounds like she needs a friend." He got up and hugged her. "You go. I'll just sit in front of the refrigerator for a few hours and cool off."

She smiled warmly and kissed him. "I'll make it up to you, I promise." She lifted the phone again. "Lois? You hang loose, girlfriend, I'll be there as quick as I can. Should I bring ice cream? Oh. Well, leave some for me, okay?"

She hung up and turned to embrace her husband. "You are such a darling man. I love you so much."

"And I love you too. Take a sweater, it's chilly tonight."

"I will. I promise not to be gone too long."

"And stop telling the guys at the precinct what a darling man I am! It's embarrassing!"


Catharine knocked on Lois's door, unsure of what she'd find. She'd thought about stopping for ice cream or a box of double-fudge crunch bars, but the thought of a distraught Lois in her apartment with an open bottle of wine tipped the scales towards the quickest possible trip.

There was no answer, so Catharine knocked a little harder. Still no response. She rang the doorbell, which Lois hated but by the conditions of her lease could neither remove nor replace. Lois had once claimed it reminded her of Windsor Castle and the stuffy English, so her friends and co-workers knew to knock. This, however, qualified as an emergency.

Catharine reached for the doorbell once again, but stopped when the door finally swung open. Lois was still fully dressed save for being shoeless, but her eyes were slightly glazed and a bit unfocused.

The worst part was the wineglass in her left hand and the nearly empty wine bottle in her right.

Catharine slipped in and gave Lois a quick hug as she kicked the door shut, trusting Lois's automatic bolts. Then she led her friend to the couch, sat her down, took the bottle and glass, and put them on the dining room table.

"Lois, I'm going to make some coffee, okay?"

Lois waved her hand distractedly. "Sure. Knock y'self out."

Catharine watched Lois while she prepared the coffeemaker. She didn't want her friend to finish the wine before she drank something to take the edge off the alcohol-induce haze she was in.

While the coffeemaker blurped, Catharine sat down beside Lois and took her hand. "Tell me what's wrong, Lois."

Lois only sniffled. Catharine took her hand. "You told me you were going to have dinner with Clark tonight, didn't you?" A nod. "Was he late?"


"Okay, did he not like what you had for dinner?"

"Liked it fine."

Catharine was beginning to worry. Even a full bottle of wine shouldn't have slammed Lois that hard, not after a meal. "Lois, did you and Clark have an argument?"

Lois lifted her eyes to Catharine's and dissolved into tears. Catharine hugged her close and let her blow snot wherever she wanted to.

Over Lois's shoulder, Catharine noticed another bottle sitting upright on the floor beside Lois's trash can. An empty bottle.

An empty wine bottle. She looked closer and saw that the label was a very good brand of French wine, but with a fairly high alcohol content. She reached out and lifted the bottle that had been in Lois's hand and checked the label. Again, it was good California wine, but high in proof. She might as well be drinking bourbon, Catharine thought.

Catharine pushed Lois away, just far enough to look at her. "Lois. Lois! Listen to me. Did Clark bring a bottle of wine?"

Lois tried to wipe her nose and nodded.

"Did you already have a bottle here?"

Lois nodded again.

"Was your bottle already open?"

Lois stopped and looked at Catharine, then wailed, "Nooooo!"

Okay, Lois was really drunk. Coffee wouldn't help much.

She disengaged herself from Lois's grasp and hunted for the largest glass in the kitchen cabinets. She filled it with water and brought it back. "Lois, you need to drink this. Come on, big sip, okay? Your head won't hurt quite as much tomorrow."

Lois managed to drink more than she spilled. Catharine grasped her wrists pulled her upright. "Come on, boss lady, you have to walk around a little, get some of that alcohol out of your system. Come on, this way. That's it. We'll just take a couple of laps around the living room and drink some more water."

Lois stumbled, then looked up at Catharine with a pleading expression. "Pit stop?"

Oh, good, thought Catharine. "Sure, Lois, sure. We'll make a pit stop."


Catharine laid out a pair of pajamas and fresh underwear for Lois, then went back in the bathroom to check on her. Lois was still seated on the commode, but she was resting her arm on the sink and looked ready to slide bonelessly onto the floor.

"Oh, no, you're not falling down in here. Sit up, that's it. Are you done yet?"

Lois, her eyes closed, grinned up at her and nodded. "Yes, momma. All done with tee-tee."

Catharine rolled her eyes. "Okay, let's get you ready for bed. Come on, stand up, that's it."

"Wha' bout my pants?"

"I'll take care of them. Come with me."


At least Lois wasn't an angry drunk, she mused, although reverting to toddler status wasn't all that much better. Catharine helped Lois change her clothes as she half-listened to Lois's disjointed recital of the night's events.

Then something stopped her. "Lois? What did you just say about Superman?"

"Wha'? Oh. I dunno. Oh, yeah, he's gonna go free. Told him so."

"You told him? When was that?"


Catharine frowned. "Superman was here? With you and Clark?"

Lois giggled. "Oh, yeah, all the time."

Catharine shook her head. "I wouldn't have thought you guys were that kinky."

"Kinky? Nah! Just one guy. That's all I want, one guy. All I love, one guy."

Catharine was afraid Lois was about to burst into tears. "Here, Lois, you need to drink some more water."

"No! Not thirsty."

Catharine grabbed her chin. "If you don't drink some of this, you'll be even sicker tomorrow than you're already going to be." Lois stuck out her lower lip and tried to turn away. "I mean it. Come on, Lois, drink some more."


"Lois —"

"Want some choc'late."

Catharine sighed. "You can have some tomorrow after lunch. As much as you want."

Lois turned her head back to Catharine. "Promise?"

"I promise. Please, drink some of this?"

Lois stuck her lip out again, but said, "Okay." She took the tumbler and gulped almost half of it, then gave it back. "Better?"

"Much better. Are you sleepy now?"

Lois shook her head and leaned to one side. "Whoa. Not sleepy, jus' a li'l dizzy."

"Don't shake your head."

"Okay, yeah, good advice." Lois felt behind her for her bed and sat down on the edge. "Thanks."

"Hey, what are girlfriends for?"

A tear formed in the corner of Lois's eye. "Comfort when men let you down."

Catharine sat down beside her and put her arm around Lois's shoulders. "Hey! This is Clark Kent we're talking about. He's the poster boy for reliable, remember?"

"No," she sniffed. "He's not."

"Sure he is! Don't you remember how you came back from Smallville back in June all cheerful and bubbly because you and Clark had connected again? You said yourself that it was the best thing for both of you."

"I — hic — I wuz wrong."

Catharine lifted Lois's chin and looked into her eyes. "You know, I think that's the wine talking. I'd much rather talk to Lois, but you're going to have to sleep this off first." Catharine stood and guided Lois to a horizontal position. "I'll stay here until you go to sleep, okay?"

Lois whimpered for a moment, then muttered, "Okay."

Catharine maneuvered Lois's feet under the sheet and pulled the covers up to her shoulders. "Good night, boss lady. I'll tell them you'll be in late tomorrow."

Lois reached out and grabbed Catharine's hand. "Thank you."

Catharine smiled and brushed the hair back from Lois's face. "You're more than welcome."

They sat still for a few moments, then Lois said, "Gotta call Mom tomorrow. Thank her, too." She took a deep breath and blew it out. "I don't know what I'll do if he goes to prison. Don't know what I'll do. Love him too much. Don't know —"

"Lois?" Catharine was puzzled. "Are you saying you're in love with Superman?"

"Yeah. No." Lois curled into a ball, still holding Cat's hand. "Don't want Clark in prison! Don't go, Clark! Please don't go!" She began to cry quietly.

Catharine sat beside her friend, making reassuring noises until she was sure Lois was asleep. Sure enough, disengaging her hand didn't affect Lois's breathing in the least.

Catharine made sure the path to the bathroom was clear and that Lois's clothes were in her laundry hamper. Then she turned off Lois's alarm clock and wrote a brief lipstick note on the mirror to let her know what had happened. Then she pulled the bathroom door almost closed and left the light on as a nightlight.

She gathered her sweater and purse, then studied Lois's locks so she wouldn't leave the door unsecured. She was about to experiment when a soft tap sounded in front of her.

She peeked through the spyhole and saw Clark fidgeting in the hall. She wrestled with the locks until the door opened, then Clark lurched in and grabbed her arms.

"Lois, please listen to — Catharine!"

"Yes." She stood still, locked in his grip. "Uh, Clark? Can I have my arms back?"

"What? Oh!" He let her go so quickly she almost lost her balance. "I — I'm sorry. I was hoping — Lois?"

"She got thirsty and drank the wine you left."


"Then she was still thirsty and drank most of the wine she'd bought for tonight."

Clark's eyes grew wide behind his glasses. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes. She's down for the count, I'm afraid, so whatever you wanted to say to her will have to wait until morning."

He nodded. "I'll wait."

Her eyebrows rose. "Here? You're going to wait — here?"


"Oh, Clark, honey, I don't know if that's such a good idea. She's pretty smashed, and she's not going to make it to work on time tomorrow."

His voice was firm as diamond and almost as sharp. "I'll wait."

She looked into his eyes and saw determination. "Okay. It's your funeral."

He turned and muttered, "Maybe so."

"Well, good night." She reached for the doorknob and hesitated. "Clark, was Superman here tonight?"

"Superman? Here?" He was more surprised than she thought he should have been. "No, no, he, uh, he wasn't here. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, something Lois said from deep in the state of inebriation. I think she's got you and Superman mixed up in her mind, or she did before she fell asleep."

"How so?"

His sharp tone surprised her. "She said she didn't know what she'd do if you went to prison. Not Superman. You."

He nodded and turned away. She looked closer. "Clark? Are you in trouble with the law too?" He didn't answer. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"

His head snapped towards her and he stiffened. "Yes, actually, there is, but now isn't the time."

She held his gaze for a long moment, then she nodded. "Okay. We'll talk soon, though, won't we?"

He nodded. "We'll talk, I promise."

"Good. I've got to get home. If you see Superman, tell him I wish him luck on the trial."

He grinned lopsidedly. "I'll tell him. Good night, Catharine. And thanks for coming over and taking care of Lois."

She paused in the doorway and poked him in the chest with her index finger. "That's your job from now on, mister. Don't make me remind you again." She opened the door. "Speaking of reminding, I have to get home to my man and remind him how much he loves me."


Chapter Four

>>> Friday, August 23rd

Clark had put away the dishes from Lois's dishwasher, finished dusting the apartment for the second time, and vacuumed under her sofa and loveseat when he looked up and saw Lois standing in the doorway to her bedroom. She was wearing the striped pajamas Catharine had helped her put on the night before. Lois raked a hand through her disheveled hair and stared at him with eyes which refused to focus.

"Clark? That you?"

"Yep. It's just little old me."

She turned and looked at the window. "What time is it?"

"A little past ten."

Her eyes widened and she took a quick step forward, but then grabbed her head with both hands and came to an abrupt stop. "Okay. Little steps. Slow steps." She made it to the sofa and sank down slowly. "Mind telling me why you're here?"

He sat down across from her. "I came back to apologize, but I was too — you were already asleep."

"You came back to apologize?" He nodded. "I accept. You can go now."

"Lois, please! Let me —"

"Shh!" She winced. "Not so loud!"

He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "I'm sorry."

She slowly opened her eyes and looked around cautiously. "The place looks great." She blinked a couple of times. "I think."

He looked at his shoes. "I, uh, got bored. I did some cleaning."

"Wonderful. 'Super-maid for hire.' New sideline for you."

He refused to respond. "Catharine was here when I got back last night. She said she'd cover for you at the office."

Lois rubbed her temples. "Yeah, I read the note. I'll have to let her know that a lipstick note on the mirror is not what I needed first thing this morning."


She opened her eyes and tried to focus on his face again. This try was somewhat more successful. "Yes, really. For a couple of seconds I thought I was in that horror movie I saw last month, the one where the death warning appears to the next victim in the bathroom mirror."

He shrugged. "I guess I missed that one."

"Don't worry, you didn't miss much." She leaned back and closed her eyes. "I don't suppose you have a sure-fire hangover cure on you?"

"What about some food?"

She made a face, then waggled her hand. "Yeah, something light and simple. Chocolate? Why am I thinking about chocolate?"

Clark frowned. "Maybe later, but not right now. Anything else tickle your fancy?"

Lois rubbed her hand over her face. "I can't remember what's in the kitchen. Oatmeal, maybe?"

He stood. "Oatmeal it is. You have some here or should I go get it?"

She pointed in the general direction of the kitchen. "Assuming I have any, it's on the top shelf of the cabinet to the left of the stove. Check the expiration date."

He headed off on his mission. "And put lots of brown sugar on top. I need the energy today."


She put down the spoon and drained the last of the orange juice. Clark picked up the bowl and glass and headed for the kitchen. "Feel better now?"

She nodded. "A bit. I need to get to the office. Hope you don't mind."

"Actually, I called Catharine this morning around eight to touch base with her about that. She told me — loudly enough for anyone in the building to overhear — that you were feeling under the weather and had taken some pretty strong antihistamines that had knocked you for a loop, so you'd be late coming in today. Probably some time after noon."

She sighed. "I was wondering what my cover story would be. Anything else come up?"

She heard him washing her breakfast dishes at breakneck speed. "Yes, actually. She said to tell you that the page six advertisers were thrilled to be on the same page as the story of Superman's love child. She also said —"

"Superman's WHAT?"

He walked out of the kitchen, grinning. "It's okay. She was kidding."

"Kidding! I'll — oww!" She grabbed her temples. "Headache still there."

"She also made me promise to tell her how high you jumped when you heard it."

"Oh." She lowered her hands and managed a very slight grin. "Maybe you could give me that exclusive, too."

"Sorry, Lois, no story there."

She reached out and lightly grasped his turtleneck sweater. "I wasn't talking about a story."

He lifted his eyebrows. "Oh? What were you talking about?"

She pulled his face towards hers. "A different kind of exclusive."

He put his hands on her waist and let her close the kiss. After a long moment, he pulled back gently. "I thought you were mad at me."

"You apologized, remember? And I accepted."

"Yes." He held her back from a second kiss. "Wait. We need to get something straight before we go any farther."

She pulled back but didn't release his sweater. "Okay."

He took a deep breath and let it out. "I don't think I can work for you, Lois. I mean, I'd probably enjoy reporting again, I think you were right about that, but I don't believe I'd enjoy having you as my editor."

Her face smoothed and she let go of him. "Oh." She slowly turned and sat down on the couch again. "I see."

He sat across from her again. "No, I don't think you do. I don't think I could take direction from you very well. You're a good editor, Lois, a very good editor, but I don't think we'd agree very often on what my assignments would be. And it wouldn't look good for the editor and one of the reporters to have a — a relationship together. The other reporters might feel that I'm either getting all the best stories or all the creampuff pieces. And as Superman I'd have an unfair advantage over the others. I could get leads no one else could get, I'd never be in real danger, I'd never miss a deadline —"

Her voice was flat and emotionless. "You did all that before and it didn't seem to bother you."

He sighed again. "That was then, this is now. This isn't about you, Lois, it's about me. It's my problem, not yours. You're not at fault here."

"I see." She sat back and looked at the wall. "Is that why you got so upset last night?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have reacted like I did. But I didn't think you were going to listen to me just then."

She nodded. "Probably not." She stood and started for the bedroom. "I need a shower and a change of clothes. You want to wait and go in to the office with me?"

He hesitated. She slowed and stopped, then turned to face him. "Clark, you don't have to if you don't want to. I'm not trying to put any pressure on you, honest."

He crossed his arms loosely. "Thanks. I'd really prefer not to go back to the Planet, at least not yet. Being in your office the other day was tough enough."

She nodded. "Will you wait here until I get cleaned up?"

"Sure. I'll have to go and run some errands soon, though."

"Okay. When will I see you again?"

He frowned in thought. "How about lunch tomorrow? My treat this time."

She smiled slightly. "Sounds good. Pick me up here at twelve-thirty?"

"On the dot."


Superman scanned the attorney's office with his X-ray vision. He saw Constance Hunter sitting at her desk writing, but no other people were in the office, not even her receptionist. She was probably out to lunch, like most of the building's occupants. He landed on the roof and floated down the stairwell to the correct floor.

He'd forgotten to look through the wall to the hall. A young woman was standing outside another office smoking a cigarette when he entered the hallway. She glanced up when she heard the door open, then did a classic double-take at the sight of the blue-and-red-and-yellow-clad hero striding along the passageway. She gasped, dropped her smoke, and sprinted to the ladies' room. The click of the lock echoed in the sparse hallway.

Superman shook his head and hoped she wasn't afraid of him, that he'd merely startled her. Or maybe she thought he was some kind of kinky pervert.

That last thought made him smile. He knocked on the attorney's door and waited.

Constance Hunter opened the door and smiled. "Thank you for coming, Superman. I'm sorry about putting you off yesterday, but I had a court appearance on a civil matter that I couldn't postpone any longer."

"I understand, Ms. Hunter. I hope you've had an opportunity to think about my request since then, too."

"I have. And I still say that I'm not the person you want. I haven't defended a criminal case for almost ten years and I'm more than a little out of practice. You probably need more aggressive counsel than I could provide, anyway."

He struck a pose and crossed his arms. "No, I don't think I do. The other attorneys I spoke to yesterday were more interested in winning the case than in finding the truth. I don't want to be represented by someone like that."

She matched his pose and stared up into his eyes. "You want to win, don't you?"

"That's the desired outcome, sure, but ultimately I want justice to be done."

She canted her head to one side. "Really?"

"Yes. Really."

She nodded and wandered behind her desk. "You surprise me, Superman."

"How so?"

"I would have expected you to insist I get you off so you could fight crime and save lives."

He dropped his arms and seemed to shrink in on himself slightly. "Ms. Hunter, I can't get off on a technicality. I can't be freed because of what I've done in the past or what I intend to do in the future. I can't allow myself to use an unethical legal tactic to win. In order to keep being Superman, I've got to be found not guilty of these charges on the basis of the law, not the skill of my attorney. My reputation and my conscience both require this of me." He leaned forward on the desk. "I still think my best chance to win this case for the right reasons lies with you. Please, please consider representing me."

She sat down and motioned for him to do the same. "Let me get this straight. You'd rather go to jail than go free if that's what the jury decides?"


She shook her head and chuckled. "Are you crazy?"

"Some might think so."

"But you don't?"


She leaned back and sighed. "Superman, our court system was originally designed to ferret out the truth on a case-by-case basis, but nowadays we run on legal precedent more than on actual common sense. I know you're aware of defendants who get off on legal technicalities when everyone involved, if they're honest, will admit the defendant is guilty and deserves to be punished."

"I've seen a few cases that fall into that category."

"I don't work like that. I don't cheat and I won't lie just to get a client off. I couldn't guarantee you anything, unlike some of my compatriots."

He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "I don't want guarantees. I want justice."

"Even if justice demands that you pay for a crime?"


"I still don't know —"

"Don't you want to see justice done?"

"Of course I do."

"Don't you want the notoriety you'll receive for representing me?"

Her face hardened. "I don't give a fig about notoriety, Superman. I choose my cases for the people and the principle, not the publicity."

"Good. That's the kind of attorney I want. If you can't or won't defend me, tell me who I can call who'd do as thorough a job as you would."

"In Metropolis? You've got to be kidding."

"Nope. This is why I came to you. How about it?"

She locked eyes with him. They held each other's stare for about twenty seconds, then abruptly she nodded. "Okay. I'll do it. I usually work solo, but for a case this important I want to call in someone else for help. This is going to be a tough nut to crack and I'm not comfortable doing all the work alone."

"I'll have Blair Collins from Legal Aid call you. She wanted to help with my defense if she could."

Constance held up her hand. "Wait a minute. Are you telling me to work with this woman?"

"No, of course not. But you said you needed some help, and she said she wanted to help me, so I suggested that I have her call you. Whether or not you two work together is entirely up to the two of you."

She lowered her hand and nodded. "I can live with that. Sure, have her call me, but make it soon if you can."

He rose and extended his hand. "How about this afternoon?"

She stood and took his hand. "Soon enough, I guess."

"I'll have the Foundation contact you about your fee."

She released her grip. "I promise I won't rip you off."

He smiled. "I wouldn't have come to you if I thought you might. Thank you for your help, Ms. Hunter."

"Don't thank me yet. You haven't heard my defense."

"As long as it's the truth, that's all that matters."

He gave her a jaunty salute and walked out.


Connie leaned back and considered her new client. He looked more relaxed when he left than he had when he'd come in, she thought. Maybe he really meant it when he said he wanted truth and justice. It was a refreshing change from most of her clients, from the few with money to the ones who demanded pro bono services, but who all wanted to win, to crush their opponents, to walk away victors from some field of battle.

Superman didn't want that, she thought again. He wants justice, no matter what happens to him.

It was more than refreshing, it was cool water to a parched and dry soul. She smiled a private smile. Maybe she could do some real good after all.


>>> Saturday, August 24th

Clark picked up the pay phone outside the convenience store and dialed Constance Hunter's office number, intending to leave a message. Instead, he heard a soft Southern voice say, "Constance Hunter, attorney at law, Blair Collins speaking. May I help you?"

"Ms. Collins? This is Superman."

Her voice grew excited. "Oh, Superman! Thank you for givin' me Ms. Hunter's number! We're workin' together on your defense."

"Wonderful. That's good to hear. Is there any other news for me?"

"Hang on a second, okay?" He heard her lower the phone, then the other woman picked up the receiver. "Hello, Superman, this is Connie Hunter."

"I was calling to find out if you needed me to do anything special any time soon."

"No, not today. I'd like to meet with you Monday morning and start mapping out our strategy."

"Oh? You need me for that?"

"If we're doing this my way, then yes, we need you."

He smiled. "We're doing this your way. What time?"

"Nine-thirty, if that's convenient for you."

"If I can't make it, I'll get a message to you, but I'll make every effort."

"Good. You know, Blair is a wonder. We've really hit it off. She and I are going to work very well together."

"I'm glad to hear that. I'm sure you two will represent me to the best of your abilities."

"We will. Oh, Superman, I wanted to ask you a question. It may help you understand where I'm coming from on matters of the law. Are you familiar with the Boston Massacre?"

He frowned. "Not especially. Did that happen recently?"

She laughed. "Sorry. I'm something of a history buff, especially where the law and lawyers are concerned. The Boston Massacre took place in March of 1770, before American independence. Eight British soldiers and an officer were tried in a Colonial court for shooting several colonists in Boston during a demonstration that almost became a riot. The prosecution asked for the death penalty for all of the British soldiers, the officer included. The American defense attorney — I guess I should say the Colonial defense attorney — got all but two of the soldiers off completely and got reduced sentences for those two. Do you know who that lawyer was?"

"No. I'm not that conversant with early American history."

"It was one of my heroes, John Adams, who was also the second President of the United States. He took the case for the sake of truth and justice and mounted a spirited defense of those British soldiers, even though his personal desire was for American independence and a guilty verdict would have pushed both Britain and Massachusetts towards a break. That's the kind of spirit I'm seeing in Blair. And that's what you're going to get for your defense."

"Truth and justice, eh?" He grinned. "Well, since that's what I asked for, I shouldn't complain if that's what I get. I'll see you Monday morning. And thank you both. Good-bye."

"Bye, Superman."

He hung up and turned to walk to Lois's apartment, smiling. Maybe this would be a good day after all.


Lois answered her door after the first knock. "Oh. Clark. You're a little early for a change, but come on in. I'll have lunch on the table in a minute."

He stepped in and closed the door behind him. "I thought we were going out."

"I don't want to have this conversation in public."

His smile faded. "Oh."

She looked up at him and shook her head. "Don't be like that, Clark, I'm not going to attack you again."

"I see."

She poured soda into two plastic glasses from a soft drink bottle. "No, you don't, but it's not your fault. Just eat and enjoy yourself, okay?"

"Like a picnic?"

"Sort of, but with a table instead of a grassy knoll."

He sat. She put a platter of fried chicken on the table between them. She answered the query in his glance. "It's your mother's recipe. I just used store-bought chicken parts."

He smiled. "I'm sure it's delicious."

"Let me know if it needs anything and I'll make it that way next time." She strode towards the kitchen. "Coleslaw and mashed potatoes coming up."

"Not mixed together, I hope."

She paused at the kitchen door and smiled at him. "Not even I would do that to your palate, Clark." She brought the bowls to the table and set them down. "I doubt it's up to Martha's standards, but it's better than the Fried Fowl down the street."

He made a face. "I certainly hope so. I understand that the Planet's food critic got sick after eating there last month."

She chuckled. "He did. Marcus was out for three days and I had to send Catharine out to sub for him at his next assignment. She turned in an article about how the customers and the employees were dressed, described the decor of the place, commented on the live music, but wrote not one word about the food."

"And you printed that?"

"Not on your Liquid Paper. I yelled at her for not mentioning what she'd eaten, and she said that she preferred to focus on the total dining experience, not just the food. I was starting to get really irritated when she handed me the real review."

Clark smiled. "So she was pulling your leg?"

She nodded as she picked out a thigh. "Expertly. Turns out Clay had put her up to it, so I owe both of them." She sighed. "Although her coming over night before last went a long way towards evening things out in my book."

He spooned mashed potatoes into his plate and tasted them. "Hey, these are really good. How'd you cook them?"

"Like your mom does. I got the potatoes at Mr. Stephanopolis's Farmer's Market this morning."

He nodded. "They had fresh ones."

"Yep. How's the coleslaw?"

He tasted it. "Hmm. A little less spicy than Mom usually makes, but still very tasty. I'd say it's a toss-up between hers and yours."

She smiled warmly. "That's high praise coming from a Kansas farm boy. Now eat your chicken, young man. You need to keep up your strength."

"Yes, ma'am."

They ate in companionable silence broken only by the noise of eating and refilling plates and cups. Clark finally sat back and patted his stomach. "Great taste and filling to contentment. That was excellent, Lois."

"I have some chocolate cake for dessert, too. Would you like it now?"

He put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. "Actually, I'd like to get to the conversation you don't want to have in public."

She nodded and sipped her soda. "Okay. I spoke to my mother last night. As I suspected, she and the lawyer she's been seeing are talking about getting married. She wanted to get my opinion on the question."

"And that opinion is?"

She hesitated. "I'm not in favor of it, but I can't find a rational reason to feel that way. Steve is a nice guy and I believe he really cares for her. Mom says she loves him and wants to spend the rest of her life with him. He's not putting pressure on her, he's not setting decision dates or demanding that she do something, he just tells her he loves her and is willing to wait until she's ready to say 'yes' to him."

"I assume you've checked him out."

"Of course. Besides being a respected patent attorney, he also dabbles in brokering or arranging property deals, and while not everybody loves him, nobody says he's the least bit crooked, either, just a tough negotiator. Like I said, I can't find anything really wrong with him."

"Except he's not your dad."

She sat back and stared at the chicken bones on her plate. "I guess that's it. I've met him, and under other circumstances I'd probably like him. I'm just having trouble with this."

He nodded but said nothing. She wiped her hands on her napkin and sat up. "Well, enough about my family struggles. I need to tell you the other thing."

He sat up and put his hands in his lap. "I'm ready."

She cocked her eyebrow at him. "You look like you're about to take one for the team."

"I plan to win this one for the Gipper."

She smiled and nodded. "Okay, here goes. DA Reisman called me yesterday afternoon. I'm on the prosecution's witness list."

He braced himself, but when she didn't continue, he relaxed and said, "That's it?"

"What do you mean, 'that's it?' This is not a good thing, Clark."

"I don't see that it's a bad thing. You'll get on the stand and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth —"

"And when I tell them that Clark Kent is Superman? What then?"

He stopped with his mouth open. "Oh. I see the problem."

"Good. For a minute I thought you'd need a real prescription in those glasses of yours."

He crossed his arms and frowned in thought. "You'll have to tell the truth, Lois."

She sat back and refused to meet his gaze. "I won't tell them you're Superman."

"It's unlikely the DA will ask you that specific question, but if he does, you'll have to answer it truthfully."

"Oh, sure I will, and then what kind of future could we have together? What kind of career will I have when the Planet's board of directors finds out I've known Superman's secret identity for almost four years and didn't report that little tidbit of news?" She leaned forward and grabbed his hands. "I don't mind telling you that I'm a little scared about this, Clark."

He squeezed back. "There's no reason for you to be scared. Just answer truthfully and everything will be fine."

She released her grip and slowly slid her hands back. "Everything will be fine? I tell you I'm scared about this and you respond with cliches and platitudes?" She stood and clenched her fists at her sides. "Blast it, everything might not be fine! By the time this trial's over I might not have a career! You might not have a secret identity any more! Either Clark Kent or Superman might not exist! Your parents might be targets for every nut job with a grudge against Superman! The people you've worked with might not understand why you've kept this from them for so long! Your friends as Clark or as Superman or as both almost certainly won't understand!"

She took a step towards him and tears popped into her eyes. "And we might not be together at all!"

Clark sat there for a moment, stunned. Just before she reached the end of her patience, he stood and put his arms around her. "I'm sorry, Lois, I'm so sorry. You keep telling me how you feel and I keep refusing to really hear what you're saying. I'm so sorry."

She reached under his arms and pulled his shoulders tight against her. Her sobs were muffled against his shirt, and she stayed there until the tears stopped of their own accord.

She wiped her face on the back of her hand and Clark gave her a napkin. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, then tried to dab some of the dampness from his chest. "I did it again, Clark," she sniffed. "You're going to have to bring a towel for me from now on."

He kissed her forehead. "It's the least I can do for you."

She put her palms on his chest and rested her head against them. "Oh, Clark, why do we keep doing this? Why do we yell at each other so much? Why do I get so weepy every time we get together?"

He put his hands on her waist and gently held her tight. "I don't know. I think maybe it's my fault, though, for not listening or paying attention as much as I should."

She tried to laugh. "I'll go with that. It's your fault."

"Mea culpa." He lifted her chin and kissed her lightly. "Can we sit on the couch for a while?"

She nodded and followed him there, then turned and knelt on the couch facing him and beside him. Then she leaned over into his arms, pushed her legs towards the other end of the couch, and rested her head in the crook of his elbow.

He smiled at her as she fit herself into his embrace. "Better?"

She nodded. "Much better."


She sighed easily and relaxed against him. She closed her eyes and listened to the steady thump-thump of his heart.

She was starting to drift away to dreamland when Clark said, "Are you really that scared?"

She opened her eyes and looked at his face, inches from hers. "Yes. What about you?"

"About me, not really. More like resigned, I guess. About the other people you mentioned, I'm a little worried now." He looked away. "I've been selfish again."

She touched his chin and guided his face to look at her again. "Yes, you have, but under the circumstances I'm willing to overlook it for now. But we still need to talk."

"Okay. Where do you want to start?"

She sat up and held his hands loosely. "Let's start with what I'm going to tell the DA."

He nodded. "I can suggest a wording that's not a lie but doesn't say that I'm Superman."

"That's what I want to hear."

He frowned in thought. "Tell exactly what happened up to the moment Laura Nyugen shot at me. Then say that Superman intercepted the bullets. That's actually what happened, it just implies that Clark and Superman are different people without actually saying it. Superman flew to Mayson's car to save her but didn't make it in time. You tried to take the gun away from Laura and it went off during the struggle and the shot killed her. You ran over to try to help Mayson but you were too late. Superman screamed in anger —"

"Whoa. I can't say what Superman's state of mind was at the moment. If either counsel objects the judge will have to sustain it."

"Yeah, you're right. Okay, Superman screamed and flew away with Clark and you tell it from there."

She nodded. "That's almost exactly what I told Clay that night."


"Clay Mooney. He was the first officer on the scene and he took down my statement."

"Oh. I didn't know that."

"Well, now you do. And since we've answered that huge question that was hanging around like an elephant in the back seat of a Volkswagen, I only have one more thing to ask you."

He braced himself, then looked in her eyes, his face as open as Lois had ever seen it. "I'm ready. What is it?"

She lifted his hands and kissed them gently, then lightly kissed his nose. "Clark?"

"Yes, Lois?"

"Would you like some cake?"

He smiled slowly, then nodded. "Actually, Lois, I think I would."


Chapter Five

>>> Monday, August 26th

Superman had had a busy day already. He'd foiled an early-morning convenience store robbery, stopped a runaway car on the Interstate and held the terrified eleven-year-old driver until the police and her parents arrived, put out a fire in an abandoned warehouse and rescued four homeless men who'd claimed it as their shelter for the previous night, and directed traffic at Clinton and Fidelity when the signal lights went dark halfway through morning rush hour until he'd been relieved by a pair of police officers, one of whom was effusive in his thanks for the super-help.

So getting to Constance Hunter's office by 9:27 a.m. was a major achievement for him. He opened the outer door and stepped into the otherwise vacant reception area.

"Hello? Anyone at work?"

A voice called through the closed door to the inner office. "Back here, Superman."

He opened the door and stepped in. Connie and Blair were both wearing jeans and short-sleeved cotton shirts. Blair's hair was askew and Connie's was pulled back in a ponytail that was coming loose. Each of them sported dark circles under their eyes. Newspaper clippings and computer printouts littered every inch of table, desk, and sofa space in the office.

Superman smiled at the scene. "Looks like somebody had a serious temper tantrum in here."

Connie looked up at him with bleary eyes and pushed her glasses back on her nose. "We're building a case file of your exploits before and since the night Bill Church died. We plan to enter it as evidence of your benign intentions."

Blair straightened and rolled her shoulders to loosen them. "I already knew you were a hero, Superman, but I'd never realized just how much you've done for us in the past five years." She pointed to a stack on the end of the sofa. "That's the news reports of accidents you've helped at just here in Metropolis. There's another one almost as big on the table on natural disasters like earthquakes, tidal waves, forest fires, and droughts you've worked on." She gave him a tired but sincere smile. "If I was the least bit indifferent about you before, I'm not now. Thank you for all you've done for all of us."

Superman was surprised. "I don't know what to say except, you're welcome. And thanks for the kind words. Say, how long have you two been going at this, anyway?"

"I'm not sure. Connie?"

"We started about five yesterday afternoon. Blair went around the corner and brought back some takeout for dinner about nine, I slept for a couple of hours sometime after two, and I think Blair's been awake all night."

His eyes widened. "Wow."

Blair rubbed her eyes and yawned. "Now that you mention it, I think I'll need a nap before too much longer."

Connie smiled at her. "You've earned it. We're almost done with this part of it anyway. All we have to do is put this in folders, tie them off, label them, and take them to court on trial day." She lifted several papers on her desk. "Blair, where's the brief?"

Superman tried to stifle a laugh and it came out as a snort. "Sorry. It was the idea of calling this much paper a 'brief.'"

Blair walked to the desk. "I agree with the sentiment. Is this what you're looking for, Connie?"

Connie took the clear binder from her and held it up for the hero to see. "Yes, thanks. This is the actual brief, Superman, about four double-spaced pages. The rest is supporting documentation."

"I see. Again, I'm sorry about the laugh."

"Don't worry about it. Non-lawyers don't understand all that lawyers do, anyway. I suspect that the rest of us have no idea how you do what it is that you do, either."

"You're probably right. So, what do you need to see me for?"

"Ah! That's right. We need to talk about strategy for the trial."

He tilted his head to one side. "What strategy? I thought we were just going to tell the truth."

She blew out a tired breath. "The statute says you're not guilty of second-degree murder if you were operating under extreme emotional distress at the time of the death, like a homeowner shooting an intruder at night who's already threatened his family. Since Jack hasn't added manslaughter to the indictment, the jury can't acquit on murder and convict on manslaughter, so it's second-degree murder or nothing. If we show how level-headed you are in emergencies and make sure the jury knows you're not prone to emotional outbursts, then they'll be more likely to see Bill Church as an aberration brought on by the pressure of the situation."

He twisted his lips. "I don't want to get off on a technicality."

"We aren't working technicalities. That's the way the law reads. But we still need to decide how we present our case. We have to tell the truth in such a way that the neither the jury nor the public think we left out anything important."

He frowned slightly. "What are you talking about?"

Blair answered from behind him. "We're not dealing with computers, Superman, we're dealing with human beings. Humans feel very strongly about certain things, and those feelings will usually override their brains. Even if Connie were inclined to lie for you, which I'm sure she's not, I won't do it. If we tell the truth and make you sound like an overbearing, arrogant, power-mad strong man with delusions of grandeur, you lose even if you're acquitted. Understand?"

He crossed his arms and nodded once. "Actually, yes, I do."

"Relax, okay?" Connie put her hand on his arm and pulled until he lowered them. "That's one of the things you'd better not do in court. That pose looks heroic at an emergency, and I'm sure it helps calm the victims and scare the bad guys, but under cross-examination it will look like defiance or avoidance." She turned and stumbled wearily towards her desk. "That's what we mean when we say the word 'strategy.'"

He quirked one side of his mouth upwards. "Okay. Anything else I need to learn?"

"Lots, but Blair and I don't have the energy right now." She flopped into her chair. "How do you feel about going to trial quickly?"

He shrugged. "I'd rather get it over with as soon as possible."

"Good. We can get our stuff together fairly soon. No sense letting the DA dig up something else on you." She held up her hand to forestall his objection. "I know, there's nothing else on you, so there's no reason to wait, is there?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Good. Blair, when do you think we can get in front of a judge?"

Blair sat down on the edge of the table and crossed her arms. "Case like this, DA probably wants to fast-track it. I'd say we could be in jury selection in five weeks, maybe less, especially if we don't file for continuance or release a flurry of motions."

Superman frowned. "I thought we wanted some motion here."

Blair chuckled wearily. "No, I mean file a lot of motions intended to delay the trial. Every motion we file has to go before a judge and be ruled on. Takes time. If we don't file any, there's less delay." She yawned noisily. "Oh, 'scuse me! Anyway, we don't file motions, we don't slow down the wheels of justice."

He nodded. "Sounds good to me. For a number of reasons, I'd like to get this trial finished as quickly as possible."

Connie lifted her eyebrows. "A number of reasons, eh? Any of them personal?"


"Ooh, I hope you don't do that in court."

He frowned in confusion. "Do what?"

"Your arms were down, but your voice had that 'hero posture' sound. You shouldn't sound like good ol' buddy Gomer, but you can't come across like Nixon insisting you're not a crook, either. You should sound serious about the situation, but willing to submit to the judgment of the court."

He sighed. "I suppose we'll have to work on that. Anything else?"

Blair shook her head and yawned again. "Naw, not from me."

"Just one thing more, Superman."


Connie stood and put her hands on her desk. "Jack Reisman is a good man. I believe he truly wants justice to be done. But he's also human. If he convicts you, he could use this case to step up to the national stage in politics. He wants to be governor someday, and he might make it, but if he puts Superman away he could grab for a Washington office. This isn't going to be fun for any of us, but if we lose, Reisman could win big."

She paused and rolled her shoulders. "I just thought you should know what we're up against."

He nodded. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. Now, I think you ladies should get some sleep. You've earned it."

"Right. Oh! Wait!"

He stopped and turned. "Yes, Ms. Hunter?"

"I think I already know the answer to this question, but I have to ask it anyway."

"Okay, go ahead."

She pushed her long dark hair back with both hands. "Understand that this is part of the process and not, in any way, an accusation of any kind." He lifted an eyebrow but didn't speak. She sighed deeply. "Superman, I need for you to be totally and completely honest with me. No shading the truth, no deft little misdirection, no holding back, not on anything. Can you do that?"

He stared for a moment. "You do realize what you're asking me, don't you?"

She nodded. "I do. I also have to know that you're being straight with me."

He held her gaze for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Anything about this case, I'll be totally and completely honest with you."

She shook her head. "That's not what I asked you."

"I know." They locked eyes again.

Blair stepped forward. "Connie, maybe you better define your terms."

"What? What terms?"

"He's thinkin' you want to know every tiny detail of his life, including all the personal little tidbits nobody wants to publicize." She turned to Superman. "Am I right?"

He nodded shortly. "Yes. Is that what you mean, Ms. Hunter?"

Connie took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "No, of course not. I'm sorry, I'm still thinking in lawyerese. I don't need to know about your personal life except where it impacts our case, and frankly I don't want to know anything beyond that. But about everything else, you have to be totally honest with me. Can you promise that?"

He locked eyes with her again. "Ms. Hunter, I promise that I will not withhold any information you request, except for some personal details which don't have anything to do with this case."

She smiled. "Thank you. Like I said, I thought that was what you'd say, but I needed to hear you say it." She turned to her cohort. "Blair, I think you've just earned your per diem for today."

Blair smiled. "All part of the service, ma'am."

"Thanks anyway. Now you and I need to get some sleep. I still have to call Lois Lane before this evening, and I don't want to talk to her while my brain feels like wet cotton." She sketched a salute to Blair and Superman. "Good night, all."


She snatched the phone from its cradle and it barely remained intact. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet."

"Ms. Lane, this is Constance Hunter, Superman's lead attorney. Are you aware that the DA has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday morning?"

"Not personally, no, but I'm sure my people are on top of it. Why do you ask?"

"You don't know?"

"Ms. Hunter, it's nearly six-thirty on Monday evening, I've been meeting with auditors and employees all day and I missed lunch and I'm late for dinner with my mother, so this needs to move along."

"Very well. We know you're on the DA's witness list. We'll have to have a meeting and go over your story and see how it fits in with the other information we have. It also means that the DA's office will be in touch with you about your testimony. Neither of us wants any surprises in court."

"Okay. Is that what this call is about?"

"No. On Wednesday morning, the DA will officially announce that Superman's trial for second-degree murder in the death of William Church Senior will begin jury selection on Monday, September 22nd. This will be a media frenzy, and I'd like for you to be there, along with as many reporters and photographers as you can spare."

"We'd do that anyway, Ms. Hunter. Why the call?"

"I think the DA is going to ask Superman whether or not he has another identity, an alter ego, another name he operates under. That, in and of itself, isn't illegal, but I don't think a revelation like that would help my client's case one bit. I can't, of course, tell you what to print, nor would I ever try to do so, but I'd like to suggest that such inquiries shouldn't be part of this trial. I'll do what I can with the jury and in the courtroom, of course, but this question won't go away if Reisman smells blood. I don't want to distract from the essential issues of the case, and I don't want my client to be put in the position of either revealing some deeply personal information or lying on the stand."

"Ah. Yes, I — you make a good point."

"Thank you. I assume I'll see you Wednesday morning?"

"You'll not only see me, Ms. Hunter, you'll feel my presence."

"That's what I thought. Have a nice dinner, Ms. Lane. Good-bye."

>>> Tuesday, August 27th

The barely suppressed chaos hit Lois in the face as soon as the elevator door opened. She hadn't made it to the coffee machine before she was greeted with what she considered excessive enthusiasm, considering the early hour of the day.

"Good morning, Lois!"

"Hey, Jim. You get those shots of the Star Labs fundraiser on my desk?"

He saluted jauntily. "Awaiting your professional eye."

"Good. I'll pick two for the afternoon edition and we'll see if you picked the same two."

"Five bucks says yes."

She smiled ever so slightly. "You're on."

"Great! Oh, Catharine wants to see you as soon as possible. Something about the page two summary for the afternoon edition."

"Send — never mind, I'll call her. Dombrowski here yet?"

"Yeah. He's at his desk finishing up that piece on the State Board of Health meeting."

"Good. If you see him in the next few minutes, send him my way."

"Gotcha. Oh, and there's a thermos of Starways coffee on your desk."

She stopped in mid-stride. "Jim! Thank you. That's very thoughtful."

He shook his head. "I wish I'd thought of it, but it wasn't me. Clark's in there with it."

At the mention of Clark's name, her eyes grew wide and her smile almost split her face. She all but sprinted the rest of the way across the newsroom. She knew Jim was quietly laughing at her, but she didn't care. Clark was waiting for her.

The door opened just as she reached for the knob. He caught her as she stumbled, off-balance, and took her coat to hang it up.

"Good morning, Lois. How was your day yesterday?"

She grinned through her morning haze and threw her arms around his neck before he could step away. He returned her electric kiss for a long moment, then backed up and grinned at her from two inches away. "Maybe we should shut the door first?"

She looked into the newsroom and realized that almost all activity had stopped and nearly every eye was fixed on her. From across the room, she could see Catharine giving her an enthusiastic thumbs-up, while Jim tried to hide a knowing smile. Nearly everyone else, however, was stunned into silent immobility.

Time to publish the news, Lois thought. She stepped to the doorway and snarled, "Get back to work, people! This is a newspaper, not a junior high lunchroom! Move it!"

Her speech had the desired effect. Everyone turned away from the office and began moving at high speed, trying to look busy and evade the boss's wrath.

She shut the door and turned to see Clark laughing quietly. She crossed her arms and lifted one eyebrow. "And what's so funny, Mr. Kent?"

With a supreme effort, he regained his composure. "Funny? Nothing, Ms. Lane, nothing at all."

"Good. Now, where were we? Oh, yes." She put her arms around him again, taking time for another long, gentle kiss.

Their lips had just parted when someone knocked on the door. She smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Clark. Business."

He nodded and smiled back. "I remember what it's like."

She patted his arms and called out, "Come on in!"

Ron slowly opened the door and peeked around the doorjamb. "Is it safe to enter?"

Lois put her hands on her hips. "No, but come on in anyway."

Ron stepped in gingerly and handed Lois a folder. "Here's the story."

She flipped it open. "State Board of Health, right?"

"Not after they read this. They'll feel downright unhealthy."

"Cute." She put the folder on her desk. "Ron, have you met Clark?"

Ron extended his hand. "Not formally, but I've seen him around. Hello, Clark."

"Good to meet you, Ron. You came over from the Standard a couple of years ago, didn't you?"

Ron took his hand back and flexed it. "Yep. Lois showed us what a real editor could be and I was smart enough to follow her back over here."

Clark lifted his eyebrows. "Oh."

Lois grinned. "Ron's on the beat you and I used to have, Clark, doing investigative reporting. He's almost as good as you were."

"Really? Is he almost as good as you were, too?"

She shook her head. "Of course not. I was always the best, remember?"

Ron and Lois shared a smile. Clark tried to force one but failed. He also failed to shield his discomfort from Ron, who apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor. "Sorry, Clark, but I have to get back to work now. Are you moving back to your desk any time soon?"

Clark frowned slightly. "Why do you ask?"

He backpedaled. "Hey, Lois is always going on and on about how effective you two were together. To hear her tell it, she was holding the paper just above sinking until you came and helped her just enough to pull it back from the brink."

Clark looked at Lois and nodded. "I see."

Ron headed for the door. "See you later, boss lady. I'll send you the story on the LAN, too, along with a couple of ideas I've gotten lately."

"Thanks, Ron. Close the door, would you?"

He did. Lois crossed her arms and returned Clark's baleful stare. "You need to stop doing the jealous boyfriend thing, Clark. There's no one else in my life and hasn't been for quite some time."

Clark returned the stare. "You mean since Luthor? Or maybe Clay?"

Her expression hardened slightly. "Luthor's dead and Clay's married."

"But Ron's still available."

Lois's eyes narrowed and she leaned forward slightly. "I don't know what bug crawled up your butt, mister, but you'd better cut it out right now."

He matched her stare for a moment, then seemed to deflate. He turned to her desk and picked up a thermos bottle. "Coffee?"

Lois nodded shortly. He poured the still-steaming liquid into her mug and handed it to her.

She took it and turned away, then took a careful sip. "Good. Good and hot."

Clark slowly replaced the cap on the thermos and turned to stare at the window. He sighed deeply. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure what got into me."

"Stress, maybe?"

He snorted. "I've faced stress before."

"Not like this. This kind of stress doesn't go away, not ever. It's there when you get up in the morning, stands beside your bed as you go to sleep at night, and dogs every step you take during the day."

He turned to look at her profile. "Sounds like you know what you're talking about."

"I do. I've lived it for several years."

"You don't seem stressed out."

"Like Perry used to say, if you can fake sincerity you can fake anything."

He tried to chuckle, but it came out like fizz from a soda can. He took a step towards her. "Lois?"

"Not right now, Clark."


"I mean I'm not your Lois right now. I'm more than a little ticked off."

He nodded. "At me, I'd guess."

"You'd be right."

He sighed again. "I'm sorry, Lois."

She turned to look at him with granite eyes. "Sorry for what? For stomping my heart every time we get together? For insulting me? For being jealous of the men I work with? For crying out loud, Clark, you might as well accuse me of having an affair with Ralph as insinuate I'd take up with Ron!"

"Ron's that nasty, huh?"

She slammed the empty mug down on her desk. "Stop it!" She stomped once and stepped back from the desk. "I've waited for you to come around for more than three years, Clark. I've turned down a marriage proposal and two really nice job offers to stay here and wait for you. I've given you all the space you asked for and more. But you keep getting offended at the smallest things! We can't even talk for ten minutes without getting angry with each other!" She turned to one side and put her fists against her mouth. "I don't know how much more of this I can take!"

Clark didn't answer for a long moment. He finally crossed his arms and leaned against her desk. "You're right, Lois. I'm too sensitive, I don't listen to you, I don't pay attention to your feelings, I take things the worst way possible, I'm self-centered, I'm prickly, and my glasses are smeared."

She didn't laugh. He tried again. "I'm sorry. I can't excuse my behavior. All I can do is try to explain it."

She dropped her arms, then turned and faced him. "So?" She took a step towards him and gestured with both hands. "Explain away."

He avoided her gaze. "For the last three years, I've been alone. By my own choice, I know, no one abandoned me. Still, I haven't had to deal with people on any long-term intimate level. Except my parents, of course, and they'll overlook almost anything from me."

"Did they overlook what happened with Bill Church?"

He sighed. "No, of course not. Every time I was home, at least one of them would make some kind of indirect comment about living up to my legal and moral responsibilities. And usually they'd be more direct than that. They want me to be happy, they want me to be Superman, but they also want me to take responsibility for my actions. As stressed as I am by this trial, they're actually glad that I'm doing what they think I should have done in the first place."

Lois stepped towards the desk and sat on the opposite corner from Clark, so that he had to turn slightly to face her. He sighed and shook his head. "You know I tend to be a bit melodramatic anyway, and so much time alone has almost ruined me for decent company. I saw Lana and Pete last month in Smallville and I didn't know how to talk to them. It was as if I'd forgotten how to communicate with regular people. I found myself wishing I was in the suit so I'd have an excuse to fly away in case things got sticky."

"Are Lana and Pete married? Like, to each other?"

"Huh? Oh, no, Lana's still single. I think Pete's divorced or separated or something. I had driven the pickup to town to buy some feed for Dad and they came walking at me from different angles. Totally unplanned, a chance meeting of old friends. I almost panicked before I realized they weren't out to get me."

"Do they know?" He looked at her quizzically. "Do they know about — " she made a wavy motion with her hand.

"Ah. The, uh — " he copied her motion and nodded. "Lana knows, of course, and I think Pete suspects, but he's never said anything, at least not to me."

Lois sat very still and looked at him for almost a minute. Clark tried to force himself not to squirm under her gaze, telling himself that her interest, though intense, was benign, not hostile.

"You're not worried about either of them revealing your secret, are you?"

"No, of course not."

"Are you concerned that someone might wonder where Clark Kent is while Superman is on trial?"

"A little. I'll have to work on that one."

She leaned forward slightly. "Are you worried about me somehow?"

"You? No, Lois, no! I have complete confidence in you, both as a friend and as an editor."

She looked into his eyes. She saw something else there, something he was trying to hide, something she didn't particularly like.

"Clark? There's something else you haven't told me, isn't there?"

He tried to look away but failed. "Yes."

"What is it?" He didn't respond. "Clark, you can tell me anything. Anything at all." Except goodbye, she added silently.

"I'm — not sure I can articulate it."

Her voice softened. "I'm willing to let you try."

He opened his mouth but said nothing, then abruptly closed his eyes and hugged himself tightly. "I'm — I'm scared."

She wanted to hold him, to love away whatever he was afraid of, but she forced herself to stay put. "What is it that scares you, Clark?"

He stood suddenly and faced her. His voice was low but intense. "I have to know, Lois."

She still didn't move. "Know what?"

"If people blame me. If people are afraid of me. If I can still function as Superman, if I can be around regular people who respect me but aren't terrified that I'll explode into a murderous rage at any moment." He waved his hands aimlessly. "I feel like I'm on hold, like nothing but this trial matters right now. Until I know how people think about me, until I find out if the people of Metropolis can trust Superman again, I can't move forward, I can't make plans, I can't be there for you."

He turned away and crossed his arms. "It isn't fair to you, I know, and I'm sorry, but right now I just can't be who you want me to be, who I want so much to be. I can't be — I can't let you depend on me. Not until this is over."

"I'm not asking you to commit to anything, Clark. I only want the best for you."

"Thank you. And I want the best for you." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "But right now I'm not sure I'm the best thing for you."

"I see." She paused and waited, hoping that her world wasn't about to end. "Does this mean — are you telling me you're leaving?"

He shook his head without turning around. "No. It just means I — I don't want to disappoint you again. I don't want to give you any expectations that I can't fulfill."

"Okay. I think I can live with that." She finally relaxed her posture slightly. "Did you know that there's a news conference tomorrow about Superman's trial?"

Dryly, he replied, "It did come to my attention, yes."

"Would you like to cover it? As a freelancer, of course."

His face slackened in surprise as he turned to face her. "What?"

"Well, you're in town, I'm sure you could use the work, and we need an outsider's viewpoint. I've already got an editorial in the works for tomorrow's edition, Ron's going to cover it with Jim as a straight news story, but we need some of that touchy-feely stuff you do so well. Maybe you could even get an exclusive interview with Superman." She stood and crossed her arms. "What do you say?"

She watched as he stopped and thought for a few moments. She suspected that his first inclination was to get mad again and reject her offer, but he appeared to remember that she was, after all, the editor of the Daily Planet. This was business, and it was the kind of thing he'd been so good at when he'd worked here. She needed the story and he needed the exposure, whether he wanted it or not.

"Connie did advise me — actually, she advised Superman — that he ought not attend the news conference. Something about not being too much in the public eye." He straightened and smiled. "I'll do it." He winked. "I think I might even be able to get that interview, too."

She beamed. "Good! Now, Clark, I'm thrilled to see you any time, and you're more than welcome in my office, too, but we do have a newspaper to publish, so —"

He lifted his hands in surrender. "I know, I know. How does lunch sound to you?"

Her smile faded slightly. "It sounds wonderful, but I'm having a business lunch today with Franklin Stern and a bunch of other people. We have to go over next year's budget figures. I don't suppose you'd like to go in my place, would you?"

"Of course! I love giving away other people's money."

"Huh. In that case, bub, you stay away from me for the rest of the afternoon."

"Oh, okay. I'm deeply disappointed, of course, but we'll get together later. I'll have those items for you tomorrow afternoon."

"Two o'clock deadline for the afternoon edition, six o'clock for the next morning. I'd like to put the interview in Thursday's morning edition."

He nodded. "No problem. You just have my check ready."

She swatted him on the upper arm. "We'll put it in the mail by Friday, as usual. Still using your parents' address?"

"Yes. I don't have a place in Metropolis any more."

She leaned in and gave him a peck on the lips. "We'll have to see if we can change that situation."

Despite his best effort to keep his expression smooth, not to show the fear he felt at her offhand statement, not to stiffen under her touch, she knew she'd once again pushed him in a direction he didn't want to go, at least not yet. She wondered if her life was once again about to take the off-ramp to Heartache Hotel.

It was a place she seemed destined to know all too well.

>>> Wednesday, August 28th

The tall brunette knocked on the DA's office door, then opened it and stuck her head in. "Jack? It's almost five till ten. You ready?"

Jack turned from the mirror and hissed like a leaky tire. "I really ought to be smarter than to put on a brand-new tie for the first time six minutes before the biggest news conference of my career."

She smiled. "Why don't you let me help?"

He turned and dropped his hands to the side. "You might as well. I'm not having any luck."

She tugged, wrapped, tugged again, and settled the knot against his collar button. "There you go, all nice and neat."

"Just a little tighter and you can strangle me with it."

She laughed. "I'll let the press take care of that."

"Oh, they will, I promise. Am I all handsome now?"

"You're as fine-looking as you ever are."

"Thanks, Melanie. I'd better look good for this one. The press is going to rip me to pieces no matter what I do."

"Well, Jack, you are the man who charged Superman with murder."

He slid his coat on and headed towards the door. "Second degree, no less."

He had his hand on the doorknob when she said, "Jack?"

The serious tone of her voice stopped him. "What?"

She hesitated, then took a short step towards him. "Do you really want to win this case?"

"You mean, do I want to be the man who sent Superman to jail?"

She ducked her head and lowered her voice. "Yeah, that's what I mean. Do you?"

He sighed deeply. "No, not really. I'd be just as happy if the jury finds him not guilty."

"The National Whisper ran an editorial yesterday that said you could be elected governor if you win this case."

Jack frowned. "The Whisper is good for bird cage lining and wiping off dirty headlight lenses and not much else. Don't believe everything you read."

"Is that why the only charge is murder two?"

He quirked one eyebrow. "What we say in this office stays in this office. No one else will ever hear about it. Understood?"

"Of course."

He hesitated, then continued. "I don't know if I can get a murder conviction, Mel. I probably could get a manslaughter conviction if I tried really, really hard and pushed right up to the point of being disbarred."

"So why not file both charges? The jury could convict on the lesser charge even if they acquit him on the murder two charge."

"Because I don't want Superman to be in prison. He can serve humanity better as a free man than as a guest of the state for a couple of decades."

"Are you telling me that you think Superman was right to do what he did?"

He sighed deeply. "No. I don't think that. But, at the same time, I don't think that what he did was necessarily wrong, either. If I'd been in the same situation — well, let's just say that I'm glad it wasn't me standing in front of the worst mass murderer since Stalin. I doubt I could have held myself back, either."

She looked into his eyes. "Then why pursue it? Why try this case at all?"

He put his hands in his pants pockets and twisted his mouth into a parody of a smile. "Because the grand jury returned the indictment."

Still speaking softly, she said, "But you presented the case to them in the first place."

"I know." He shrugged. "I expected a no-bill. No charges, no arrest, no harm, no foul, end of story. The DA did his job, the grand jury did theirs, and Superman is as good as acquitted. Legally, he's free to move on with his life."

"What happened?"

He shook his head. "I did my job altogether too well. I went in there that day determined to give them a case they'd almost have to throw out. I asked for the harshest charge and the harshest punishment the law allows in this situation. I fully expected them to warn me about trying to hog the spotlight and pursuing headlines instead of going after real lawbreakers. Instead, they gave me an indictment. At that point I had no choice."

She stepped closer and took his hand tenderly. "Does this mean you're going to go easy on him?"

He squeezed her hand gently. "I can't throw any case, Melanie, not even this one. Especially not this one. I've got to push as hard as I can, both ethically and legally, or I leave myself open to charges of favoritism. Besides, Superman wants this trial too. Do you know how many motions Connie Hunter has filed?"

She squinted slightly. "Only the one that I know of, the motion to suppress the videotape."

"That's exactly how many she's filed. How odd is that? Especially with the combined financial resources of the Superman Foundation and Franklin Stern funding his defense?"

Her eyes popped open. "That's very odd."

He released her hand. "Yep. It means they want to go to trial as soon as possible and get this whole thing over with. So do I. And I'm in favor of working the evidence to death on this one. Can I count on you to help me?"

She gave him a 'look.' "No end runs around the judge or the jury? No surprise witnesses or evidence? No tricks or sleight of hand in court?"

He held up his hands, palms forward. "I promise, Mel, scout's honor. No tricks, no dealing from the bottom of the deck, nothing like that. Connie's playing it totally straight on this one and so are we."

She kept the 'look' going. "The Whisper also wrote — don't roll your eyes at me, buster! They said you were going to ask Superman about any other names he uses." He didn't answer. "Are you going to ask him that?"

He shook his head. "No. He was wearing his super-suit when he killed Bill Church. He surrendered and went through arrest, booking, and arraignment as Superman. He's coming to court in the red-and-blue clown suit. I don't have any reason to ask him what else he calls himself when he's not saving lives and preventing property damage."

Melanie sighed and nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Jack."

Jack glanced at the clock on the wall. "Wups! Almost time for the show."

"They can't start without the star attraction."

He frowned slightly. "Superman is probably already there, Melanie. We're just the supporting players." He opened the office door and gestured for her to precede him. "Shall we?"

She nodded and stepped through the doorway. "Of course. Beauty before age, right?"

He put his hand over his heart and mimed taking a blow. "Oh! You really know how to hurt an attorney."


Jack pushed open the front door to the courthouse and stepped through in front of Melanie, hoping to protect her from the snarling fourth estate. She followed behind him at his shoulder. He made brief eye contact with Connie Hunter as he strode to the temporary podium, then he stood behind the bank of microphones until the noise from the reporters died down to a dull roar.

A distant bass rumble drew his eyes skyward for a moment. Thunderstorm out over the ocean, rolling in from off the coast, he thought, and it looks like a rough one. Appropriate weather for this kind of announcement.

"Good morning. I'm Jack Reisman, District Attorney for the city of Metropolis, New Troy. We're here to announce the upcoming trial of Superman and take any questions you might have. I assume Ms. Hunter will also answer questions, although she surely isn't required to do so by law."

A few of the reporters chuckled, fewer than Reisman had hoped. A reporter for LNN lifted his hand and Jack pointed to him.

"Mr. Reisman, when will Superman's trial start?"

"Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday, September 22nd. We intend to begin the actual proceedings as quickly as we can after the jury is seated."

A woman from the Metropolis Star was next. "Will the jury be sequestered? And will they have conjugal visits from their significant others?"

Jack lifted an eyebrow. "That's up to the judge. And it's a little early to be talking about that."

One forceful brunette woman shouted louder than the rest. "Mr. Reisman? Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Can you explain exactly what Superman is charged with? And what sentence are you asking for?"

"Of course. The charge against Superman, in the death of William Church Senior, is murder in the second degree. This felony carries with it a sentence of twenty-five years to life imprisonment." He hesitated and glanced at Melanie. She smiled slightly and nodded. "We are asking the court to assign the maximum punishment in this case."

Later, Melanie told Jack that she'd never seen that many people drop their jaws to the ground and gasp in unison. As it was, the sudden reduction in air pressure almost sucked Jack over the podium.

Lois Lane recovered first. "Maximum — ! You no-good bum, you know what Superman's done for this city! You know how bad the crime rate was before he came! You know —"

"And I know how much it went up when he went away for nearly three years! I also know how much he's helped us and others in the past few months since he returned from his self-imposed exile. Ms. Lane, I freely acknowledge what Superman has done for us, but that is not the issue! We plan to show that Superman deliberately and with malice caused the death of William Church, Senior. We intend to ask for the maximum penalty according to law."

"According to law? You moron! How many criminals have you failed to convict in the last three years? How many have you let off on some technicality? How many —"

"Thank you for your thoughts on the matter at hand, Ms. Lane. Perhaps our friends in the press would like to ask Ms. Hunter some questions."

Connie glared ice daggers at him as she stepped past him. "Friends in the press, eh?" she muttered as she passed him.

He murmured back, "Be thankful you're a smaller target."

She almost grinned, then moved to the microphones. "I have a brief statement first, then I'll take questions." Blair handed her a sheet of paper. "This statement is from Superman, who unfortunately was unable to attend this morning due to an emergency. I quote: 'I am completely willing to submit myself to a jury verdict in this case. I am confident that justice will be done, and that the facts of the case will guide the jury in making their decision. Whatever happens, I will abide by the decision of the court in regard to the outcome and any sentence which may result. Thank you.'" She folded the paper and put it in her jacket pocket. "Questions? Yes, the lady in the purple blazer?"

"Annette O'Toole, ABC news. Does this mean that Superman is changing his plea from not guilty to guilty?"

"No. The plea of not guilty stands. Next? Yes, you, sir."

"Thank you. Walter Chow, Hong Kong Daily Persuader. Will Superman be restricted to Metropolis until the trial actually starts?"

"That's not my call, Mr. Chow. You'd have to ask Mr. Reisman. Yes, you in the back, the lady in red."

"How about after the trial starts?"

"Uh, how about what after the trial starts?"

"Will Superman have to stay in Metropolis during the trial? No matter what emergencies may be happening?"

"Again, that's not my call. The trial judge will make that decision."

"Who's the judge?"

Connie smiled indulgently. "I hadn't recognized you, Ms. Lane, but the judge assigned to this trial is the honorable Charles Walter Fields. For those of you who aren't familiar with Judge Fields, he's a veteran of over twenty-three years on the bench, and he has a reputation for honesty and patience with every attorney I know. I'm confident that Judge Fields will conduct a trial whose end will reveal the truth and whose result will exonerate Superman, because that will be the proper ending for this ordeal. One more question and then I must leave. You, sir?"

"Clark Kent, Daily Planet. How long do you think the trial will last?"

Connie ignored the turn of attention to her questioner. "I don't know, Mr. Kent, but I hope not more than three to four weeks, if not fewer. We don't want some year-long trial to turn our city inside-out." She smiled and lifted her hand. "I'm sorry, but I have to go back to work now. Thank you all for coming."

She turned and gathered Blair with her eyes. They walked away without speaking to Jack or Melanie and left in a waiting cab. The prosecution team beat a hasty retreat back into the courthouse.

As they got into the elevator to take them back to their office floor, Melanie said, "I think that went well."

Jack exhaled in a whoosh. "It could have been a lot worse. For a minute, I thought the Lane woman was going to pull my arms off and beat me to death with them."

She tweaked his ear. "She might still, if she can catch you. Just keep one step ahead of her, okay?"

He grinned. "Okay, Mel, okay!. You know, you could lighten up on me a little. It wouldn't kill you, you know."

She laughed musically and put her hand through his arm as the doors opened. "And give up teasing my big brother? Not a chance!"

Thunder boomed outside the building and echoed in the old structure. They both jumped. Jack looked at his little sister, the girl their mother had made him promise to look after, who was now a grown-up woman with a career and a husband of her own. As a child, she'd been afraid of thunder, and she gripped Jack's arm with surprising strength.

She forced herself to breathe evenly. "That was a bad one, Jack. I guess Lois Lane was even madder than we thought."


Chapter Six

>>> Wednesday, August 28th

Clark sat down in his hotel room and pulled out his old portable electric typewriter. He'd destroyed the keyboard on his laptop — again — when he'd neglected to hold back on his typing speed. It took almost no time to swap out the keyboard unit, but he'd run out of spares and Lois needed these articles quickly.

He ran through his notes of the press conference, trying to give the article an out-of-towner's point of view, and then sat down to type. He reminded himself that his battered old portable wouldn't take much super-speed typing and began.

It took him twelve minutes to type the first draft, edit it, then type what he hoped Lois would consider a final version. He suspected that she'd just have to edit some part of it, even if it was just a little.

Then he started on the hard one: the interview with Superman.

Clark Kent: Superman, thank you for talking to me. I know you're busy these days.

Superman: My pleasure, Mr. Kent.

CK: What do you think of your attorney team?

SM: They're honest, hard-working, and interested in seeing that justice is done.

CK: Is there any significance to the fact that they're both attractive women?

SM: What do you mean?

CK: Did you pick them because of their looks?

SM: I'm surprised you'd even ask me that. I don't deal with people on the basis of their physical attributes.

CK: My readers want to know, Superman. Ms. Hunter and Ms. Collins make a striking team.

SM: They are both very capable attorneys. Irrespective of their level of attractiveness, I rather doubt that either of them is planning to appear as a magazine centerfold any time soon.

CK: I see. So, did you pick them for their looks?

SM: You're as persistent now as you used to be. No, neither their gender nor their physical appearance was a factor in my decision to ask them to defend me. I want to see justice done, and so do Constance Hunter and Blair Collins. And let's not have any more patronizing questions like that, okay?

CK: If you say so. Do you think this trial will interfere with your Superman duties?

SM: My duty as a law-abiding citizen requires me to submit to the judgment of the court, so no, I don't see a conflict.

CK: What if you have to go rescue someone while the trial is going on?

SM: My attorneys plan to ask the judge about that early on. Whatever Judge Fields decides, that's what I'll abide by.

CK: Even if it means not helping at some emergencies?

SM: Yes. In that case, since I'll be submitting to the authority of the trial judge, it will really be his or decision and not mine. As I just said, that's Judge Fields' decision, not mine.

CK: That's good to know.

SM: You have to understand, Mr. Kent, that I don't consider myself to be above the law. I welcome this chance to be judged for my actions by a jury of my peers.

CK: Some people are saying that you're too powerful, that you should be legally constrained from enforcing laws when you're not a law enforcement official. What's your response to that kind of charge?

SM: If an ordinary citizen assists the police in an investigation or even an arrest, the main concern of the officers involved is to apprehend the suspect and protect any innocent civilians involved, not necessarily in that order. The second part of that doesn't apply to me, because the ordinary thug with a gun or a club or even a bomb can't hurt me. All I want to do is help.

CK: But you killed a man. How can you go on being Superman with that on your conscience?

SM: That's why this trial is so important to me. I want the people of Metropolis to decide whether or not I should be punished for my actions. I don't want to be perceived as some super-vigilante who sets his own standard of right and wrong. I only want to help, but if the people of this city decide they don't want me to, I won't force myself on them.

CK: What about prison time? If you're convicted, how will the state hold you?

SM: Simple. They'll close the cell door and I'll stay put. I'll do what they tell me to do. I'll work where they want me to work and go to my cell when they tell me to. I'll be a model prisoner.

CK: But there's no way for the prison system to hold you if you don't want to be locked up. What kind of assurances can you give them that you won't just disappear into the air?

SM: I will give them my word.

CK: So you're saying that your integrity should count for something after all?

SM: In this case, yes. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone.

CK: Oh? What about Bill Church?

SM: You know, Mr. Kent, you're just a little bit relentless.

CK: Thank you, Superman. Please answer my question.

SM: I can't. Once again, the decision of whether my actions concerning Bill Church and Intergang were right or wrong, both legally and morally, is not mine to make. That's why we're holding this trial.

CK: You mentioned Intergang in conjunction with the deceased, Bill Church. Do you think that will be part of your defense?

SM: It's a major factor in the entire sequence of events leading up to Bill Church's death, so I certainly hope information about Intergang is allowed as evidence.

CK: What if it isn't? What if the prosecution and the judge suppress all mention of Intergang?

SM: Then that's how Ms. Hunter and Ms. Collins will play it. We will abide by all the judge's decisions regarding such matters. After we make our case for the evidence, of course.

CK: It seems that you're willing to go to jail if that's what the jury decides. Are you really looking forward to spending the next twenty-five years or more behind bars?

SM: Of course not. But if that's how the trial comes out, that's what will happen. I will not place myself above the American judicial system.

CK: I see. What do you plan to do between now and the beginning of the trial?

SM: Exactly what I've been doing. Helping people. Stopping criminals from preying on the innocent. Assisting people who are in danger.

CK: What about active police investigations? Are you involved in any of those right now?

SM: No, I'm not, nor will I be involved in any active investigations. As you have already mentioned, I'm not a law enforcement official. I'm just a person who tries to help as much as I can. Unless I see someone actually in trouble, or someone asks for help, I don't simply swoop down out of the sky and intervene.

CK: What are you plans for after the trial?

SM: I don't have any. What I do after the trial isn't up to me. That decision will be made by the citizens of this city. I trust that they will do the right thing.

CK: And the right thing to do is?

SM: To listen to the evidence and make a decision based solely on the law. I refuse to advise anyone or try to coerce anyone to decide on my guilt or innocence in this matter. All I expect is that the jury's collective conscience will guide them.

CK: Thank you, Superman. That just about wraps it up.

SM: You're welcome, Mr. Kent.


Clark stood and went to the vanity, then toweled off his face and neck. Normally he didn't sweat, but writing that interview had wrung him dry and worn him out. He hoped Lois would read it and understand what he was trying to say, both as Clark Kent the man and as Superman the hero.

All that was left was to get it to the Planet the next morning. He sealed both articles in a manila envelope and addressed it to Lois, left it at the hotel's office, and scheduled a messenger pickup for early, early morning. Then he returned to his room and got ready for an early bedtime. Despite the difficulty he'd had in committing those words to paper, maybe Lois had been right about him, that he needed to get back into the swing of things. Writing those two articles hadn't been all that bad after all, he mused, and the interview had actually been almost a catharsis for him.

Then he picked up an emergency radio broadcast with his enhanced hearing. He listened for a moment, then decided this was indeed a job for Superman.


Judge Fields waved at Connie as she entered his chambers. "Come in, Ms. Hunter, join the party."

Connie lifted one eyebrow. "I've never heard anyone characterize an evidentiary hearing as a 'party' before, Your Honor."

"Well, you have now. Please have a seat and don't make an old man hurt himself being chivalrous."

She sat down. "I'm ready if Mr. Reisman is, Your Honor."

"Good!" boomed the judge. "Now, let's dispose of this motion and get on with the business of justice, shall we?"

Reisman shifted in his chair. "Your Honor, the people need to show a portion of the surveillance video in court, specifically the scene of Superman killing Bill Church."

Fields nodded. "Okay. What's the problem with that, Ms. Hunter?"

Connie didn't move except to speak. "The problem is that if we show the jury only part of the tape, we won't have a complete context for Superman's actions. The rest of the tape supports the affirmative defense we plan to present."

Reisman shook his head. "Other parts of the tape are incriminating to persons not involved in this trial, Your Honor. We don't want to prejudice other actions going forward in this or in other jurisdictions."

Connie leaned forward. "Your Honor, we prefer that the tape not be shown at all, but if the prosecution shows only part of it, it's analogous to a witness who only tells part of the truth, leaving out vital information. If the people show part of it, we want to show all of it."

Fields frowned. "Just how gruesome is this tape, Jack?"

Reisman averted his eyes. "Pretty bad, Judge. Worse than any horror film I've ever seen."

Connie interjected, "All the more reason to show it all, Your Honor! If the jury only sees part with the gore, they won't get the whole story."

"The rest of the tape isn't —"

"We've got to have it —"

"That's enough!" Fields' voice was tempered steel. Both attorneys fell silent. "If the prosecution shows part of the tape, the defense may show the remainder if Ms. Hunter feels it necessary to the defense of her client."

"Your Honor —"

"No, Jack. In this case, what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Either or both of you may use any or all of the tape in presenting your case." He looked from one to the other. "Well, either I've made you both mad or you both have great poker faces." He stood. "Either way, let's get moving on this trial, preferably while I'm still young enough to enjoy the notoriety."

Connie nodded. "Thank you, Your Honor."

Jack nodded to her. "See you in court, Connie."

He let Connie walk out first. Fields said, "Jack, a moment of your time?"

"Of course. What can I do for you?"

"Shut the door first."

Jack complied. "Okay. Now what?"

Fields sighed. "Jack, I get the distinct feeling that Connie mousetrapped you on this."

Jack shrugged. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Judge."

"And I also get the feeling that you knew exactly what she was doing."

"Really?" Jack reached for the door. "That would be a breach of ethics, Your Honor. The prosecution has to disclose all relevant or exculpatory material to the defense, but the prosecution isn't bound to make the defense's case for them. That's not my job."

"Uh-huh. Just see to it that you don't do anything else to make me suspicious. And there had better not be any shenanigans in my courtroom."

Jack smiled coyly. "Why, Judge Fields, how could you even think such a thing of me?"


Lois checked off the last item on her have-to-get-done list for the day and leaned back. The afternoon edition was ready to put to bed and tomorrow's morning edition was ready, pending any late breaking news that night. She stood, intending to take a five-minute break with a cold cream soda, but the reporters in the newsroom standing and staring at the far wall caught her attention.

She was reaching for the door when Ron burst in. "Lois! C'mere! You gotta see this!"

"What? Where — Hey!"

He grabbed her arm and dragged her into the bullpen, then pointed to the large wide-screen television on the far wall. She forgot Ron's apparent rudeness as she watched the tragic opera unfold.

The LNN logo was modestly displayed in the lower right corner of the screen, but every eye was riveted on the image of Superman holding a crippled passenger liner steady against a dock in Hob's Bay as her passengers and crew poured off. The focus occasionally shifted to Superman's efforts to control the stricken ship. He had to keep moving and putting pressure on different portions of the ship, which was already settling at the bow, to keep it from capsizing away from the dock.

Lois thought that he must have been working with the ship for some time already. His face showed real strain, and he was either soaked from the spray from the waves or sweating heavily. The storm that had deluged the city earlier had passed, but the water in the harbor was still churning, making navigation tricky, even for Superman. The bow deck was low in the water and visibly settling even as they watched, and the two exits near the stern were now the only ways to get off the ship without getting wet.

Her editorial reflexes kicked in. "Hey! Who's out covering that for us?"

Catharine called out, "Jim took Brenda with him for pictures, and he sent Ralph and Maureen to get the story from the harbor side. They left about five or six minutes ago."

"Good. Anybody contact the Coast Guard yet?"

Ron said, "Right before I pulled you out here. At the moment they have no comment, but that'll change once they actually begin their investigation."

"Any statements from the harbor master?"

Dead silence greeted her. She put her hands on her hips and turned as she said, "Then I suggest somebody make a phone call! And see if we can get some statements from passengers and crew. Find out how many people were injured. Get some history of the ship and the line she sails for. Find out how many other accidents they've been involved in, both that particular ship and the whole company. And find out what happened to that ship!"

Everyone in the newsroom stared at her, waiting for her next command. She lifted her hands in the air. "Why are you all still sitting there? MOVE IT!"

The room erupted into frantic motion as Lois turned back to the TV. A brave — or stupid — LNN reporter was on a tugboat headed for the stern of the damaged vessel. She kept up a redundant running commentary on Superman's efforts to right the ship as they drew closer, then she began shouting questions at him.

Superman glanced down and shouted, "Get away from here! This is dangerous!" He took his hand away for a moment and motioned them to move back. "Get back! You're in danger here! Get back!"

The tugboat skipper had apparently been well-paid, however, because they kept plowing closer. The screen split to a dual shot, one from the camera boat and one from the dock just astern of the liner. The second camera showed how difficult the journey from ship to shore was for the passengers, as by now all but one gangplank at the far stern had either broken away or lost its moorings and was hanging down from either the deck or the dock.

Superman yelled something inarticulate at them and turned his attention back to his burden. The liner wallowed and he grabbed the hull, then struggled again to keep it stable.

Lois finally looked at the reporter's name displayed at the bottom of the boat view. She gasped.

It was Linda King.

"Idiot!" she hissed to herself. "Linda, what are you doing out there?"

"She's reporting, I think."

Lois jumped at the sound. "Ron! I — I'm sorry, I didn't realize I'd spoken aloud."

"You did. And I think the intrepid Linda is about to be in some serious trouble."

Lois turned back to the monitor. There were still several dozen people on the deck waiting to negotiate the shifting gangplank to the safety of shore. By now, police and fire rescue units were on the scene, treating the injured and calming the hysterical and trying to help the last few off the ship.

But in the second view, Lois could see that Superman was having even more trouble holding the ship steady. The huge vessel was bouncing in the waves and currents beside the shore, and it appeared that it was trying to wrench itself out of his grasp. He was running out of intact metal to hold on to. The ship was trying to roll away from the docks, and if it did so while people were still aboard, they'd have little chance to survive, even with Superman close by. Additionally, the camera boat with Linda on it was dangerously close to the stern of the ship. If the ship capsized, it would not only take her remaining passengers with her, it might either swamp or crush the little tugboat beside it.

Lois found herself tightening her fists and quietly saying, "Come on, Superman, come on, you can do it, hold on, that's it, good, you can do it, just a few minutes more, come on —"

Suddenly the camera boat spun on its screw and churned away from the liner. From the shore view, Lois could see Linda gesturing and screaming at the skipper, who only shook his head and leaned into the wheel. The view from the camera on the boat bounced, spun, and then went dark. A moment later, it vanished from the screen.

The shore camera showed the last people visible on the ship as they made their way to safety. As soon as they were clear, a police officer with a megaphone called out to Superman with the news, and he allowed the ship to settle to starboard as gently as he could. As the water closed over the port railing of the ship, he lifted himself out of the harbor and landed heavily on shore. He bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees, breathing deeply.

The LNN crew was on him almost immediately. "Superman! That was fantastic! What can you tell us —"

He spun to face them. "Was that your camera crew on that tugboat?"

"Well, yes, they probably had instructions —"

"Do you know they kept coming closer even when I told them it was dangerous?"

"They were only following instructions from —"

"Do you know that they were nearly killed?"

"They have a job to do —"

"My job is to keep people alive and they were interfering!"

"We have to report the story —"

"Report the story!" His face was molten with anger. "They nearly got themselves very dead reporting this story! And they almost killed at least three dozen other people! If I'd been distracted and dropped that ship you'd be screaming for my head on a pike right now for letting those people die! And it would have been some stupid reporter's fault! Don't you know when to back off? Don't you know that bothering me or a police officer or a firefighter in the middle of an emergency is a recipe for disaster?" He brushed more water out of his hair. "What's wrong with you? Do you care more about the story than people's lives?"

"No, of course not —"

"I don't believe you! From now on you stay out of my way when people are in danger! And if you don't stay away and people get killed I'll make you attend their funerals myself!"

From the corner of her eye, Lois saw Ron shake his head. "Wow. The man is intense today. Almost like he's on edge about something."

"Ya think? Whatever just happened with that ship, it was a tough rescue. A lot of people were in a lot of danger until just seconds ago. He's got a trial coming up in a few weeks and he might end up behind bars!" She crossed her arms and huffed at him. "Maybe you need to get a new perspective, Ron."

He looked at her with a blank expression. "Maybe I do. And maybe you need to be honest with yourself and with Clark."

She spun to face him. "What? What are you talking about?"

He looked around and lowered his voice. "Whether you want to admit it or not, Clark's got competition. And I don't know of any man who could stack up against Superman and come out ahead."

Lois also spoke quietly. "You don't know Clark like I do."

"Maybe not, but I can tell he loves you more than he loves breathing. And I'm not sure you feel the same way about him. Right now I wouldn't put it past you to run to Superman and give him all the comfort a hero can handle."

She glared at him sideways. "Cut it out, Ron. You're close to stepping over the line."

"That's a line drawn in sand and not stone, and we both know it. If Catharine were saying this to you, you'd listen and nod and take it seriously."

"You're not Cath."

He drew himself upright. "No. I'm not. But I'm still on your side. And you need to settle on which one you want, the hero or the regular guy. Me, I'd advise you to aim for Clark. He may be a little dull at times, but he's a real person."

She turned away and murmured, "He's changed over the past few years. We've both changed. But I still love him."

"Fine. But don't tell me, tell him. And if my respect means anything to you, do it soon."

She stood facing the TV as he tromped away. She watched Superman hurry from one aid station to another. Occasionally he'd lift someone and launch himself into the air, then return in moments. She saw how intense he was, how seriously he took every sprain and scrape, and how much emotion he showed with the survivors.

He was taking this very personally. It was almost as if he were in direct, personal competition with the Grim Reaper and was terrified of losing even one person, whether he knew that person's name or not.

She watched and thought to herself, He really has changed. He's far more intense, almost angry at the concept of tragedy itself. How he must hate death in all its forms, even more than he ever did before.

He's not the same man I fell in love with.

Then she thought, Which of us has changed more? And have we changed too much? Do we still have a future?

She picked up the remote and turned off the TV. There was work waiting for her on her desk, and when the reports on Superman's rescue of the liner came in she'd have to scramble to make sense of them. The afternoon edition would change drastically, and the print room supervisor would have kittens if she waited too long to make the calls she knew she'd have to make.

At least she wouldn't have time to mope over her personal life.


They had the story before deadline, and it pushed everything else off page one. And she even managed to clean up the print room supervisor's kittens.

The Queen of Columbia, a 750-foot five-story passenger liner on a trip through the Florida Keys with nearly two thousand passengers and crew, had grounded itself on an uncharted reef two days before. The captain and executive officer had inspected the damage in the forward holds and decided the jury-rigged repairs would hold until they returned to Metropolis and the company-owned dry dock facilities there.

They hadn't made it.

The storm that had drenched Metropolis that afternoon had blown up suddenly over the ocean as the Queen was turning from a northerly to a westerly direction to head in to Metropolis Harbor, hammering her damaged starboard side with fifteen-foot waves and ruining much of the repairs the crew had made. They began taking on water immediately and initiated emergency procedures, but the high seas eliminated any thought of lowering lifeboats. They'd managed two calls for assistance, then the ship's list had caused the improperly secured radio set to fall and break.

Fortunately, Superman had heard the second call and arrived just in time to wrestle the ship to safe harbor with no loss of life. Lois wrote an editorial calling for better enforcement of the safety standards already in place. Catharine contributed a strong piece on the terror the passengers had felt when the ship first began to sink and they had no way off. Ron submitted a hard-hitting and factual piece on the lousy safety record of the line the ship belonged to. Jim had managed some clear shots of the damage to the ship's hull, shots LNN hadn't been able to get.

But there were no quotes from Superman, other than the tongue-lashing he'd given to the LNN crew, and Lois didn't bother to run those. She knew the Star would take them and run from here to Krypton with them, and that the Washington Standard would use them out of context to hammer the superhero once again. She did, however, put together a series of in-context quotes from passengers and crew stating that Superman had saved several hundred lives and that the ship, sunk at the bottom of the harbor, was salvageable and would either sail again or be used for spare parts and scrap, depending on the mood of the line's directors, the Maritime Commission's report, and the insurance settlements to come.

Clark's articles had arrived by messenger, but he hadn't called her. He hadn't called the Planet, nor her cell phone, not even left a message on her home answering machine. He wasn't answering his cell phone or the phone in his hotel room, and his parents hadn't spoken with him. As far as Lois knew, he'd put himself in high Earth orbit after leaving the dock and was still there.

There was nothing more for her to do but go home and get ready for the next day.


Chapter Seven

>>> Wednesday, August 28th

Lois worked the locks on her apartment and slipped through the open door. It had been a grueling day, both physically and emotionally, and seeing Superman go off on the LNN reporter had been the topper. She changed into sweats and sneakers, then put a frozen dinner in the microwave.

The oven chimed, and she thought she heard it tapping. Have to get that thing looked at, she thought.

Then she realized the tapping was coming from the living room window.

She hurried to pull the drapes open, hoping she wasn't hearing things, but there he was, hovering in the darkening twilight just outside her window. She quickly opened it and stepped back to allow him to float in.

He spun clumsily into his civilian clothes, then stumbled and went to his knees on the floor. She locked the window and grabbed a blanket from the linen closet and wrapped him in it.

"Clark? Are you hurt? Was there Kryptonite on the ship or around the dock?"

He shook his head and sat on the carpet. "No. I'm just tired. I haven't been sleeping well lately. And that ship was huge. I had to bring it in from outside the twelve-mile limit." He sighed. "I'm tired, Lois. So very tired."

"Would you like something to eat? I'll call out if you —"

"No, that's okay. If you'd — do you mind if I just rest here for a while?"

She smiled. "I don't mind a bit. Let's get you up on the couch first."

He allowed her to haul him upright and to guide him down on the couch. "Can I get you anything, Clark?"

He leaned his head back. "No, I just need to sit down and rest for a few minutes."

She pulled a chair close. "Do you feel like talking about it?"

He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "Yeah, I think I do."

She leaned closer and took his hand. "Then tell me the thing that's in the front of your mind right now."

He grinned slightly. "Staying right here and listening to your voice."

She smiled also. "Thank you. What about the next thing?"

"Ah, yes. The next thing." He rolled his head to one side and lost his grin. "There was this little girl who was one of the last ones off the ship. Her name was Keisha. She couldn't have been more than nine years old, and she had a bad bruise on her leg where someone had kicked her trying to get off the ship, but she was so upbeat. I took her to the hospital, and they decided to watch her overnight. I went in to visit her a little while ago and tell her how brave she was, but she beat me to it. She looked straight at me and said, 'Superman, you look like you need a nap.'"

Lois chuckled with him. "She sounds like a real trouper."

"Oh, she is. We talked for a few minutes, and she asked me what it was like to fly. I told her that I could get higher than anything except the space station, and if her parents permitted it, I'd take her on a flight after she got out of the hospital."

"I'm sure she's looking forward to it."

He smiled wider. "She said the first airplane she'd ever been on had landed hard and they'd had to leave the plane by the inflatable emergency chutes and then ride in a smelly truck back to the terminal. From there, she'd ridden a bus to her uncle's house with her older sister and it had broken down on the highway and they'd waited for six hours before another bus had come to get them. Her uncle took them sailing on a lake near his house and she fell into the water and caught a bad cold. The first big ship she'd been on had almost sunk. She thanked me for my offer, but said that if it was all the same to me, she'd stay on firm ground from now on."

They shared a gentle laugh. "That sounds like a good memory."

He rubbed his free hand over his face. "Yeah. I'll keep it close to shut out the others."

Uh-oh, she thought. "What others?"

"Oh, the older man and woman from Florida who wouldn't let me near them. They kept yelling something about me being a scout for an alien invasion." He dropped his hand to his lap. "Then there was the burned woman who got totally hysterical when I tried to fly her to the hospital. I ended up putting her in an ambulance." He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. "And the two teenage boys who wouldn't look at me. They said they were related to someone I'd killed."

"Really? Were they Bill Church's grandsons or nephews or something?"

"I asked them who they were talking about. They wouldn't tell me. They weren't injured, so I decided to just leave them alone."

She lifted the hand she held and kissed it. "I'm sorry, Clark. I know that hurts." She tugged his arm and guided him down on the couch. "Why don't you lie down for a while?"

He resisted for a moment, then slid down to a horizontal position. "Okay. But just for a few minutes."

"Sure." She arranged the blanket around his shoulders. "You were gone for quite a while. Did you go somewhere else?"

He waited two long breaths before he answered. "I headed towards the Arctic. I go there sometimes to blow off steam."

She patted his arm. "I pity the poor icebergs that got in your way."

He closed his eyes again. "I never made it. I flew over an Inuit village where a polar bear was attacking a group of women. They were trying to fend it off with spears and brooms. Two of the women were already hurt by the time I got there. I picked up the bear and took it to the coast, then I flew back and offered to help the wounded. They very politely declined. They weren't afraid of me, exactly, just very wary, and a little upset."

"Upset? Because you saved them from a bear?"

"Because I took away a source of food. They were going to kill the bear, eat it, and tan the hide."

"Oh." Lois nodded, not knowing what else to say.

He sighed deeply. "I hope those women weren't hurt too badly." He yawned. "Bears are very messy eaters and the wounds they cause with their claws often get infected."

Lois leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sure they're fine, Clark. You just get some rest, okay?"

His speech was beginning to slur. "Sure. Tha' was a big ship, too. Heavy. Couldn't pick it up. Too — " he stopped and yawned. "Too long. My aura isn't big enough for something so big. Woulda — would've folded in on itself if I'd tried it."

Lois tugged his glasses from his face and put them on the coffee table. He didn't stir. She smoothed his hair and stood, then turned off the overhead light and turned on a small table lamp. If Clark was so tired he couldn't stay awake for her, she'd let him sleep as long as he wanted to.

>>> Thursday, August 29th

Catharine knocked on Lois's door with her foot while balancing the tray of pastries. She figured her boss could use a surprise treat this morning, since she knew that Lois and Clark hadn't been able to spend much quality time together lately.

She was about to knock again when the locks clicked and the door swung open. "It's about time! You know, holding this tray steady is a real pain in the —"

Her mouth froze in an open position as Clark took the food out of her hand. "Good morning, Catharine. Come on in."

She stood in the doorway as Clark made his way towards the kitchen. He stopped and looked back at her, smiling. "Really. Come in."

She stepped in slowly, looking around the room, taking into account Clark's rumpled clothes and the folded blanket still on the couch. "Uh, Clark? I hope I'm not — er — interrupting something."

"No, of course not. I came by late last night and since I was so worn out, Lois was nice enough to let me use her couch. Coffee or fruit juice?"

The sudden change of subject threw her. "Huh?"

Clark smiled indulgently. "Would you like a cup of coffee or would you prefer orange, cranberry, or apple juice?"

"You have cranberry? I mean, Lois has cranberry?"

"I went out for a few things earlier. I didn't know you were coming by this morning."

"Lois didn't either. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing." She closed the door behind her and put her purse on Lois's living room table. "How about a big glass of that wonderful cranberry stuff?"

"One generous glass of cranberry juice coming up." He filled a tall tumbler and handed it to her. "Here you go."

She sipped it, then took a bigger swig and made yummy sounds. "Ooh, that's good. Hey, is Lois up yet?"

He stopped and cocked his head to one side, then nodded. "She's getting dressed now. She should be out in a couple of minutes."

As she tried to puzzle out how he knew what Lois was doing, he opened the covered tray and began dividing the pastries into three piles. "I assume the scones are for you?"

"Uh, well, Lois likes them, too, but you can have my share."

"No way. You didn't plan for me, so I'll just take the leftovers and be thrilled with them."

Catharine smiled. "If you say so, Clark."

The bedroom door opened and Lois walked out, fully dressed in a dark blue pantsuit except for her shoes. "Clark, have you seen — oh. Hi, Cath." Lois looked at Clark and then back to Catharine. "This is — something of a surprise."

Catharine smiled. "Not an awkward one, I hope. Clark already told me he slept on the couch, and I know you don't leave blankets out here, not even if they're folded, so don't worry about your respective reputations." She pointed to the kitchen table. "I brought morning goodies."

Lois smiled back. "Thanks, Cath. And no, this isn't nearly as awkward as it might be if Clark had slept somewhere other than the couch."

Clark handed Lois a glass of orange juice and deadpanned, "Ladies, please, you're embarrassing me."

The two women laughed. Lois pulled out a chair. "Sit down, you two. We've got almost forty minutes before I have to leave for the office. Clark, are you coming in with us today, or do you have other plans?"

He looked intensely at Lois for a long moment. "Actually, I do, both for later and for right now. Since Catharine is here, I can tell her what I hinted at the other night."

"What you hinted at — No!"

Catharine looked at Lois, whose puzzlement had suddenly morphed into something much more intense. "No! Clark, you can't tell — you mustn't! Not now! Not yet!"

"Why not? I think she deserves to know."

Lois pushed her chair back and gestured sharply. "I think so too, but not now! The timing's not right!"

Catharine felt like a spectator to a particularly intense tennis match. In a reasonable tone, Clark asked, "Remember how you found out, Lois?"

"Of course I do! What does that have to do with it?"

"You found out because I lost my temper. Everybody might know soon, and if that happens it will be because I lost my temper a second time."

"That's totally different!"

Clark remained seated. "Both of them involved Mayson."

Lois stood and began pacing along a tight line. "That's not fair, Clark! And it's not the same thing!"

"Maybe not, but I still think it's time to tell Catharine."

Catharine raised her hand. "Can I ask a question?"

They ignored her. "You can't do this!"

"I don't know why not."

Lois strode to the table and slapped it with both palms. "I won't let you! This is ours! You can't give it away to just anybody!"

Clark stood slowly. "Lois, I love you. I love you more than I love any other human being on this planet. But I don't belong to you any more than you belong to me. And Catharine isn't just anybody." He took her hands in his. She turned her head and tried to pull away, but he stepped after her and refused to release his grip on her. "Please. She needs to know. You need a friend who understands it all. And I need to stop lying to her."

Lois turned back to face him. "Clark — " she began, but then she sighed deeply. "Go ahead. I still think it's a good idea at a bad time, but I can't stop you."

"Thank you. It'll be all right."

"Yeah, sure." Lois sat down across from Catharine and stared at her. "You'd best brace yourself, Cath. This is going to be something of a shock."

Catharine frowned and nodded. "I'm ready. I hope."

Clark stood, leaning on the back of the chair. "You have to understand that I've wanted to bring you in on this for some time now. Lois and I haven't really discussed it, but you already know how she feels about it —"

He paused and looked at Lois. She refused to make eye contact with him. He shrugged and continued. "Anyway, this is the kind of secret you can't tell anyone, not ever."

Catharine nodded. "You mean like knowing that K. C. Jerome is really you?"

His face twisted and he almost laughed. Lois looked up and said, "That's like comparing firecrackers to hydrogen bombs, Cath."

"Oh." Cath nodded, her mind spinning. "Uh, Clark? This doesn't have anything to do with anything — illegal, does it?"

He shook his head. "No, nothing illegal, I promise."

She exhaled. "Good. I was afraid you were going to tell me something I'd have to take the fifth over."

His expression sobered. "You still might."

She leaned back and crossed her arms. "Really? Well, now you've done gone and gotten me interested, Mr. Kent. It's not illegal but you still might have to go to court over it?"

"No, not directly. Look, maybe I'd better just tell you."

"Maybe you should."

He turned and paced back and forth twice. "Okay. You were on the right track when you mentioned K. C. Jerome. I do have another name I use from time to time."

"Another name?" He nodded. "Do I know it?"


"How well?"

"Very well."

She frowned and blew out a breath. "Have I met you while you were using this other name?"


"And I didn't recognize you?"

"I was — dressed as that someone else."

"Was I impressed?"

Lois snorted. "In more ways than one."

Catharine frowned. "I'm not sure I like the direction this is taking. Clark, maybe you'd better not tell me any more. I don't want to cause problems between you and Lois."

Before Clark could answer, Lois burst out, "Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that!"

Catharine leaned forward. "Lois, honey, it can't be that bad!"

"You won't think so in a minute or two!"

"Girl! Come on, this is Cath! You know, the News Kitten! I know you. I know you wouldn't care if Clark were an undercover FBI agent, or a bonded courier, or —"

"Or if he was Superman!"

"Yeah, if he was Superman, or he was involved in an undercover sting operation of some — " Catharine stopped, dropped her jaw open, and stared at Lois for several seconds.

She finally shook herself out of her shock. Enunciating every syllable with the greatest of care, she asked, "Lois? What did you just say?"

"You heard me! Deal with it!" And with that, Lois leaped up from her chair and stormed into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Catharine slowly turned to look at Clark. His expression reminded her of a little boy who'd gotten his best clothes muddy just before morning church services.

"Clark?" she asked quietly. "Does Lois think you're Superman?"

He hesitated, then nodded. "Yes."

"I see." She sat back. "What did you do to give her that impression?"

He opened his mouth to speak, but shook his head and stepped back.

Then he turned into a roiling cauldron of bright colors.

Suddenly Superman was standing behind Clark's chair, his hands on the chair back just as Clark's had been a few moments earlier.

She nodded slowly and spoke even slower. "Yeah. That would do it, all right."

She sat staring at Superman for almost a full minute. He finally pulled out the chair and sat down. "Catharine? Are you okay?"

She focused on his face and took a deep breath. "I think so. I mean, you don't get to learn something like this every day. I mean, this is better than when Lois didn't marry Lex Luthor." She stood. "This is better than doing news on the air in Cincinnati." She turned and began pacing around the table. "This is even better than Superman taking down Intergang. Except — " she stopped and faced Clark. "Except you did it."

He shook his head. "No. You and Mayson and a lot of others set them up to fall. I just pushed the stack over."

"That was a huge push!" She resumed pacing and her volume increased. "I mean, all these years, and Lois never even gave me a hint! A couple of times I threatened to slap her silly unless she told you how she felt about you, but no, she refused to say a word! And — oh, fudgesicles! — one time I even told her that if Clark wouldn't take her maybe Superman would!" She put her head in her hands and stomped once. "Man! I can't believe she let me get away with that crack!" She straightened and pointed to him. "And I bet you were the one who told Mayson about the football thing!"

Clark frowned. "The football thing?"

"Sure!" Catharine grabbed his arm and squeezed it as hard as she could. "Remember? That first day in the newsroom when I asked Lois who the new tight end was and she told me to throw my usual forward pass and find out and when I was in Ohio Mayson told me if I did throw you a pass she'd penalize me five years for illegal use of hands!" She paused and took a deep breath. "I didn't know you were listening but how could I know because — " she released him and straightened abruptly. " — because you weren't Superman then."

"Catharine, maybe I'd better —"

"Shh! Let me think." She dropped into the chair Lois had vacated and frowned, thinking hard.

After another minute or so, her eyes brightened and she nodded to herself. "I get it now. We always thought Superman had some other identity he disguised himself as so he could have some privacy, but it's the other way around, isn't it? You're Clark. You've always been Clark. And you either had these abilities most of your life or had just found them when you got to Metropolis and you wanted to help people with them but the only way to do that was to be someone else!" She lurched forward and grabbed his arm again. "This — this spandex costume is the disguise, isn't it? You had to become Superman in order to help people and still stay under the radar as Clark. Am I right?"

He nodded. "Almost perfect."

"Okay." She leaned back and exhaled deeply. "The only question I have now is why did Lois freak out a few minutes ago?"

He shook his head. "That, I don't know. I certainly didn't expect it."

"Me either. Hey, how long has she known?"

He ducked his head and she was almost sure he blushed a little. "Since before Mayson died."

"Ah. That must have been the big secret she told me she'd learned about you but couldn't tell me."

His eyebrows rose. "I didn't know she'd mentioned it to you at all."

She waved one hand in dismissal. "It was in an e-mail she sent me while I was in Cincinnati. She only mentioned it that one time, and I never probed." She heard the bedroom door open behind her, and she suddenly had an evil, evil thought. "You know, it's a shame I'm out of the gossip business."

He jerked in place and then relaxed. "I'm confident you'll make the right decision about my secret, Catharine."

She grinned evilly. "Oh, I wasn't thinking about printing that. I was thinking about how much the Star, or even the National Whisper, might pay for the story of Superman's girlfriend."

She thought she saw his gaze flicker towards the bedroom, and then she was sure she saw a wicked reflection of herself in his eyes. "Well, you know, it isn't easy for a superhero to have a long-term relationship with a woman. There's always some burglar to stop or mugger to apprehend or some kitten stuck in a tree, and that's not conducive to any kind of dating life. There was this one time when Mayson and I were out to dinner that I heard a fire alarm on the south side, and I had to fake an attack of diarrhea to get away without hurting her feelings."

Now she knew Lois was listening. "I can imagine. So, you don't routinely tell your dates of your double identity?"

He was really getting into the part. He leaned his elbows on the table and began gesturing. "Well, no, that wouldn't work very well. Pretty soon I wouldn't have a secret identity. Besides, I've heard that there are a lot of women who'd love to date Superman just to say they've dated me."

She gave him a sultry look. "Mmm, maybe more than just date."

"See? That's exactly what I'm talking about. Why, just last week some woman wrote in to a paper in Central City that she'd be willing to have my child so I'd have something to look forward to when I got out of prison. Setting aside the obvious negative outlook she had about my future, I'd say she was being more than accommodating to me. In fact —"

Later, as she mentally reviewed the next two seconds, Catharine was sure she hadn't seen him move. One instant he was sitting across the table from her, and in the very next instant he was floating above it and extending one arm behind her head. She would have said that she'd never seen someone move that quickly before, but the truth was that she hadn't seen him move.

Superman's feet floated down to the floor, and in his hand was a pillow from Lois's couch. Catharine turned to see the pillow tosser standing beside the couch with her hands on her hips, trying for a furious look but not quite pulling it off.

Catharine took the cushion from his hand and tossed it lazily back to its home. "It's okay, Superman. It is, after all, a throw pillow."

Lois lifted her hands in the air and groaned theatrically. "I suppose you'll want the Planet to run an ad for the new comedienne at the Improv Club now."

"Or a serious raise."

"What? A raise? You've got to be kidding!"

Catharine grinned. "I think I've got some serious leverage to work with, don't you?"

"What? What leverage?"

"Why, the fact that you attacked me with a deadly weapon."

"Pillows aren't deadly weapons, Cath."

"They will be when I get through talking about them."

Superman stepped away from the table and spun back into Clark clothes. "Maybe I should leave you two here alone to fight it out. I'll come back in an hour and take the survivor to the nearest emergency room."

Lois pointed to him. "You're not going anywhere until I get you for that crack about that woman wanting to have your baby!"

He held his hands out to either side. "I'm just repeating what I read in the paper."

"What do you — " She took a step closer and then stopped. "You mean you really did read that? Some moron actually printed that?"

"Yes. And that letter to the editor was one of the nicer ones."

"Oh." Lois slipped into a vacant chair. "Maybe I was wrong about the timing after all. Right now, I think you can't have too many friends." Her eyes flashed and she turned to Catharine. "And you! I just want to say one thing to you!"

Catharine leaned back and braced herself. "Okay. What?"

Lois deflated before her eyes. "I'm sorry. I reacted badly and I shouldn't have. It has nothing to do with you, I promise. It just that Clark and I seem to have so little that's just ours, and I don't like sharing any part of him."

"Uh-huh. You don't much like surprises either, do you?"

She chuckled ruefully. "Not that kind, no. Clark, I'm sorry. I trust Cath, I really do, and I was just being a woman."

Clark reached across the table and grasped her hands. "I'm glad. I don't think I could take it if you were being a golden retriever."

They both stared at him, astonished, then Catharine began to laugh. Lois ducked her head and muttered, "My life as I know it is melting all around me, and all the man whom I love can do is mock me. Oh, woe is me, I am undone!"

She leaned back and threw her arm over her head in a melodramatic gesture, then gravity overcame her sense of balance and she flopped over backwards.

She bounced up from the floor and put her hands on her hips. "Clark! You catch pillows but you let me fall? What kind of Superman are you?"

He grinned at her. "One with good friends, I think, and a girlfriend who didn't hit the floor hard enough to hurt herself. Besides, I did blow a cushion of air under you." He held out another chair for her. "You want some scones before work or shall I wolf them all down?"

Catharine pulled her plate towards her. "I find that learning deep, dark secrets is exhausting. I'm hungry, whether you are or not."

Lois sauntered to the chair Clark was holding and sat down daintily. "Thank you, sir. Oh, I think these pastries are cold. Would you be a lamb and warm them up, please?"

"Of course." He held the platter in front of his face with one hand, lifted his glasses with the other, stared at the scones for about two seconds, and then put the plate down again. "Here you go, all nice and hot."

Lois took two and began buttering them. Catharine picked up one and dropped it on her plate, then quickly blew on her fingers. "Huh. I guess being Superman comes in handy, after all." Then she froze.

Lois looked at her. "Cath, what is it? What's the matter?"

"I just realized something absolutely devastating." She looked at Clark. "You're not just Superman, you're also K. C. Jerome." She sucked in a sharp breath. "That means — Superman writes romance novels!"

Lois stared at her for a moment, then a smile crept onto her face. Catharine's face matched it, then led the way in hysterical laughter.

Clark looked from one woman to the other, then shook his head sadly. "My friends. I have a host of wonderful friends."


Chapter Eight

>>> Thursday, August 29th

Lois rode to work in Catharine's Porsche. In deference to the intermittent morning rain, the top was up, and as a result they could talk without having to yell at each other.

Lois fidgeted, trying to get comfortable, then gasped and grabbed for a handhold as a cab darted out in front of them. Catharine expertly wiggled the steering wheel and adjusted her speed to avoid any incident, then frowned at what she considered Lois's over-reaction.

"Relax, boss lady. I've never lost a passenger."

"I'd say you're overdue, then." Lois glared at the street rushing by, seemingly just inches away. "It's just a matter of time before someone runs over this pregnant roller skate you call a car and gets me all tangled up around the drive shaft."

Catharine laughed. "I suppose you'd prefer to go to work in that tank you drive."

"At least I get respect in my Jeep. Cabbies don't dare jump in front of me like that one just did."

"Because of the size of that thing?"

"That and the twin machine guns sticking out from the grill."

Catharine laughed again. "Relax, Lois, I'll get you to work intact."

"Good. I'm really looking forward to all those employee reviews I have to finish by the end of next month."

"Is that all you have to look forward to?"

Lois visibly tried to relax. "No. I'm also meeting with Superman's attorney team after lunch."

"That should be fun."

"We're going to — look out!"

"Easy, Lois, it's just a bus!"

"Easy? Just a bus? That thing is huge! And look how dirty the wheels are! Where's the city's maintenance crews when you need them?"

"Calm down, Lois! Sheesh, you act like you've never ridden in a Porsche before."

"I drove one on a race track once as background for a story. Felt like I was sitting on the ground then, too."

"Hmm. Didn't think about that. I guess your Jeep is a little taller than this."

Lois turned and stared. "A little? Right now my head is below where my rear end usually is! Every time a truck gets close I start counting the dents in its undercarriage!"

Catharine was beginning to think that driving Lois to work had been less than a marvelous idea. "Okay, okay! Next time we take your armored personnel carrier and have no fun getting there!"

"At least we'll get there alive and safe."

Okay, thought Catharine, the fun is definitely over for this morning drive.


They exited the elevator on the news floor. "Lois, give it a rest, okay? I promise I won't take you anywhere in city traffic again, not ever!"

"It's not that you're a bad driver, Cath, you're not, you got us here in one piece, although I'm sure I don't know how you did it with all those huge machines on the road this morning and where do all those huge cars and monster trucks come from, anyway?"

As Lois spoke, they walked past the donut station where Ron was pouring a cup of coffee. "Detroit and Tokyo."


"You asked where all those big cars and trucks came from."

Lois shook her head. "Everybody's a kibitzer. We'll talk later, Cath, I have to go edit some stuff."

"Yeah, well, maybe you can catch a cab home. My car's reserved for people who enjoy the driving experience."

"Hey, that experience was —"

Catharine held up her hands and pushed at the air between them. "Uh-uh-uh! You have work to do, remember?"

"Yeah, right. Later."

Lois deliberately didn't listen to Catharine's mumbled response as she walked to her office. When would she learn to accept people as they were and stop trying to change them, to fix them, to make them better?

Probably when she admitted she wasn't always right, she thought with a rueful sigh.

She put her purse in the bottom drawer of the desk and booted up her desktop computer to check her e-mail. Just as it prompted her for her logon id and password, Jim knocked on her office door and leaned in. "Got a minute, Chief?"

She sighed. "Sure. What's up?"

He stepped in. "Do we still have those three gofer slots open?"

"Sure do. Why, you have someone?"

"At least one, maybe two. Identical twin sisters just out of high school who want some real-world journalism experience. They're coming by today about nine-thirty."

"Uh-huh. Kinda late in the summer to get a part-time job, isn't it?"

He shrugged. "I don't think they're looking for part-time work. Sheila told me they're planning on something long-term and maybe shoehorning a degree program around their jobs."

"I see. Sure, send them in when they get here."

"Both together? At the same time?"

She grinned. "Why not? Or do you think they'll overwhelm me with their youth and vitality?"

Jim put on an overly sober expression. "You watch yourself, Lois. They were in marching band, pep squad, yearbook, school paper, they regularly volunteer at a local nursing home, they've each had articles published in statewide magazines, and they both graduated in the top four percent in the state."

She nodded. "Okay, I'll be careful. Now, unless there's something else, I have to get to work."

He shook his head and turned to leave. "Not now, but I'll bring you a cream soda and an AARP application after they leave."

"Oh, funny man. How unusually droll you are. I think the zoo still has a slot open for you right next to the primate exhibit."

He lifted his eyebrows in mock consternation, then pointed to himself and spoke with a horrible French accent. "Moi? Mademoiselle, you are perhaps speaking of myself?"

"Yes, I am speaking to yourself and of yourself." She pointed a pencil at him and tried to look stern. "Now you get yourself back to work and quit monkeying around."


The interviews with Sheila and Bernadette Thompson went very well, and Lois hired them on the spot, assuming they came up clear on their background checks. They agreed to start on Monday morning, even after Lois warned them that this day would probably be the last day they'd see her smile before Memorial Day the following year.

The rest of the morning went smoothly, even the quick sorry-about-this-morning lunch with Catharine. All too soon, she found herself hailing a cab in front of the Planet and giving directions to Connie Hunter's office.

When she opened the outer door to the attorney's office, she heard indistinct voices past the next door. There was no one at the front desk, so she knocked and the door opened.

Blair Collins' honeyed Georgia tones greeted her. "Ms. Lane, come on in. We're just decidin' who to put on our final witness list."

Lois glanced at Superman, who was standing in the middle of the room facing Connie, who stood beside her desk with her hands on her hips. She said, "Yes, come in, Ms. Lane. Maybe you can talk some sense into this super-bonehead."

Lois grinned. "Super-bonehead? That's a new one on me. And call me Lois, please."

"Okay, Lois, I'm Connie and that's Blair. Now talk to Superman and tell him that while I don't know anything about rescuing ocean liners, I know courtrooms and trials and juries better than he does and he should listen to me."

Blair lifted her hand. "Wait, please. Lois, I'm pretty sure you're here as Superman's friend, but I'd still like to be certain you won't print anything you hear unless we okay it."

Lois eyed her sharply. "I gather you've been burned by the press before?"

Blair smiled disarmingly and nodded. "Had a couple of very interestin' experiences, yeah."

Lois nodded and opened her purse. She pulled out a pen and a notepad, then laid them atop a filing cabinet. "See? I am now officially not reporting anything I see or hear. Are you satisfied now?"

"I am. How 'bout you, Connie?"

Connie exhaled deeply. "Yeah. Now talk to him."

Connie flopped onto the couch against the far wall and Blair sat on the corner of the desk. Lois frowned at Superman and asked, "What are they talking about?"

"The defense witness list."

She could see the tension in his face. "Okay. What am I supposed to say to you?"

"Do you know who's on the list?"

"No, of course not. Why?" She turned to the lead attorney. "Connie, what's the problem here?"

"Him!" Connie lifted one palm in frustration, then crossed her arms. "He won't agree to put Clark Kent on the witness list!"

"Ah." Lois nodded. "I understand now." She turned to Superman. "How do you want to handle this?"

His flashing eyes betrayed his frustration. "Leave that name off the list."

Lois shook her head. "I don't think they'll do that. Even if Connie doesn't list Clark Kent, the prosecution might very well decide to call y- call him. We've got to do something about this."

He exhaled harshly through his nose. "I'm open to reasonable suggestions."

She stepped forward and put her hand on his elbow, then she whispered, "You have to tell them."

His eyes popped wide and his jaw dropped. "But — I thought — I thought you didn't —"

She smiled. "I'm over that. It was the right thing to do this morning, just like it's the right thing to do this afternoon. Your attorneys have a right to know something this important." She leaned closer and kissed him softly on the cheek. "Besides, these two ladies are really puzzled now."

He smiled slightly. "Yes, I suppose they are." He stepped back and nodded to Connie. "Lois and I think you should know this."

Blair, who had been watching their exchange with increasingly wide-eyed astonishment, said, "No, no, we don't need to know that. Or this. Or whatever it is you two been whisperin' about. Y'all just keep all your personal stuff personal." She lifted her hands with her palms out. "And I'm not talking to anybody about what I just saw. Not my mama, not my pastor, not Clark Kent, not nobody."

Connie glanced at Lois and saw the laughter trying to work its way out. She cleared her throat and stood up. "No, Blair, I think we do need to know. It has something to do with Clark Kent, doesn't it?"

Lois smiled at her. "A little, yes." She made a circling gesture with her index finger to Superman.

He shrugged his shoulders. "In for a penny, in for a certificate of deposit, I guess." He turned to Connie. "Clark Kent can't appear in court, Connie, at least not while I'm at the defense table."

"And why not? What makes his time more valuable than yours?"

Superman stepped back and lifted his index finger. "I'll have to show you."

Then he started spinning.

When he stopped, Clark Kent stood in the middle of the room, dressed in jeans, running shoes, and golf shirt.

Lois nodded. "Nice touch. Casual day for you?"

He smirked. "One of the perks of being a freelancer is that there's no dress code." He was suddenly at Blair's side, holding her by the elbows. "Wups! Don't fall off the desk. You might get carpet burn."

Blair stared at Clark and tried to speak, but no sound came out of her mouth. Her strength seemed to flow away and she floundered silently in his grasp. Lois saw that she wasn't breathing, so she stepped forward and blew sharply into the attorney's open mouth, and the young Southerner gasped sharply and panted several times.

Clark asked, "Where'd you learn that trick?"

"My nephew. Babies who cry too hard and adults in shock will usually gasp and start breathing again when you blow in their faces." Lois looked closer at Blair. "Clark, I think you'd better put her in a chair."

"Okay. Would you check on Connie, please?"

Lois turned to look at Connie. She had sat back down on the couch and was slowly shaking her finger at Clark as she stared blankly at him. She hadn't said a word, either.

Lois knelt in front of her. "Connie? Come on, Connie, it's okay. Stay with us. You're not going crazy, I promise."

Connie casually turned her gaze to Lois. "Wha'?" She took a deep breath. "He — Super — Clark — they —"

Lois took her hand and rubbed it vigorously. "I know, Connie, I know. Superman is Clark Kent's secret identity."

Connie stared a moment longer, then shook her head. "I think you just said that Superman is Clark Kent's secret identity. Don't you mean it the other way around?"

Lois stood. "I used to, but I recently realized that Superman is the artificial construct Clark uses to do good and have a normal life alongside it. Clark is the real person."

Connie exhaled deeply. "I'll have to think about that for a while to grasp it."

Lois held her hand out to help the attorney to her feet. "I know. It required a paradigm shift in my thinking, too." As Connie stood, Lois added, "I know it's a bit late to be asking this, but may we assume this is covered under attorney-client privilege?"

Blair answered from her chair. "Sorta kinda, but not really." As Clark and Lois turned to look at her, she continued, "In the most literal reading of the statute, Lois Lane being in the room voids the confidentiality of attorney and client, because she's not our client."

Clark, slightly alarmed, put his hands up and looked at Connie. Ignoring him, Blair continued speaking. "But because Lois was already in possession of this information and she obviously didn't learn it at the same time we did, we can probably claim privileged communication, assuming anyone thinks to ask the question. I can't be sure, but I doubt the judge would rule against us." She stood. "Anyway, I ain't tellin' nobody 'bout this."

Connie stood in front of Clark and gave him a flat stare. "No warning? No hints? No hazard lights? You do realize that someday you could kill someone doing that, don't you?"

He shrugged. "Would you have believed me if I'd just told you?"

She took a breath to answer, then stopped to think. After a moment, she relaxed slightly. "I guess — maybe not. I would have wanted some proof, after all."

"See?" he replied. "I saved us all some time."

Blair grunted. "Right. Guess I don't need to run my laps at the gym today. I already got all the cardiac stimulation I need for quite a while."

Connie sat down at her desk. "But now we need to figure out what to do with you. Since you can't be a witness at your own trial, you'll have to leave the country."

His face showed his consternation. "Can't I just stay in Kansas?"

"Why Kansas?"

"My family lives in Kansas."

Connie shook her head. "Can't risk it. If Reisman wants you bad enough, he can tap the Kansas AG and extradite you. No, you'll have to be out of the US entirely during this trial."

Blair added, "And you'll have to leave before you're subpoenaed and before you're officially notified that you're on either witness list." She paused. "We haven't officially notified you yet. Have you been notified by the DA?"

He shook his head. "Nothing on paper. The DA's office hasn't talked to me yet, either."

"Good. Then you probably won't be charged when you come back." Blair paused and put her head in her hands. "Yeesh. We're talking about whether or not you're going to be arrested for not being a witness against yourself in court. I'm going to be confused for the rest of the day. We're saying that you have to leave the country so you can't be called to testify at your own trial." She looked up at him. "It's a good thing attorneys have experience thinking about mutually exclusive concepts or I might lose what's left of my mind." She stood and waved her hands in frustration. "And under most other circumstances, this'd be downright hilarious."

Lois asked, "Why do you even need Clark's testimony? I don't see that it's vital."

"It's not," Connie replied, "but it's always better to have at least two corroborating testimonies for your defendant." She stood and paced slowly, tapping her teeth with her index fingernail. "Hmm. Maybe — yes, I think that will work." She turned to Blair. "How soon can we take Clark Kent's deposition?"

They all turned to Blair, whose expression slowly morphed from wondering to wonderful. "That's a great idea! First thing tomorrow morning! Nine o'clock sharp right here in this office. Mr. Kent, you be here then!" Blair pointed her index fingers at Connie and called out, "You go, girl!"

Clark turned to Connie. "Good. Now that you're going, would you mind telling me about it?"

"It's simple, Mr. Kent. We're going to videotape you answering questions as you would do if you were testifying at your trial — say, would you please change back to the brightly colored clothes? It's too easy to treat you like a regular person when you're dressed like that."

Blair smiled warmly at him. "Yeah, a real regular guy. Real good-lookin', too."

Lois frowned at her. "You know, if you weren't his attorney, you and I might have a little discussion about that remark."

Blair laughed. "Oh, I was just yankin' your chain, girlfriend."

Lois lifted one eyebrow. "Girlfriend?"

"Sure! We all know this real important secret now, right? That makes us all girlfriends, 'cause we got to stick together on this." Blair's expression morphed again, this time becoming rock-hard, and her voice matched her face. "And none of us will ever reveal that secret or the other two will come after her. Right?"

Lois lifted one eyebrow. "You're totally serious about this, aren't you?"

"I am. And so is Connie. Neither of us will ever tell anyone."

"I see. So, this is like a tontine."

Connie frowned. "Remind me what that a tontine is."

Clark stepped back and whirled into the Superman suit. Blair and Connie both gasped again, but he ignored them this time. "It's a pact that you make that will last for each of your lives. Not even the death of one of the members will void the lock you're putting on this information."

Connie blinked herself back to normal. "That's what I thought it was. Blair, you with us on this?"

Blair hesitated, then took a deep breath and nodded shortly. "Yes. Absolutely."


"Do you even have to ask?"

Connie frowned at her. "For something this important, yes. I need to hear it."

Lois smiled slightly. "I'm with you until death." She reached out and grasped Connie's right hand with hers.

Connie nodded in return. "Blair? Let's make it official."

"Yes, let's." She added her right hand to the stack. "Until my death."

Just then, Superman touched their joined hands. "I would like to add something, if I may." He looked at each woman in turn, and as he did they nodded to him. "Should my secret be made public in the future, I agree not to reveal that you knew who my other identity was. If you want to let others know that you knew, I'll certainly back you up, but no one will learn from me that you already knew. Is that acceptable to all of you?"

Blair and Connie nodded. Lois smiled. "I agree, too, but if things go like I hope they do, no one would believe I didn't know."

Blair chuckled. "That's why you willin' to go to fist city with me over him, right?"

"Only if I had to." Lois eyed her with a slight smile on her lips. "I don't have to, do I?"

"You know, he's a really hot guy — " Blair eyed Lois's expression and changed the next thing she was going to say. " — but no, I guess you got nothing to worry about." Blair sighed expansively, as each of them dropped their hands away from the communal clasp of the tontine. Then she perked up and grabbed the hero's elbow lightly. "Hey, Superman, you don't have a brother who's a brother, do you?"

He laughed. "Sorry, no."

Lois gently disengaged him from Blair. "I think I'd like some time alone with him now."

Before Clark could answer, Connie piped up. "Good idea. Get your personal time out of the way now, while you can."

Lois frowned at her. "What? Why now?"

Connie put her hands on her hips and stared at Lois. "Because Clark Kent has to leave the country, remember? And you can't afford to be seen socially with Superman. It would compromise your journalistic objectivity and start rumors about you fooling around while Clark is away. That might undermine your testimony, and we can't afford that." She shifted her gaze between a startled Lois and a concerned Superman. "Surely you both understood that's what would have to happen? That Clark couldn't be in Metropolis during the trial at all, not even at your apartment?"

Lois's face fell. "No. I didn't realize that."

Connie put her hand on Lois's elbow. "I'm sorry. I thought it was apparent to all of us." Lois shook her head 'no.' "Then you and Clark — and I mean Clark and not Superman — should have some time together before Saturday morning."

Superman looked at Lois with consternation. "Lois, I — this isn't what I planned either."

She blinked back a tear, then nodded. "I know. But it has to happen." She patted his arm. "Don't worry about me. I spent three years waiting for you. I can wait a few more weeks."

>>> Friday, August 30th

For once, a Friday at the Planet had proceeded according to Lois's wishes. Everyone submitted their work on time, none of it was flagged by Legal as possibly actionable, the presses rolled smoothly, the afternoon deliveries were all either on time or early, and the Saturday morning edition was tentatively put to bed, pending any changes by the night crew.

Lois closed her office door at five on the dot. She and Clark were to have a goodbye dinner at her apartment and she wanted everything to be ready for him. And she'd already promised him she wouldn't cry.

Clark would be leaving early the next morning on a flight to Kansas, then on to San Francisco, and finally to the Philippines. From there, he'd occupy himself on various Asian travel stories, do some work on his new K. C. Jerome novel, and try to get some real investigating done on a Muslim terrorist group who was targeting and kidnapping Japanese citizens. He planned to talk to the group's leaders if he could find them, and interview several of the victims who'd been released after their families had paid what Clark thought were almost reasonable ransoms. It was an interesting story, one which promised to keep him occupied for the entire length of Superman's trial.

Lois pushed those thoughts out of her head as she shopped for fresh fruit at Dimitri Stephanopoulos' deli. She focused on dinner and the prospect of quiet conversation with Clark, probably the last they'd have until after Superman's acquittal. Of course, she was far more optimistic about that than he was.

And she still wasn't totally clear on why that was. If she could get him to look at the facts objectively, she was sure he'd agree that he deserved no jail time, especially not twenty-five years or more in prison stripes. Superman's actions that night, if not totally justified, were completely understandable.

But he obviously didn't agree. She wondered if he still had dreams about Mayson Drake. Lois hadn't, not since her last visit to the Kent farm, and she believed that whatever conflict in her psyche had been causing them was now resolved. Clark was Lois's now, and she didn't begrudge Mayson any of the affection that he'd given her. Lois loved Clark and he loved her. It was simple.

If only it hadn't been for this silly trial of Superman.


The knock on the door came as her new clock was chiming the hour of seven. She gave her hair one last pat, glanced at the table to make sure it was perfect, and walked to the door.

She peeked out and saw Clark, holding a bottle and waiting patiently. His body language said that he was relaxed and looking forward to a good time, and she was sure she detected a smile on his face. Good, she thought, this will be a good dinner.

She opened the door, smiling. "Clark! I'm glad you're here."

He handed her the bottle. "I'm not late, am I?"

She quirked her mouth. "You know you're not." She glanced at the label, which read 'California Sparkling Grape Water.'

She raised one eyebrow. "No alcohol this time?"

He looked so innocent. "I'm on a tight budget, after all."

She chuckled. "Right. K. C. Jerome is almost broke."

He leaned down and lightly kissed her lips. "No, but Clark Kent doesn't have much extra cash after making all those flight plans."

She tried to keep the wince she felt at the mention of his leaving out of from her reaction. "Right. I forgot for a minute." She took the bottle to the kitchen and put it on ice. "Did you and Connie get the deposition done?"

"Yes. It was less painful than I'd expected."

She turned and gazed appreciatively at him. "I don't suppose you can share anything about it?"

"Sorry, no. You'll hear it for the first time in court, just like everyone else."

She nodded. "That's okay with me." She turned and picked up a serving spoon. "You ready for the appetizer?"

He sighed. "I wish we could go out."

She teased, "What, you don't like my cooking?"

Suddenly he was behind her. His hands were on her shoulders and his lips brushed the back of her neck. "You have become a pretty good cook, Ms. Lane." He nuzzled her trapezius muscle and her entire back tightened. "I only wish I could treat you as nicely as you've been treating me."

She turned in his arms and found his lips on hers. She slid against his body and cupped her hands behind his shoulders and pulled them together. She deepened the kiss and felt herself blending with him.

Finally she had to come up for air. She pulled back just far enough to breathe and whispered, "Now that's what I call an appetizer."

He chuckled deep in his throat. "It's not what I thought you meant, but I'm certainly not complaining." He leaned in for a second helping and Lois gave him all she had.

At last, she pulled away and gently pushed him back a few inches. Smiling, she said, "I love you, Clark Kent."

He caressed her cheek. "I love you, Lois Lane."

She sighed deeply and thought about skipping dinner and going straight to dessert, but then her stomach burbled and broke the tension. They both laughed.

"Looks like a certain part of me wants that dinner."

He stepped back slowly, sliding his hands down her arms to hold her fingers. "You've worked so hard on it, I'd hate to let it go to somebody else's waist."

She cocked her head to one side. "Who else would I cook for?"

"I know you, Lois. If I'd had to miss this for some reason, you'd have packed it up and taken it to the Suicide Slum Relief Mission before you went to bed. Those folks are always hungry down there."

Her mouth fell open. "What? How'd you find out about that?"

He released her hands and shook his index finger at her. "You know you can't hide from Superman. I was answering a call down there a couple of weeks ago and I saw you and Catharine unloading boxes of groceries from your Jeep into the kitchen. The director talked to both of you as if she'd known you for a while."

"Yeah, well, Cath was pretty sore the next day. In fact, she had Clay bring her wheelchair up to the paper at lunch. I told her to let me carry the heavy stuff, but you know how stubborn she is."

"Unlike her boss, of course."

"Don't go there, Kent." She shooed him back into the dining area. "Besides, most of the Planet's reporting staff contributes on a regular basis, too. We aren't doing it alone."

"Does Ralph help out, too?"

She made a face. "Not since he tried to put the moves on the director. She called her husband in from the kitchen. Did you know he was an Olympic weightlifter a few years ago?"

"No, but I bet Ralph does."

They shared a chortle. "He sure knows it now. Now go sit down. I've got a casserole ready to come out and I don't need you in there distracting me."

"No distractions tonight, I promise."

She stiffened for a moment, then relaxed. He cupped her cheek with one hand and said, "I know. I'm going to miss you, too."

She turned her head and kissed his hand. "That's the future. This is now." She looked towards the stove, then back at him. "Shall we dine?"


Dinner was fun, she thought. They chatted about her parents and her mother's budding romance. They discussed his parents and their ongoing love affair with the land, with growing things, and with each other. Clark revealed the plot of his next K. C. Jerome novel, and mentioned that he'd like to do more serious books in the near future. Lois confessed that she'd begun a romantic adventure novel many years past but had never finished it, and Clark urged her to take another stab at it. To her relief, he didn't offer to help her with it.

It was fun, she considered, because they were both pretending that tonight was all that there was. And, for once, he didn't take anything she said as condescending or insulting.

Clark insisted that he be allowed to prepare dessert, a generous helping of strawberry shortcake. He presented it to her with a flourish and a gentle smile. He even offered to do the dishes. Lois declined at first, but then he offered to do them a super-speed while she watched, so her kitchen was spotless before they turned on the video.

Clark picked up the box and read the description. "Hmm. 'A rip-roaring adventure for the whole family.' You like Tom Selleck?"

She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Why, don't you?"

He shrugged. "His westerns are okay, I guess, but the other stuff he's done doesn't quite make the grade. It's not bad, it just isn't real strong."

"Have you ever seen 'High Road to China'?"

"No, actually, I haven't. What's it about?"

She smiled. "Come and sit next to me and we'll see. I think you'll like it."

"I hope so. I'd hate to waste this evening."

She gave him a 'look.' "Sit your super-self right down here next to me, Kent, and I'll make sure you don't consider the evening a waste."


The closing credits rolled and Lois tilted her head up. "So?"

He kissed her forehead. "So, what?"

"Did you like it?"

He frowned in consideration, then smiled. "Yes, I did. I'm a little surprised at myself, but overall I liked it." He held out his hands. "I give it one and one-half thumbs up."

"I guess that's better than a complete rejection." She hugged him closer. "What was your favorite part?"

He sighed. "I think it was when Tom Selleck found Bess Armstrong among the rubble after the artillery attack and he was frantic that she'd been hurt and he was yelling at her to say something and she said, 'Speak!' in that freaky deep voice and then laughed hysterically at his reaction."

Lois laughed. "I thought you'd like it."

"Yeah, she kinda reminds me of you."

"How so?"

Clark shifted to face her. "She's tough, independent, knows her own mind, is willing to take on the bad guys by herself, and doesn't back down from anyone or anything."

She smiled. "I guess I do identify with her a little bit. Besides, we've already seen all the 'Lethal Weapon' movies so many times, I thought I'd try something a little different."

"It was different, and it was fun. Most of all, I enjoyed watching it with you."

"Thank you, Clark. That means a lot to me."

She kissed him lightly on the lips. She intended it to be a brief touch, but neither one of them wanted it to end, and it grew exponentially until Lois was in danger of forgetting where she was. This time, Clark broke the kiss and gripped her shoulders tightly.

She tried to close for another taste, but he gently held her back. "No. I — don't think I can take much more of that."

She smiled warmly. "Neither can I. That's why I don't want to stop."

He intercepted her lips with an index finger. "I don't want to stop either, Lois, but I don't think it would be a good thing if we — you know, if we —"

She leaned back. "If we were intimate now."

He hesitated, then sighed. "Yes. I've got a trial coming up —"

"No, Superman has a trial coming up."

She saw in his eyes that her comment had stung a bit. "I am Superman."

"No. Superman is a role you play, a name you assume, a way for you to help people and maintain a real life. Clark Kent is the real man, the man I'm deeply and permanently in love with."

His face relaxed and he touched her nose. "Thank you. And I appreciate that you make the distinction. But I don't know where I'll be in three months, Lois, and I wouldn't feel right if I left you here while I was in prison. You don't need to be the woman in the song 'Midnight Special,' trying to bribe the warden to get me out."

She ducked her head and tried to hold back her feelings. "I know. And my brain agrees with your reasoning, but my body says my brain is an absolute idiot."

He wrapped her in a powerfully gentle embrace. "I know. My brain and body are still having the same argument."

She sniffed against his massive chest. "Who's winning?"

He stroked her hair. "Right now it's something of a toss-up."

She tightened her grip. "Then you'd better go, before I take advantage of you."

He returned the embrace for a long moment, then softly disentangled himself. "I hate to admit it, but I think you're right."

Her tears dimmed her vision but didn't spill onto her face. "Don't you remember? I'm the senior partner. I'm always right."

"I remember." He kissed her softly, then pulled away before either of them could attack the other. "I have to go now. I'll see you — Clark will see you after the trial."

He stood and pulled her to her feet. She squeezed his hands in hers. "It's going to be hard, seeing you every day and not being able to touch you or talk to you."

"For me, too. Don't forget, you're not alone in this relationship."

She smiled and wiped her eyes. "I remember. Come on, I'll walk you to the door."

They each put an arm around the other's waist as they crossed the living room. Lois opened the locks with one hand and paused as she grabbed the doorknob.

She almost said something about this being his last chance, but instead she opened the door and briefly kissed him without a word. He wrapped his arms around her once more and made sure there was no distance between them.

She slowly pulled back from the embrace and nodded to him. "Good night, Clark."

He cupped her cheek with his palm and said, "Don't forget that I love you." Then he slipped out the door and down the hallway. She stood in the doorway and watched him walk away.

She hoped he wouldn't look back. It would be pure agony to wave goodbye again so soon.

She hoped he would look back. It would be sheer torture if she couldn't see his face just once more.

He paused twice, but didn't turn around. As he stepped into stairwell, she watched the door close and cut off the sight of him.

It seemed too final.


Chapter Nine

>>> Saturday, August 31st

Saturday morning dawned dark and overcast, matching Lois's mood. She wished she still had Lucy's old vinyl Carpenters' albums so she could play Karen's song about rainy days and Mondays bringing her down, complete with all the depressing hisses and pops and scratches. This might be a Saturday, but the day certainly qualified otherwise. She toyed with a cantaloupe for breakfast, but ended up eating less than half of it before throwing the rest away.

She flopped down on the couch and picked up the TV remote, then changed her mind and leaned back, hugged a pillow, and tried not to miss Clark too much. She told herself that Clark being gone was a good thing, that his secret would be safe, and that Superman would be free as soon as the jury returned the verdict of not guilty.

Then maybe they could have a life together.

A sudden, urgent knock on her front door startled her. She stood, wiped the dampness from her face and slowly made her way to the peephole.

She could hear a voice, perhaps more than one voice, as she approached the door. She looked through to see Clay and Catharine standing in the hallway.

Puzzled, she opened the door. "You guys come on in. What's wrong?"

Clay opened his mouth, then snapped it shut and turned around. "I think you need to get dressed, Lois." He edged around her without looking at her and went to the couch.

Lois looked down at herself. She was still wearing her sleeping clothes: a thin, ragged KU sweatshirt and striped boxers. Catharine tried to stifle a giggle and pushed Lois towards her bedroom. "Put some comfy clothes on, girl. You have a date with a tiger."

Lois stopped and turned around. "What? Who's a tiger? What are you talking about?"

Clay called out from the couch, "Tigers, elephants, gorillas, you name it, we're gonna go look at them."

"Cath, what is your insane husband blathering about?"

"Lady, you should not be alone right now. Clay and I are going to get you out of this apartment and take you out and keep you busy all day. Now put on something comfortable so we can get going!"

"Oh. Look, Cath, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I don't —"

"Oh, no! You're not turning us down now! If you don't want to ride to work in my Porsche again, you'll go get dressed now! You have anything for breakfast yet?"

"Not really, I just got up a little —"

"Neither have we. We can stop at Lenny's on the way to the zoo."

"The zoo?"

"Of course, the zoo! You think we have all those animals in Clay's Taurus?" She stared at Lois, who was still standing in front of her. "What are you waiting for? Get moving!"


The day turned out to be great fun despite recent events. The weather cooperated, too. Instead of being humid and oppressive, the clouds brought an unseasonable cool flavor to the normally stifling late August day, and they even let Lois buy dinner for all of them at The Catch of The Day. When Clay and Catharine dropped her off at her apartment, Lois was actually smiling.

She kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the couch, then remembered her answering machine. She reached up and found the 'play' button.

"Hi, Lois, this is Martha. I just wanted to touch base with you and find out how you were doing. Clark is due in at about one this afternoon, and I think he's planning to call you then. Give me a ring after you get this. Bye for now."

Lois smiled. She'd call Martha in a few minutes and tell her all about her fun day with Catharine and Clay. Then the machine beeped and started the next message.

"Lois, this is Ron. I have some more info on the ghost employees in the City Manager's office. Since Monday is Labor Day, I guess I'll see you for sure on Tuesday. I plan to be in the office Monday for a while, so I'll probably see you then. I'm sure you can't stay away for too long. And, uh, I also wanted to apologize for what I said the other day about you and Clark. I really was out of line and I'm sorry. I wanted to say this to you in person, but you've kept me so busy I haven't had the chance. Or maybe I just, um, haven't taken the time. Not like it's your fault, of course, it's mine. Anyway, I'll see you either Monday or Tuesday."

Good old Ron, she thought. He really was a good guy. She hoped he could find someone to share his life someday.

The machine announced the start of the next message. "Lois, this is Clark. It's about one-thirty, and I'm heading out again about four to catch the next flight to California. I'll try to call you back tonight, but it may be late, so if you're working or just too worn out to wait up for me, I'll leave another message. I love you and I miss you. I can't wait for us to be together for the rest of our lives." He paused. "My dad is here and wants to say something."

"Lois, this is Jonathan. If you have a chance, and if you'd like to, we'd love for you to fly out here and spend some time with us in Smallville. And don't think we're just trying to be nice. We could use the company, too. We won't see Clark for a while, either, so we understand what you're going through. I think we could comfort each other. Anyway, we'll talk later. Bye for now."

She sat back and listened as the machine rewound its tape and reset itself. It was after seven in Metropolis and the Kents, an hour behind her, would be getting ready for dinner pretty soon if it wasn't on the table already.

She decided to take a shower and get ready for a night of oldies music on her CD player. And if she could swing it, she'd take the Kents up on their offer to spend some time with them.

But most important of all, Clark was going to call that night. She'd be awake if she had to prop her eyes open with Tabasco-soaked toothpicks.


She snatched the phone up before the first ring ended. "Hello?"

"Lois? This is Clark."

"Clark! Oh, I'm so glad to talk to you. I'm sorry I wasn't in earlier. Clay and Cath came by and kidnapped me and took me to the zoo and we had so much fun we stayed out all day and I had my cell phone with me the whole time so you could've called me on that number and — What's so funny?"

"He-he-he. You."


"Sure. You've already saved up a couple of days worth of babble for me and I certainly appreciate it."

"Why — you — oh, Clark, I miss you! Where are you now?"

"I'm in a little hotel overlooking San Francisco Bay. The sun is just below the horizon and the sky is glowing orange and yellow. It's beautiful and I wish you were here with me."

A tear sneaked out. "Oh, Clark, I wish I was there too! When are you leaving tomorrow?"

"My flight for the Philippines leaves at six-fifteen in the morning. It's going to take us about fifteen hours to get there! Unbelievable."

She wiped her cheek with the back of her free hand. "Come on! A hundred years ago it took steamships weeks to get across the Pacific. And a hundred years before that, sailing ships took months. Be thankful you weren't born back then."

"Oh, I am. If I'd lived back then, someone would've tried to make me king somewhere."

"Not only that, I wouldn't have been your queen."

"I knew living in this time period would have some perks."

She laughed. Clark said, "It's good to hear you laugh, Lois."

"Well, I had a pretty good day today."

"Really? Tell me all about it."

"Okay. I was all ready to mope around all day and go get a couple of quarts of chocolate ice cream and slurp them all down when Clay and Catharine came over and took me to breakfast and to the zoo and they let me take them out to dinner and it was so much fun! You'd like Clay, he's a nice guy."

"I know he is. Superman's had some contact with him at his precinct, and he's definitely one of the good ones."

"Clark, did you know that giraffes have only seven vertebrae in their necks, just like all other mammals? They've got some big neck bones!"

"I did know that, actually. Remember my story on the mating habits of geckos?"

She laughed again. "The one Perry saw when you first came to the Planet?"

"Yep. I did a lot of articles on animals and such when I was traveling years ago." He paused. "Looks like that experience is going to come in handy."

"Yeah." She was silent for several long moments.

Finally, he asked, "Lois, are you still there?"

"Of course. I was just listening to you breathe."

He chuckled. "Sounds like teenage telephone talk to me."

She sighed. "I was just trying to imagine what it would be like to go to sleep hearing your breathing next to me."

Now Clark was silent. "Clark? Are you there?"

"Y-yes. Yes, I'm here."

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just — if I think too much about the future, it makes living through the present that much harder."

"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to upset you! Please forgive me!"

"No, Lois, no, you didn't do anything wrong! I'm flattered that you're thinking about a future with me at all. And despite my pessimistic outlook, I really hope that future comes to pass."

"It will, Clark, it will! I promise!"

He hesitated. "You shouldn't make promises you may not be able to keep. When you have to break them, the guilt becomes a heavy burden."

She sniffed back a tear. "Clark, I will always love you no matter what. I want you to hold on to that. Please?"

"Of course, Lois. And I will always love you, too." She heard him shifting position. "I'd better let you go and get some sleep. It's only a couple of minutes after nine out here, but it's already Sunday morning back in Metropolis."

"Okay, Clark. Look, I want you to call me as often as you can. Don't worry about the time or anything, just — I need to hear your voice."

"I'll call as often as I can, Lois, I promise. And I'll send an e-mail at least every other day. But you know I'll be pretty busy at both ends of this thing. And I'll see you — Superman will see you pretty much every day once the trial starts."

She shook her head, then remembered that he couldn't see her. "It's not the same thing. I can't hold Superman or comfort him or take him to lunch or rub his shoulders or any of the things I can do for Clark Kent. You're the one I miss and you're the one I love most of all."

He paused. "You know, you're really making me regret this trip."

She grinned. "Good. Maybe you'll understand what you're missing, and when it's all over we can make up for lost time."

"I look forward to it. I love you, Lois Lane."

"I love you too, Clark Kent. Good night."

"Sleep well. Bye for now."

She smiled at the familiar salutation. Must be something from Kansas, she thought. "Until we meet again. I love you."

Clark gently hung up. Lois sat still, hugging her phone for a long moment, unwilling to break even that tenuous contact with him. She hoped her friends — and especially her employees — would cut her some extra slack during the next few weeks. She had a strong feeling she'd need it.

>>> Tuesday, September 2nd

The elevator slid open on the lobby floor. Jim stepped in and turned around, then looked up. Ron was trotting towards him, so Jim reached out and pressed the 'open door' button.

"Whew! Thanks, Jim. I'm not as young as I used to be."

"None of us are, me included. I tried playing basketball with some teenagers at the gym yesterday and I thought my lungs were going to fall out."

Ron laughed. "I know what you mean. Say, are you still dating Pamela? You two make a nice couple."

Jim scowled. "Thanks. I only wish she thought so."

"Oh, man, I'm sorry. What happened?" Ron lifted his hands quickly. "Whoa. If you'd rather not talk about it, no problem."

The elevator opened on the third floor and two women left the car. Jim and Ron were now alone. Jim sighed. "It's okay. We had a date Saturday afternoon. Met in Centennial Park. Didn't go like I'd planned."

Ron didn't answer. Jim sighed again. "She said she wanted me to spend more time with her. I told her I was already spending almost all my free time with her. She said I should get more free time. I said I was a newspaperman and free time would always be at a premium. She said that was too bad, that maybe I should marry another reporter so I'd be with somebody who understood what I was going through, because she sure didn't."

"Ouch. Bad scene, dude."

"Yeah, it was. So I said that if she loved me she'd make the effort to understand, and she said that time spent with someone indicated the degree of commitment the other person had. I said that working at the Daily Planet was more than just a job to me, and she said here's the ring back, go marry the Planet. So — " he lifted the ring out of his pocket, flipped it up once, then returned it.

"Oh, man. This just happened this weekend?"

"Yep. I thought we were going to set the date for our wedding." He shook his head. "I hate being wrong and I hate surprises."

The door opened and Ron chortled briefly as they both stepped out of the car. "Then maybe this really is the wrong business for you. The news game is nothing but surprises."

As if to prove him correct, Catharine appeared out of nowhere and hugged him enthusiastically around the neck, then almost danced to Jim and repeated the scene.

Ron recovered first. "Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, oh very lovely but also very married lady, but what was that all about?"

Catharine spun around in place. "Gentlemen, you are the first males besides my husband to hear this news." She smiled brightly and bounced on her toes.

Jim leaned forward and said, "So what's the big news?"

She opened her mouth, but the voice they heard was Lois's. "Hey! You three get to work! We've got a newspaper to publish here! Do your socializing on your own time!"

Ron looked up and saw Lois retreat into her office, but he was too far away to get a read on her mood. Catharine winked at the two men. "I'll tell you later." Then she spun and skipped down the steps and barged into Lois's office.

Jim looked at Ron and asked, "What do you think that was all about?"

Ron shook his head. "I refuse to answer that question, sir, on the grounds that the woman's husband may get the wrong idea and tend to arrest and decapitate me."

Jim chuckled. "Okay. I have to see to a man about some pictures. Talk to you later. Hey, maybe we can do lunch one day this week."

"As long as there's no basketball playing involved, sure."


Catharine skipped lightly into Lois's office and leaned against the door as it shut. "Lois! Have I got some news for you!"

Lois didn't look up from her desk. "Great. If it's at least four column inches, we can slide it onto page four top right."

"Don't you want to know what it is?"

"Sure. Lay it on me."

Catharine bounced over to the desk. "I'm pregnant!"

Lois's jaw almost fell off her face. "Wh-what? You — you're — are you sure?"

"Yes! We saw the doctor on Friday afternoon and she gave me the results over the phone this morning! I called Clay at his precinct and he's in total shock! I'm gonna be a mommy!"

"But — but I thought you — didn't the doctor in Ohio tell you —"

"He did! But he was wrong! I'm really, really pregnant!"

"Wow." Lois slowly stood. "C'mere, girl, let me hug you!"

Catharine jumped into Lois's arms and spun her around. "It's so great! I never thought I'd want to be a mother until I met Clay and now we're going to have a baby! I'm so happy!"

"Hey, hey! Stop bouncing for a minute, okay? What about your old injuries? What does this doctor say about that?"

Catharine stopped. "That's the only bad part. She wants me to take it very, very easy for the last three months, and not strain myself between now and then. I'll probably have to take a leave of absence during the final trimester."

"No problem. I'll call Employee Relations and get the paperwork started this morning. Oh, what's your due date?"

"I'm almost two months along now, so we're looking at sometime in early April of next year, assuming everything goes like it's supposed to. Oh, Lois, I can't believe how fantastic this news is!"

She started bouncing again. Lois grabbed her hands and stopped her. "Do you mind if we announce this to the whole crew?"

"No, I don't mind! I want everyone to know! When do you want to do it?"

"How about right now?"

"Great! Oh, Lois, this is so fabulous!"

Lois joined her in bouncing for a moment, then suddenly stopped them both. "Okay, Cath, you have to quit with the up-and-down stuff. You're making me dizzy. Besides, your kid will get motion sickness and throw up inside your belly and yecchh! That's a mental picture I wish I'd avoided giving myself."


A ringing peal of laughter startled Ron as he reached out to knock on Lois's office door. Before he could recover, the door flew open and Catharine bounced out with Lois hanging on her arm and trying to hold her down.

He caught Lois's eye and lifted his eyebrows in silent query. She raised one index finger and then was pulled in Catharine's wake to the middle of the room.

Lois clapped her hands twice and called out, "Everybody take five. We have an important announcement." She released herself from Catharine's grasp and said, "Tell 'em, girl."

Catharine smiled so wide that Ron thought her face would split. Then she spun in place once and lifted her hands to the ceiling. "Catharine Grant-Mooney is wonderfully and gloriously pregnant!"

There was a moment of stunned silence, then the women in the room surged forward to embrace her. The men looked at each other in shock. A sexy, hot babe like Cat Grant, pregnant? And happy about it? Unthinkable! The apocalypse was surely on its way. Next thing they knew, pigs would fly, horses would sing, Hitler and Stalin would represent Hell in the Winter Olympics pairs skating competition, and their Mad Dog editor would get married and leave to raise her own little ones.

Ron made his way to Lois's side. "Nice move, boss lady. You organizing the baby shower?"

She tried to look at him sternly but failed. "No," she chuckled, "I'm leaving that up to the older women with more baby shower experience. I'll attend, of course, but I'm not driving that particular train."

"I understand. I think I'll try to set up something with Clay's precinct and give him a daddy shower."

Lois guffawed. "A daddy shower? What do you intend to do, bring in a pregnant stripper?"

His eyes brightened. "Hey, that's not a bad idea! If we wait a few months, do you think Catharine would do it?"

She cringed and shrank away from him. "Eeww! That's — yech! That's just so wrong on so many levels! You have a sick and twisted mind, Dombrowski."

"It's one of my more favorable personality characteristics. Say, did you get my message on Saturday?"

"Yes." She put her hand on his arm. "And all is forgiven. I know you were speaking as a friend who cares a lot."

He smiled back. "Thanks. That means a lot to me."

She tightened her grip and tugged on his arm. "Come on, you big lug! You need to give the expectant mommy a hug!"

"Again? Wait, I get to hug a beautiful woman. I can't believe I thought that might be a bad thing." He stopped as a thought struck him. "Hey, you know, this might turn out to be a very good thing. Is anybody else in the newsroom pregnant?"

>>> Friday, September 12th

Lois grinned at Martha as she lifted her luggage into the bed of the battered old pickup. "Thanks for coming to get me, Martha, especially in the middle of the day. I know this is an imposition on you and Jonathan —"

"Nonsense! We love having you visit. Besides, Jonathan is the one who does most of the work during harvest. I don't drive the combines, I just make sure they don't tear up the fences."

Lois laughed. "I hope the combine drivers do as well as Jim does this weekend."

"Oh? Is he substituting for you again?"

"Yes, he's driving the bus until Tuesday morning, and this time he's going solo. Clay and Cath left last night for a long weekend in some sleepy little bed and breakfast north of Metropolis. It may be the last time they'll have a chance to be alone together for a while."

Martha grinned back. "Babies are wonderful, but they can raise the tension levels in a relationship. Clark was a very good baby, but we still had some rough spots, especially when he was very little."

"I'm still very glad I have a place I can go and relax. Since this was kind of a sudden thing on my part, why don't you let me cook tonight? I promise not to poison anyone."

"Oh, Lois, dear, you don't have to do that. Guests don't have to work."

Lois drew herself up stiffly and cut her eyes sideways at Martha. "I'm sorry, I thought I was considered a part of the family."

"What?" Martha was momentarily perplexed until she saw the light dancing in the younger woman's gaze. "Why, you dirty rat! Yes, you're family, and as such I ought to spank you for teasing me like that!"

They shared a laugh. "Martha, I want to help. Besides, I've been cooking for quite a while now and I haven't killed myself yet."

The older woman nodded. "Oh, all right! Are you willing to share the duties with me? It is my kitchen, after all."

"Of course! Do you want me to work on side dishes, main course, or dessert?"

A pixie gleam appeared in Martha's smile. "You do the dessert, the salad, and the baked beans. And we'll see if Jonathan notices any difference."

Lois leaned closer and lowered her voice conspiratorially. "And whether he does or not, we give him a hard time, right?"

Martha whispered back, "He'll think he's fallen into a hay baler by the time we get through with him!"


Jonathan spooned up the last of his peach cobbler and let out a contented sigh. "Oh, that was delicious. Please give my compliments and regards to the cooks."

Martha's face widened in surprise at his statement, but Lois didn't wiggle an eyebrow. "Why did you say 'cooks,' Jonathan?"

"Because I know you helped, Lois."

She smiled slightly. "Oh? What gave it away?"

He leaned back and patted his ample belly. "It wasn't the food, I promise you. Everything was up to Martha's usual high standards, including the parts you did."

Martha leaned forward. "Jonathan, she wants to know if you could tell what I cooked and what Lois cooked."

He smiled mischievously. "I know. And I also know that anything I say will be used against me in the court of personal opinion, so I'm going to plead the tenth and not answer."

Lois crossed her arms. "You mean, plead the fifth."

He shook his head. "No, the tenth. There are two of you. Two times five is ten."

Martha tried to glare fiercely at him, but couldn't hold it. The three of them laughed so hard they nearly knocked over the tea pitcher.


Lois sat in the porch swing, rocking gently back and forth and gazing up into the starry haze above. She let out a deep sigh as Martha stepped out of the front door.

"Good evening, Lois. Letting off steam?"

Lois smiled. "It's a great place for relaxing. Sometimes I wonder why Clark ever left."

Martha shifted her rocker next to the swing and eased down into it. "I think you know why. He needed to do more than just be a farmer. I'm biased, of course, but I think Jonathan is a great man. Clark has a different kind of greatness in him, though. Not everyone is cut out to work the land."

"That's true. As much as I love visiting, I doubt I could really live here year-round."

The rocker squeaked against the porch. "Oh, I think you could live here if you were making your living as a writer. I've read your work, Lois, and you could do other things with your talents if you wanted to."

Lois shifted position. The direction of the conversation was making her a bit uncomfortable. "That sounds like something I said to Clark not long ago."

"Ah. I didn't know you two were talking about living out here."

Lois shook her head. "No, it was the other way around. I was telling him he needed to come back to work at the Planet."

Martha chuckled low. "I take it he didn't exactly receive your suggestion with unbridled enthusiasm."

Lois frowned slightly. "Do all farmers talk in understatement?"

"Only with those people with whom they feel comfortable."

She held her breath for a moment, then blew it out. "Thank you. But, to respond to your earlier statement, I don't think I could leave Metropolis. I've got too much invested in my life there."

"I understand. You don't fall in this category, of course, but do you remember the statistics on never-married women past thirty-five and how unlikely it was that they would ever tie the knot with any man?"

"Oh, yeah, I remember. One dope said it was statistically more likely that one of those women would be hit and killed by a meteorite than get married."

Martha smiled ruefully. "Some men are just stupid."

"You're being too kind."

"Maybe," she responded. "I think that what you just described as your life is one of those reasons. Single women today, especially professionals like yourself, have built up lives for themselves that they're reluctant to give up just so they can have a man around. It's understandable that they don't want to surrender something they've worked so hard to accomplish and become part of a team where they don't call all the shots. So many men fail to understand that aspect of women's lives today."

Lois scowled. "I know what you mean. We printed a follow-up series on that subject about a year ago, and I can't tell you how hard Cath rode me about how close I was to joining that crowd. Especially after she and Clay got married."

"Is she telling you that there's something wrong with you? Or with single women over thirty-five in general?"

"No, of course not. She's my best friend, my best female friend, anyway, and she was just trying to give me a hard time. Believe me, I give as good as I get with her."

"Good for you." Martha chuckled with her. "Well, now that you and Clark have plans for the future, you won't be one of those single women."


Martha waited for Lois to continue, but she remained silent. "Lois? Is something wrong between you and Clark?"

Lois sighed deeply. "No. Not wrong, really, just — not right." She turned in the swing and lay down. "I'm not sure I can explain it. Heck, I'm not even sure I understand it."

Gently, Martha said, "I'm right here if you want to try."

There was no response for three long breaths, then Lois quietly said, "It's the future."

"What about the future, dear?"

"Clark won't — he isn't sure we have one."

"I see. Is it the trial?"

Lois sat up and faced the porch steps. "That's what he keeps saying. I'm not sure that's really it, though."

"I see. What do you think it is?"

"I don't know." She stood and walked to the porch banister. "And that's what bothers me. I don't understand why he's so reluctant to make plans for the future with me. And he seems to be keeping his distance emotionally, too. I know he'd rather be with me than in the Philippines, but — oh, maybe I'm going crazy!"

Martha smiled in the darkness. "No, Lois, you're not crazy. Clark's afraid of the trial and the verdict, and I can't blame him. Even if he's acquitted, some people are going to find it very hard to trust him for a long time."

Lois sighed. "I know. I keep thinking that planning our future will help him, but it doesn't. I've pretty much quit talking to him about it."

"Maybe that's for the best for now, dear. After the trial is over, you two can sit down and decide what you're going to do."

Lois paused for a long moment, then said, "I guess I'll have to wait."

"And that's hard for you to do, isn't it?"

"What was your first clue?"

They shared a chuckle. "Lois, dear, I understand that you've been a hard-charging go-getter ever since your college days, and you certainly have been ever since we met you. You left the Planet to be a bureau editor, went back to the Planet to be groomed to take over from Perry, and now you're the one calling the shots.

"Remember, I've seen you in action. When you took on the EPA and Bureau 39 and that disgusting Mr. Trask, I was so afraid you'd get hurt. Huh! For that matter, I thought I was going to be burned to death, and that's about as scared as I ever want to be. But you never quit pushing, never stopped digging for the truth, even when you were in danger."

Lois crossed her arms and stepped away from Martha. "That was then, this is now. I'm not as young as I used to be."

"None of us are. In the last couple of years, Jonathan occasionally has had days when he gets up, does the morning chores, then goes back to bed for a couple of hours. I've been known to sleep in on a Saturday now and then, and those days come around more frequently as I get older. We have to make some concessions to our aging bodies, Lois, but our hearts don't get older. They just get more tender. We love more and we hate less. We keep our tempers better and do less jumping to conclusions. At least, that's been my experience." Martha stood and walked to Lois's side. "And you're still young yet. Of course, that's also a two-edged sword."

"How's that?"

"The younger you are, the more you have to look forward to, but that also includes a lot of experiences with heartache and pain. Life is shot through with those two commodities, whether we like it or not, and we can't change it."

Lois took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not sure that's an encouraging speech, but thank you anyway."

The older woman smiled and patted Lois's arm. "It's meant to be realistic. Life is what it is, and sometimes the best you can do is roll with the punches and dive back in with fists flying."

"Yeah, I know. It gets harder as time goes by, that's all."

"There will be better times, Lois. Just be patient."

Lois smiled. "Thank you. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that you're invited to my mother's wedding."

"Ah." Martha leaned on the porch railing and nodded knowingly. "When's the big day?"

"First week of November, probably the first Saturday. They're planning a small ceremony, just her family and Steve's family and some close friends."

"We'll certainly try to attend. I'm glad Ellen is moving forward with her life."

"Yeah. Moving forward." Lois wiped her nose with her hand.

"How does your father feel?"

"He says he wants Mom to be happy. I think he actually means it, too. And he kind of likes Steve."

"How does Steve feel about you and Lucy?"

"That's hard to say. He's not hostile or unfriendly, at least not to me, and Lucy seems to think he's nicer than Lex Luthor —"

"Hmph! That wouldn't be difficult."

"True. Anyway, Lucy seems to think that they'll be okay. But she and Dan and Jason are in California, and Mom and Steve plan to move to Chicago after the wedding. Steve has a couple of businesses there, and Mom has some professional contacts there if she wants to teach nursing or even go back to work, so they probably won't see each other much."

Martha touched her elbow. "And how do you feel about this?"

"Hmm. Not sure yet."

"Give it time, Lois. If this is a good thing for your mother, you'll come around eventually."

"I hope so." Lois blew out another long breath, then straightened up. "Hey! You can't let me get away with that."

"Get away with what?"

"Talking to me about my personal problems and leaving you with the dinner dishes. I'll wash if you'll dry."

Martha smiled. "No need. Jonathan's probably finished with them by now."

"Oh. That was nice of him."

Martha chuckled. "Not really. I suggested he come out here and talk to you about Clark, and his face lost most of its color. He loves you like a daughter, Lois, but he's not ready to discuss the birds and the bees with you. Especially when it involves Clark."

Lois laughed softly. "Might be embarrassing for both of us."

>>> Monday, September 15th

Lois walked to the luggage carousel and plucked her bag from the jumble of other pieces of baggage lazily tumbling across each other. The late afternoon flight had been as smooth as fresh butter and almost as relaxing as the weekend with the Kents had been. She'd gotten one e-mail from Clark while in Kansas, but still no voice communication, and the soft, yet passionate restraint in his e-prose was almost too much for her to bear. She desperately wanted to see him, to hold him, to tell him yet again how much he meant to her, how much she loved him, and how she would be with him until the end.

But she couldn't. She restrained her melancholy and grabbed a cab to her apartment. There was time for a shower before dinner, but first she needed to check with Jim at the Planet.

He picked up the phone after the third ring. "Daily Planet Managing Editor's office, Jim Olsen speaking. How may I help you?"

"Jim, this is Lois. How's it going?"

He chuckled. "Surprisingly well, although I think I'm going to need a comp day later this week."

"Why? Were there problems this weekend?"

"Yes, but nothing I couldn't handle. You know, Lois, I always knew you were good, but I never realized just how much time it takes to be an editor all by yourself. I don't think I've slept more than three hours straight since Thursday."

"That's not unusual, especially since Cath's not there to shoulder some of the load. Is there anything I need to know about before I come in tomorrow?"

"Hmm. Let me check the message log — no, nothing you need to see tonight. Judging by the size of the stack, though, I think I won't see you much until late tomorrow afternoon."

She grinned. "That's the nature of the business, Jim. News doesn't break on schedule in a forty-hour work week."

"I know, I know, you get the job done no matter how much time it takes! I remember, honest!"

"Good. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning."

"Don't worry, I'll be at my desk chomping away at the bit when you get here. You just be on time, y'hear?"

She chuckled into the phone. "That's my line, Jim. Bye."


Chapter Ten

>>> Saturday, September 20th

Lois closed the folders before her and pushed herself away from the desk. She loved what she did, truly, but sometimes things just piled too high and toppled over on her. She was being asked to increase the size of the Saturday edition once again, but no additional money was being allocated for more writers. She had three choices: to do the additional writing and reporting herself, put the burden on her existing employees, or try to scare up some freelancers who were willing to write more for the recognition than for the pay. None of those choices appealed to her, but that's all she had to work with.

She sighed and rubbed her eyes, feeling old and worn. She'd figure it out somehow. She always did.

The knock on her office door startled her momentarily. She groaned and called out, "Come in unless you have bad things to tell me."

Connie Hunter opened the door. "Is this a bad time, Lois?"

Lois stood. "No, of course not. Come on in. Is Blair with you?"

Connie pushed the door shut behind her. "Not today. She's taking a well-deserved day of rest."

"What about you? Don't you get to rest up from your labors?"

She smiled. "Sure. I'll take my vacation when you do."

Lois's eyebrows rose. "Touche, Connie. Have a seat. What can I do for you?"

They both sat. "Not too much, I hope. I wanted to ask what kind of press coverage you've planned for the start of the trial on Monday."

Lois picked up a pencil and began tapping it against her desk pad. "Catharine Grant-Mooney and Jim Olsen will be there. I trust them completely. Why?"

She shrugged. "Wondering, mostly. I think Superman will be very glad for any moral support he gets for the next few weeks. Reisman is going to put some angry people on the witness stand, and they're going to say some nasty things about him."

"You can refute them, can't you?"

"Sure, but the jury will make the decision to believe me or the prosecution witnesses. And it's impossible to know how that will go until it actually happens."

Lois nodded. "I know this is a tough job, Connie, but I have every confidence in you. I'm positive you and Blair will win this case."

Connie tilted her head at Lois. "I thought the object of this exercise was to find the truth."

"It is. And the truth is, Superman is not guilty of this charge. He's going to go free."

"I wish I had your confidence." Connie sighed. "One other thing is bothering me. Superman will have to be there for the entire jury selection process. We can't afford for him to not show up even one day."

Lois frowned. "He said he'd be there, Connie. He'll be there."

"I know that's what he said, but —"

"No buts." Lois pointed a finger at Connie. "He does what he says he's going to do. You can take that to the bank."

"Good. I pretty much knew that already, but it's still good to have confirmation." Connie let out a long breath. "Blair's going to interview the jurors instead of me."

Lois leaned back in her chair and tried to relax. "Any particular reason?"

"A couple of them." Connie shifted in the chair and set her foot up on the seat, putting her knee beside her face. Then she wrapped her arms around her leg, as if she were holding a comfortable teddy bear. "She has more recent jury experience than I do, and she's a bit more personable than I am. Also, if we hit any potential jurors who are uncomfortable talking to a young black woman, I don't want them voting on the guilt or innocence of an alien from outer space."

She lurched forward. "Oh, come on! That can't still be an issue, not in this day and age!"

Connie sighed. "I hope not. But we have to be prepared. The last thing we need at this point is to hit a racist roadblock on the jury."

Lois leaned back and put the pencil between her teeth. "Y'nw — " she stopped and pulled the pencil out to look at it. "Oh, good, I've traded chewing my fingernails for chewing pencil erasers." She leaned over the wastebasket and spat out eraser fragments. "And they're almost as tasty."

Connie laughed lightly. "I used to do the same thing."

"How'd you quit?"

"I removed the source of the stress."

"How did you accomplish that feat?"

"I quit doing courtroom trials."

Lois nodded slowly, then picked up a fresh unsharpened pencil — with an intact eraser — from her desk drawer and offered it to Connie. Connie leaned her head back and laughed aloud, then took the pencil and stuck it behind her ear. "I'll eat it later."

>>> Monday, September 22nd

Blair was anxious. She tried to say something to Superman but her throat was too dry, so she reached for the water pitcher on the table. The weight of the pitcher combined with her nervous tension threatened to spill water everywhere, so when Superman gently took the pitcher and filled her glass, she was grateful.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

She drained the glass and set it down in front of her. "Aren't you nervous, Superman?"


She lifted both eyebrows in surprise. "You don't show it."

He leaned closer and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "Would you trust a nervous man to lift a car off your family?"

She grinned. "Good point."

He nodded. "Same goes for lawyers, I would think."

She lost her grin and grasped her hands together in her lap. "You're saying I need to get hold of myself, right?"

He patted her shoulder. "Just be as good as I know you can be."

She nodded just as the bailiff entered the courtroom. "All rise. His Honor Judge Charles Walter Fields, presiding. Court is now in session."

Judge Fields adjusted his robes and sat. "Be seated, everyone." He paused while the people in the packed courtroom resumed their seats. "Now, let me make clear from the outset that I will not — let me repeat, I will not — permit any demonstrations either for or against this defendant. If you have something to say about this trial, do it outside the bounds of this courtroom and within the bounds of the law.

"Now, would counsels for both the defense and the prosecution stand? All the attorneys, please." Blair frowned at Connie, who frowned back and shook her head microscopically to indicate she didn't know what was going on either. Blair glanced at the prosecution's table, where Jack Reisman and Melanie Welch wore the same puzzled expressions.

Judge Fields sighed and spoke. "Look, people, we all know how important this trial is. We also know how volatile this situation might be if it gets away from us. I want to urge both teams of attorneys to remain within the bounds of the law, normal courtroom decorum, and my rulings. If one counsel objects to anything the other counsel says or does, everybody stops what he or she is doing until I make my ruling. And once I've ruled, don't argue! There's very little that irritates this old judge more than a contentious lawyer, so don't try my patience. I don't have that much left. Everybody clear on this?"

Connie answered, "The defense is clear, Your Honor."

"Good. May I assume you speak for both yourself and your co-counsel?"

Blair said, "She does, Your Honor."

Judge Fields nodded. "Thank you. How about you, Mr. Reisman?"

Jack's normally smooth face furrowed. "Your Honor, this is somewhat — casual, don't you think?"

"You mean, I presume, my instructions to the attorneys?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"It is, Jack. But you know me, I don't stand on ceremony. As long as you remember I'm running the trial, and that the people will decide the issue of the defendant's guilt, we'll get along just fine."

"I see. In that case, Your Honor, my co-counsel and I understand you perfectly."

"I'm glad you see it my way. There is one other item I need to cover before we begin. Superman?"

Surprised, the Man of Steel rose to his feet. "Yes, Your Honor?"

"Are you planning to attend all the trial sessions?"

"Of course, sir."

"What if there's some emergency that you believe requires your attention?"

He started to cross his arms, but Connie caught his eye and frowned, so he settled for holding one hand in the other across his stomach. "I certainly hope that doesn't happen, Your Honor."

"Come on, Superman, we both know that such emergencies can't be scheduled. Are you willing to remain available to this court for the duration of this trial?"

He fidgeted for a moment, then Connie lifted her hand. "Your Honor, if I may?"


"Thank you. May I propose that Superman remain in court while the trial is in session unless he feels he needs to respond to an emergency involving the saving of one or more lives? In which case, he will indicate this to me or my associate and we will request a recess while he deals with the situation. Is this acceptable to the court?"

The judge nodded. "That works for me. How about you, Jack? You willing to work with us on this one, too?"

Reisman stood. "Your Honor, that's a highly unusual suggestion."

"It's not like the defendant is a flight risk, Counselor. Besides, if he really wants to leave, there's no physical way for us to stop him."

Reisman licked his lips and glanced at his sister and co-counsel. After a long moment, he said, "The people have no objection, Your Honor, as long as the defendant doesn't abuse this rare privilege."

Superman relaxed visibly. "I assure you, sir, I won't abuse it. Your Honor, I thank you for your understanding and patience."

"Good!" Fields favored them with a smile. "Everybody's in agreement, everybody's happy. A singular event in the annals of justice." The lawyers and court officials shared a grin and a chortle, then the judge clapped his hands once. "Okay, you folks sit down so we can go back to work. Are we ready to begin jury selection?"

Both Jack and Connie answered together, "Yes, Your Honor."

"Excellent. Bailiff, please bring in the first pool of candidates."

Connie leaned past Superman and whispered to Blair, "At least he didn't refer to them as 'fresh bait' this time."


The bailiff gestured to the next man in line. "Sir, please come forward and take the stand."

He did so, then extended his hand towards the bailiff. "Aren't you gonna swear me in?"

"No, sir, not now. The attorneys only want to interview you for jury service."

"Oh, okay. I'm ready."

Blair stood and stepped towards him. "Sir, my name is Blair Collins, and I'm with the defense team in this trial. Please state your full name."

"Arthur D'Angelo."

"What is your occupation, sir?"

"I own a couple of construction-related businesses. I supply builders with plumbing fixtures and carpentry hardware, door and window fittings, stuff like that."

"Mr. D'Angelo, are you personally acquainted with the defendant?"

"No, not really."

"Not really? Would you explain, please?"

"Sure. My mother lives in the West Heights nursing home. She lost her legs to complications from diabetes about nine years ago. Back just before all this Intergang stuff happened, Superman put out a fire in the nursing home and saved a bunch of people, including my mother." Arthur grinned. "He gave her an autographed picture of himself. She's still got it on the wall of her bedroom."

Blair smiled. "I'm glad Superman was there to help your mother. But, Mr. D'Angelo, you understand that this trial has very little to do with that incident, right?"

"Course I know that."

"Good. Now, the district attorney is almost surely going to ask you this question, Mr. D'Angelo, and you'll have to answer it truthfully. That question is this: Can you render a judgment in this case based on the facts in evidence, the law, and the testimony of the various witnesses, despite whatever personal feelings you might have for or against Superman?"

Arthur nodded soberly. "I think I can, ma'am."

"Are you sure? Because we all want to get to the truth here, and we all want a fair and just verdict in this trial."

He nodded again, more energetically. "Sure! I understand. We don't want to lock up a hero who can help us if he's not guilty. We also don't want a murderous super-powered vigilante running around loose. I got a family to look out for. I want the truth too, and I'm tellin' you that I can give you an unbiased rendering of the evidence."

Blair nodded. "Your Honor, the defense is satisfied with this juror."

Judge Fields nodded. "Very well. Does the prosecution have any questions?"

Melanie Welch stood. "Just a few, Your Honor. Mr. D'Angelo, you just said that — and please correct me if I repeat this wrong — you can give us an 'unbiased rendering of the evidence.' Is that the way you normally talk?"

"No, I — I guess it ain't."

"Then why did you use that particular phrase? Where did you hear it?"

Arthur frowned. "It was in the Daily Planet's front page editorial this morning. Why? Is there a problem with that?"

"Mr. D'Angelo, what is the paper's position on this trial?"

He shrugged. "They don't think it's necessary. They think Superman is innocent of the charges and should be set free."

"What do you think, sir?"

He nodded. "I see where you're going with this. I don't think Superman should be on trial either, but since he is, it's every citizen's duty to look at the evidence and decide whether he's guilty or not."

Melanie stepped closer to him. "Do you think he's innocent or guilty, Mr. D'Angelo?"

"You're askin' me to vote right now? Where's the paper so's I can mark it?"

Melanie smiled as a chuckle trotted around the gallery. "No, sir, no one's asking for your vote right now. I only want to know if you have a bias to either convict or acquit the defendant."

"Okay, okay. Look, you're gonna hafta work hard to convince me Superman's a bad guy, but if you got the goods on him, lay 'em out so's we can all see 'em. If he did the crime, lady, he should do the time."

Melanie hesitated for a long moment, then nodded. "Very well, Mr. D'Angelo. Your Honor, the prosecution has no objection to this juror."

Judge Fields looked pleased. "Very well. Mr. D'Angelo, for better or worse, you're in." He looked at the clock on the far wall above the doorway. "We've seated seven jurors already, and it's fairly late in the day, so I think we need to resume this process at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury pool, we need you to be back in your places with bright shining faces at that time." A low groan rolled around the prospective jurors. "Hey, hey, hey! None of that, now, none of that! You folks be back here at nine sharp or I'll have no choice but to issue a bench warrant for the arrest of anyone who isn't here on time." He whacked his gavel on the bench. "This court is now adjourned."

As he stood, the bailiff called out, "All rise." He waited until the judge disappeared through the door to his chambers, then lifted his hands and called out, "Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. See you tomorrow morning at nine."


Lois glanced at the wall chronometer and saw Mickey's big hand point to the six and his little hand point between the seven and the eight. It was past time to go home. She reached out to turn off her monitor, but stopped. The next day's lead story was, of course, the rapid jury selection for Superman's trial.

The Planet's circulation numbers would surely skyrocket. Her meeting that afternoon with Franklin Stern had been a curious mixture of positive financial anticipation and negative personal consternation. She wanted the paper to do well, but she hated having Clark in the situation he was in. Her loyalties were sharply divided for the first time in several years, and she didn't like being pulled in opposite directions.

She reached out again and finally flipped off the monitor. Maybe some Chinese takeout would lift her mood.

Maybe, if she could testify soon and get it over with, she and Clark could spend some quality time together.

>>> Tuesday, September 23rd

At 9:38 a.m., her phone rang. "Lois Lane, Daily Plan —"

A harsh male voice interrupted her. "Ms. Lane, we need you here at one thirty this afternoon."

"No problem. Where is 'here' and who are you?"

"Oh. Sorry. This is District Attorney Jack Reisman. You need to be here at one-thirty this afternoon, ready to testify in Superman's trial."

She blinked. "You're kidding, right? The jury's already seated?"

"We've got two more jurors and two alternates to go, so yes, I'm sure we'll have a full jury by this afternoon. I don't want to delay this trial any more than necessary, so we're calling all the prosecution witnesses to be ready today."

She sighed. "Okay. One thirty, right?"


"In the courtroom or outside?"

"Inside if you get here early enough. Otherwise you'll have to wait outside. This place is packed pretty tight."

"Are you going to call me first?"

"No, but I hope to call you today."

"Do you have any advice for me?"

Jack's frown came through the phone line. "Tell the truth, Ms. Lane. That's all I ever want a witness to do."


Lois tried, but she couldn't eat her lunch. Her stomach was roiling like greasy pork in a hot wok. It was all she could do to keep down the antacids she'd bolted as she sprinted into the courthouse.

She passed a horde of reporters on the steps by the street. Dodging the cameras and ducking her head, she nearly made it past them before someone recognized her and headed her off at the top of the steps.

"Ms. Lane! Wait! Randy Parker, KMLS radio! I need a moment with you!"

Lois glanced up at the young man and shook her head, but he ignored her and fell into step beside her, pointing his pocket recorder at Lois's face.

"Ms. Lane, are you coming in to testify?"

"I have no comment."

"Do you have any prediction on how this trial will go?"

"No comment, young man."

"Are you planning to visit Superman in prison?"

She stopped short. Parker took two steps before he realized she was no longer with him, and he scrambled to stick the recorder in her face again.

"Ms. Lane, are you planning to —"

"Hey!" she shouted. "What part of 'no comment' do you not get?"

"I'm just trying to —"

"I have no comment! Got that? That means I have nothing to say!" She tried to push past him but he jumped in front of her. "Get away from me, you pinheaded little sand flea!"

She dodged to one side. He skipped in front of her again. "Ms. Lane, can you tell us about your personal relationship with Superman?"

She faked left and cut right, leaving Randy Parker leaning the wrong way. She made it to the elevator doors before he intercepted her once again.

"Ms. Lane, do you —"

Lois snatched the recorder out of his hand and threw it along the floor across the crowded room. A very large man in a bailiff's uniform — the kind of man who uses highway truck scales to find out how much he really weighs, the kind of man any sensible professional wrestler would go out of his way to placate — put his foot directly on the tiny recorder and crushed it, then continued on his way as if nothing had happened.

Parker turned to Lois with anger in his eyes. "Hey! That was my personal property, lady! You're gonna pay for that!"

Lois stepped into the elevator and pressed the button. "Write me a letter."

He grabbed the door and held it open. "I'll do better than that, babe! I'll sue your cute little WHOOF!"

He let go of the elevator and sat down on the tile floor, holding the part of his abdomen that Lois's fist had just indented. She leaned out and said, "First lesson, kid, and it's free. Don't mess with Mad Dog Lane." The doors began to close. "And don't EVER call me 'babe.' Not if you want to see tomorrow."


Chapter Eleven

Lois walked into the crowded courtroom and spotted Ron Dombrowski on the end of the second row. He was valiantly attempting to hold a place for her against a pair of LNN talking heads beside him.

She tapped him on the shoulder and in her best Vivian Leigh 'Gone With The Wind' accent drawled, "Pardon me, suh, but is this heah seat taken?"

Ron's head floated around and focused on her face. She got a glimpse of how he might look if Halle Berry or Sandra Bullock ever initiated a casual conversation with him. Then his expression fell as if dropping off the Atlantic Ocean's continental shelf.

"Oh. It's just you."

"Gee, thanks for the ringing endorsement." She lifted her gaze. "Hey! You two move over and let a lady sit down."

One of the LNN guys began a response. "A lady? I'll move —"

His buddy broke in and said, "Of course, Ms. Lane, we'll scoot over. Come on, Sam, give the lady some room."

Sam frowned. "You're in my lap as it is, Rex! Let that snooty —"

"Shh!" Rex whispered in Sam's ear. Sam paled and made himself even thinner.

Lois favored them with a cream-on-her-whiskers smile. "Thank you, gentlemen. I can get you a free trial subscription to the Daily Planet if you like."

Sam and Rex both shook their heads 'no.' She shrugged. "Your loss. If you change your mind, you can just call my office."

She took her seat beside Ron, who leaned closer and whispered, "Wonder what Rex said to Sam to get him to straighten up."

"I'm sure I don't know. Hey, is that the bailiff beside the judge's desk?"

"It's called a 'bench' and yes, that's the bailiff."

"Man! He's must be at least seven feet tall! You can see that shine off his bald head from orbit! And he looks strong enough to pick up a taxi under each arm!" She shook her head. "Isn't he something of a joke, anyway?"

"Don't tell him that. He thinks he's the ultimate bailiff on the Eastern seaboard, and no one has the courage to tell him different."

"What about the judge? Surely he wouldn't argue with the judge!"

"Judge Fields is pretty laid-back too. He thinks a huge, intimidating, and occasionally amusing bailiff helps keep the tension level down." Ron tried to adjust to a more comfortable position, but failed. "I don't know that he's wrong, either. This has been a remarkably smooth trial so far."

"Just wait till Reisman puts me on the stand," Lois muttered.

Ron didn't have a chance to respond. The immense bailiff frowned at the crowd and called out, "All rise, all rise. This court is now in session, the honorable Judge Charles Walter Fields presiding."

Everyone rose and waited for the judge to enter. He went straight to his chair and whacked his gavel once. "You folks be seated. Mr. Reisman, are you ready to begin your presentation?"

Reisman rose. "The prosecution is ready, Your Honor."

"Good. What about you, Ms. Hunter?"

Connie stood. "The defense is ready, Your Honor."

"How wonderful for the beleaguered taxpayers of Metropolis." Fields picked up his gavel once more and whacked it on the pad. "Let's get this trial under way, then. Mr. Reisman, the prosecution may present its opening statement."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Reisman meandered to the jury box and nodded to several of the jurors. "You folks have a very difficult job ahead of you. You're going to have to look at the specific facts of a specific case about a very famous and well thought-of individual, to find that he is guilty of the charges brought against him by the citizens of the state of New Troy.

"Superman killed Bill Church. This is a fact that cannot be ignored. Now, every person who causes the death of another person isn't guilty of a crime. A police officer, for example, who shoots someone in the line of duty, while defending either himself or herself or one or more innocent persons, isn't guilty of a crime."

Reisman's voice intensified. "But Superman was not then and is not now a law enforcement official for the city of Metropolis, the state of New Troy, or the Federal government. In fact, he declined that honor a few months before he killed this man. Superman was most certainly not acting in the line of duty."

Reisman turned and slowly paced in front of the jury box. "What about a private citizen who kills someone by accident or in self-defense? Is that person always put in jail for this act? No. If one of you were threatened by someone with a weapon, or if your family were threatened, you would be within your legal rights to defend yourself and your family. And if, in your legitimate defense of yourself or your loved one, the person threatening you died, you would not be held legally liable for that act."

He stopped and leaned on the rail. "But Superman wasn't threatened. Bill Church wasn't holding a gun to Superman's head and threatening to blow it off. He wasn't threatening another person at the time, much less one of Superman's loved ones. He entered a private business office without permission and deliberately and unnecessarily killed Bill Church in a particularly gruesome fashion. You'll soon see just how it was done."

He straightened and put his hands behind his back. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we all know what Superman has done for us and for others. We all know how he's sacrificed his time to save people who might very well have died if not for his bravery. He's prevented property loss and damage, apprehended lawbreakers small and large, and has usually been a positive influence on our young people, unlike many other sports and entertainment celebrities we could name.

"But none of that makes any difference. Superman isn't on trial for what he's done over the years. He's on trial for one specific, deliberate act, one which directly caused the death of another human being. After you hear the evidence, you'll have no choice but to convict him of the crime of murder in the second degree. I ask you to put out of your minds the good things Superman has done and concentrate on this one very, very bad thing he did. I know you'll do the right thing. I know you'll vote to convict him."

He smiled at the jury and sat down at his table. Connie made eye contact with the judge, who nodded at her.

She rose and began her statement. "Hi, folks. For those of you who don't remember my name, I'm Constance Hunter. Blair Collins — that attractive young lady seated at our table, the one you spoke with during jury selection — will be helping me to conduct Superman's defense in this trial."

She crossed her arms and wandered back and forth in front of the jury. "Mr. Reisman was right about a number of things in his opening statement. He told you that Superman killed Bill Church. As much as I'd like to convince you that's not true, I can't, because that's what happened. We're not going to try to hide that fact. Mr. Reisman said you have a difficult job to do, and that's correct, too. He also said you have to ignore what Superman's done in the past and focus only on what this trial is about, and for the most part, that's also true."

She stopped, dropped her hands, and stepped back from the jury box. "But the part about Superman being guilty of murder? That part's not true. We'll show you evidence that will prove that Bill Church Senior — supposedly a well-respected, highly successful businessman — was actually the head of Intergang, a well-connected criminal organization involved in anything and everything illegal. We'll also prove to you that Bill Church was not an innocent victim of a random crime, but was in the process of having more than forty people attacked and killed all in a single night. Several others were lucky enough to escape with their lives, but most of them suffered injuries that will affect them for the rest of their days."

She stepped closer to the jury. Her voice lowered in volume but increased in intensity. "We're not talking about someone killing someone else because of a traffic accident. We're not talking about an argument that got out of hand over the last meatball sub at the corner deli. We're talking about the demise of a man whose occupation was dealing out death and suffering on a wholesale basis." She slapped the rail and raised her voice in anger. "Forget the legitimate retail businesses he ran as a front! Forget the charitable works he performed! Forget the homeless shelters he built!"

She calmed herself and backed away again. "Why? For the same reason the DA told you to ignore Superman's past record. Because the facts that come into sharpest focus are the facts which bear directly on the death of Bill Church. Superman didn't barge into a church and kill a priest. He didn't swoop down out of the sky and take a saint or a generous philanthropist or a children's cancer doctor away from us. He didn't end the life of a man whose life held joy and good deeds and was full of promise for the future. He took the life of a murderer, a thief, a corruptor of the innocent, a defiler of anything good, a man whose hands were so stained with evil that everything he touched was polluted and foul. That's the man who died that night."

She raised her voice again. "And not only that, but Superman's actions that night put a stop to the terror that Intergang was wreaking on our law enforcement and judicial systems! Do you know how many major news stories have mentioned Intergang in the three-plus years since that night, putting aside the ones talking about what happened that night or about other Intergang leaders who are on trial? I'll tell you!" She lowered her volume dramatically and lifted her fingers to illustrate the number. "There have been seven."

She pointed at Superman. "When Superman killed Bill Church that night, he stopped a series of murders, robberies, extortions, and other crimes, the like of which haven't been seen since the start of the Mafia at the beginning of the twentieth century, or the gang wars in Chicago in the nineteen twenties Bill Church's death prevented countless other acts of violence, some we know were being planned and others that will never be considered, and many that we'll never know about."

She stepped closer once more. Her voice took on an intimate, friendly tone. "I'm sure you've heard that it's a bad defense to pillory the victim to gain sympathy for the defendant. I agree, it is a bad defense. In fact, it's one of the reasons I haven't tried a criminal case in court for quite some time. But I'm not trying to win your sympathy or push you to make an emotional decision. I'm trying to show you the truth about both the defendant — Superman, a true hero — and the dead man — Bill Church, head of Intergang. I'm going to show you that Superman took Bill Church's life because he'd seen and heard too much for any law-abiding man to take without doing something about all the death and destruction that floated in Bill Church's wake."

She straightened. "The law about second-degree murder says you aren't guilty of second-degree murder if you can show that you were under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, and you had a good reason for being emotionally disturbed. It also helps if the person who ended up dead contributed to this emotional disturbance. That certainly defines Superman the night Bill Church died."

Connie crossed her hands in front of her and put the tiniest of sobs in her voice. "I'm certain, ladies and gentlemen, that after you hear the testimony of the witnesses and view all the physical evidence, you'll come to the same conclusion I have, that Superman is not guilty of the crime of murder in the second degree. Thank you all."

She sat down. The judge paused, allowing the moment to continue. Just before the DA ran out of patience, Fields said, "It's time to present witnesses and evidence. Mr. Reisman, you may begin."

Reisman stood and locked eyes with the judge for a moment, then nodded to Melanie Welch. She stood and adjusted a video player which was connected to a large-screen television at the front of the courtroom. "Your Honor, the prosecution wishes to present a videotape recording of the night in question."

Connie rose. "The defense renews its objection, Your Honor."

Fields frowned. "On what grounds?"

"On the grounds that the prosecution isn't planning to show the entire tape. Besides, this evidence shouldn't stand by itself. It should be buttressed by witness testimony."

Reisman responded immediately. "Your Honor, this tape establishes the fact of the victim's death and the manner of it. And it will be buttressed by the testimony of others."

"The defense is willing to stipulate to the death of Bill Church at the hands of Superman, Your Honor."

"The prosecution is not willing. The members of the jury need to know exactly how this man died. They need to see just what the defendant did to him."

"Your Honor, the defense —"

Fields raised his hands. "Enough! You're both beating a dead horse. Let me reiterate my earlier ruling. The prosecution may show however much or however little it wishes of this tape, as long as what is seen has a direct bearing on the case."

Connie frowned. "Your Honor! We —"

"I'm not through, Ms. Hunter. As I stated in my earlier ruling, the defense may also use this tape as evidence, if you so desire, again as long as what is shown to the jury has a direct bearing on the case."

Fields looked from one frowning lawyer to the other, then said, "Well, like I said before, if neither of you is completely happy with my ruling, I must be doing something right. Mr. Reisman, you may proceed."

"Thank you, Judge Fields. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, spectators, members of the court, please prepare yourselves for something fairly gruesome. This is a security camera recording from Bill Church's office made on the night in question. I assure you, I did not make the decision to play this videotape lightly. You must be in possession of all the facts in this case, and this is the primary fact of which you must be aware, even if it's extremely unpleasant." He nodded to Melanie, and she started the video tape player.

The scene was that of Intergang's underground control center. Superman stood facing Bill Church, holding him by the shirtfront. Both of them were in front of a bank of video monitors, each of which showed a different face. Their expressions ranged from irritated to horrified.

Superman's voice came over the speakers. "You killed a lot of people tonight. One of them was an assistant DA. Her name was Mayson Drake. You blew her up and burned her to death like she was nothing! She meant nothing to you! You have no respect for human life! You murdered her for trying to protect the weak and helpless! You're less than human! You don't deserve to live!"

Then Superman lifted Church into the air with one hand and punched his other hand deep into Bill Church's chest. Church screamed in agony. Then Superman pulled the criminal's heart right out of his body. Blood fountained onto the monitors, the chair, the floor, and onto Superman. The hero held the quivering organ in front of Bill Church's face as the former head of Intergang folded in on himself and died.

Melanie stopped the tape. No one in the courtroom spoke. Except for a few gasps or muffled sobs, no one made a sound.

Lois, who had viewed this scene more than three years earlier, was once again shocked by the intensity of the action on the video screen. She turned her head away and glimpsed Ron's profile.

He was stunned into silence.

Jack Reisman cleared his throat. "I'm — I'm very sorry you had to see that." He turned away from the jury and rubbed his hands over his face once, then turned back to them. "This is the crime of which Superman stands accused. The woman he mentioned on the tape, Mayson Drake, was an assistant District Attorney involved in the investigation of Intergang. She was also a personal friend of mine."

His voice steadied and he stepped towards the jury box. "But those facts do not give anyone the right to take another person's life." He turned towards the defense table. "Not even Superman."

He opened his mouth to say something else, then thought better of it and returned to his seat. The judge leaned back in his chair and exhaled. "Ms. Hunter, I know you can't cross-examine a videotape, but is there anything you wish to say or do at this time?"

She stood slowly. "No, Your Honor. As long as we can display other parts of the tape at a later time."

"You may. Mr. Reisman, call your next witness."

He stood. "The prosecution calls Jay Chamberlain."

A tall, slender young man with long, dark, wavy hair stood and came forward. He stopped beside the witness box and faced the bailiff.

The bailiff extended a Bible in his right hand. "Place your left hand on the book and raise your right hand, please." The young man did so. "Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do."

The bailiff nodded. "Please take the stand and state your full name."

"John Jay Chamberlain. I go by my middle name, Jay."

Reisman stepped close. "Mr. Chamberlain, were you in the vicinity of Superman and Bill Church the night Mr. Church was killed?"

"I sure was."

"Would you tell us what happened that night?"

Chamberlain gave Superman a fierce glare before speaking. "I was operating the video conference equipment. I'm a certified electronics technician."

"So you were in the employ of Bill Church?"

"I was working for Cost Mart, actually."

"Thank you. Go on."

"The conference had just started when I noticed some interference on one of my channels. It felt like an earthquake at first, but it kept getting louder and stronger and closer, then Superman busted through the wall. I started to shut down the video and audio feeds like I'd been told, but Superman used his heat vision to burn my hands."

"So you were injured? Before Superman killed Bill Church?"

Jay leaned forward. "Yes! That — the guy nearly fried me! I was lucky to live through it!"

"What happened next?"

"I heard Mr. Church tell Superman he was trespassing and he should leave. Then Superman picked up Mr. Church and — and he — you saw what happened!"

"We did. What else, if anything, did Superman do?"

"He looked at the people in the monitors and told them he was coming to get them and if they made him look for them they'd be real sorry!"

Reisman backed away a step. "Those were the defendant's exact words?"

Jay waffled his head and hands. "Well, no, but I could tell that was what he meant."

"Very well. Mr. Chamberlain, do you see the man who did all those things in this courtroom right now?"

Jay's eyes blazed. "Yes! That's him right there!"

He pointed to Superman. Reisman turned and looked at the defendant, then nodded to Jay. "Thank you, Mr. Chamberlain." He turned to Connie. "Your witness."

Connie stood and smiled at the witness. "Mr. Chamberlain — do you mind if I call you Jay?"

"Go ahead. It's my name."

She smiled slightly. "Thank you. Jay, what exactly were you doing in the bunker that night?"

He frowned. "It wasn't a bunker, not really, just an underground office."

"Ah. Like Adolf Hitler's 'underground office' in Berlin in 1945?"

Reisman leaped to his feet. "Objection, Your Honor!"

Connie waved her hand. "Withdrawn." She stepped closer to the witness chair. "Exactly what was your job description that night?"

"I was responsible for the real-time video and audio transmissions. It was a real neat setup. Mr. Church could see and hear all those people and they could all see and hear each other." He smiled. "That was kinda my baby. You have to be careful with two-way audio, otherwise you get all kinds of feedback —"

"Thank you. You said your hands were burned?"

"That's right! That super-maniac nearly fried my fingers off!"

"Ooh, that's terrible, Jay. Tell me, how much work have you lost due to those injuries?"

He seemed to shrink in on himself. "Well, none, really."

"Oh? Why is that?"

"I — uh — I been out of circulation for a while."

"Out of circulation where?" He didn't respond. She leaned closer and spoke gently. "Jay? Where have you been for the last three years?"

He met her gaze and spoke harshly. "I been in prison, okay? All because of him!" He pointed at Superman. "That's the guy who —"

"You've already identified the defendant, Jay, we know who he is. Let's find out some more stuff about you. Have your hands healed or are they still damaged?"

He lifted them so she could see them clearly. "No, they're okay," he answered reluctantly.

She made a show of examining them. "Hmm. They don't look badly scarred."

He dropped his hands back into his lap. "They're all right, I guess."

"So there's no permanent damage, is there?"

He shifted in the chair. "No."

"So once you get out of prison, there's nothing physically stopping you from working in your chosen profession, is there?"

He hesitated, then said, "No, I guess not."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. Now, Jay, can you tell me what went on in that bunker — I'm sorry, in that office that night?"

"I — I wasn't really listening. I was watching my equipment, keeping everything running smooth, you know."

"Really? You don't know what Bill Church and his associates were discussing that night?"

"No." She stared at him, but he shook his head. "I swear to ya, I don't know!"

"You're telling us you had no idea that Intergang was being run from that bunker?"

"I never paid it no mind! I didn't do nothin' wrong!"

"You never did anything wrong there?"


"You just took money from thieves and murders, right?"

Reisman almost jumped over his table. "Objection, Your Honor!"

Connie lifted her voice. "Your Honor, this speaks to the witness's credibility. If he worked for people who broke the law on the scale that Intergang did, he had to know something about what they were doing."

Fields nodded in thought for a moment, then pointed his index and middle fingers together at the DA. "Objection overruled. Mr. Chamberlain, you may answer the question."

Jay fidgeted some more. "Look, all I did was make sure they could see and hear each other! I never talked to any of them and they never talked to me! I was paid to not listen, y'know what I mean? I never broke no laws!"

"I see." Connie turned and stepped towards her table, then stopped suddenly and spun around to face him again. "Jay, if you saw someone in an accident and you could stop to help but you didn't, wouldn't that be wrong?"

Jay's face lost some color. "I — I guess so."

"If you saw a child drowning in a public swimming pool and you didn't dive in to save her or at least yell out to the lifeguard, wouldn't that be wrong, too?"

"Yeah. Guess it would be."

"Then how can you sit there, knowing what Intergang did that night, and not tell us? Isn't that wrong?"


"Your Honor, it speaks to Superman's state of mind that night —"

Reisman interrupted. "The witness has no way of knowing what Superman was thinking at that point in time! He wasn't inside Superman's head!"

Fields nodded. "Objection sustained. Take another tack, counselor."

"Yes, Your Honor." She nodded and slowly walked towards the jury box while keeping one hand on the witness rail. "Tell me, Jay, did the district attorney promise you anything in exchange for testifying in this trial today?"

Reisman jumped to his feet. "Objection."

"Overruled. The witness will answer the question."

Connie leaned closer as Reisman sat down. "Jay? Did the DA promise you anything in exchange for your testimony?"

He grimaced, then nodded. "Yeah. He said I'd get some time off my sentence."

"How much time?"

He shrugged. "I was doing seven to ten for conspiracy. He said I could be out in three months or so."

"Is that contingent on a conviction?"


Connie smiled. "Is the deal good only if Superman goes to jail?"

"Oh, no. It's good no matter what happens at this trial."

"I see." She pursed her lips in thought. "What will you do when you get out, Jay? You obviously can't get a job with Mr. Church again."

He shrugged. "I'm still a good light and sound tech. There's lotsa bands I can work with."

"Oh?" She brightened. "You've done concert sound for big-name bands?"

"Sure. I worked for LNN as their main video tech for four years, too."

She took a step towards the witness box and stopped. "Jay, you said your hands were burned. How did that happen?"

"What do you mean, I said it? They were burned! Ask the doctors in the jail!"

She lifted her hands in a placating gesture. "Easy, Jay, easy. I don't doubt you were hurt that night. I believe you, I really do. Just tell us what happened, okay?"

He pointed at the defense table. "That big — Superman burned them! With his heat vision!"

"I see. He grabbed your hands and held them still while he burned them?"

"Well — no, not exactly."

"Not exactly? Please tell us what exactly did happen?"

"I was trying to close the feeds —"

"Wait. I thought you said that your job was to make sure the video and audio feeds stayed open."

"It was. But if somebody came in who wasn't supposed to be there, I'd shut off the signals to the transmitters and receivers."

"How long would that process take?"

"The way I had it set up, about four seconds."

"I see. So, you were trying to turn off the video and audio signals because — why?"

"Cause Superman was there. He wasn't supposed to be there!"

"Thank you, Jay. Please continue."

Jay frowned in thought, as though he suspected he might have said something he shouldn't have, but went on. "I started the shutdown process, but Superman fried the control panel and stopped me! That's when my hands were burned!"

"So Superman disabled the control console and your hands were burned because they were too close to the panel?"

Reisman tried to object again. "Your Honor, please!"

But Jay angrily lifted his hands in front of him. "He burned me! He burned my hands!"

"How badly?"


"Your Honor, I repeat my objection!"

Fields waved him back. "I think we're past that now, Mr. Reisman. Please continue, Ms. Hunter."

"Thank you, Judge. Jay, how badly were your hands burned?"

"I couldn't work! I couldn't even plug in a microphone!"

"You said the doctors in the jail treated you, right?"

"Yeah, they did."

"What was their diagnosis?"

"Diagno — oh, yeah. They said they was burned like to a first degree."

"First degree burns?" He nodded. "Like a bad sunburn?"

Reisman jumped up again. "Your Honor, I object! This witness is not a physician!"

Fields waved his hands before Connie could say anything. "Not this time, Jack. He's not diagnosing some exotic cancer. Mr. Chamberlain may answer the question."

He frowned. "Yeah. 'Bout like a nasty sunburn."

"But they're healed now, aren't they?"

"Yeah. Don't change what he did."

"But you'll be able to work when you do get out of jail, won't you?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

She smiled. "Good. I'm glad to see that you weren't permanently disabled."

Reisman stood again. "Your Honor, defense counsel is mocking the witness's injuries."

"No, Your Honor, I'm merely pointing out that his injuries were neither life-threatening nor disabling."

Fields nodded. "The prosecution's point is valid, Ms. Hunter. Please find another line of questioning."

"Of course, Your Honor." She slowly leaned close to the witness box. "Jay, did you see Superman kill Bill Church?"

Jay's eyes narrowed. "Yeah! He picked up Mr. Church with one hand and stuck his other hand inside him and yanked his heart right out of his chest! There was blood everywhere and Mr. Church screamed for a minute then just went slack like a dead cat!" He sat back. "'Scuse me for being so descriptive, ma'am."

"That's okay, Jay. Tell me, how did Superman seem to you at that time?"

"Aw, he was mad, real mad! Almost crazy, like outta control!"

"I see. So, after he killed Mr. Church, Superman killed some other people in the room?"

"Naw. He took off after the other folks Mr. Church was talkin' to."

"I see. Did Superman destroy the room itself, or destroy the contents of the room?"

He frowned. "You mean, did he trash the place?"

"Yes, that's what I mean."

He shook his head. "No. He just dropped Mr. Church's body, told the other people he was comin' to get them, and flew away."

"I see. He didn't kill you, of course."

"Course not! I'm still here."

"Did he kill the other people he went to find?"

"Uh — no, he didn't."

"Then Superman wasn't quite the out-of-control super-powered monster the District Attorney has been describing, was he?"

Reisman quickly got to his feet. "Objection, Your Honor!"

Connie lifted her hand. "Withdrawn." She turned and walked towards the jury box again. "Jay, you said you'd run sound for some important bands. Which bands might those be? Have I heard of them?"

His eyes widened. "I hope you have! I did Utopia's first national tour, and I worked with Carly Taylor in Boston back in '92, and Dave Masterson wanted me to go with him on his Europe tour but I didn't want to leave Mr. Church, and I did the Falcons' reunion tour a few years back —"

"The Falcons!" She perked up like a teenager. "I was at the Falcons' show here in Metropolis on that tour! They were great, weren't they?"

"Oh, yeah, that was a blast!"

"They are such a monster band."

"They can rock the house better'n anybody else I ever saw."

She giggled slightly. "I loved that opening number, 'Takin' It Simple.' That's one of my favorites."

He tilted his head to one side. "Oh, no ma'am, they did that song in the second set that night. They opened with 'Loving on Easy Street.'"

She frowned. "You sure about that?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure."

"Okay. But didn't they do 'California Living' for the second tune?"

"No ma'am, that was the fourth song. They did 'A Life in a Minute' second."

"Oh. I guess I'm remembering it wrong."

He grinned. "That's okay, ma'am, as long as you liked the show."

"I did. Tell me, Jay, did they do the same songs in the same order every night?"

"Not them guys! They changed it up every night to keep from getting bored and to keep the fans guessin' on what they'd play next."

"You remember that set list after all this time, Jay?"

"I remember all of them. I was the main sound man. I had to know what was going on."

"Really? Out of all the concerts they played during that tour, you remember the set list from each show?"

"Sure I do."

"But you don't remember what Bill Church was talking about that night?"

Jay's mouth fell open and stayed open for a long moment. Connie stood still and held his gaze until he closed it again. "Well — seems like I mighta heard somethin' that night."

"About what, Jay?"

He looked at Reisman, but there was no help for him there. After another long moment, he said, "Somethin' about people gettin' killed."

"Being killed for what, Jay?"

He sat back and deflated. "For messing around with Intergang's business."

"What kind of messing around?"

"Some investigation or somethin'."

"I see. So Mr. Church ordered more than forty murders because he didn't want to go to jail, right?"

"Objection, Your Honor!"

"Sit down, Mr. Reisman. The witness will answer."

Jay looked at his shoes. "Yeah. That's about it."

Connie straightened and spoke more sharply. "So Superman broke into a master criminal's lair, destroyed the audio-video controls and inadvertently burned the tech's hands, killed the one man responsible for more than forty deaths in that single evening, arrested the lieutenants without harming them, then left without killing or injuring anyone else, and without causing any additional property damage?"

Jay hesitated, but eventually nodded. "Yeah, that's right."

She smiled warmly at him. "Thanks, Jay. No more questions for this witness, Your Honor."

Ron nudged Lois in the side of her knee and whispered, "Wow. She's good. I just hope she never turns her talents to the Dark Side of the Force. She'd wipe us all out."

Lois nodded back. "That's for sure. Hey, maybe I'm up next."

Reisman stood. "Your Honor, we'd like to take a short recess before we call our next witness."

Fields looked at the clock on the wall. "Very well. Everybody be back in your places with bright shining faces at three o'clock sharp." He whacked his gavel again. "Court is in recess."


Chapter Twelve

Ron managed to get a pair of coffees from the courthouse snack bar while Lois called in to the office. He handed her a cup as she closed her phone.

"One coffee, straight up. Watch it, I think it's hot enough for a lawsuit."

She took a sip and flinched. "Bleah. It's hot, all right, but it's also burnt down to charcoal." She lifted her cup and examined it.

"What are you doing?"

Still looking at her cup, she said, "Checking for places where the coffee has eaten through the sides of the cup."

He chuckled and shook his head. "You don't have to worry about that. The melted wax coating inside the cup will clog your stomach and kill you before the acid melts your lower digestive tract."

"Oh, that's another wonderful visual that I could've done without."

He grinned. "Hey, at least one guy in your life has to cheer you up."

Her face lost all expression. "What are you talking about?"

He lost his grin. "Uh, sorry, didn't mean to say that."

"Well, now you have. Explain yourself."

He frowned. "I really don't want to —"

Her voice sharpened. "Too late for that. Now give."

"C'mon, Lois, I didn't mean —"

She barked out, "I don't care!" She glanced around at the people who were staring at them and lowered her voice. "Tell what you mean, Ron. Right now."

He drew in a breath, held it for a moment, then sighed deeply. "Okay. I can't help wondering where the loving and supportive Clark Kent is right now. His alleged close friend is on trial for his freedom and the woman he says he loves is alone with that weight. Now, I don't know Kent all that well, but if I did, I might take a poke at him when he gets back." He leaned in and lowered his own voice. "Assuming he ever does come back."

Lois was shocked. She couldn't tell if Ron was concerned about her as a friend and coworker, or if there was something else going on in his mind. Was Clark not as paranoid about Ron as she'd assured him he was? Did Ron feel something personal for her?

He apparently couldn't wait for her response. He backed off a step and waved his hand between them. "Forget it. Forget I said anything. I should've let you clock me instead of telling you that." He lifted his hands in supplication and softened his expression. "Lois, please forgive me. I'm sorry. Look, if you and Clark are satisfied, then who am I to butt in?"

"A friend."

She'd said it so softly, she wasn't sure he'd heard. Then an expression she recognized passed over his face. It was the same expression Clark had shown her when she'd told him, so many years ago, that she loved him as a friend or a brother, nothing more. She saw the little twinge of pain that launched itself from his heart to his head. She felt the impact of what she'd said as he recoiled a step.

She stared at him for a moment, remembering too many things to deal with at once. Then she handed her coffee cup to him without a word and stalked to the nearest ladies' room.

"Lois? Hey, boss lady, you okay?"

She paused at the door. "Just wait for me here, okay? I have to barf."

She didn't wait to see his shocked expression, she just slammed through the first open stall door she saw. She knelt before the porcelain altar and surrendered her offering to it, such as it was.

After several attempts by her already empty stomach to eject its contents, she relaxed and applied her energies to catching up on her breathing. She staggered to the sink, rinsed out her mouth, and managed to drink some water from her cupped hand. It seemed to help a little.

When she walked out of the bathroom, she looked around and saw Ron trotting across the hallway towards her, holding a small bag in one hand. He skidded to a stop in front of her and held the bag out. "There's a roll of antacid tablets and a fresh tuna wrap on wheat in here. You can have either or both. Your call."

She smiled brightly, touched by his obvious concern. "Ron, I — thanks. That's very thoughtful of you."

"Hey, you sign my timesheet, I gotta keep you healthy." He handed her the bag. "Or at least keep you upright."

She stopped and tried unsuccessfully to hide her grin, then she pulled out the tuna wrap and took an experimental bite. She swallowed it and waited for a moment, then said, "I think that'll stay down."

"Hope so. My guess is the stress of the trial combined with Kent being out of town is getting to you."

She turned away and took another small bite. "Yeah." She swallowed. "Maybe so." She took a step towards the courtroom, then stopped. "You got anything to drink? Besides that horrible not-coffee, I mean."

He held up his index finger in a wait-a-second gesture. Then he walked to the nearest water fountain, dumped out the remaining coffee, rinsed the cup, and refilled it with water. Then he presented it to Lois with a flourish.

"The lady has but to speak her wish and it is done."

She grinned. "Thanks again, Ron. Hey, isn't it about time to go back in?"

He glanced at his wristwatch. "About eight minutes. I'll go back in and save our seats if you want to finish your feast."

She lifted the tuna wrap. "I'll be there in five. What I don't eat I'll toss."

He sketched an offhand salute. "Gotcha."

As he walked away, she called out, "And thanks again, Ron."

He looked over his shoulder for a moment and grinned, then he was gone. Lois nibbled and sipped until she'd consumed more than two-thirds of the tuna wrap and most of the water. She saw people starting to group around the courtroom entrance, so she gulped the rest of the water and dropped the remainder of the wrap in the nearest trash can.

She'd deal with Ron's feelings for her later. How, she didn't know, but she would. She'd have to.


She got to the bench where Ron was holding her seat just as the bailiff called for everyone to rise, so she remained standing until Judge Fields whacked his gavel again. After all was quiet again, the judge said, "Mr. Reisman, is your next witness ready?"

He stood. "Yes, Your Honor. The prosecution calls Ms. Yolanda Chavez."

Lois turned to see her. Yolanda Chavez was a short, overweight woman in her mid-fifties. She stomped towards the witness box, pausing only long enough to turn and whisper something to Superman that only he could hear.

Lois couldn't see his face, but she did see him flinch. She could also see that the judge didn't like whatever it was that she'd said. He grabbed his gavel and whacked his bench twice. "Ms. Chavez! You will direct your remarks to the officers of this court. And you will speak English. Do you understand?"

She glared at him for a moment, then nodded sharply. "Si."

The judge's voice softened a bit. "Ms. Chavez, do you require a translator?"

She glared even more sharply. "No I do not require a translator! I am most fluent in English!"

"Good," nodded the judge. "Please make sure your testimony is in English. I happen to know that our court reporter can't transcribe in other languages. He doesn't have enough little buttons on his baby typewriter there."

Some of the spectators rewarded Fields with a murmured laugh. Chavez merely tossed her graying shoulder-length black hair behind her and stood beside the witness chair. The bailiff extended the Bible down to her and said, "Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I swear it."

"Please take the stand and state your full name."

"Yolanda Maria Consuela Guillermo Chavez." She leaned towards the court reporter. "Do you wish for me to spell that for you?"

Before the startled young man could reply, Fields banged his gavel again. "Ms. Chavez, that will be enough! I enjoin you to speak only in response to questions from either this bench or participating counsel, or I will be forced to hold you in contempt of court! Do you understand me?"

She sat back against the witness chair. "Si. I mean, yes, I understand."

"Good. Mr. Reisman, you may begin. But keep a lid on your witness."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Jack stepped in front of the box. "Ms. Chavez, where were you the night Bill Church was killed?"

"I was in my office in my home in Miami. There was a teleconference with Mr. Church."

"And what happened during that conference?"

"I was watching and listening, waiting for my time to speak, and suddenly there he is! This Superman breaks through the wall of Mr. Church's office and then he kills Mr. Church! He looks at the monitors and he tells the rest of us to remain where we are because he is coming after us!"

"And what did you think Superman meant by that remark?"

Connie leaped to her feet. "Objection, Your Honor, counsel is asking the witness to form conclusions from a single sentence she heard over a communications link."

Jack stepped back. "Your Honor, it's important to know how Superman's words were interpreted by others, especially in light of his actions preceding those words."

Fields lifted his hand to forestall any more discussion. Then he frowned in thought for a moment. "Objection overruled. The witness's thoughts and impressions in this context are valid testimony. You may answer the question, Ms. Chavez."

"Yes, Judge." She turned back to Jack, her eyes ablaze. "I think he means to murder me! He kills Mr. Church and now he is coming for the rest of us! He is coming for me! I think I am about to die!"

"What happened next?"

"A minute, perhaps two minutes, and Superman flies through my office and lifts me up in his arms. We fly so fast I can hardly breathe! I think he is about drop me to my death, but he takes me to the local FBI office and tells them to hold me because I am a lawbreaker! He says I am a criminal!" She leaped to her feet and pointed at Superman. "That is the man! That is the brujo who stole me from my home! He —"

Jack tried to calm her. "Easy, Ms. Chavez, easy. We believe you. Please sit back down." He turned to the courtroom and said, "Let the record show that the witness has identified the defendant. We have no more questions."

The court reporter lifted his hand and looked at his transcript tape. "Excuse me, Your Honor, but I don't know what a — a 'brew-hoe' is."

Yolanda leaned forward before the judge could respond. "It is Spanish for 'male witch,' what you might call a warlock, I think. It is spelled b-r-u-j-o. The 'j' is pronounced with an 'h' sound." She smiled condescendingly at him. "Now, young man, you know some Spanish."

Connie waited for the low rumble of laughter in the courtroom to end, then she stood and smiled at the shorter woman. "Ms. Chavez, you said you were in your office that night. What was your job with Cost Mart?"

She frowned. "I did not work for Cost Mart. I am — I was an attorney at law."

"I see." Connie stepped closer. "Were you directly employed by Mr. Church or one of Cost Mart's subsidiaries?"

"No. I was on retainer to Mr. Church personally."

"I see. So, he paid you himself?"

"That is what I said."

"In cash?"

Yolanda hesitated. "On one or two occasions, yes, I was paid in cash."

"Did you report that income to the proper State and Federal agencies?"

Jack stood. "Objection! The witness is not on trial here and the information is not relevant to this case."

"I withdraw the question." Connie nodded and crossed her arms. "What kind of work did you do for Mr. Church?"

"Legal consulting."

"On what kinds of things?"

Yolanda shook her head. "I cannot tell you. Attorney-client privilege is still in effect."

"But Mr. Church is dead."

Yolanda's voice hardened again. "His estate is not! The privilege attaches to the decedent's heirs, which in this case includes his estate, which is still in probate. You are a lawyer, you know this already."

Connie lifted her hands. "Okay. Can you tell us about the teleconference you were involved in that night?"


Connie dropped her arms and lifted her eyebrows. "No? Why not?"

"The same reason applies. Privilege attaches to the subject of the conversations."

Connie shook her head. "I think Judge Fields will back me up when I say that privilege does not attach if there are others involved in the conversation who are not part of the original relationship. Your Honor?"

Fields leaned towards Yolanda and said, "Defense counsel is correct, Ms. Chavez. The conversation you are being asked about is not covered under the statute because of the presence of others. You must answer the question."

Yolanda bristled. "But they were not in the room!"

"The other people involved in the teleconference were just as much in the room as you were. Besides, my ruling refers mainly to the technicians present that night. Their physical presence in the room voids the privilege. Answer the question."

Yolanda frowned fiercely and sat back with her arms crossed. Without looking at Connie or Judge Fields, she said, "I was preparing to present a status report on my recent activities."

"What activities were those?"

She looked at the floor. "Activities relating to my relationship with Bill Church."

"Your legal relationship, the attorney-client relationship, right?"

Yolanda looked up. "Yes."

"Okay. What activities were those, Yolanda?"

She opened her mouth, then shut it and shook her head. The judge said, "Ms. Chavez, you must answer the question."

Yolanda glared at him and responded, "Your Honor, I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that my answer may tend to incriminate me."

Connie's eyebrows tried to disappear into her hair. "You're pleading the fifth?"

Yolanda crossed her arms and pressed her lips shut. A low buzz filled the spectator's area until the judge whacked his gavel once more. "That's enough, people. Ms. Hunter, the witness may take the fifth if she chooses, so please move on to another question."

She nodded. "Ms. Chavez, are you receiving anything from the District Attorney in exchange for your testimony here today?"

Yolanda hesitated again, then muttered. "Yes."

"What are you receiving?"

She tried to stare down the defense attorney and failed. She blew out a long breath. "A favorable sentencing recommendation."

"Oh? Have you been convicted of a crime?"

"No." Instead of continuing, Connie waited. After a moment, Yolanda relented. "I myself am currently on trial."

"What are you charged with?"

"Conspiracy to murder."

"Whoa. Heavy." Connie turned and put her hands behind her, then meandered towards the jury box. "Is that all?"

"Is that not enough?"

Connie stopped. "That depends on what you did to get the law's attention. Are you charged with anything else, Yolanda?"

"Yes." Connie waited her out again. Chavez sighed and continued. "Fraud, illegal fund transfers, embezzlement, and several counts of racketeering under the Federal RICO statutes."

"So in essence, you're testifying against the man who brought you to the law's attention and who is responsible for you being on trial?"

Yolanda snorted. "If you say so."

"And the DA is going to go easy on you in exchange for your testimony?"

She finally met the other lawyer's gaze. "Perhaps your definition of 'going easy' is not the same as mine."

"Maybe not. Let's talk about that night and what Superman actually did, okay?" Connie stepped closer to the witness box. "You said you felt threatened that night. When Superman flew into your office, picked you up, and flew away with you, what did he say to make you nervous?"

Yolanda shrugged. "He says nothing. He only picks me up and flies to the FBI office."

Connie leaned forward in apparent surprise. "He didn't verbally threaten you?"

"Well — no, he did not."

"We saw in the videotape that he got some of Bill Church's blood on him. Is that what frightened you?"

"No. When he gets me, he has no blood on him. He is wet, like he has washed."

"But there was no blood on him?"

Yolanda shook her head. "No blood, no."

"When he picked you up, did he squeeze you until you passed out?"


"Did he act like he was going to squeeze you until you passed out?"


"Okay. Did he take you way up in the air and drop you and then catch before you hit the ground?"


"Did he take you way up in the air and pretend to drop you?"

"No, he did not."

"Did he fly a high-speed loop-the-loop and laugh at you as you clung to him in terror?"

Jack stood. "Objection, Your Honor, counsel is badgering the witness."

"Your Honor, I'm only trying to discover what Superman might have said or done to make the witness think he was planning to kill her."

Fields shook his index finger at the defense attorney. "Then I suggest you ask that question directly, Counselor."

"Of course, Your Honor." She turned to the witness box again. "Yolanda, what — if anything — did Superman say or do to you that night to make you think he was going to injure or kill you?"

Yolanda bristled. "I have already tell you! He kills Mr. Church and then tells me he is coming for me! And I do not know what he has already done with the others he has taken! What would you believe?"

Connie shrugged. "I guess, if I had a guilty conscience, I might —"

Jack popped up again. "Objection! Assumes state of mind not in evidence."

Connie shook her head. "Withdrawn. Yolanda, you're telling me you were afraid of Superman, but not because he said anything to you personally, and not because of anything he did to you, or did in your presence?"

"It is because of what he has done to Mr. Church that I —"

"Aside from that, Yolanda. Besides that, you're saying that Superman didn't do or say anything to you to frighten you, right?"

Chavez shifted nervously in the chair. "Yes, that is what I say."

"Thank you. Defense has no more questions for this witness."

Reisman stood. "Redirect, Your Honor?"

Judge Fields nodded. "Ms. Chavez, you say that Superman carried you while he flew?"

"Yes, that is correct."

"You testified that he didn't say anything to you. The defense has interpreted that to mean that he didn't threaten you directly. But did Superman say anything to you at all?"

"No, he says nothing to me."

"He didn't tell you where he was taking you?"


"He didn't reassure you that you'd be safe?"

"He did not."

"Were you frightened?"

Yolanda leaned forward. Her face hardened. "Yes, I was frightened! I had much fear that he would drop me from a great height and I would die! Or that he takes me to a place far away and leaves me there to die alone!"

"Thank you, nothing further."

Connie stood as Reisman sat. "Ms. Chavez, I'm confused. You said that Superman didn't say or do anything to make you think you were in danger, yet you were petrified by him. What was it about him that scared you so badly?"

"His face!" She grabbed the front rail of the witness box with all her might. "I see his face and I think he is going to kill me! I still see his face in my dreams! I see his face whenever I close my eyes! He was so angry! His eyes blazed with hatred! I was sure I would die!"

"You were afraid?"


"Of Superman?"

"Yes, yes!"

"Because he was angry?"

"He was so very angry! His face was fire!"

"Are you afraid of every person in Metropolis who might be angry?"

"What? No, I —"

"Do you walk down the street looking for angry people to be afraid of?"

"No, of course —"

"It wasn't Superman that frightened you that night, was it?"

"Yes! He —"

"Weren't you really afraid of what awaited you at the end of that flight?"


"Weren't you really afraid of being arrested and being tried for your many crimes?"

"No! No, it was the brujo who —"

Connie raised her voice. "It wasn't Superman you were afraid of, was it?" She clenched her fist and stepped forward. "It wasn't dying that scared you, was it?" She punched her fist into her free hand. "Wasn't going to prison what really scared you? Wasn't losing your license to practice law what really scared you? Wasn't facing the justice you swore to uphold but instead you were defying what actually frightened you?"

Yolanda stood and pointed at Superman again. "That man —"

Connie stepped closer, close enough to touch the witness. "That man brought you to justice! That man transported you to the law so you could be tried for the many laws you broke! And you were scared of him?" She lowered her voice to a steel whisper and leaned even closer. "Don't fear Superman unless you break the law, Yolanda. And if you do break the law — " she paused to take a breath " — the people will try you and convict you and send you to jail for a long, long time. Fear me, Yolanda!"

Connie gritted her teeth and leaned over the rail until Yolanda fell backwards into the chair. "You'd better fear me. Because I'm one of the people!"

Connie impaled Yolanda with her glare for a long moment, then turned and walked away without saying anything. Yolanda's face was damp with sweat and her breath was rapid and shallow. Judge Fields looked at her closely and asked, "Ms. Chavez, are you ill? Do you need a doctor?"

"What?" Yolanda's head snapped around to face the judge. "No, I — no, thank you, I will be well."

"Are you sure?"

"No. I — I mean, yes, I am sure. That I do not need a doctor. Thank you."

"As you wish. The witness is excused."

She stood shakily and made her way towards the gallery, where two female officers waited to escort her out. She grabbed the near arm of one of them to support herself until after they'd left the courtroom.

Fields picked up his gavel. "I think it's time to call it a day, ladies and gentlemen. This court is now in recess until nine o'clock tomorrow morning."

He whacked the gavel on the pad and stood. The immense chief bailiff called out, "All rise!" The courtroom was silent until the door to the judge's chambers closed, then everyone shuffled out quietly, leaving only the teams of lawyers, Superman, the bailiffs, and Lois, who waited beside the back door.

Jack and Melanie repacked their briefcases and left via the side door. Connie sat down at their table and watched dully while Blair collected their paperwork. Superman turned and saw Lois at the door. He took a quick breath, but just as quickly she shook her head sharply to tell him not to acknowledge her publicly.

Instead, he turned to his lead attorney. "Connie?" he asked. She didn't say anything. He gently touched her shoulder. "Connie, are you all right?"

Instead of answering, she stood and stormed past him. He looked at Blair questioningly, but she shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know what's wrong. I got an idea, but I want to talk to her first. You be here tomorrow at nine, okay?"

He turned to watch Connie slam through the door at the back of the courtroom. "You sure she'll be okay?"

"No. But even if she goes down, you still got me."

He turned to see Blair's bright smile against her ebony face, and he reflexively returned it. "Okay, you've convinced me. Go take care of her. I'll see you in the morning."

She walked out, carrying both briefcases, pausing only long enough for a quick greeting to Lois. Then she was gone.

With forced casualness, Superman walked to the back of the courtroom. "Hello, Ms. Lane."

She almost grinned. "I think you know me well enough to call me Lois."

He nodded. "Lois, then. How do you think the trial is going?"

She canted her head to one side. "Isn't that what I should be asking you?"

"Maybe. But I'm not exactly a disinterested observer."

Her voice was breathy. "Neither am I."

"Right." He put his hands behind his back and looked at the floor, then he said, "I wish I could put my arms around you right now."

"I know."

"I wish I could cry on your shoulder."

She shuddered as if struggling not to leap into his arms. "Me too."

He lifted his face to hers. "Lois —"

She stiffened. "No. You can't. You mustn't. There's too much at stake." She took a deep breath. "For both of us."

He straightened himself. "You're right. Doesn't make it any less excruciating, though."

"You're strong. You can handle this."

He rubbed his hands across his face. "This is harder than holding a cruise liner steady in a stormy sea."

"Hey, if it was easy, anybody could do it."

He chuckled ruefully. "I guess so. But you — sometimes I think you're so much stronger than I ever could be."

"I do what I have to do."

"Some philosopher once said that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. You getting stronger?"

She tried to smile at him. "I'll live."

He sighed and crossed his arms heroically. "Not sure I will."

This time she did smile. "Yes, you will. And we'll look back on this one day and laugh and cry about it all. And we'll do it together. But — " she hesitated " — but you have to go now. Besides, I still have work to do."

He nodded. "I know. Will I see you tomorrow morning?"

"Reisman called me in here today to testify. I assume he'll also want me here in the morning, so yes, I'll be here."

He nodded again. "Well, I'd better be going, then."

"Yes. Until tomorrow."

He offered to open the door for her, but she smiled gently shook her head. He nodded yet again and started through the door.

He barely heard her tearful whisper, "It's very hard for me, too." He stopped in the doorway for a moment, but didn't look back.


Chapter Thirteen

Jack Reisman and Melanie Welch stepped out of the courtroom together. "Your husband here yet, Mel?"

She shaded her eyes with her hand. "I don't see him. Wait, there he is."

"Good. See you in the office at eight tomorrow."

She paused and looked into his eyes. "Jack? Are you okay? You seem a little weary."

He sighed. "I am weary. This trial is a no-win situation."

"You could've given it to your chief assistant."

He shook his head. "Dennis would've done his best and lost, and I might've had to fire him when he was done because of the political pressure. This way, the public takes their anger out on me." He managed a wan smile. "Maybe you and your next boss will get along half as well as we do."

"Don't talk like that, Jack! You're not going anywhere."

"Come on, Melanie! Even if I don't get impeached — or maybe lynched — I sure won't be re-elected next fall. This trial's going to bust me back to teaching Intro to Contracts 101 no matter how it ends, and we both know it."

She opened her mouth but nothing came out. He patted his sister on the shoulder. "Go have dinner with Matt. Have a good time. Relax. Laugh. Go dancing." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Go find a good makeout spot and remind him just what a sexy lady he married."

She laughed. "Okay, Jack, you've talked me into it. See you tomorrow."

He watched her step into the minivan and then returned his brother-in-law's wave. He wondered if Matt and Melanie would let him stay with them until he found a new job.

A voice from behind his shoulder startled him. "She's the lucky one, isn't she?"

He spun around to find Connie Hunter grinning at him wryly. He put his hand to his chest and mimed distress. "Whoa, Connie, you're gonna kill me one day doing that."

"I doubt it. You have to have a heart before you can have a heart attack."

"Oh, that's just too cruel."

"I know." She dropped her gaze and scuffed her shoe on the concrete. "Did you set her up for me?"

"What? Set who up?"

"Chavez. Did you deliberately stick her out there on a limb, knowing I'd cut it off and let her crash and burn?"

He gave her a knowing smile. "Connie, you know better than that. I'm obliged to present all relevant evidence to the jury concerning the guilt of the defendant."

"Uh-huh. And the lady with too many names is a good witness?"

"Best I had at the moment."

She nodded. "I see."

"I thought you would. By the way, you let it get a little personal in there today."

"And you know why, too." Her face hardened. "I detest lawyers who bend the law for personal gain. I despise lawyers who use the courts to cover up their client's illegal activities. And I truly, deeply loathe a woman who pretends to be barely able to speak English just so she can appeal to the jury's sympathy for the poor, downtrodden immigrant who's made something of herself." She took a step towards him. "What's wrong with this picture, Jack? We're supposed to search for the truth! We're supposed to stand for justice and equality! Instead we've got these vultures —"

He lifted his hand. "Easy, Connie, easy. You know you have to maintain an emotional distance in order to pursue your case most effectively. It's one of the first things they teach you in law school."

She sighed. "Yeah, you're right, I should. But I can't step back. It eats at me, it consumes me, it takes it all out of me. I can't represent a client as an abstract. I have to make it mean something. It's always personal, especially when I deal with crooked lawyers like Yolanda Maria whatever."

"I know. I feel pretty much the same way."

"Then why don't you go after them? Why don't you put them out of business and stick them behind bars?"

He gave her an exaggerated shrug. "Then who'd defend the accused? Green kids who've just barely passed their bar exams on the fifth try?"

"Funny man." She assumed a thoughtful expression. "You know, that might not be such a bad idea after all. Maybe we'd clear out the backlog of cases."

"We don't make the rules, Connie, we just play the game."

She nodded. "I know. That's why I'm still just hanging on and you're not doing much better."

He nodded sadly. "All we can do is all we can do. Besides, if you and I quit, who'll take our places?"

"Melanie and Blair."

He frowned. "My sister's a good attorney, but she doesn't have that go-for-the-jugular attitude a good DA needs. I haven't told her this, but I'm hoping Matt can convince her to go back to private practice in a couple of years, after she fills out her resume some more. She should do civil or corporate law, not criminal prosecutions."

She sighed. "I know what you mean. Blair's very good, but she's a bit idealistic, too. I hope this trial doesn't do too much damage to her psyche." She rallied and smiled at him. "How about dinner after this is over? My treat."

A relaxed grin slowly spread over his face. "I thought you'd never ask."

A shout from the top of the steps pulled their attention upwards. "Well, Jack, I can see that Blair has found me, despite my best efforts at evading her. Time to head back to the salt mine that masquerades as my office and get ready to eviscerate your next witness."

Jack's smile vanished in an instant. "Watch yourself, Connie, or you'll have to visit your client in maximum security when you meet with him about his appeal."

He didn't wait for her response. He spun and stalked to the cabstand, trying to convince himself that he didn't dare ease up on this case. And he also tried to convince himself that his parting shot to Connie hadn't been personal, hadn't been thrown because he felt insulted by Connie's last teasing remark.

And if he somehow managed to win, what then?

As the cab door slammed shut and he gave his home address to the driver, he imagined a city without Superman in it.

The thought gave him no pleasure.


Lois came out of her bedroom after changing into jeans and sweatshirt and stopped. She hadn't had a chance to shop for groceries lately, so she was down to the kind of meager foodstuffs she'd stocked back when she'd first met Clark. Unless she went out to either shop or eat, she'd have to finally open that last can of tuna.

She was searching in vain for a jar of unspoiled mayonnaise when her Windsor Castle door chime rang. Stupid English doorbell, she thought. Ought to ignore it.

The bell rang again. She sighed and made her way to the door. When she peeked through the spy hole, she was greeted by the sight of a pizza box top. One of the hands holding the box also held a plastic grocery bag, out of the top of which peeked at least two large soft drink bottles.

Reasoning that a burglar, a rapist, or a serial killer wouldn't bring dinner and beverages with him, she opened the door.

An overly cheery voice called out, "Hey, boss lady! You hungry yet?"

"Ron?" She stepped back and let him in. "Why are you here?"

"I figured you'd be hungry after today, and I overheard you tell Catharine this morning how bare your cupboard was, so I thought I'd surprise you."

She blinked. "You did that."

"I got two mediums, one half pepperoni and half hamburger, and one half extra cheese and half supreme. Hope you like part of it, at least."

"It sounds delicious, Ron, but —"

He headed for the kitchen. "Hey, you got ice? These bottles aren't cold."


The tone of her voice stopped him in his tracks. He turned to face her. "Yes?"

She sighed. "Ron, this is very thoughtful of you, but I'm not sure we should be having dinner together in my apartment."

He put the pizzas and soda on the kitchen table, then turned back to face her again. "Look, Lois, this is just a guy trying to do something nice for his boss, a woman he respects and cares about. That's all, I promise."

She shook her head. "I don't know —"

He held up his hand. "I'll make you a deal. We have pizza, we talk, we watch TV, and when it's time to go I'll go. That's your call. No pressure, I promise."

She frowned in thought. He waited for a long moment, then sighed deeply and nodded. "That's okay. I understand. Lois, I don't know what you thought I meant this afternoon, but I don't have romantic aspirations where you're concerned. You got Clark and he's got you. I respect that, really I do. Besides, you're not my type."

Her eyes and mouth dropped open. "What? What's wrong with me that I'm not your type?"

His eyes crinkled. "Aside from the fact that Kent wouldn't like knowing that you even asked me that question, my type of woman is one who doesn't sign my annual job performance review. I'd hate to think my business relationship with my girlfriend also determined whether I took her to the Skyview Tower for dinner or to the nearest Burger Whiz."

Lois allowed herself a light chuckle. "As appetizing as tuna with no mayo might be, pizza and soda it is. I don't suppose you brought breadsticks, too?"

"Are you kidding? Do you know how fattening those things are?"


Superman flew slowly through the night sky, checking for landmarks along the way. He'd foiled a robbery earlier by just landing beside the store being broken into. The two thieves had looked at him in astonishment, sighed, and simply handed him their tools and sat down against the side of the building to await the police. Superman had made sure the officers knew that the men, while they might be burglars, probably weren't violent offenders and hadn't tried to resist him or run away. The two men had wisely cooperated with the arresting officers and were now awaiting arraignment in night court.

He wished all his adventures would end like that — no fuss, no muss, nobody hurt or even excited. He hadn't even touched those two men.

Both of them had looked familiar to him. He wasn't sure, but perhaps they'd been in the holding cell with him and Tiny. If so, he almost hoped they'd catch a break and maybe learn something. Jail wasn't a pleasant place, and they had a much better chance of staying out of jail if they didn't try to rob people or places of business.

Without really meaning to, he found himself drifting low over Lois's apartment building. He told himself he'd only stop in for a few minutes, then he'd have to zip over to the Philippines and do some real work as Clark as well as get some sleep before returning to court the next morning. He angled himself to look through Lois's wall without looking through any of the neighboring apartments.

It wasn't like her old place, where he had to fly up and tap on her window. This place had a balcony where he could land and step quickly out of sight before tapping, and he suddenly realized he'd forgotten the balcony was there the night he'd come over after saving the cruise ship.

The thought gave him a chuckle, but then it vanished as he thought about Lois. He hoped she wasn't hurting too much, but then, if the condition of his own heart was any indication, she might be drowning in a puddle of tears by now. He'd just sneak a quick look and —

And she was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, holding her stomach in hysterical laughter. A half-empty bottle of soda stood on the living room table beside an open pizza box and between two plastic cups.

Two cups? Who else was there?

He raised the angle of his X-ray vision and saw Ron Dombrowski on the far end of the couch, also bent over in laughter.

Ron and Lois.

Lois and Ron.

So that was — whatever it was. And it didn't look like there was room for him in there.

He didn't blame her, not really. She'd told him how hard it was for her. She'd made it clear that she wanted certain things from him, assurances of the future he wasn't sure he could give to her and remain honest. Maybe it was better that she not wait for him. He'd heard about relationships that had been shredded by prison time, families that were torn apart, friendships that had ended, and hearts that simply stopped beating because a loved one was taken away. The last thing he wanted for Lois was for her to waste her life waiting for him.

And if Superman went to prison, Clark Kent would have to disappear. There was no way to maintain both identities from inside the Big House, in the slammer, up the river, in the joint, behind bars, as an involuntary guest of the state, whatever euphemism one might choose. No, a guilty verdict would spell the end of his civilian life, and the end of any relationship he might have had with Lois.

Then, when he finally got out of prison, Superman would retreat to some remote mountain where he could spend the remainder of his days alone, doing whatever good he could, as long as it didn't involve getting involved with people. The red-and-blue suit would vanish, and the hero would eventually fade into half-remembered history, mentioned only on quiz shows and in trivia games.

He closed his eyes and lifted away from the building. The Philippines were a long way off and he needed to do some real reporting while he was there. Maybe he could take his mind off his problems with some real-world work. At least, as long as he was still free.

>>> Wednesday, September 24th

Superman answered Clark's cell phone while hovering in the sky between Metropolis and Smallville. "Hello?"

"Superman! This is Connie Hunter! How fast can you get to the DA's office?"

"Um, about two minutes. Why?"

"Jack Reisman wants a meeting with us before the trial starts today. Blair and I are about ten minutes away from the courthouse. I hope you can meet us there."

"I can. As soon as I see you reach the top of the steps outside, I'll join you and walk in with you. Don't be surprised if I seem to appear out of nowhere beside you."

"Okay. See you in ten — no, in nine minutes. Bye."

He flipped the phone shut and coasted the rest of the way. He'd intended to make a quick patrol, but the timing of this meeting was promising. If the DA wanted to drop the charges, that would work almost as well as an acquittal.

He watched for Connie and Blair, and when they reached the top of the stone steps leading up to the courthouse entrance, he swooped down and silently appeared behind them as if he'd teleported there.

He didn't often show off with his powers, but he couldn't help enjoying the expressions on the faces of the people — mostly media — who'd nearly swallowed their tongues at his seemingly magical appearance. He glanced down and saw Blair nudge Connie, who grinned back and said, "Well, you know, Blair, it isn't every day those folks get to see the country's best lawyer tandem in person."

Blair laughed musically. "Havin' the world's most visible client tagging along behind don't hurt much neither."

They were past the reporters before anyone could jump in front of them and point a microphone in their faces, and a determined pose from Superman kept the jackals from following the trio into the building.

Jack met them in the hallway and hustled them into a side conference room. "Everyone sit, please. Thanks for coming in on such short notice."

Connie leaned her elbows on the table. "Let's make it quick, Jack. I missed breakfast because of this and I'm hungry."

He gave her a lopsided grin and nodded. "Sure. I can tell that this trial is pretty much a no-win situation for all of us. If I win, I'm liable to be vilified as the man who put Superman behind bars, and if I lose, I'll be the guy who let a celebrity off just because he's a celebrity." He stood and put his hands in his pockets. "Connie, win or lose, this won't be a career-making case for you or for Blair. A lot of people expect you to win, so you won't get much of a boost if you win an acquittal, and if the jury returns a conviction, you two will be the dirty so-and-sos who let a superhero go to jail."

Connie tilted her head to one side. "So what's your suggestion, Jack?"

"We settle. We reduce the charges to trespassing and simple assault, sentencing recommendation of three years probation, Superman pleads guilty, and his record will be expunged upon completion of the probationary period." He resumed his seat. "What do you say?"

Connie leaned back and picked at a non-existent piece of lint on her skirt. "I say, why?"

"What do you mean, 'why'? I'd think that was obvious."

She lifted her eyes to him again. "It is. You're trying to salvage your career from a lousy situation and you're willing to tarnish my client in order to do it." She looked around. "Is there a reason your sister isn't here?"

Jack frowned. "She's prepping our next witness."

"Lois Lane?"

Jack scowled at her. "Not that it makes any difference to you, but yes, Lois Lane is the first witness we were planning to call today."

"So, you're ready to go forward if we don't accept your oh-so-generous offer?"

He exhaled noisily. "Connie, we go back a ways together. You know me and you know I want justice done just as much as you do. I promise you, this isn't a trap. It's not a bad deal, it's a good one. All I'm trying to do is stop the avalanche of bad publicity for your client."

Connie looked deep into his eyes for two long breaths, then turned to Superman and whispered, "It's really not a bad deal, not bad at all. What do you think?"

Superman leaned close to her ear. "Do you trust him?"

"Jack will try to whipsaw crooked lawyers and pressure guilty defendants, but he won't lie to them and he's not lying now. Yes, I trust that he's telling the truth about his reasons and about the deal."

Superman looked at Blair, who nodded agreement. He sat back and frowned in thought for a long moment, then lifted his gaze to the DA. "Mr. Reisman, thank you for your offer."

Jack exhaled in relief, then began to stand. "I'll have Melanie start the paperwork and notify the judge of the deal —"

"But I can't accept."

Jack froze in position. "What?"

"I'm sorry, I can't accept this deal."

His jaw fell open and he flopped down onto the chair. "You — can't accept it?"

"No. I'm sorry."

Jack leaned forward and gestured with both hands. "For crying out loud, why not?"

"I don't want a deal. I want to be either exonerated or convicted. No middle ground."

Jack shook his head as if trying to clear it. "Hey! I put my reputation and my relationship with Judge Fields on the line with this offer! I'm trying to save us all a lot more grief!"

"I know that, sir, and I appreciate your efforts." Superman stood. "But I simply can't accept any deal that includes my pleading guilty to any criminal act. If I walk out of court with a criminal record, the people of Metropolis will be the ones who make it happen, not me." He crossed his arms. "I won't volunteer to be convicted of any crime."

Jack shook his head, still astounded. He looked at Connie and asked, "Were you conscious when you took this case?"

Connie and Blair both tried to hide their grins. "Yes, Jack. And we'll be conscious when the smoke clears and we're standing tall at the end." She stood and turned to Superman. "Come with me, young man. I haven't eaten breakfast yet and I'm famished. I must have sustenance in order to defend you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Blair, you coming?"

"Naw, you two go ahead. I'm gonna make sure we get a good seat."

Connie grinned. "Good idea. You ready, Superman?"

He nodded. "As long as you're buying, sure." At her surprised expression, he explained, "Where do you expect me to carry money in this suit?"


They found a booth with no one sitting on either side, and the rest of the morning diners did their best to stay away from Superman and his attorney. Connie dug into her ham and eggs while Superman sipped his apple juice and played with a plate of extra-crisp bacon. "You really were hungry, weren't you?" he asked.

She nodded and gulped at her milk. "I'd like to think this is something I'd eat every day if I were a farmer."

"So you don't eat like this on a daily basis?"

"Are you kidding? Lawyers don't burn many calories writing briefs, filing motions, and negotiating contracts. A daily breakfast like this and I'd look like that sleazy little weasel over there."

He looked in the direction of her gesture. "You mean Mike Petersen?"

"Didn't know his name. Medium height, Caucasian, mid-forties or a little more, somewhat pot-bellied and wide in the rear end, bad haircut, glasses too small for his face, poorly fitted tan sports coat, dull white shirt, dark slacks and socks, and badly scuffed brown loafers. He's sitting near the register, trying very hard not to look at us."

Superman smiled. "I'd think that last would describe about everybody in the place."

"They don't get many superheroes in here."

He picked up a piece of bacon and chewed it thoughtfully. "Not too bad. A little greasy, though. My mom wouldn't have served this without draining it better."

"Your mother doesn't cook here, which doubtless makes her a certified genius." She pointed to his apple juice. "You ordered it, you drink it, okay?" She took another bite and chewed it quickly. "We don't have much time. The judge will walk back into the courtroom at ten sharp."

He chomped down on his bacon and washed it down. "You're the lawyer."

"Yeah, about that." She paused and looked directly at him. "Tell me something. Why did you turn down Jack's offer? If you were any other defendant, I'd strongly advise you to take it and be thrilled."

"I'm not just any defendant."

"No, you're not, but it was still a good offer."

"You think I should have accepted?"

"That's your decision. All I can do is represent you and advise you."

"But you're not sure I made the right decision?"

She stuffed the last of her toast into her mouth and chewed enthusiastically. "There's no guarantee in any jury trial. If I had to guess at this point, I'd say you have at least an eighty percent chance of being acquitted."

"It's going that well?"

She shrugged. "Unless Jack can pull a shocking witness or a boatload of incriminating evidence out of his hat at the last minute, yes, especially when we start presenting our own witnesses." She cut the last piece of ham into bite-sized pieces. "Why? You worried?"

He frowned and looked at the table. "Not specifically about the trial, no."

"Then what?"

He looked briefly at the people nearest them and decided they weren't close enough to overhear. "I'm not sure I made the right decision."

"About Jack's offer? I can call him back. I'm sure he —"

"No. Not about the offer."

She put down her silverware and gave him her full attention. "Superman, what do you think you might have made the wrong decision about?"

He hesitated, then said, "About Bill Church."

She leaned forward and spoke quietly but forcefully. "You are about three-plus years too late to be thinking about that. What's done is done and you can't change it now. All you can do is deal with the consequences."

"I —"

"Listen to me! I'm not your confessor, your conscience, or your judge. My function is not to determine your guilt or innocence, but to represent you to the best of my ability in a court of law. If you have moral doubts about your past actions, congratulations! It means you're just as human as the rest of us."

He frowned in thought. "I thought at the time that I had to make sure he couldn't hurt anyone else. I didn't want anyone else to die. All I could think of at that moment was to make sure he couldn't be responsible for any more deaths."

Connie exhaled sharply. "I understand that! Believe it nor not, I'm in favor of capital punishment for some crimes, mass murder being one of them. The deliberate, unprovoked taking of one or more lives is abhorrent to me. God can forgive people like that, but the state has to bring them to justice. Bill Church falls in that category, Superman. He was responsible for the commission of more than forty murders on that one night, and I don't know how many more during the years before."

"That doesn't mean I —"

"Hey!" She grabbed his forearm with both hands and squeezed with all her might. "I said I wasn't your judge and I'm not! And I detest vigilantes who think they know more than all the courts and judges and citizens who participate in the legal process. But given the provocation, the circumstances, and the whole situation, I think you did the right thing that night."

He nodded. "Thanks. But I'm still not sure I did."

She relaxed her grip. "Then deal with it however you need to, but do it after the trial. The people of Metropolis will decide the issue of your guilt for the charge of murder in the second degree. The question of the morality of the deed is up to you, and I'm sure we'll hear from a whole bunch of people who think they know the absolute right answer. They'll be on each side of this issue, and nothing anyone says will change their minds."

"I know that. I just — " His head popped up and he leaned to one side for a moment, then Connie felt a 'whoosh' and suddenly Superman was standing beside the table with the lumpy man she'd pointed out a few minutes earlier.

Superman was holding the smaller man by the collar of his coat and one forearm. "Connie, this is Mike Petersen. He works for the National Daily Whisper, a newspaper quite unlike the Daily Planet. I don't think you two have met."

She leaned back and crossed her arms. "I gather that your introduction isn't a mere social nicety."

"It's not." He reached into Petersen's jacket and pulled out a tape recorder connected to a long tubular device. "He had a shotgun microphone trained on us. This is a recording of our conversation."

She held out her hand. "May I?"

"Of course."

Petersen finally roused himself. "Hey, that's private property!"

Connie impaled Petersen with a laser glare. "So what? You were using it to record a private conversation without the knowledge or consent of those being recorded. That's a Federal offense as well as a violation of state law." She opened the recorder and dropped the tape into her hand. "Let's see, should I give this to Jack Reisman, let the Federal prosecutor know about it, or just keep it and sue you and your bird cage liner of a newspaper for every nickel any of you might have stashed in some piggy bank somewhere?"

Petersen paled, and his eyes grew immense. "Look, lady, I was just doin' my job! I got a right to make a living!"

Superman reached under the back of his coat and pulled out a second recorder. "Not if it violates the rights of others, you don't."

"You're a public figure, Superman! Anything you do is news!"

"Then write about this, Petersen." Superman crushed both tape recorders, the microphone, and the second tape into tiny plastic and metal fragments, then let them slowly dribble between his fingers and down to the floor. Connie looked at the tape in her hand, sighed, and handed it to Superman, who persuaded it to join its brother in magnetic tape heaven.

Connie looked down at the pile of rubble and made 'tsk-tsk' noises. "What a shame. I guess they don't make unlawful eavesdropping equipment like they used to." She stood and gathered her belongings. "Oh, Mr. Petersen? If you try to publish anything you might have overheard using your illegal surveillance equipment, I will gleefully sue you and your boss and your paper and your publisher and anyone else remotely connected to your sleazy enterprise. The resulting scandal will make the Preston Carpenter fiasco look like a child's first birthday party." She stepped close and drove her gaze upward into his face. "Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Petersen tried to step back, but Superman's thumb in the center of his spine prevented him from moving. "Answer the nice lady, Mike."

Petersen licked his lips, then nodded. "Yeah. You're clear."

Connie leaned even closer and her voice hardened. "And nothing of this will appear in print, will it, Mr. Petersen?"

Petersen gasped as he leaned against the steel thumb held in place against his spine. He looked at Superman, who only gazed back impassively. He turned back to the diminutive but terrifying woman in front of him. "Yeah. Okay. Deal. Nothing in print. I didn't hear anything anyway." She didn't move for a moment. "C'mon! I swear it! It was all on the tapes! I didn't have an earpiece and he still spotted me!"

She stepped back and smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Petersen. I'm pleased to have made your acquaintance. Perhaps we can do lunch some day."

He felt the pressure disappear from his back and heaved a great sigh. "Yeah. Great. Lunch."

Connie gathered Superman with a hand gesture. "Have your people contact my office and we'll set a date. Sorry I can't stay and chat, but I do have an appointment with a judge. Toodle-oo."

Petersen watched them leave. When both had vanished from his sight, he glanced down at his pulverized equipment. Then he pulled a grubby handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his sweaty face dry. He sighed in relief that he wasn't in pieces on the floor beside his stuff.

He knew what Superman could do. More importantly, he knew what Superman would not do, at least not to him. He could take whatever the hero chose to dish out, because his ethics would prevent him from doing anything permanently damaging. But that woman scared him stiff. He was far more frightened of the attorney than the client.

And he had no idea what he'd tell his boss about the loss of the tape recorders.


Chapter Fourteen

"— and Jack will probably call Lois this morning, so you'll have to make sure you don't signal her at all or even make eye contact. We don't want the jury to infer that she's on your side and that she's not telling the whole truth."

"I understand. I promise I won't — " he broke off and stopped in his tracks.

Connie spun on her heel and backtracked to him. "What's wrong?"

His head was angled as if he were listening to something only he could hear. "High-rise apartment fire. Dozens trapped on the upper floors, maybe as many as a couple of hundred."



"What? Rio de Janeiro? In Brazil?"

"Yes. It's a bad one, otherwise LNN wouldn't be covering it live."

"But you're due in court in twelve minutes! This is important!"

"Those lives are important too, Connie. Please! Ask the judge for a recess or a continuance or whatever it was he talked about."

"But —"

He looked at her pleadingly. "I'm sorry. I have to go. Tell Judge Fields I'll be back as quickly as I can."

She drew in a breath to protest, but there was no one beside her to talk to. He'd vanished without a whisper.

"Nuts." She sighed. "I sure hope the judge is in a good mood today."


"All rise. State Supreme Court of New Troy, Section Eleven, now in session, the Honorable Judge Charles Walter Fields, presiding."

Fields made his way to the bench and looked around as he sat. "Ms. Hunter? Where is your esteemed client?"

Connie remained standing. "I apologize for his absence, Your Honor. He heard a news report of a dangerous fire in Brazil a few minutes ago and felt he was needed there to save lives."

Reisman stood also. "Your Honor, I ask that the defendant be remanded into custody due to his non-appearance today."

"What? Your Honor, we have the privilege of asking for a recess should Superman be needed at a life-threatening emergency. The defense now asks for such a recess."

"Your Honor —"

Fields lifted his hands. "Easy, Jack. I thought this would happen, although I didn't think we'd have to wait this long. Ms. Hunter, do you have any objection to proceeding with prosecution testimony while we await Superman's return?"

"No, Your Honor, the defense —"

"Your Honor! The prosecution protests this cavalier attitude towards the defendant!"

The judge whacked his gavel once. "That's enough. I'm making a ruling, one which the prosecution may protest in writing to the state judicial ethics board if the DA so desires, but I'm ruling that we move forward with the case instead of waiting for Superman to return. If the defendant were a cardiac surgeon called out of court to operate on a dying patient, I think we'd all be inclined to grant him some latitude."

"Your Honor, in light of your ruling, the prosecution would strongly prefer to wait for the defendant's return before proceeding."

"Let's not waste everyone's time, Jack. If he doesn't come back, you'll have enough ammunition to file for a judicial decision to remove me from the case if you want to. Now, let's get going."

Reisman shook his head and glanced at his sister. Melanie nodded and handed him a yellow legal pad. Without looking at the pad in his hand, he said, "The prosecution calls Lois Lane to the stand."

Lois stood and strode firmly to the witness stand and waited for the bailiff to hold the Bible in front of her. She repeated the oath and took the stand, then stated her name.

Melanie Welch stood to question her. "Ms. Lane, what is your current occupation?"

"Managing editor for the Daily Planet."

"Then you are familiar with the events which took place on the night in question?"


"Were you working for the Daily Planet on that date?"

"No. I was Metropolis bureau editor for the Washington Standard. I had begun in that position less than a month before."

"Where were you that night?"

"I was across the street from the district attorney's office, waiting to meet one of my reporters."

"Which reporter was that?"

"Laura Nyugen."

"And did you meet with Ms. Nyugen?"


"Please tell us in your own words what happened next."

Lois shifted on the seat and swallowed. "It was around eight p.m. I happened to meet Clark Kent at the corner of Main and Central where Laura and I were planning to meet. I gave him a map of Intergang's underground control center —"

Melanie interrupted. "I'm sorry, Ms. Lane, but why did you give Mr. Kent that map?"

"So he could give it to Superman."

"But I thought you were closely acquainted with Superman."

"I am, but Clark is closer. At least, he was closer at that time."

"And that's why you gave Mr. Kent the map?"


"Would Superman have known where to find Bill Church without that map?"

Lois jerked slightly in surprise. "I — I don't know. I assume so."

"But you're not sure?"

"No. Frankly, I never thought about it before."

"Thank you. Please continue."

She glanced at Reisman, who was staring at his sister with eyes wide open. "Um. I gave the map to Clark and we talked for a moment about Bill Church being head of Intergang and that the various law enforcement agencies were about to clobber them. That's when Laura Nyugen stepped out of the shadows and pointed a gun at us."

"Why did she do that, Ms. Lane?"

"She said she was a paid assassin for Intergang and that she was getting a bonus for killing Clark."

"A bonus?" Melanie frowned and crossed her arms. "Who was her main target?"

"I thought it was me, but then she told us she wanted me there to see the show."

"What show was that?"

Lois took a deep breath. "She told us she was about to kill Mayson Drake. She'd maneuvered me there to see it happen before she killed me."

"She obviously didn't kill you, Ms. Lane. What happened next?"

"Clark and I realized at the same time that Mayson's car must have been booby-trapped. Clark took off across the street and Laura shot at him. Superman appeared and stopped the bullets, then tried to save Mayson, but he was too late. The bomb —"

Lois's voice caught in her throat. Melanie stepped closer to the witness box and spoke softly. "Take your time, Ms. Lane. Do you want something to drink?"

Lois shook her head and took a deep breath. "No, I'm fine."

"Very well. Please continue."

"The bomb blew up and killed Mayson. Superman pulled her out of the car and put the fire out. Clark held her body in his lap for a few seconds, then Superman threw his head back and screamed."

Melanie squinted and stepped forward. "He screamed? What did he say, Ms. Lane?"

Lois shrugged. "It was inarticulate, just a loud, piercing sound. The scream broke windows and set off car alarms all around. When it stopped, I was lying on the sidewalk next to Mayson's body."

"Oh? How did you get there?"

"When Laura shot at Clark, I kicked the gun out of her hand. We wrestled for it and it went off and killed her. Then I crossed the street to see if I could help Mayson." She looked down. "I couldn't."

Melanie reached for a thin stack of paper on the prosecutor's table. "Your Honor, this is the police report taken from Lois Lane that night at the scene. We'd like to enter it into evidence as People's Exhibit six."

The court clerk accepted the package, and Melanie turned back to Lois. "What happened next, Ms. Lane?"

"Superman's scream was so loud that I was deaf for a few minutes. An EMT treated the cut on my chin and two broken fingers I'd gotten in the fight. A police officer took me home."

"What about the tape that was shown at the beginning of this trial, Ms. Lane? Are you familiar with its contents?"

"Yes. Including the parts you refused to show."

Melanie immediately turned to the judge. "Your Honor, the prosecution moves to strike the witness's last comment."

Fields nodded. "The jury will disregard the witness's last statement."

"Thank you." Melanie turned back to Lois. "When did you see this video, Ms. Lane?"

"Later that night. The Metropolis chief of police called a number of media representatives to a — I guess you'd call it a private screening."

"What did you think when you saw it?"

Connie popped up. "Objection, the witness's thoughts are not evidence."


Melanie nodded and pursed her lips in thought. "Ms. Lane, did you watch Superman kill Bill Church?"

"There were about thirty of us in the room that night. We all saw it."

"Do you have any doubt that the tape represents a factual narrative and has not been tampered with or altered in any way?"

Connie popped up again. "Objection! The prosecution is asking the witness to comment on items not in evidence."

"Sustained. Move along, Ms. Welch."

"Yes, Your Honor. Tell me, Ms. Lane, did the newspaper you worked for at the time — the Washington Standard — take an editorial position that condemned Superman's actions that night?"


"Were you not relieved of your duties at that paper because you disagreed with that editorial position?"

"That wasn't the only reason."

"But it was a reason, wasn't it?"

Lois frowned. "Yes, that was part of it."

"So you defended Superman in your editorial the next day in opposition to your bosses?"

"Not exactly, no."

Melanie's head whipped around as if she'd been surprised. "What — never mind." She took three slow steps in front of the witness box, then said, "Nothing further for this witness."

Connie stood. "Ms. Lane, what was the content of your editorial that day?"

"I took the position that Superman was wrong to do what he did, but that if anyone deserved to die, it was Bill Church. I wrote that vigilantism is against the law for many good reasons, but that Superman's actions that night were excusable under the circumstances."

"But not justified?"

"No, I didn't write that."

"How about now?"

"Excuse me?"

Connie moved to the jury box. "What do you think now? Do you think Superman's actions were justified?"

Melanie leaped to her feet. "Objection, Your Honor! The witness's opinions are not evidence."

Connie lifted her hands outward. "But she's your witness, Mel!"

"It's still not evidence!"

The judge slammed his gavel once and waited for the echoes to die away. "Counselors, you will direct your remarks to the bench when an objection is made. Assuming, of course, you have something pertinent to say." He shifted on the chair and stretched his left arm. "Doggone arthritis. Makes my elbow stiff. Anyway, the objection is sustained. Ms. Hunter, please move on."

"Yes, Your Honor. Tell me, Ms. Lane, when you told Ms. Welch 'not exactly' in response to her question about your editorial, what did you mean?"

Lois frowned. "She asked me if I defended Superman in print. I did not. I did call for him to surrender himself to the authorities so this whole situation could be resolved legally."

"I see. What about you losing your job at the Standard?"

She shrugged. "I'm not sure I would have lasted very long there no matter what happened. I'm not a very enthusiastic player of political games in the workplace."

"I sympathize. What was the actual cause of your departure from the Standard?"

"The political games I mentioned. I hadn't been there long enough to build a network of allies who'd protect me from getting clobbered if I butted heads with my boss. The Superman editorial that I wrote wasn't the only thing, but it was the most important thing in the eyes of the board of directors."

"I'm still not sure I understand. Isn't an editorial position supposed to come from the editor?"

Melanie stood again. "Objection, Your Honor. This has nothing to do with this case."

Connie responded immediately. "On the contrary, it involves the reactions of both ordinary citizens and those who were and are directly involved in the case. Your Honor, knowing what happened both preceding and as a direct result of Superman's actions will help us to understand the complete context of those actions."

Fields nodded. "As long as you stay on task, Ms. Hunter."

Melanie sat down hard. Connie ignored her. "Ms. Lane? Please answer the question."

Lois took a deep breath. "An editor should write his or her own editorials, yes, but the management of the newspaper sets the tone for the editorial opinion page. An editor who violates that tone risks a lot."

"I see." Connie took a step back. "But your editorial didn't toe the party line, did it?"

"No, it didn't."

"Why did you take that risk? Was your motive a personal one?"

"No. If I believed that Superman had deliberately murdered someone I'd rail against him with every syllable. I wouldn't rest until he'd been brought to justice. My friendship with Superman is important to me, but justice is more important."

"I see." She put her hands behind her back and slid towards the jury box. "You mentioned giving a map of Intergang's headquarters to Clark Kent. You also said you didn't think Superman would have been able to find that headquarters without the map, correct?"


"Then it's highly unlikely that Superman had planned in advance to kill Bill Church that night, isn't it?"

Melanie popped up again. "Objection! The witness is being asked —"

Connie lifted her hands. "I withdraw the question, Your Honor. Thank you, Ms. Lane. No more questions for this witness."

As Connie sat, Superman strode through the entrance to the courtroom and paced to the front. "Your Honor, I apologize for being late. As my attorney has surely explained, it was a life and death matter."

Fields nodded. "Of course, Superman. And how was the mine disaster?"

Superman frowned. "Mine disaster? No, sir, I was at a bad fire in Brazil."

The judge grinned. "I know. Forgive an old man for trying to be funny. Actually, I did something I'll probably be fussed at for and continued with testimony." Turning to Lois, he said, "I think the witness is excused, unless the prosecution wishes to redirect."

Jack looked at Melanie for a long moment, then stood. "Not at this time, Your Honor, but we may wish to re-call this witness later."

"Very well. Call your next witness, Jack."

"If it please the court, we'd like to request a thirty-minute recess."

"Oh. Ms. Hunter, any objections?"

"None, Your Honor."

"In that case — " he slammed the gavel down once " — this court is in recess until — say, ten-twenty."


Jack could barely contain himself. He led Melanie to his office and slammed the door shut. "What's the matter with you? What were you thinking in there?"

"Jack, I'm sorry —"

"Sorry?" He threw his hands in the air and paced back and forth. "First rule of questioning any witness in court is what?"

She dropped her eyes to the floor. "Melanie!" he thundered.

She jumped in surprise and hesitated, then found her voice. "D-don't ask a question you don't already know the answer to."

"And you blew that one when you asked her if Superman would know how to find Church without that map! You gave Connie Hunter a pry bar into one of our witnesses!"

"Jack, please, I —"

"And what's the primary rule for questioning your own witness?"

She sighed deeply. "Don't surprise them with a question you haven't gone over in prep."

"Exactly! And you broke both of those hard and fast rules when you asked about Lane's editorial! Are you trying to lose this one for us?"

Her tears crept onto her cheeks. "Jack, please! All I can say is that I'm sorry!"

He wound up as if to say more, then dropped his arms to his sides and exhaled deeply. "Mel, the main reason you were questioning Lois Lane is so the jury wouldn't identify me as the only one trying to put Superman behind bars, and to keep them from thinking of the prosecution as a big, bad man who beats up on pretty female witnesses. Those mistakes in there cost us points and handed a big score to the defense on a silver platter. It can't happen again." He stepped closer and gently put his hands on her upper arms. "Do you understand?"

She sniffled and nodded. "Yes. I understand."

Still holding her gently, he added, "If we lose, we have to lose because the jury says he's not guilty. We can't blow this." She nodded to him and he asked, "Now, it sounded to me like you didn't prep Lane very well. Is that what happened?"

She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked directly at him. "I — I don't think so. But you were so sure he'd take the deal —"

"We can never assume that a defendant will take a deal, Mel. Granted, I had to put my jaw back in place when he turned it down, but that's no excuse."

"I know. It won't ever happen again."

"Good." He gathered her in a compassionate embrace. "Then remember that your big brother loves you and is watching out for you."

Her forehead hit his shoulder. "Jack — I'm so sorry!"

"It's okay. I know you, you won't do that again."

"I won't! I promise!"

"It's okay, Sis, it's okay. We'll work around it."

She hugged him back and wept on his shoulder for several moments. Then she leaned back. "I — your jacket's all wet."

He grinned and lifted her chin with one finger. "It'll dry." He looked at her more closely. "You ready to go back now?"

She smiled through the dampness on her face and nodded. "Let me fix my face first. Wouldn't do for an assistant DA to look like she's been crying."


"All rise! State Supreme Court of New Troy, Section Eleven, now in session, the Honorable Judge Charles Walter Fields, presiding."

"Okay, we're back," said Fields as he sat. "Jack, you ready with your next witness?"

"Your Honor, the state would like to recall Lois Lane to the stand."

The judge's eyebrows lifted, but he nodded. "Ms. Lane? Come on back."

Lois glanced at Connie as she walked past the defense table, but got no signal from any of them.

Melanie followed her to the witness box. "Ms. Lane, you do realize that you're still under oath, do you not?"

Lois nodded slowly. "Yes, of course."

"Good. Let's go back to the night in question." Melanie put her hands behind her back and slowly paced towards the jury box. "Now, you were there when Superman went berserk and —"

Connie popped to her feet. "Objection! The defendant's mental state is not in evidence! The prosecution has presented nothing to indicate that he was 'berserk' that night!"


Melanie nodded. "Ms. Lane, you were present the night Mayson Drake died?"

"We've already gone over this —"

"Please answer the question!"

Lois hesitated for a moment before answering. "Yes."

"What happened to Ms. Drake?"

"Intergang blew up her car with her inside it."

She turned to the judge. "Your Honor, the witness has made a statement referring to facts not in evidence. I ask that it be stricken from the record."

Connie stood, but Fields cut her off with an upheld hand. "Too late for that, Ms. Welch. The Intergang connection has already been established. That statement stays in the record."

Melanie pursed her lips and exhaled through her nose. "Ms. Lane, how did you overcome the assassin?"

Lois tilted her head. "I'm a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. When Superman blocked the bullets she'd fired at Clark, she was distracted for a moment. I kicked the gun out of her hand and we wrestled for it. The gun went off and killed her."

"Did you set out to shoot her?"

"What? No! I was trying to stop her from shooting me!"

"Why wasn't Superman helping you?"

Lois narrowed her eyes. "He was a little busy at the moment."

"Too busy to help you when you were in mortal danger?"

"Someone else was in mortal danger that night, or have you forgotten?"

Melanie glared back at Lois for a long moment, then broke the stare. "Have you spoken with Superman about that night?"

"Not since you told me I was being called as a witness, no."

"But you have spoken to him about that night."

"Of course I have. I'm the managing editor of the Daily Planet. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't talk to people who make the news."

"So any personal feelings you might have for Superman are immaterial to your doing your job?"

"That's correct."

Melanie leaned close and stared into Lois's eyes. "Tell us, Ms. Lane, what are your personal feelings for Superman?"

Before Lois could inhale, Connie jumped up. "The defense objects strenuously, Your Honor! Lois Lane is the prosecution's own witness and any feelings she may or may not have for the defendant are immaterial to the prosecution of this case!"

Melanie straightened. "Your Honor, the witness's feelings for the defendant may very well have colored her reporting of the news concerning this case."

Connie stepped out from behind her table. "Immaterial! Lois Lane is not on trial for mis-reporting the news!"

"Hold it right there!" The judge's voice thundered through the courtroom, cutting of the two women. "The objection is sustained. Ms. Welch, ask a question about this case or sit down."

Melanie frowned in anger. "Nothing further at this time."

Connie spoke quickly. "Ms. Lane, where was Superman when you were fighting for your own life?"

"He was trying to save Mayson Drake's life."

"I see." Connie crossed her arms. "How does it make you feel?"

"How does what make me feel?"

"Superman tried to save another person's life and left you in mortal danger. How does that make you feel?"

Lois glanced at Superman, but he was staring at the table. She shook her head. "He didn't just run off and leave me in danger, he tried to save someone else. I can usually take care of myself. As it turned out — I survived." She took a breath. "Mayson died." "Was Mayson Drake a friend of yours?"

"We — knew each other professionally. I respected her, and I'd like to think she respected me."

"Do you think Superman made his decision based on personal feelings or on the situation as he saw it?"

"On the situation. I had a gun pointed in my general direction, but Mayson was sitting on a bomb."

"I see. So you don't blame Superman for his choice?"

"No. I think that if I'd been in his position, I would've made the same choice."

Connie nodded and stepped closer. "Where was Clark Kent?"

"He was next to Mayson's car. When I looked over, he was cradling her in his arms. She — " Lois hesitated, then went on. "She was already dead."

"What was Mr. Kent's mental state?"

"He was distraught."

"Why was that?"

Lois gave her a 'you-must-be-stupid' look. "The woman he'd been seeing had just been killed in front of him. How would you expect him to feel?"

"I'd expect him to be inconsolable."

Melanie popped up. "Objection! Defense counsel is offering testimony."

Fields pointed a finger at Connie. "Sustained. Watch it, counselor."

Connie nodded and continued. "What about Superman? Did he behave as if he were insane at that moment?"

Like a Melanie-in-a-box, the ADA quickly stood again. "Objection! The witness is not a medical professional!"

"Your Honor, the prosecution's assertion that Superman was out of control or insane or berserk or whatever you want to call it is based on eyewitness testimony from people who were not medical professionals. Ms Lane was at the scene of the original incident and observed Superman's actions directly."

"Objection overruled. The witness may answer."

Lois shook her head. "No, he didn't act insane."

"He was upset, wasn't he?"

"Upset, yes, insane, no."

"Did he smash cars along the street?"

"No, he didn't."

"Did he, I don't know, melt mailboxes with his heat vision or randomly knock down traffic lights?"


"Perhaps he tossed a few dogs or cats into orbit?"

Lois sighed. "No, he did not."

Melanie stood again. "Your Honor, we object to this line of questioning."

"Your Honor, the defense is trying to learn what, if anything, Superman might have done to give bystanders and observers the impression that he was acting insane."

Fields lifted his hand again. "Objection overruled. But I think you've made your point, counselor."

"Thank you. Nothing further, Your Honor."

Melanie popped up again. "Your Honor, redirect?"

Fields sighed dramatically. "Go ahead, but stay on track."

She nodded. "Ms. Lane, do you think Superman did the right thing that night?"

Lois frowned. "Regarding what?"

"Regarding his taking the life of Bill Church."

Lois glanced at Connie, but this time the defense attorney didn't budge. She turned back to the assistant DA and said, "I honestly do not know."

"Do you endorse law-breaking?"

"No, of course not."

"Have you ever broken the law?"

Lois's eyes flashed and her evil side took control for a moment. "Well, there was this parking ticket at the Mayor's inaugural ceremony a couple of years ago, but other than that —"

She stopped as a wave of laughter washed over the room. Relief at the breaking of the tension made the gaiety more intense than the joke warranted, and Lois's personal relief when the ADA didn't pursue the question bloomed. She didn't want to testify to some of the extra-legal activities she'd pursued in the past while chasing a story.

Lois's gaze flicked to Superman again, expecting a tiny smile or a wink or something.

He didn't even look at her.

As the laughter died away, Judge Fields said, "Ms. Welch, do you have any more questions?"

Melanie stared at Lois for a long moment, then shook her head. "No more questions, Your Honor."

Lois stepped down and made her way back to the gallery. As she passed the defense table, she whispered, "I love you, Clark," at a volume she knew only Superman could hear.

He didn't move a muscle.

Jack Reisman stood. "Your Honor, the prosecution rests, but wishes to reserve the right to re-call witnesses."

Fields adjusted himself on his chair. "You can't call any new witnesses, but you may recall anyone you choose, as long as it's within the scope of that person's previous testimony. No new evidence, no new witnesses. You know the rules, counselor."

"We do, Your Honor."

As Jack sat, Connie stood. "Your Honor, the defense is ready to call its first witness. As a courtesy to the court, and considering the lateness of the morning, perhaps a recess for lunch would be in order?"

"Good idea, Ms. Hunter." Fields grunted and pressed a hand to his stomach, then seemed to recover. He whacked his gavel. "This court is in recess until one o'clock this afternoon. Have a good lunch, everyone."


Lois stepped out of the courtroom and punched up Jim's number on her phone. He answered after the second ring.

"Daily Planet, Jim Olsen speaking."

"Jim, this is Lois. How's everything?"

He sighed. "I think you need to get back here as soon as you can. We have a conflict brewing among the staff."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Uh-uh. You need to be here, Lois. This is an editorial decision and I'm not the editor."

Lois bit her lip. "Okay. I'll be there in half an hour. Order something from the deli for me, will you?"

"Your stomach-churning usual?"

She almost grinned. "Not today. Make it turkey and ham on wheat, hold the onions and peppers. And a fruit salad on the side."

"With a cream soda chaser. Got it. See you in thirty."

She flipped the phone shut and started gnawing on what was most important to her at that moment. Why had Superman not acknowledged her message? Was he that concerned with others hearing her? And why hadn't he looked at her while she testified? She certainly could've used the support. She needed to see his eyes, to feel his love for her, to know that he was there for her.

Because she was there for him, no matter what.


Chapter Fifteen

Superman walked into the courtroom at ten minutes before one and sat down at the table between Connie and Blair. The two women were each reviewing their notes for the trial and neither spoke until Blair glanced up and said, "Hey, big guy. How's your day so far?"

Superman gave her a hooded glare. "What do you think?"

Blair turned and faced him directly. "I think you got a serious problem chewin' on the inside o' your belly and it ain't the trial."

He held her gaze for a moment, then turned and faced forward. "Until the trial's over, I can't do anything about it."

Blair gently touched his wrist with her long, slender fingers. "I think you'd better do something about it now, before you let things get too far out of hand."

Connie leaned in and said, "Go talk to her. Tonight. Get your thoughts and feelings out in the open. Listen to her, and I mean really listen. Hear not only her words but her hopes and dreams."

He frowned and slid down in his chair. "What makes you think this has anything to do with her?"

Blair lifted her hand from his wrist and thumped one finger against his temple.

"Hey! What was that for?"

"Just testing."

"Testing for what?"

Blair nodded sagely. "Yep, just like I thought. You're super-dense, too."

Connie stifled a chuckle, and before Superman could respond, the door to the judge's chambers opened and the bailiff stepped out. Most of the spectators and both legal teams stood, expecting him to announce the judge, but instead he stepped before the bench and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Judge Fields has taken ill and will not appear this afternoon. He has instructed me to let everyone know that this court will reconvene at nine o'clock on Friday morning, September 26th. He deeply regrets his absence and expects to see everyone here on time on Friday. Thank you." He marched commandingly from the courtroom.

Connie turned to Jack. "Is this for real? Is Judge Fields really sick?"

Jack nodded. "He has what he calls a 'twitchy' gall bladder. Sometimes it acts up like this, especially if he doesn't watch what he eats, and it usually takes him at least a day to fully recover. This isn't a stall or some kind of trick, Connie, the man really is in pain."

She nodded. "Okay, Jack. In that case, we'll see you on Friday."

"Unless you want to accept my offer."

She smiled and shook her head. "It's not bad, but no thanks. We'll take our chances with the jury."

Jack picked up his briefcase. "Your choice. I hope it doesn't blow up in your face."

She watched him as he strode out of the courtroom. "Yeah, me too," she mumbled.


Superman flew his evening patrol early that day, and it was a good thing he did. He spotted an armed robbery in progress at a branch of the Bank of New Troy and swooped down to relieve the three thieves of their weapons, then tied them together with duct tape that he'd 'borrowed' from the hardware store across the street. The owner came out to admire his handiwork and smilingly told him not to worry about paying for the tape if he could advertise that he'd assisted Superman in the capture. Superman smiled back and told him that as long as the man didn't take too much of the credit, he had no problem.

As soon as the police arrived and taken his statement, he resumed his patrol. All was quiet until just before dark, and he decided that Clark could use the extra day to do some work, but just before he headed west he heard the frantic yip of a small dog in serious trouble.

He followed the sound and spotted a small Chihuahua being pursued through an alley behind a lumber yard by a pack of yowling cats. The dog was almost exhausted, so he landed in front of it and scooped it up just before a large Siamese hooked its claws in the back end of the trembling pooch.

At a whim, he whisked the pup to the roof of the nearest building, speedily built a cage from the junk in the alley which would confine all but the smallest of the cats, gathered them into their prison, and deftly retrieved the dog before it could get into more trouble. He landed and petted the dog until it calmed slightly.

"It's okay, it's all right," he crooned softly. "They won't hurt you now. Is there a collar here? Yep. Let's see, your name is Nicky, and you belong — whoa!" He lifted Nicky up close to his face. "You want to go home now, Nicky?" The dog licked his face vigorously. "Okay, Nicky, let's go find your owner."


The woman hugged Nicky to her chest and tried to hold in her sobs of relief. "Thank you, Superman, thank you so very much. I don't know what I would've done if I'd lost little Nicky."

He nodded. "All in a day's work, Mayor. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other duties."

"Of course. Wait!"

He paused in mid-leap. "Yes?"

She stepped closer and lowered her voice. "You know I'm on your side, don't you?"

"I would hope you were on the side of justice, Mayor."

"I am, but — " she put her hand on his arm " — I think you're getting a raw deal. I think you'll be found not guilty, and I hope when that happens you won't hold the city of Metropolis or its citizens responsible for all this."

He turned and faced her. "I don't hold anyone responsible for this except myself." He exhaled and dropped his shoulders. "If anyone's at fault, it's me."

She shook her head. "No, Superman. The city and the state dropped the ball four years ago when we didn't stop Intergang. You were placed in an untenable position, and you reacted as anyone else might have reacted."

He shook his head. "I can't afford the luxury of being like anyone else, Mayor. If I lose my temper, someone could die."

She nodded and released his arm. "I understand what you're saying, but you're not the only person who's ever been in such circumstances. Others before you have taken lives in the heat of the moment and been judged not guilty by their peers."

He stepped back. "Mayor, I appreciate your kind words, and I assure you that I'm not leaving the city unless the city wants me to leave, at least not permanently. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really have to go."

"Thank you again, Superman. Oh, what happened to the cats chasing Nicky?"

He grinned slightly. "I'm taking them to the Metropolis Humane Society. They'll make sure they don't have any more little wild kittens, and then they'll do their best to find them good homes."

She grinned back. "Good. Goodbye, Superman, and thank you again." The dog wiggled in her arms and yipped twice. "Oh, look, Nicky says 'thank you' too."

He reached out and let Nicky lick his hand once more. "You're both more than welcome." Then he waved good-bye and lifted into the gathering twilight.


It was almost nine-thirty when Lois finally pushed through the front door of her apartment. She dropped her purse on the end table, flopped onto the couch, pushed her shoes off and let them fall, and closed her eyes.

The day had been one conflict after another. The problem Jim had briefly mentioned on the phone had turned out to be Ralph and two other reporters arguing over credit for a story on the city's parks director revealing his alleged proclivity for romancing young female lifeguards. As it turned out, all anyone had was unsubstantiated statements from three teenage girls who accused the director of inappropriate behavior, and that was seriously undermined when Sheila Thompson, one of the gofers Lois had recently hired, identified two of the accusers as troublemakers as far back as junior high school.

Lois had ordered Ralph to take over the story and double-verify everything he had, and if he couldn't do that to drop it. The Daily Planet wasn't a scandal rag and would not turn into one under Lois Lane's watch.

Then the trucker's union representative had paid her an unscheduled visit and berated her for almost an hour before she threatened to have him thrown out. Ingrid Bliss, head actuary, had then stuck her head into Lois's office and pinned her down with what Lois thought was an unnecessary review of the latest financials on the paper. Then someone realized that the evening edition's page one sports headline was spelled wrong on the proof sheet — the print team had left the 'r' out of the word 'Panthers' — and they'd run right up against the distribution deadline before correcting the error in a flurry of panic.

Just as that crisis had ended, Alice White had called with an invitation to a charity concert in November and small talk about her husband, Senator Perry, and how much she enjoyed shuttling back and forth between Metropolis and Washington and how much she loved having Perry close and how much time they'd been able to spend together once he'd gotten a handle on his Senate schedule and Lois was close to screaming by the time Alice hung up.

Then the night editor's wife had called in and said her husband had fallen from a ladder and broken his arm and would be in the hospital overnight. Lois had had to scramble to help his substitute to get a good start on the night shift. The young woman was eager, willing, and able, but was also very inexperienced, and Lois might have fired her on the spot had she not forced herself to remember that her inexperience wasn't the girl's fault, and that Lois would have had to stay overnight to do the job if the girl hadn't been there.

Surely tomorrow would be better.

>>> Thursday, September 25th

More real life intruded on Lois the next morning. The coffee machine in the newsroom got plugged up somehow and poured hot water all over itself and the floor, and the water shorted out the breaker when it spilled over the electrical outlet. The soft drink and candy machines in the break room turned off and stayed off when the breaker flipped because of the coffee machine and everyone who lacked a snack stash went grumpy for the rest of the day because the service people had a full schedule and wouldn't be out to fix anything until the next day.

The office water dispenser ran out and they had to buy a cooler filled with ice and soft drink cans to keep everyone away from the snack bar in the lobby and at their desks.

The ladies' room ran out of tissue and towels and the men howled that they were almost out and they couldn't afford to share.

Lois managed to solve that one by sending Ron out to the nearest convenience store, but he griped so much about being treated like a gofer that Jim told him to pipe down and Ron nearly started a fight with him. Lois was forced to yell at both of them until they walked away from each other.

In between all the problems and difficulties, they somehow managed to get the paper out on time.

Lois went back into her office and leaned against the desk. "I feel like a kindergarten teacher," she muttered.

"Sometimes you have to be."

Her head spun around. "What? Oh, Cath, it's you."

"Well, thanks for the enthusiastic greeting."

"Sorry, it's been a long day." Lois rubbed her temples. "Hey, shouldn't you be heading home soon?"

Catharine gingerly lowered herself onto the sofa. "Yeah, but I'm supposed to testify tomorrow morning and I'm trying to get three days worth of work done in one." She leaned her head back and gritted her teeth. "I think I might have overdone it a bit, though."

Lois forgot her own troubles and rushed to her friend's side. "Hey, take it easy! You need some medication?"

"Already took some."

"Can I call Clay?"

Catharine shook her head, but then winced and sucked air in between her teeth. "That one hurt." She took two deep breaths and relaxed slightly. "Yeah, maybe you'd better."

Lois put a pillow behind Catharine's head. "Here. You relax while I make that call. Is he home?"

"Call his cell. I think he's out running some errands." She leaned back against the pillow. "Ohh, that feels better already."

Lois waited while the phone rang twice. "Sergeant Mooney here."

"Finally! Clay, this is Lois. Cath's hurting and she needs some help getting home."

"Be right there. She need the chair or the crutches?"

Without glancing at her friend, Lois said, "Chair. And she stays home tomorrow after she testifies. The Thompson girls can cover for her."

"You betcha. I'm off tomorrow too, so I'll make it stick."

"Good. See you when you get here."

"I'm just around the block, so it won't be long."

Lois put down the phone and saw Catharine glaring at her. "Off tomorrow? Are you kidding? Do you know what Shelia and Bernadette wanted to publish in the society column on Saturday?"

"Never mind. They can set up the layout for the wedding and engagement announcements. Anything comes up they can't handle, they can call you and you can work from home, as long as you do it sitting down."

"Come on, Lois —"

"No! I won't have you hurt yourself because of me."

Catharine stared for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. I promise I won't hurt myself for you."

"I mean it! I won't let you lose your — lose any more time from work because of that bad back." She tried to smile. "Besides, I want to keep Clay as a friend."

Catharine smiled easily. "He's a good man."

"Yes, he is, and I won't have one of Metropolis's finest angry with me."

"He might be a little angry with me."

"What? Why?"

Catharine shifted gingerly on the couch. "I promised him I wouldn't overdo, especially this early."

"You mean, this early with the baby?"

"Yes. Doctor Amundsen doesn't like my work schedule. She thinks I should go to half days."

Lois sat next to her. "Cath, if that's what needs to happen, that's what needs to happen. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of that little one."

Catharine frowned. "I know. It's hard, though. I've been a quality employee at every job I've ever had."

"Of course you have, and you're not changing now! This isn't about the quality or the quantity of your work. This is about you and your husband's future." Lois took Catharine's hand and squeezed it gently. "You two are going to be fabulous parents, I just know it."

Catharine leaned her head back and sighed. "With that level of confidence in me, I suppose I'll have to be a good mother."

"You'll be wonderful. You'll be the mother the other kid's fathers wish they'd married."

"I thought I already was."

They shared a laugh. Catharine squeezed Lois's hand. "So, girlfriend, how are you and Clark getting along?"

Lois dropped her gaze. "Okay, I guess."

"Ooh, that's not too good. Why don't you tell Auntie Cath all about it?"

Lois lifted an eyebrow. "Auntie Cath?"

"I may be pregnant but I'm way too young to be your mommy."

Lois chuckled low. "True." Then she sighed and leaned back against the couch. "I don't know, Cath. I haven't talked to him for several days. He's sent at least one e-mail every day, but lately they're more business than personal. I tried asking him about it in the last one I sent, but he hasn't responded yet. It's like he's pulling away from me."

"He probably is."

Lois slowly turned her gaze to her friend. "Really?"

"Yeah. It sounds to me like he's trying to protect himself emotionally if the verdict goes against him."

"So he's putting distance between us to protect himself?"

"Yes. And he probably thinks you'll feel less pain when he goes to jail if you two aren't all that close."

"But that's — that's terminally stupid! That's idiotic! That's —"

"It's any number of negative adjectives you could name, but you're not going to change his mind. You'll have to tough it out and wait for him to come around."

Lois shook her head. "Surprisingly, that doesn't make me feel any better."

Catharine spoke as gently as she could. "I know, hon, but men are hard-headed and stubborn. They get an idea in their teeny-tiny little heads and they won't change their minds until they think it's their idea to change their ideas. You have to be patient with him, that's all."

Lois would have continued their conversation, but Clay chose that moment to come banging down the newsroom steps with his wife's wheelchair. He headed straight for Lois's office and stopped in the door with the chair in front of him.

He glanced at Lois momentarily and then turned a stern gaze onto Catharine. Frowning, he said, "My dearest darling wife whom I love more than life itself, get your sweet little butt in this chair so I can take you home and take care of you."

Catharine smiled at him sweetly and spoke submissively. "Yes, dear."

As Lois helped her get settled, she whispered, "See what I mean?"

>>> Friday, September 26th

Superman strode through the courtroom door at five minutes before time to begin. He saw Connie and Blair with their heads together, whispering about the morning's testimony and how far to let Jack or Melanie go before objecting. He glanced around the courtroom and saw Catharine sitting in her wheelchair beside her husband. They seemed to be having a very quiet argument, but Superman decided to greet them anyway.

He walked up behind them and put a hand on Clay's shoulder. "Hey, you two. How is life treating you these days?"

Clay turned and offered Superman a handshake. "Pretty good, considering that my wife is a hammer-headed roan mare."

Superman chuckled, and Catharine frowned at both men. "You guys know that means a red horse with a mind of its own, don't you?"

Superman laughed aloud. "I know some folks in Wyoming who'd translate that more like 'red female horse with a bad temper who bucks like a tornado,' but I suppose that's one way of looking at it. What's going on?"

Clay spoke first. "Lois told her to take the rest of the day off. She wants to go back to the office."

"It's my job, Clay! Would you stay home just because your back hurt a little?"

"If I was pregnant and had a seriously bad back, yes!"

"Hey." Superman leaned down and put a hand on each of their shoulders. "You two don't want to get arrested for disturbing the court, do you? Especially since Clay's in uniform?"

Clay faced forward and crossed his arms with a huff. Catharine shook her head. "Sorry. It's a touchy subject."

"That's understandable."

She put her arms out and held Clay around his shoulders. "But I plan to be a good girl and go home when we're done here."

"I'm sure Clay's glad to hear that." He straightened and put his hands behind his back. "You two here today to give me moral support?"

Catharine exchanged a quick look with Clay. "No, I'm supposed to testify today. Didn't your lawyers tell you?"

"Ah. I didn't know it was today. We probably shouldn't be talking, then. I doubt the prosecutor would approve."

Clay grunted. "Like he'd care. Besides, you're out on your own recognizance. He's not gonna bust you for talking to your friends."

"You're probably right, Clay, but I think we're about to start. I'd better take my place."

Catharine grabbed his hand before he could pull away. "Good luck, Superman." Silently, she mouthed, 'Talk to her.'

He stiffened for a moment, then nodded infinitesimally. Just then, the huge bailiff walked into the courtroom and called the court to order.

Judge Fields walked gingerly to the bench and slowly sat down on an embroidered cushion. "Okay, people, let's get this show on the road. I've been sick, I'm feeling better, but I'm not completely well yet, so don't do anything that raises my stomach acid level or I'm liable to be real ornery. Ms. Hunter, is your next witness here?"

Connie stood. "Yes, Your Honor."

"Then let's get on with it."

"The defense calls Catharine Grant-Mooney."

Catharine wheeled herself to the gate where another bailiff opened it for her. She spun around next to the witness box and locked her chair in place.

Connie stepped forward. "Your Honor, this witness can climb to the witness chair if the court requires her to do so, but her physician has advised her to stay off her feet for the next forty-eight hours. With the court's permission, I'd like for her to remain in her wheelchair during her testimony."

Fields nodded. "I don't mind. Mr. Reisman, what do you think?"

Jack rose. "Since this is the witness's physician making this recommendation, and it is in the interest of the health of the witness, the prosecution has no objection, Your Honor."

"Excellent. Ms. Hunter, please proceed as soon as the oath is administered."

The bailiff leaned down beside Catharine and extended the Bible to her. "Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do."

"Please state your full name for the court."

"Catharine Grant-Mooney."

Connie crossed her arms and wandered closer. "Ms. Grant-Mooney, may we address you by a nickname? Just to keep things as brief as possible."

Her smile lit up the entire courtroom. "Sure. You can call me Cath."

"Okay. Cath, what is your relationship to the defendant?"

"He's my friend." Her smile mellowed. "And I owe him my life."

"Really? How do you owe him your life?"

"Three years ago this past spring, I was working at a radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the assistant news director. We had worked a story about guns being smuggled to gangs in cities in the Midwest, and we found out they were coming from places like Metropolis and Gotham City and Philadelphia. We also learned that a multi-state criminal organization called Intergang was responsible for bringing in all these weapons, and that they were working on a lot of other bad things."

"Other bad things?"


"Could you give us some examples?"

Jack stood. "Objection, Your Honor. Irrelevant."

"Overruled. The witness may answer."

Catharine nodded to him. "Embezzlement, extortion, drug smuggling, suborning perjury, intimidation and bribery of local and state officials in several states —"

"Thank you, Cath. I think the court gets the idea."

Catharine smiled. "Of course."

Connie turned and meandered towards the jury box. "Would it bother you if I asked you about your wheelchair?"

Jack popped up again. "Objection. The witness's medical state is not relevant to this proceeding."

Connie spun to face the judge and sharpened her tone. "Your Honor, this witness's current medical condition will show the lengths Intergang and its leaders were willing to go in order to accomplish their goals."

Fields held up his hand for a long moment, then said, "I'll allow it as long as it's directly applicable to this case. Don't wander too far afield, Ms. Hunter."

"Thank you, Your Honor." She turned back to Catharine. "Can you tell us why you're in a wheelchair? Do you have a chronic disease, like multiple sclerosis?"


"Is this a degenerative condition of some kind?"

She shook her long auburn tresses. "No."

"Then why are you in a wheelchair, Cath?"

Catharine looked at the jury. "Three years ago, when Superman took down Intergang, they had marked a number of law enforcement, investigative, and media people for death. I was one of them."

"What happened?"

"Intergang put a bomb —"

Jack bounced up. "Objection, Your Honor! Assumes facts not in evidence."

Fields shook his head. "Overruled, Counselor. There are enough convictions on record to allow this as factual testimony." He turned to Catharine. "Please finish your response."

Catharine nodded. "As I was saying, Intergang put a bomb in my car, set to go off a few seconds after the door closed. It was a lot like the one that killed Mayson Drake. As I walked out to my car that night, one of the interns at the station called me back as I opened the door. I closed the car door and started back, and the bomb went off while I was still close enough to be caught in the blast area."

"But you survived."

She shifted in her chair. "Yes, but I sustained some long-term damage."

Connie crossed her arms and lowered her voice. "What kind of damage, Cath?"

"I have permanent weakness in my lower back that puts me in this chair if I overwork myself. I also lost my spleen, which has affected and will affect my immune system for the rest of my life, and both my lower legs were broken. My eyes were flash-burned, and my doctor told me I'd probably have serious vision problems as I got older, problems I normally wouldn't have had." She lowered her head. "Maybe the worst is — I'm not supposed to have children."

"Really?" Connie stepped beside the chair and put her hand on Catharine's shoulder. "Cath? Didn't someone tell me you were pregnant?"

There was an audible gasp in the courtroom. Judge Fields looked out over the gallery, but they quieted down without his encouragement.

Catharine looked up with tears shining in her eyes. "Yes. I'm pregnant, about two months along. And my husband and I couldn't be more thrilled."

"But having a child is dangerous for you, isn't it?"

"Yes. I — I'm probably going to have to be in bed for the last trimester. And I'm already unable to work the hours I could before I got pregnant." She sniffed. "That's assuming I can even carry the baby full term. And assuming I surv — come through this okay."

Connie nodded and stepped back. "Cath, just a few more questions. Who was responsible for your injuries?"

Her face hardened. "Bill Church," she hissed.

"How was he responsible?"

"He was the head of Intergang and Intergang tried to kill me."

"And, in your opinion, who was responsible for stopping Intergang?"

She looked directly at the defendant's table. "Superman is. If he hadn't done what he did, they would have come after me as many times as it took to kill me. I owe him my life."

"Thank you, Cath. Nothing further, Your Honor."

Jack stood and let Connie pass him before speaking. "Ms. Grant, you say you were in Cincinnati that night and not in Metropolis?"

"That's correct."

"So you have no first-hand knowledge of what transpired here that night?"

"Except for Intergang's attempt to kill me, no."

Jack hesitated, then took a step forward. "Ms. Grant, why did you and your husband conceive a child?"

Catharine lifted an eyebrow at him and waited a beat. "Well, Counselor, I am, after all, a happily married woman."

Even the giant bailiff laughed, despite his attempt to maintain a straight face. Jack shook his head. "I apologize. I didn't frame my question correctly. I should have asked you why you and your husband are choosing to keep this child."

"Because this is ours. Our baby will be part of me, part of Clay, and part of everyone else around us who loves us. I hope there's a little bit of Superman in our child, too."

Jack stepped closer and waved his hands. "But bearing this child is dangerous for you. Why not eliminate that danger?"

The courtroom went silent as the import of his question sank in. Catharine's brows drew down and she clenched her fists. "Because, Counselor, I refuse to allow Intergang to take anything else away from me. They took more than forty lives that night. I knew some of those people personally. They killed mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles and friends and wives and husbands! They broke families! There are people still grieving because of what they did! I won't let them have my baby too! I won't!" She sobbed once and pounded the arm of her chair. "Do you understand that? I won't let them take my baby's life too!"

Shocked, Jack stepped back. He hesitated, thinking, then said, "No more questions, Your Honor."

Catharine dropped her head into her hands and began crying. Fields said gently, "Ms. Grant, is your husband in the courtroom?"

She nodded weakly as Clay popped up and strode briskly to her side. He knelt beside her chair and held her as she cried on his shoulder.

The bailiff touched Clay's shoulder and asked, "May I help, Clay?"

Clay shook his head. "Thanks, Brett. Can you get the gate and the door for me?"

"Sure. You take care of her, okay?"

Clay nodded. "Will do. And thanks again."

Fields said, "The witness is excused. Take her home, Officer Mooney."

"Thank you, Your Honor. Come on, babe, let's go home."

She nodded and slowly released him. He opened the brake handles on the chair and pushed it out of the courtroom. The only sounds were the squeak of rubber on the courtroom floor and Catharine's sobs and sniffles.

Fields looked out over the courtroom and picked up his gavel. "I don't know about anyone else, but I need a short recess." He whacked the bench. "Fifteen minutes."


Chapter Sixteen

Melanie followed Jack into their office and slammed the door shut. "Just exactly what in blazes was that all about?"

Jack sighed. "I know, it didn't go like I planned —"

"Didn't go like you planned?" She leaned into him and hissed, "If you weren't my big brother I'd beat you unconscious right here and now!"

He held her gaze for two long breaths, then slowly backed away. "I was wrong, Mel. I was trying to lead her into linking Superman's continued freedom with the risk she's taking in having this baby. I wanted the jury to understand that having a super-powered vigilante loose in the city was a very bad thing."

She took a step closer and viciously kicked the nearest desk. "So you advised a pregnant woman, a wife who desperately wants to have this child, to have an abortion? Idiot!" She threw her hands into the air and snarled a curse. "Are you still thinking along those lines now? Because if you are —"

"No! Look, I made a mistake and it blew up in my face! Don't you think I know how much I just damaged our case?"

She stood frozen, staring at him. "Mel, please don't bail on me now. I need your help in there."

The fury damped down but didn't evaporate. She took a deep breath and crossed her arms. "Okay. But you don't dare pull anything else like that with a female witness unless you check with me first."

"I promise."

She sighed. "Jack, you're my brother, and you're my boss, but you are also probably the worst male chauvinist in the state. You know it, I know it, and if you don't back off, everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere will know it, too."

He lifted his hand. "I swear, Sis, I won't be that stupid again."

She stared at him for another long moment, then relaxed and chuckled. "I guess that means we're even on the 'big mistake' tote board, huh?"

He reached out and touched her elbow. "That's okay. I think after Connie shows that video again, we'll all be adding up our big mistakes."


The tension was less palpable when they reconvened, but Connie knew that wouldn't last. She leaned over to Blair. "Looks like it's a good time to bring out the big cannon."

Blair sucked in a deep breath through her nose and nodded shortly. "I'm glad it's you gonna do this and not me."

"It won't be that bad."

"It will be very bad, Connie." Blair impaled her with a stare. "I've seen the whole tape. I don't ever want to see it again."

They straightened when the bailiffs brought in the video equipment, then everyone stood when the judge reentered and the court was called to order.

Connie stood. "Your Honor, the defense would like to present the entire surveillance video from Intergang's bunker — I mean, office — at this time."

Jack stood wearily. "Your Honor, the prosecution reiterates its objection."

"Understood. The objection is still overruled. Ms. Hunter, please proceed."

"Thank you, Your Honor. We'd like to label this as defense exhibit five." She turned to the jury. "I know you've seen part of this tape before, at the beginning of the trial, but it's very important that you see all that there is to see. What I plan to do is play it all the way through once without stopping, then rewind it and play it again. The second time, though, I plan to stop the tape at various points and identify some key players." She leaned on the rail. "I know this is tough. I know it's violent. But a man's freedom is at stake. Please stay with me on this, okay? Because it's the only way for us to know — to really understand — exactly what happened that night."

She nodded to the bailiff, who turned on the monitor and handed the VCR remote to Connie. She lifted the remote and pressed the 'play' button.

The scene came up in Intergang's underground office. Bill Church sat at a console, facing an impressive array of video equipment. There were a dozen faces on different monitors on the screen. Church was just settling himself in his chair.

He spoke almost jovially. "Well, how is the cleanup going?"

One man in the top row of monitors spoke. "We think we have a success rate of greater than seventy percent, Mr. Church."

Church nodded. "Good, good. At that rate, the survivors will be too scattered and disoriented to take concerted action. Let's begin with the regional reports, shall we? We'll start with Cincinnati."

A woman in the bottom row of screens answered. "I'm afraid we missed one target out of four, Mr. Church."

"Which one?"

"The radio reporter. She was injured, but survived the car bomb."

Church grunted. "Can you get to her in the hospital?"

The woman smiled. "Give me twenty hours and she'll be one dead kitten."

Church spoke again. "Wonderful! What about Chicago?"

A small man with round glasses lifted his hand nervously. "M-mister Church?"

Church sighed. "What is it?"

"Sir, I — I know we've discussed this before, b-but I still —"

"You still think this whole operation is a bad idea, Mr. Wallace. We know your opinion. You are in error. I assure you that killing, especially on this unprecedented scale, will break the back of law enforcement's investigation in our businesses. No one will attempt to stop us now. No one will get in our way now."

"B-but sir, isn't it just as likely that we'll create more problems than we'll solve?"

"Nonsense! Dead people aren't problems, they're merely statistics. I realize that this is a major shift in the way we have done business, but there's no reason to think that we can't continue in this manner. Now let's proceed with the reports, shall we?"

Before anyone else answered, the playback jiggled as if someone had bumped the camera. Church was looking around uneasily. "What's that?"

A voice off-camera answered. "I — I don't know, sir! It may be — oh, no!"

An instant later, Superman exploded through the wall to the left of the monitors. Bill Church lurched to his feet and began protesting. "Superman, you're trespassing on private property! I demand that you leave now!"

Superman strode to the front of the panel. He looked off camera where the voice of the technician had come from and squinted. A burst of smoke appeared and the technician screamed, then began crying.

Church became indignant. "Superman, you've deliberately injured one of my employees! This is inexcusable behavior! Once again, I demand that you leave now! You will hear from my legal staff!"

Superman looked at the monitors. The fury in his voice was almost a tangible thing, even on the videotape. "I've already traced all of your signals. I know where each of you is sitting or standing. Remain there and I'll come to pick you up in a moment. You're all going to jail, unless I have to go looking for you."

Then he reached out and pulled the head of Intergang towards him. "All but you, Bill. You killed a lot of people tonight. One of them was an assistant DA. Her name was Mayson Drake. You blew her up and burned her to death like she was nothing! She meant nothing to you! You have no respect for human life! You murdered her for trying to protect the weak and helpless! You're less than human! You don't deserve to live!"

Superman lifted Church into the air with one hand and punched his other hand deep into the man's chest. Church screamed in agony. Then Superman pulled the criminal's heart right out of his body. Blood fountained onto the monitors, the chair, the floor, and onto Superman. The enraged superhero held the quivering organ in front of Bill Church's face as the former head of Intergang folded in on himself and died.

Superman then dropped Church's body and the sundered heart to the floor. He spun and flashed out of the hole he'd made in the hall. One by one, the terrorized and stricken faces on the monitors disappeared.

Connie paused the VCR as the last face disappeared from the screen. She turned to the jury and opened her mouth to speak, then cleared her throat softly. "I wish — I'm sorry you had to see that again." She took a deep breath. "I've seen some pretty gory things on movie screens, but somehow it's — it's just different when you know you just watched a human being die for real."

She turned and paced along the jury box. "I need to go over this tape one more time, so we can —"

"No! Please!"

Connie stopped and looked up. One of the women in the jury was weeping into a handkerchief. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I have to defend my client to the best —"

"Please!" the woman repeated. "Please don't make me watch that again!"

Connie looked over the faces of the jury. Every one of them showed strong reactions to the tape.

She considered making them watch it again anyway, but she feared that the jury would refuse. Those twelve men and women wanted justice, not vengeance, but if she made them watch Superman rip Bill Church's heart out of his chest once more, they might tip towards a 'guilty' verdict.

So she made a decision. "Very well. We won't watch the tape again." She turned to the nearest bailiff. "Thank you. I'm done with this."

The bailiff nodded and breathed a sigh of relief, validating her decision. She waited until the rolling TV stand was out of the way, then she lifted a piece of paper and brandished it in front of the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a complete, comprehensive list of all the people who died as a direct result of Superman's actions that night. Let me read you the entire list."

She paused dramatically and adjusted her glasses. "Bill Church."

She paused. Then she lowered the paper. "That's it." She turned and handed the list to the court clerk. "That's the complete list of everyone who died because of Superman." She picked up another piece of paper. "Here's a list of the twelve Intergang leaders arrested that night, including a complete inventory of the injuries they received at the hands of Superman during and after their arrest. I won't read this one, but I will tell you that the prosecution's witness Yolanda Chavez is on it. And, as a point of fact, I will also tell you that none of these twelve sustained any verifiable injury as a result of Superman's actions that night." She favored the jury with a one-sided grin. "One man threw up on the arresting officers after Superman dropped him off, and one woman wet her pants, apparently from fear."

She waited while the nervous laughter ran its course. "Quite embarrassing, to be sure. But I'd hardly count either of those events as serious injuries. Your Honor, we'd like to submit this as defense exhibit six."

The judge nodded and the court clerk took the document and recorded it. Blair handed Connie a thin binder with several pages. "This is defense exhibit seven. It lists the names of the people who were killed or injured by Intergang assassins that evening, along with the method of attack used against them. It includes Catharine Grant, Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Mayson Drake, people you've already met or heard about. I won't read this one to you either, except to relate that there were eleven shootings, fifteen hit-and-run attacks with cars or trucks or vans, nine bombings, four drownings, five beatings, two dragged to death behind vehicles, ten knifings, and — " she stopped and lowered her voice. "I'm sorry to describe the last two deaths, but at least you won't have to watch them. The last two were staked to the ground and — and had a bulldozer driven over them."

She paused and watched the members of the jury shift in their seats. At least two of them visibly controlled their gag reflexes. "The list is here, should you wish to read it during your deliberations." She stopped and handed the binder to the court clerk. "That's what Superman flew into that night. When he burst through the wall of that bunker, he'd not only seen first-hand what Intergang and Bill Church were doing, he'd heard it. Of those fifty-seven people attacked, twelve of them survived the initial assault. And three of them died within a few days."

She leaned on the railing. "Forty-eight people died as a direct result of Bill Church's activities that night. If Superman hadn't stopped him, Intergang would have killed more. You heard what he said on the tape." She raised her voice. "Bill Church was ready and willing to kill as many people as necessary to install himself as the criminal czar of the East Coast. Only death could stop him." She spun and pointed at Superman. "Only death, or the defendant!"

Slowly, she lowered her arm. "Which path would you have chosen? Would you have let Bill Church live, knowing what he was trying to do? Or, if you had been able, would you have done what Superman did? Would you have chosen the lesser of two evils and taken one life to save God only knows how many others?"

She paused and turned to look at Jack Reisman. He seemed poised to stand and object, and she knew she'd pushed him as far as she could. She faced the judge. "Your Honor, we have one more witness we'd like to present, but he's out of the country and physically cannot be here. However, we were able to depose him on videotape. We'd like to present this witness in this manner."

Fields turned to the prosecution's table. "Any objections, Mr. Reisman?"

Jack stood. "Your Honor, if the witness in question is Clark Kent, assistant DA Melanie Welch was present at the deposition and also asked questions, and we would therefore have no objections."

Fields nodded. "That sounds good to me. Counselor, how long is this tape?"

Connie turned to Blair and read her lips. "About fifteen minutes, Your Honor, including the ADA's questions."

The judge quirked his face in thought for a moment, then whacked his gavel. "I think we should all get something to eat and take a few moments to rest our emotions. Court is in recess until one-thirty this afternoon."

They stood and waited for the judge to leave, then Blair turned around and found Ron Dombrowski in the gallery. She motioned for him to come closer.

"What can I do for you, Ms. Collins?"

Blair grabbed his wrist in a fierce lock. "You can get Lois Lane here this afternoon."

Ron frowned. "It's not my week to tell Lois what to do. And I don't know if I have that much influence over her."

Blair tugged his wrist again. "Tell her she needs to be here. Tell her I said so. Got that?"

Ron frowned, then nodded. "Okay, I'll tell her. But I'm not gonna carry her down here in my pocket. If she doesn't want to come, she won't."

Blair released him. "I'm pretty sure she'll come. Just make sure you tell her that I said so."

Ron walked slowly out of the courtroom, then flipped open his phone and dialed Lois's office number. It rang four times before she answered.

"Daily Planet, Lois Lane's office. How may I help you?"

"Hey, boss, it's Ron."

"Ron? Why are you calling me? Don't you want someone in rewrite?"

"Not yet. I'll file what I have before we reconvene this afternoon. I'm supposed to pass on a message to you."

"Oh?" She sounded cautious. "What's the message?"

"The message is that you really need to be here in court at one-thirty."

He heard her blow out a long breath. "Ron, you know how much work I have to do before the weekend. I can't just drop it and —"

"Blair Collins wants you here. She told me to tell you she said to come."

She hesitated. "Blair said that?"

"Not five minutes ago."

She hesitated again. "Okay. If you see her again, tell her I'll be there, but don't make it your priority task. Get what you have to rewrite and get some lunch. I'll see you there at one-thirty."

"Okay. See you then. Bye."

Ron was puzzled for a moment by Lois's sudden agreement to attend when she heard that Blair Collins had asked it of her. But he closed his phone and forgot his train of thought when he turned and looked back into the courtroom and saw Superman following his defense team out the door. He decided to try for a quote.

"Excuse me, Ron Dombrowski, Daily Planet. Superman, is there anything you'd like to say?"

Superman stopped in his tracks and stared hard at Ron. After a moment of intimidating silence, which he also didn't understand, Ron added, "About the trial, I mean. Do you have anything you'd like the people of Metropolis to hear?"

Connie tapped Superman's elbow. "I'm sorry, we don't have any comment now, except that we expect justice to be done."

Ron nodded and began to turn away, but Superman said, "Tell the people that I'm going to tell my side of the story."

Ron's eyes lit up. "What? You mean — you're going to testify? In open court?"


"No!" Blair grabbed Superman's arm and tugged him down the hall. "He's not taking the stand!"

Superman came to an abrupt halt and nearly yanked Blair off her feet. If not for the seriousness of the moment, her acrobatic recovery would have been hilarious. "Yes, I am taking the stand, Blair. I have to tell the people my side of the story myself."

"Have you gone completely whacko?" Connie hissed up at him. "That's our job, not yours! Remember, you do the super-stuff, we do the legal stuff! That's the deal!"

"The people need to hear me tell my story, Connie, straight from me."

"That's our job! That's why we represent you! This isn't something you have to do!"

Blair put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Connie's right! You're under no obligation to testify."

He gathered his attorneys in close and guided them down the hall. "I think we need to talk about this." Both women started talking and gesturing excitedly at the same time, but he shushed them both. "In private, okay?"

Superman stepped away towards the building's office area. Blair followed him, yapping at his elbow like a pesky Chihuahua, but Connie stopped and stared at Ron.

"You're a reporter, right?"

"For the Planet, yes."

"Don't print this. Don't call it in. We're going to talk him out of it. Superman is not testifying in this trial."

"Uh —"

"Listen to me!" Connie's face was inches away from his. "Do. Not. Print. This. Do you understand me?"

The icy blue of her eyes startled him, but he shook his head. "I'm a reporter. If Superman says he's going to testify, I have to let my editor know about it. She'll make the decision whether or not to print it."

The attorney slowly shifted back and relaxed. "Lois Lane is your boss, isn't she?"


Connie frowned slightly, then she nodded and her face relaxed. "Will you at least hold this until he actually testifies?"

"Like I said, Lois will make that decision, not me."

Connie nodded again. "All right." She sighed. "Now I have to go rescue my client from my partner."

"Don't you mean that the other way around?"

She shot him a look over the top rim of her glasses. "You haven't spent much time around attorneys, have you?"

"No, and I hope not to in the future."

"A wise choice." She spun on her heel and stalked down the hall after Superman and Blair.

Ron's heart raced. If Lois was still in the office, she'd want to know this right now. He pulled his phone back out and dialed her cell number.

It rolled directly to her voicemail. Growling, he hung up and dialed her office number.

Another woman's voice answered. "Daily Planet, Lois Lane's office. How may I help you?"

"This is Ron Dombrowski. I need to talk to Lois Lane right now!"

"Oh, Mr. Dombrowski, this is Bernadette Thompson. Ms. Lane took an early lunch, and after that she's headed for court. She told me to take any messages —"

"Never mind that! Where is she now?"

The girl sounded piqued. "Mr. Dombrowski, I told you she's out of the office right now. I can transfer you to Mr. Olsen if you wish."

He growled again. "Okay, do that!"

"One moment, please."

He endured about fifteen seconds of vintage Barry Manilow before Jim picked up. "Ron, this is Jim. What's up?"

"Superman's gonna testify!"

Jim waited a beat. "He what?"

"Superman's gonna testify in his own defense, probably this afternoon after they play Kent's deposition!"

"Are you sure about that? It doesn't sound like a good idea to me, and I'm not a lawyer."

"He told me himself. His attorneys are gonna try to talk him out of it, but I don't think they'll have much luck. I'm pretty sure he'll take the stand no matter what they say."

"Did he tell you why?"

"He said he wanted the people to hear why he did what he did from his own lips."

Jim waited another beat. "Okay. Lois turned off her phone and told me to watch the shop until she gets back. She'd going to be in court to see CK's video deposition, so you can warn her then." He sighed. "She's liable to pop a couple of gaskets over this."

"I know. What do you want to do with the story?"

"I'll give you back to Bernadette. She'll take down what you have and then she'll have LNN call you. You know about our deal with them, right?"

He frowned. "Yeah, I know. We scratch their back and they ignore us."

"Not this time. You'll have the exclusive, and you'll have the print byline. Just make sure you call in or send in everything you have as soon as Superman's finished."

"Will do." Ron hesitated. "I just hope this doesn't really finish him."

"Me too."

Ron waited for something else, but Jim just held the phone. "Hey, Jim, are you still there?"

"Yeah. Say, Ron, when do they reconvene?"

"Judge said one thirty, and he's been on time so far."

"Okay, here's what we do. We sit on this story until one twenty-five this afternoon. Bernadette will give you the number to call at LNN. We still get to break the story, but this way the prosecutors don't get a heads-up about it."

"Um, sure, but do you think that's ethical?"

"What ethical violation? We can't put this story out without some confirmation, and you should be able get that by just looking at Superman and his attorneys when they come back to court."

"Yeah. Okay, I'll go with that." He hesitated. "You think Lois would go along if she knew?"

Jim sighed. "On this one, Ron, I'm not sure she's objective enough to make that call. This way she has what the politicians call 'plausible deniability.' She didn't know beforehand, so she can't be accused of compromising her journalistic ethics."

"What about you and your ethics?"

Jim's tone hardened. "Never mind about me. Maybe Penny was right, maybe I'm not editor material, but this is my call and I'm making it."

Ron nodded to the phone. "Okay, Mr. Olsen, we do this your way. If you'll give me to Bernadette, I'll get that number from her."

And hope we don't see two good men go down today, he thought.


Chapter Seventeen

Lois parked her Jeep on the highest covered level of the parking garage across the street from the court and locked it. She glanced at her watch and noted that she had twenty-four minutes to get to court and grab a seat.


She spun in surprise and saw a tall man walking towards her. He wore a stringy beard, cheap sunglasses, and parts of a beat-up old military uniform. His face and hands were dirty and his long, unkempt hair was in disarray. She stepped away from the Jeep to give herself maneuvering room.

"Get back! I don't know what you want, but I warn you I can take care of myself!"

He stopped in mid-stride. "I know you can, Lois."

The voice. When he spoke this time, she recognized his voice. "Clark?" She shook her head and spoke more softly. "Superman?"

He nodded and removed the sunglasses. "Right on both counts."

She glanced around and saw no one. "We're alone. I've already checked." He tapped the side of his head just behind his eye.

"Oh, Clark!" She ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm so glad to see you!"

His arms slowly came up to return her embrace. "You feel like you've lost some weight."

She burrowed into his chest. "I — haven't been very hungry lately."

"Have you eaten today?"

"Um. I had a granola bar in my office this morning."

"That's probably not enough."

She grinned up at him. "Then you can take me to dinner tonight. Anywhere in the world. Just surprise me."

He didn't answer. She felt him holding himself in reserve, and she stepped back, still grasping his shoulders. "What's wrong? What is it?"

"Did they tell you?"

"About the deposition? Yes. Ron called me and told me Blair asked me to come." She shrugged. "So, here I am."

"Oh." He straightened. "Ron didn't tell you that I'm testifying?"

She nearly fell from surprise. "You — you what?"

"I'm testifying in my own defense."

She gasped for breath, then pulled her jaw back into alignment. "Are you insane? The DA will eat you alive! You can't take the stand!"

He shook his head. "That's pretty much what Connie and Blair said, too, but I insisted." He almost smiled. "They said they think I'm crazy, too, along with a few other choice epithets and adjectives."

"Well they're right!" She turned and paced away, then stomped back. "You can't do this, Clark! You're going to be acquitted just like you wanted! The jury won't convict you on what they've heard so far! But if you -"

"Lois!" The steel in his voice stopped her. "I have to do this. I can't walk out of there without telling my side of the story."

She stepped closer and lowered her voice. "Look, you've covered enough trials to know that putting a defendant on the stand is like putting a florescent bulls-eye on a deer during hunting season! This is not a good idea!"

"That's about what Connie said, although she said it even more colorfully than you did."

"She's right, Clark! I don't care how she said it, she's right!" She reached out and gripped his elbows. "Please, please, let the jury decide on the evidence. You've got this one in your back pocket!"

Without answering, he reached into the faded jacket and pulled out a copy of the Metropolis Star. He unfolded it and showed Lois the lead editorial.

"'Why doesn't Superman tell us what he knows?' That idiot! Don't you —"

"This is what's in my back pocket, Lois, and they aren't the only ones. The Washington Standard, the New York Times, the Denver Daily News —"

She slapped the paper out of his hands. "I don't care about them! I don't care, not a whit! You can't live your life by other people's opinions!"

He dropped his hands to his side. "Clark Kent can't. But Superman has to."

She took two deep breaths, trying to steady herself. "No, you don't have to! Superman has the same freedoms the rest of us do."

He shook his head. "No, he doesn't. He has to be blameless. He has to be better than anyone else."

"Why?" She lifted her fists and forced herself not to scream into his obstinate face. "Why does Superman have to be better?"

"Because Superman has to be trusted completely. Because Superman's mistakes mean people can die. Because Superman's choices make a bigger difference than anyone else's choices." He gestured aimlessly. "I don't make these rules, Lois, but I have to play by them."

She took another deep breath and splayed her hands downward. "Okay. Okay." She breathed deeply again and let it out through her nose, slowly. "Okay. I can handle this." Lois forced herself to relax. "I still don't think this is a good idea, Clark, but I do understand why you think you need to do this. I'll be in court this afternoon. I'll be there for you."

His eyes were oddly distant. "Good. I can use all the friends I can get."

She stepped closer. "I know. And after the verdict comes in, maybe we can go someplace quiet and talk about our future."

He shook his head. "I don't think so."

She paled. "What? What do you mean, you don't think so?"

"I won't be here."

"Won't — you what? What does that mean, exactly?"

"It means — it means I'm going away. I'm leaving Metropolis. For good."

Her vision narrowed and the noise from the street seemed to vanish in the distance. The world in the tunnel before her eyes turned gray and she felt light as a feather. She saw Clark step towards her and reach for her, but she couldn't understand what he was saying.

After a long moment, her vision cleared, and Clark's words finally came through. " — okay? Lois! Talk to me! Please!"

She suddenly felt concrete under her knees. "Okay. Hey, why am I -"

"You almost fainted."

She shook her head and the last of the dizziness seeped away. "Oh. I guess I really should eat something."

"More than a breakfast bar, anyway."

She stood cautiously, testing her balance. "Did you — you did, didn't you?"

He eyed her cautiously. "Did what?"

"You said you wouldn't be here. You said you were leaving forever."

His face fell. His mouth opened but nothing came out.

She pushed herself away from him. "Why? Why would you say such a cruel thing to me?"

He waved his hands randomly. "I think I — it's really for your own good, Lois."

Anger twisted her features. "For my good?" She stepped closer and lowered her volume but not her intensity. "For my good! You idiot! You moron! You Kryptonian coward! You think —"

"Now hold on! I am doing this for you!"

"Oh, really? Then explain it to me, Mr. Super-Smart-man! Tell me how your leaving me is a good thing for me!"

He stepped back a stride. "I'm a trouble magnet, Lois. I bring danger wherever I go. I bring bad guys, usually guys with guns or bombs and the will to use them. If you're around me, you'll get caught up in it. You'll get hurt."

"I'm already hurt! How could being with you be worse than being without you?"

He looked stunned. "I — but I thought — you and Ron —"

"What?" She leaped at him and hammered her fists on his chest several times before he caught her wrists. "Me and Ron? Gahhh! You idiot! You dope! You imbecile! You snake worse than —"

"That's enough!" He pushed her back a step. "You know you can't hurt me."

She almost screamed. "But you can hurt me, is that it? I can't hurt you but you can hurt me? Is that why you're leaving, so you won't hurt me any more?"

"Lois, please don't —"

"You scum! You liar! You can fold that idea into three corners and wear it where the sun don't shine! Is this your solution? You leave so you can't hurt me?"


His abrupt reply stopped her. She realized that he meant it, and that yelling at him wouldn't change his mind. "Please, Clark," she begged, "don't go away! We can work this out! We can fix it! Just don't go!" She wrapped her arms around him again. "Please don't go, Clark. I love you. Please don't go. Please! I don't want to lose you again!"

He gently disentangled himself from her. "I'm sorry, Lois. I have to go."

He stepped back and turned away from her. "Clark —"

"I'm sorry, Lois. Have a good life."

He had taken three steps when she whispered, "I'll print it."

He stopped and turned his head. "Print what?"

"The secret." Her voice intensified. "Your secret."

"What?" He faced her. "No! You can't mean that!"

"Why not? If this is slice-my-heart-to-ribbons day, tomorrow will be cut-Superman-to-the-quick day." She put her hands on her hips and snarled, "You don't make the rules, remember? You just live by them! Well, I'm making a rule right now! You betray me and you get betrayed right back!"

He held her gaze for a long moment. "You wouldn't."

"Watch me!"

He sighed. "What about my parents?"

"You'll take care of them. They can go into the Superman Witness Protection Program. You can give them new identities and send them to Florida to run an orange grove. Or maybe ship them to Oregon to operate a sawmill." She spun on her heel and faced away from him. "You'll think of something. You always do."

He reached out and touched her wrist. "Lois -"

She spun again and slapped his face. "Don't touch me! You have no right to touch me!" She panted heavily. "I've got to go to court now and watch you be a fool again. And that's how I'll report it, too! Superman the Stupidman testifies in his own defense when there's absolutely no reason to!"

"Lois, please —"

"No! If you're leaving then leave! Get away from me and stay away!"

He looked into her eyes for a moment, then nodded. "Goodbye."

She watched him walk to the stairwell and open the door. In a moment, she heard the telltale 'whoosh' of his takeoff as he headed towards the courthouse.

She glanced at her watch. She had eight minutes to get to court.

And after that she had the rest of her life. Alone.


Connie breathed a sigh of relief when Superman strode into the courtroom at 1:29 and forty seconds. She gave him a laser glare as he sat in the chair beside her.

"Thanks for deciding to show up at literally the last minute."

He turned a flat expression to her. "I had something I had to do."

"At a time like this?"


"You going to tell me about it?"


Her eyes widened. "I'm your attorney!"

"I don't want to talk about it!"

She waited, but he only leaned back and crossed his arms. Connie sighed deeply. "You know, you can really be exasperating when you put your mind to it."

The bailiff saved her from his razor-edged reply by calling the court to order. Everyone stood until Judge Fields banged his gavel on the bench yet again.

Fields looked pointedly at the video monitor, then turned to the defense table. "I hope this movie is of a lighter tone than the last one."

"This is Clark Kent's deposition, Your Honor. We're ready to proceed."

Fields waved his hand. "In that case, counselor, go for it."

Connie nodded and pushed the play button on the VCR remote. Clark was in the middle of the picture, seated at a small table. Melanie Welch was on his right and Blair Collins sat to his left.

Blair's soft Southern drawl oozed out of the speakers. "This is the video deposition of Clark Kent, recorded Thursday, August 29th. My name is Blair Collins, affiliated with Superman's defense. Also present is Melanie Welch of the District Attorney's office. Mr. Kent, are you ready to answer some questions?"


"You do understand that this deposition carries the same weight as your testimony in court would, and that your obligation to tell the truth is just as strong?"

"I understand that."

"Good. Please tell us where you were on the night in question."

He shifted in his chair, which squeaked. "I was across the street from Mayson Drake's office, waiting for her to leave. We had plans that evening."

"Were those plans personal plans?"


"Were they of a romantic nature?"

His eyes darkened slightly. "Yes, they were."

"What was your relationship to Mayson Drake?"

"We were dating."

"Was this a serious relationship?"

He leaned his elbows on the table. "Why are you asking these questions?"

Blair lifted her hand. "Please, Mr. Kent, bear with me. I only want to establish the context of your relationship with Ms. Drake."

He sat back, apparently mollified. "Okay, if you say so."

"I do. Now, will you tell me how serious this relationship was?"

He blushed, and several jurors chuckled. "Mayson and I were talking about — something permanent."

"Like marriage?"

He averted his gaze and turned in the chair. "We hadn't mentioned 'marriage' exactly, but we both knew it was a possibility."

"I see. So, her death was a personal shock to you?"

"Of course it was!"

"And since Superman is your close friend, wasn't he upset that you'd just lost someone so important to you in such a violent manner?"

Clark lifted his head. He actually looked surprised by the question. "Yes, I guess you could say that."

Connie glanced at Jack and Melanie, but they were both studying the video playback as intently as anyone else in the courtroom.

Blair leaned back. "Thank you, Mr. Kent. Now, I'd like for you to tell us, in your own words, what happened that night, starting from the moment you met Lois Lane on the street."

He nodded. "Meeting Lois Lane wasn't a planned thing. We just happened to be across the street at the same time. I was meeting Mayson, and Lois was meeting one of her reporters. We just happened to be at the same place at the same time."

"Did this reporter work for the Daily Planet?"

"No. This was while Lois was the editor at the Washington Standard's Metropolis bureau."

"I see. What was this reporter's name?"

"Laura Nguyen."

"Can you describe her?"

He frowned in concentration. "Short, about five-foot-two. Slender. She weighed maybe a hundred pounds, probably a bit less. Attractive with a pleasant smile. Long, shiny dark hair, Oriental features, and a small-caliber handgun."

Another chuckle made its way through the courtroom. Blair continued, "And what did Laura Nguyen do with her gun?"

"She pointed it at Lois and me. She told us we were lucky to be there to see the show, and that she'd get a bonus for killing me along with Lois and whoever her primary target was."

"Who was her primary target?"

Clark paused and sighed. "We realized — that is, Lois and I realized at the same time that Laura was talking about Mayson. I turned and started running across the street, and that's when I heard two loud pops."

"What were those pops?"

"Laura had shot at me. The bullets would have hit me in the middle of the back if Superman hadn't stopped them."

"So, Superman saved you from being shot, and then what?"

"He and I both started across the street again, but that's when the bomb in Mayson's car exploded. Superman blew out the fire and pulled her out, but we were too late." He heaved a deep sigh. "She was already dead."

"What happened next?"

"Superman yelled."

"He yelled? What did he yell?"

"Nothing understandable. It was just a scream of — I don't know, something like an 'I'm freaking mad and I'm not taking this anymore' kind of scream."

"Then what happened?"

Clark shifted again. "Understand, I'm not real clear on this next part, but the next thing I knew I was at my apartment. I checked my pocket and found that the map of Intergang's underground headquarters was gone."

Melanie leaned in. "Wait. What map are you talking about?"

"The one Lois Lane gave me."

Melanie shook her head. "You didn't mention it before."

"Oh. I'm sorry, I guess I didn't. Lois gave me the map just before Laura appeared and before Mayson came out of her office. She'd gotten it from a source in the Intergang investigation. That was when she told me she'd learned that Bill Church was the head of Intergang. There were several of us at the Planet who knew who he was, too."

"So you're saying that Superman took you to your apartment, took the map from you, and then left on his errand of vengeance?"

Clark frowned. "I wouldn't characterize it as an 'errand of vengeance,' Ms. Welch. And I really don't remember how the map got out of my pocket and into Superman's hands."

Blair lifted her hand. "Mr. Kent, where is that map now?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't seen it since."

Blair nodded. "What did you do next, Mr. Kent?"

He shifted in his chair again and averted his eyes. "I — don't remember a whole lot about that night. But I do remember lots of ice."


"Yes. Ice like ice that cools down drinks. You know, frozen water?"

"Not much o' that in Georgia 'cept in freezers." Blair paused while Clark and Melanie laughed slightly. "You went to a bar?"

He shook his head. "No. At least, I don't remember doing that. I just remember the ice."

"What happened next?"

He sighed. "I went in to the Daily Planet the next afternoon and quit. I moved back to my parents' farm in Smallville, Kansas."

"So you're not employed as a reporter now?"

"No. Not since that day."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I do travel pieces for various magazines and travel sections of major newspapers. And I still do some hard news pieces on a freelance basis. Plus, I'm writing novels now."

Melanie squeaked in obvious surprise, "Novels?"

Connie stifled a laugh and glanced at her opposite number. Jack looked at his sister and shook his head, while Melanie frowned at him and pointed at the television.

On the video tape, Clark also chuckled. "Yes. But I'm using a pen name, and I'm contractually obligated not to tell you what the titles are or who the publisher is or what my pseudonym is. All I really can say is that they're fairly successful."

Blair nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Kent. That's all I have. Any questions, Melanie?"

"Just one." Melanie leaned close to Clark. "Mr. Kent, can you tell us anything at all about Superman's actions that night? Anything that we haven't heard already."

Clark's eyebrows rose. "Ms. Welch, there's no way for me to know what's already been said at the trial. I don't even know when you're going to show this deposition."

"I know. Just give it a shot, okay?"

Clark fidgeted for a moment, then said, "All I can tell you is that moment when I sat on the sidewalk with Mayson's body in my lap, I desperately wanted to bring Bill Church to justice myself. If he'd been standing right in front of me at that moment, I don't know what I might have done to him."

On the tape, Melanie nodded and closed the folder in front of her. "Thank you, Mr. Kent, Ms. Collins. I have no more questions."

Blair grinned. "Me neither. I guess this is the end of the tape, then. Mr. Kent, thanks for coming in on such short notice."

He stood and shook hands with both women. "My pleasure." He glanced at his watch. "I'm sorry, but I have an appointment I have to keep, and then I have an afternoon flight to catch, so I'll say goodbye."

In the back of the courtroom, Lois tried to harden her heart against the pathos she knew Clark had been feeling when he'd made that tape. He'd managed to sidestep the issue of his secret identity without lying directly and without making anyone suspicious about his own actions that night. It helped that he wasn't there to be cross-examined.

She considered what might happen if she sent a note to the prosecutor saying that Clark was indeed in the room. She actually derived some momentary twisted amusement from it.

Connie stood and stopped the tape with the remote, then she handed the remote to the nearest bailiff and turned to face the judge. "Your Honor, our intention at this point was to rest our case, but — contrary to my advice — my client insists on taking the stand in his own defense."

The gallery was electrified. Judge Fields nearly fell out of his chair. "What? Are you kidding?"

Connie shook her head. "I wish I were." She took a deep breath. "The defense calls Superman to the stand."

Jack leaped to his feet. "Your Honor! The prosecution was not notified that the defendant planned to testify! We ask for a recess to prepare!"

Fields shook his head. "Uh-uh. The defendant is the one witness who goes on the list automatically, Jack, and you know it. Defense doesn't have to call the defendant if they don't want to, so there's no problem with you not being notified early. You should have been ready for this." He turned to Superman, who by now was standing beside the witness box. "Which brings up a very good point. Superman, do you understand that you cannot be compelled to testify at your own trial?"

He nodded. "Yes, Your Honor, I understand."

"Do you also understand that if you do testify, the prosecution will have every right to cross-examine you?"

"I understand that also, sir."

"Very well." Fields lifted his hands and dropped them. "The witness may be sworn in. Ms. Hunter, good luck."

"Thank you, Your Honor."

Connie waited while the oath was administered. The bailiff indicated the witness chair and said, "Please state your full name for the record."

Without batting an eye, Superman answered, "Kal-El."

Connie stood. "Kal-El? Can you tell us what nationality that name is?"

"It's Kryptonian. It's no secret that I'm not originally from Earth."

Connie stepped forward. "The name 'Kal-El' is, um, a bit odd to my ears. I'm going to address you as Superman, if that's acceptable."

He nodded. "That's preferable, actually."

"Good. Tell me, Superman, why did you kill Bill Church?"

He didn't bat an eye. "I had originally intended to take everyone in the bunker into custody, including Bill Church. When I heard how large this organized murder was, and how many people had already died that night, I just lost a tiny bit of control and — and a man died at my hands."

She leaned forward and pointed at him. "You say you 'heard' how large the murder plot was. How did you hear of this?"

"I can hear radio and microwave communication signals if I decide to listen for them."

"Really? How does that work? Are you hearing, say, syndicated 'Ivory Tower' reruns right now?"

He ignored the chuckles from the gallery. "No. I only hear that kind of thing when I need to hear it." He shrugged. "I wish I could explain it better. It's almost as if there's an unconscious part of my mind listening in on things like that, and only when I need to hear it consciously do I become aware of what's going on."

"Like the apartment fire in Brazil the other day? The one that made you late for your own trial?"

"Yes, exactly like that."

She nodded and stepped towards the jury. "So, you headed towards Intergang's headquarters, intending to arrest Bill Church, but when you heard how many people had already died, you changed your mind?"

Jack stood up. "Objection. Defense counsel is leading the witness."

"Overruled. The witness may answer. But make sure you clarify any inaccuracies in your attorney's summary."

Superman nodded. "Thank you, sir. What Ms. Hunter just said is accurate. Except that, instead of changing my mind, I was — I guess you could say I was caught up in the circumstances. It wasn't really a conscious, logical decision on my part, but something that I just did in the moment."

"Superman, you mentioned one person by name on the tape. Why did Mayson Drake's name come out of your mouth just then?"

"Because she was the one who had just died right in front of me. She was foremost on my mind."

"But surely you've seen people die before. Not even Superman can save everyone."

"True." He took a deep breath. "But Clark Kent is special to me. He was there too, and he'd just seen someone he cared deeply about, someone he was thinking about making a permanent part of his life, literally blown to pieces right before his eyes. That also affected my thoughts."

"What about your feelings?"

He nodded. "It affected my feelings, too. I was angry. I wanted the killing to stop. I wanted the criminals to face justice and stop stealing and bribing and extorting and murdering the innocent."

"And that's why you took Bill Church's life? Out of a desire to stop the lawlessness?"

"Yes. Looking back on it now, with more than three years to think about it, I'm not certain it was the right decision, but that's how I felt at that moment, so that's how I acted."

"I see. What about the other Intergang leaders you took into custody that night?"

"I did not harm any of them in any way. As far as I am aware, they are just as healthy now as they would have been had I taken no action at all against them that night."

Connie nodded and stepped close to the jury box. "Now for a really, really big question, Superman. If you were faced with a similar situation tomorrow, what would you do?"

He leaned back in the chair. "I can't predict the future, Ms. Hunter. However, I will say that I fully intend that no one else will ever die at my hands."

She leaned on the front rail and bored her gaze into his eyes. "No matter what this hypothetical person may have done to you or to people about whom you care deeply?"

He nodded slowly. "That is my intention, yes. No matter what this person might have done, to me or to others."

"Thank you. Nothing further at this time, Your Honor."

Jack stood and fumbled with his tie for a moment, then walked hesitantly towards the witness box. He turned and looked back at Melanie, then sighed and continued towards Superman.

"Hello, Superman."

"Hello, Mr. Reisman."

Jack stopped about three feet from the witness box. "Tell me, Superman, do you bear me any ill will for having you arrested and bringing you to trial?"

"No. I know that you're only doing your job. It's actually been a real learning experience for me."

"Oh?" Jack crossed his arms. "How so?"

"I've gotten to see how the justice system works from the other side of the badge. I have a better idea of what people who are arrested go through as they work through the system."

"I see." Jack turned and meandered towards the jury. "You said, the 'other side of the badge,' didn't you?"


"But you don't have a badge, do you?"

"No, I don't."

"So you aren't a law enforcement official?"

"No, I'm not."

"Didn't you turn down a Metropolis law enforcement commission several years ago? Before you killed Bill Church?"


"Why did you do that?"

"Partly because of the problems involved in my crossing back and forth between jurisdictions, and partly because I didn't want the Metropolis Police to be issuing me orders."

Jack spun back to face him. "Oh? Are you that much smarter than the police?"

"No, I only —"

"Are you in possession of that much more information?"

"Not really, I just —"

"Do you think you're too good to work with our officers?"

Superman held his peace for a moment, then said, "None of the above, sir."

"Then why don't you want to be held accountable for what you do?"

Superman gave him a twisted grin and asked, "I'm here, aren't I? If that isn't being accountable, I don't know what is."

Knowing he'd lost that point, Jack walked in the other direction. "Let's talk about some of the things you did that night, other than killing Bill Church. Why did you take those other twelve people to various law enforcement agencies?"

"Because I'm not a law enforcement official."

Jack's voice strengthened. "They why did you burst into that office that night? Wasn't it to even the score with Intergang?"

Superman slowly shook his head. "No. Taking a person's life doesn't cancel out the death — or deaths — that person has already caused."

"So why didn't you just bring Bill Church to one of Metropolis's police precincts? Surely they would have arrested him on your say-so!"

"You're probably right about that."

"Then why? Why did you kill him?"

Superman took a deep breath. "Because I got angry and lost control for a moment. Because he was responsible for so many deaths and injuries already and I simply felt that I couldn't let it go on. So I stopped him."

"You stopped him?" Jack slapped the front rail of the box. "You took it upon yourself to accuse, try, convict, and execute a man, all in one brief moment?"


"What? What do you mean?"

"I already knew about Intergang's activities. I knew about the gun smuggling and the drugs and the extortion and the corruption in the DA's office —"

Jack threw his hands in the air. "Your Honor, this last isn't testimony, it's hearsay!"

The judge asked, "Superman, what corruption are you talking about?"

"Mayson Drake's predecessor was jailed for accepting bribes. He confessed to receiving the bribes at his trial, but he never named the person who gave him the money. He was killed in jail just before Ms. Drake could interview him about his activities." Superman pointed to Jack. "Mr. Reisman was not the district attorney at the time, he was an assistant like Ms. Drake was. The scandal I was referring to ended his predecessor's career." He lowered his hand. "For the record, I am unaware of any hint of scandal or improper conduct linked to this district attorney or to anyone in his office."

"Thank you. Jack, your objection is overruled."

Jack snorted, but looked away from the judge just before being verbally spanked. "Let's go back to my question. You said that you decided to kill Bill Church before you broke into his office?"

"Not exactly, no."

"Oh? Then please, tell us exactly."

Jack stepped away and put his hands behind his back as Superman began speaking. "I knew, as I said, about some of the illegal activities of Intergang before this. I also knew that there was an ongoing investigation into their activities, their infrastructure, and their personnel. The more I learned, the more I decided that they needed to be brought to justice."

"Why didn't you act before that night? You might have saved the lives of nearly fifty people."

Superman's expression hardened. "Believe me, Mr. Reisman, that thought has occurred to me a number of times. I didn't take action prior to that night because I had no real proof, which is, as you know, a necessary component of any criminal trial."

Several members of the jury smiled slightly. Superman continued, "And because I had no proof, I took no direct action. If I had, I would surely be the super-powered vigilante you're making me out to be."

"But because you let people die before you did anything, you're innocent?"

Connie leaped to her feet. "Objection! The prosecution is out of line!"

Jack waved his hand once. "Withdrawn. No more questions."

Connie stayed upright. "Redirect, Your Honor?"

"Go ahead."

"Superman, do you think you did the right thing that night?"

He hesitated. "I honestly don't know."

"Think back to that moment in time. Did you believe that taking Bill Church's life would end much of the violence and death caused by Intergang?"


"Is that indeed what actually happened?"

"Well, yes, it did."

"Yet now you say you're not sure that you did the right thing."

Superman gestured to the jury. "Isn't that their job? To decide if I did the right thing or not?"

Connie nodded. "Yes. Yes, it is." She sat down. "No more questions, Your Honor."

Judge Fields said, "The witness may step down."

Connie stood. "Your Honor, the defense rests at this time."

The judge stared at the clock for a long moment, then banged his gavel. "It's getting late in the day. We will hear closing arguments at nine o'clock on Monday morning. This court is adjourned until then."

Lois watched the jury file out. She still believed they'd come back with a 'not guilty' verdict as long as Superman didn't do anything else stupid over the weekend.

She couldn't believe Reisman hadn't flayed Superman into tiny strips of Kryptonian sausage. The big doofus was luckier than he had any right to be.

Now it was up to the closing statements and the jury deliberations.


Chapter Eighteen

As soon as Lois's foot hit the newsroom floor that afternoon, Sheila Thompson handed her eleven messages and asked her if she and her sister could work Saturday because Mrs. Grant-Mooney had been out and their work had piled up and because they could really use a little overtime. Lois nodded and made a mental note to fill out the overtime notification e-form and send it to payroll.

She sat down at her desk and flipped through the message blanks until she found the one from Martha Kent. It also said that the Kents would be arriving at Metropolis Regional Airport at four-thirty that afternoon.

She looked at her watch. Three-forty. "Shelia!"

The girl ran to Lois's office. "Yes, Ms. Lane?"

"I need someone to go to the regional airport and pick up two people. You have your car here?"


"Good. Get a sign for Jonathan and Martha Kent. That's spelled K-E-N-T. They're arriving at four thirty, flight seven one three, Northeast Airlines. Got that?"

She finished scribbling. "Kent, flight seven thirteen, Northeast, regional airport, four thirty arrival. Got it."

Lois fished in her purse for her house key. "Take them to my apartment and help them get their luggage upstairs. They'll say something about a hotel, but you tell them that you won't have a job if they aren't at my place when I get home tonight."

Sheila snapped her eyes up at Lois and decided that her boss wasn't kidding. "Yes, ma'am! They'll be there when you get home if I have to chain them to the furniture!"

Lois's eyes crinkled. "Well, you probably don't have to go quite that far, but there's no sense in them paying for a hotel when I've got more than enough room for them at my place."

Sheila sketched a quick salute. "I'll get it done, Ms. Lane! Oh, I assume you want me back at work after I drop them off?"

"No. Don't worry about it, unless you have to come back to pick up your sister."

Sheila wrinkled her nose. "Not tonight. She's got a date."

"Oh? A nice guy?"

The girl shook her head. "Are you kidding? He works here."

Lois burst out laughing. "Young lady, there are worse things than dating a newspaperman!"


The Daily Planet went to bed quietly for a Friday, and Lois headed home just before six. Since she didn't know what or when Jonathan and Martha had eaten, she skipped the market and made a beeline for the parking garage.

She smiled as she thought about Bernadette Thompson and her date. She wondered who the guy was and hoped they'd have a good time.

Then a thought struck her. Could Jimmy be the guy? He wasn't dating Pam any more, and he'd always had an eye for a pretty girl. She considered it, then decided to put the subject of employee dating on the agenda for the next meeting. Just what she'd say, she didn't know, but surely the paper had some guidelines she could and should review.

Martha must have been perched on a chair beside the door, because Lois was in her embrace before she put her purse down.

"Lois! Honey, it's so nice of you to have us this weekend! You really didn't have to have us stepping all over you. We could've just as easily gone to a hotel."

"I have to confess I'm a little selfish. I need some emotional support." She leaned back. "I assume you're here for the verdict?"

Jonathan stepped close and hugged her. "I thought we were, but that nice young lady Miss Thompson filled us in on what happened today in court."

Lois sighed. "You mean Clark testifying?"

"Yes. He didn't have to, did he?"

"No. I told him, his attorneys told him, the judge told him, but he's so stubborn!"

Martha exchanged a glance with her husband. "Sounds like someone else I know."

Lois sat down and kicked off her shoes. "That's not all."

"Oh? Jonathan, do you know of anything else?"

"No, and I'm a little afraid to ask."

Lois put her face in her hands and insisted to herself that she would not cry. Not in front of Clark's parents. Not in front of the two people who'd treated her like their own daughter.

She straightened. "He said — Clark told me that — he said win or lose he's leaving."

There. She'd said it and the building hadn't collapsed. A black hole hadn't appeared out of thin air and swallowed her up. A rogue time traveler hadn't suddenly appeared and marooned her between eternities.

She turned and saw Martha. The older woman was wearing a strange face, one that was having trouble digesting what she'd just heard.

Jonathan leaned closer. "Lois, I'm sorry, but I could've sworn you just said that Clark told you he was leaving."

"That's what he said."

Martha gasped. "But — he loves you! What did he mean?"

Lois shrugged. "He said he was leaving me because he didn't want to hurt me again. I don't know if he meant leaving Metropolis or New Troy or America or the planet or what, but that's what he said."

Lois's stomach chose that moment to rumble. Jonathan snickered. "Mountains may crumble, seas may dry up, clouds may cover the earth, but people still gotta eat."

Martha and Lois stared at him, then each woman slowly grinned. "Well, I can see what little I have for dinner, or I can have some Chinese delivered, or I can go to the farmer's market down the street."

Jonathan lifted his hand. "Let me go. I haven't talked to Dimitri for quite a while." He stood and checked for his wallet. "Anyone have any preferences?"

Martha shook her head. "Not me. Lois?"

"Huh. I think my stomach is about to file for divorce on the grounds of alienation of anything resembling sustenance. Tonight, I'll eat just about anything as long as it's free of harmful bacteria, deadly toxins, and mind-altering drugs."

He smiled. "Okay. In that case, I see steak and baked beans and a Caesar salad in your tummy's future. I'll be back as quickly as I can."

Lois nodded. "Tell Mr. Stephanopoulos I said 'yasou'."


Dimitri Stephanopoulos finished arranging the heads of lettuce in the produce display, then he stood back to admire his handiwork. The man he bumped into put a hand on his shoulder to steady them both.

"Oh, sir, I am so sorry that I — Jonathan!" He grabbed his visitor in a bear hug. "I am so glad to see my good friend Jonathan Kent! You have not come to see me in so very long a time! But I am glad that you are here now! Come, you must tell me about Kansas and how the harvesting of your corn is happening."

Dimitri turned so that one huge arm draped over Jonathan's shoulders. "It's good to see you too, Dimitri. We finished the corn harvest last week. Had a bumper crop, too."

"Wonderful! Then you have brought me samples? You are perhaps expanding your distribution to Metropolis?"

Jonathan laughed. "I wish we could. Actually, Martha and I are here visiting a friend, and she doesn't have anything for dinner."

Dimitri smiled even more. "Your beautiful wife is here with you? Of course she is! You will select everything you will need! My nephew Mikhail will carry it back for you!"

"No, please, that's not —"

"I insist! It is the least I can do for such a fine man as yourself."

Jonathan gripped the big man's elbows. "Very well, Dimitri, I accept your kindness, if you will allow me to return it."

Dimitri laughed out loud. "Then you and you wife will have lunch with me and my wife tomorrow! That is how you will return this kindness! We will laugh and sing and tell many stories and enjoy ourselves together, yes?"

"It's okay with me, but I'll have to check with Martha. And I guess Lois has some work —"

"Lois? The lovely Miss Lois Lane? She is the friend with whom you are staying?" He slapped his forehead. "Ah! I am so rude! I am a boor! She must come also! I cannot take her guests away from her without offering her the same hospitality! You will tell her this, yes?"

Jonathan smiled. "Okay, Dimitri, okay! Tomorrow at twelve thirty, okay? Oh, and Lois asked me to tell you 'yasou.'"

"She said that?" Jonathan nodded. Dimitri lifted his arms to the ceiling and turned as he spoke. "Oh, it is wonderful! I will tell my wife that a beautiful young woman who remembers to tell Dimitri 'hello' in his native tongue is coming to have lunch with him tomorrow and she will be jealous and we will have a wonderful time tonight as we plan our meal tomorrow!" He dropped his arms and grabbed Jonathan's shoulders. "Come, my good friend Jonathan, you will select your food and Mikhail will be ready to help you when you are finished." He pointed to the far side of the store. "But I suggest you begin with some fresh fruit, perhaps the grapes beside that tall man there."

Jonathan stared at the man's back. He looked familiar, but — no. It couldn't be Clark. Could it? If it was Clark, why was he here and not in the Philippines, or talking to Lois? Or talking to them?

Dimitri nudged him in the middle of the back. "Here is your shopping bag. Go select your food, Jonathan. And take all the time you need. I must see to Mr. Davis, who cannot find a properly ripened cantaloupe if his marriage depends on it." Dimitri chuckled. "And sometimes I believe that it does."

Jonathan nodded and began wandering towards the man in the ragged coat. Instead of speaking to him or touching him, Jonathan stepped up beside him and examined the selection of seedless grapes in the boxes in front of him.

Without turning, the man said, "Hi, Dad."

Jonathan didn't turn either. "Hello, Son."

Clark hesitated. "You look good."

"Wish I could say the same for you. That beard looks terrible."

"It's not real."

"Good." He bagged a stem of red grapes and placed them in his bag. "That's not all that's not real about you lately."

"You don't sound all that pleased to see me."

"I'm not sure yet."

Clark paused. "I flew out to see you and Mom, but you weren't at home. I found your truck at the airport, so I figured you might be here."

"We thought the verdict might come in today."

"It might have, but I delayed the closing statements."

Jonathan placed a pound of green grapes in his bag. "Yeah, we heard. Excuse me."

Clark moved back to allow his father access to the apples. "How's Lois?"

"About like you'd expect. She's putting up a brave front, but she's barely hanging on by one or two fingernails."

Clark waited for more information, but none came. "I'm sorry."

Jonathan placed three Rome apples in his bag. "You should be more than that."

"What? Dad, what did she tell you?"

Jonathan forced himself to be calm. "She said that you'd decided to leave after the trial, supposedly for her good."

"Did she tell you she threatened to publish my secret?"

"No. But I really wouldn't blame her if she did, not after the way you've treated her lately."

"The way I've treated her? What —"

"Keep your voice down. This is a public market and you're not supposed to be here."

"Oh. Right. But she can't publish my secret! Doesn't she understand what it would do to you and Mom?"

Jonathan gritted his teeth. "You dumb — Of course she knows what would happen! But we've lived with this possibility for years now, and we're not about to change just because you're being so hard-headed."

"Me? I'm hard-headed?"

"Yes. I guess you come by it honestly, though. Your mother's always telling me how much you remind her of me when I was much younger."

"Thanks, I think. But what did you mean about the way I treated Lois?"

Jonathan made a show of selecting carrots and cabbage as he spoke. "Ever since you two decided to get together this past spring, she's been waiting for you to decide what you're going to do and how you're going to do it. She's been patient, she's been supportive, she's been encouraging, and you've acted like a whipped puppy who's afraid of his own tail. You tell her you love her but you don't seem to trust her. You —"

"But Dad, you don't —"

"Hush! She phoned us and told us how you snubbed her after she testified. She also told us how you acted when she tried to get you to go back to work for the Planet."

"We settled that, Dad."

"Yeah, but it took a while. Too long, in my opinion." He turned to face his son. "You need to act like a man and live up to your words. You say you love Lois, but you treat her like dirt. I'm not sure you really love her and neither is she. And telling her you're leaving because you love her is about the stupidest thing I've heard of since — well, I can't remember anything stupider right now."

Jonathan turned away to check out Dimitri's latest shipment of fresh corn, leaving Clark standing open-mouthed beside the zucchini.

As Jonathan placed two ears of corn in his bag, Clark stepped up behind him. "You don't understand, Dad. As long as I'm around, I'm a danger to Lois and everyone else around me. It would be safer for all of you if I go away."

Jonathan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If you really believe that, then you're dumber than a box of Kryptonite. Don't say anything, just listen to me. Your mother and I love you very much, and one of the things people who love you get to do is tell you when you're being stupid. Well, Clark, you're being stupid. If you leave Lois now, you probably won't get another chance. She may never get married, may never have a family, but I can almost guarantee you she won't let you back into her life just so you can break her heart again. You leave now and you'll tell her by your actions that you care more about yourself than you do about her." He hitched up the bag and turned towards the cash register. "You think about it and you decide if you want to hurt the people who love you the most, because some hurts just don't heal."

"Dad. Wait."

He stopped but didn't face Clark. "Yes?"

"Are you saying — do you mean that you and Mom won't want me around any more?"

"No, son, I don't mean that. You'll always have a home with us, whether we approve of your actions or not, but I don't think Lois can take much more from you. If you love her like you say you do, you'll make this decision with her and not for her. And you'll forgive and forget anything you think she may have said or done to hurt you." He started forward again. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have groceries to deliver and a meal to prepare."


Clark watched his father chat with Mr. Stephanopoulos, saw the man insist that Jonathan take both the steak and the lamb, then saw a rangy teenager take the bags and accompany his father back to Lois's apartment.

Then he noticed the proprietor staring at him. He decided it was time to leave.

As he approached the front door, Mr. Stephanopoulos called out, "So, I think it is time to face the music."

Startled, Clark turned around, but the man was facing the stereo system behind the counter and touching buttons. After a moment, a fast Greek tune came tumbling out of the speakers. Mr. Stephanopoulos began dancing and snapping his fingers.

He called out something that sounded like "Wo-paah" and danced into the aisle, then he almost shouted, "Life is for living, not for hiding myself away and hoping nothing bad will happen to me! I will live and love and dance and be happy despite the fools who try to drag me down! Come, my wife, dance with me! Celebrate life with me! Celebrate our love!"

A short, slender, dark-haired woman stepped into the aisle beside him, took his hand, and together they danced a Greek line step that Clark had never seen before. He looked at them in amazement. They enjoying dancing together, they were happy, and their love for each other was apparent in every glance, every touch, every move they made.

It reminded him of the line dance in Smallville that he and Lois had participated in when they'd had that awful run-in with Bureau 39. His feelings and memories from that time were jumbled. He thought of the fun they'd had at the Corn Festival. He thought of the danger they'd all faced from the madman Jason Trask. He remembered that he'd never answered Lois's joking request to 'define guys' for her.

He remembered Lois's powerful embrace after Trask had almost shot him.

Mr. Stephanopoulos and his wife spun and laughed and danced and called out to their regular customers. Clark smiled. He wasn't sure whether or not the man was trying to tell him something, but the message had come through loud and clear anyway. As soon as the trial was over, he'd have a talk with Lois.

And this time, he'd listen to what she had to say.


Dimitri and his wife finished their dance to the applause of a score of enthusiastic customers. They bowed to them, then he laughingly shooed his wife back to the bakery area and took up his station beside the cash register.

He smiled at the shorter man who stepped up beside him. "Hello, Mike."

Dimitri wasn't surprised to hear the man reply in fluent Greek. "Hello, Dimitri. You did a very good thing just now."

"Did I?" Dimitri smiled to himself. "I suppose I did. But —"

Mike held up his hand. "I know, you have no idea why you said or did the things you just said and did." He chuckled. "It's okay. You still did a very good thing and you should feel very good about it."

A huge smile slowly it Dimitri's face. "You know, Mike, I do feel very good about it. Thank you."

"Oh, no, thank you. We have to work through people, and sometimes it's hard to find a good person in the right place at the right time." He punched the big Greek on the shoulder. "But you are one of those good people, and you came through with flying colors. Thanks again."

"You're welcome. Say, Mike, since you're already here, would you like to have dinner with us tonight?"

Mike smiled back and shook his head. "It's very kind of you, Dimitri, and I really wish I could come, but I have another assignment tonight and I can't be late."

"Very well. Will you at least take an apple before you go? My compliments."

Mike laughed. "Of course I'll take the apple, you old Greek tempter you!"

>>> Monday, September 29th

"All rise! State Supreme Court of New Troy, Section Eleven, now in session, the Honorable Judge Charles Walter Fields, presiding."

Before sitting down, Fields adjusted his robes and tapped his gavel. "Everybody here? Everybody ready?" He waited, and when everything seemed in order, he sat. "You folks take your seats now."

When the murmur of the gallery had subsided, Judge Fields called out, "Ms. Hunter, you may now begin your closing statement."

Connie stood and smiled at the judge. "Thank you, Your Honor."

She walked to the front of the jury box. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you've heard the testimony, you've heard the evidence, and now you'll be asked to render a verdict. The defendant, however, isn't your usual, run-of-the-mill lawbreaker. He's Superman."

She turned and paced along the box rail. "Now, I'm certainly not asking you to acquit him simply because of who he is or because of what he's done in the past, or for what he intends to do in the future. That would be wrong. What I am asking you to do is to keep in mind that he's an extraordinary person who can do things you and I can literally only dream about. And he uses these gifts, these abilities, these powers, to help people. Remember Superman's first public act? He prevented the murders of over four hundred colonists aboard the space shuttle Messenger, and then carried those colonists to the space station Prometheus when they missed their launch window."

She stopped and leaned her elbows on the rail. "And that was just the beginning. He's done all these wonderful, amazing, impossible things, and yet he's not perfect." She grinned. "Kinda like you and me, you know?"

She stood and stepped back. "And we all know how fallible we are. None of us are perfect, either, and that's the kind of thing that makes Superman a little bit more human, a little bit more like us than we might think."

Connie put her hands on her hips and spoke louder. "Who was this man who died at Superman's hands? Was he a hero? Had he saved hundreds of lives? Had he prevented billions of dollars in damages? Had he improved the quality of life for those around him without asking anything in return?"

Her arms crossed and she canted her hips. "No. Bill Church was a murderer many times over. He was a thief. He was an extortionist. He was a destroyer of civilization for his own petty personal gain. He was planning nothing less than a takeover of effective government of Metropolis, Chicago, Gotham City, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and other large cities. He wanted to become the crime boss of this decade, and even of the next century!" She straightened and pounded her fist into her other hand. "That's the man who died that night!"

She clasped her hands behind her back and resumed her slow pacing. "But was Superman right in taking Bill Church's life? He's not an officer of the law. He's not an officer of any court. He's not authorized to judge whether or not any person has the right to live or die. He's certainly never claimed to be our moral compass or the ultimate authority in our society. So why am I asking you to vote 'not guilty'?"

Her elbow found the witness box. "Because Superman didn't intend to kill anyone. He didn't enter that office with murder on his mind. But he had just witnessed a deliberate, senseless death literally right before his eyes, a death caused by one man. He heard casual reports of a number of other deliberate, senseless deaths, all caused by this one man. Superman's only desire was for justice, and in the passion and intensity of the moment the only justice that made sense to him was to stop Intergang however he could. And the best, most effective, most certain way to stop Intergang was to stop Bill Church permanently." She turned and faced the defendant's table. "And that's what he did."

She crossed her arms and shifted her weight onto one leg. "The New Troy state statute says that a person isn't guilty of second-degree murder if he or she is acting under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, for which he or she has a reasonable explanation or excuse. There can be no more extreme emotional disturbance for someone who values life as highly as Superman does than for someone he knows personally to be horribly murdered literally in front of his eyes." She straightened and raised her voice for a moment. "Unless, of course, he also knows that dozens of other innocent people have just been murdered, all on the orders of one man, just because they were trying to protect the rights and freedoms of people like you and me."

Connie shook her head and paced some more. "In order to convict Superman of murder in the second degree, you have to believe that he intended for Bill Church to die before he entered that bunker that night. You have to believe that Superman had death in his mind that night. You have to believe that he considers killing a viable course of action in dealing with criminals."

She raised her arms to her sides, palms upward. "And yet, no other Intergang crime boss died that night. None were even injured. The technician who did get hurt wasn't a target, he was hurt accidentally while trying to prevent Superman from tracking down twelve other major criminals. And his injuries were slight. He doesn't even have a scar from them today."

She lowered her voice again and leaned close to the jury. "Superman stopped a criminal takeover of the entire East Coast of the United States. He personally captured a dozen major criminals and handed over evidence which has directly led to the arrest and conviction of half a hundred more. He ended a danger to law-abiding citizens, one which the lawful authorities were trying to suppress but had not been able to."

She spun and pointed to Superman. "And how many are alive today because Bill Church isn't around to kill them or have them killed? How many are alive today because Superman snatched them from the jaws of death? How many owe their lives or their health to this man, this heroic man whom the state wishes to lock up?"

Her arm drifted down. "If you study history, you know that people make mistakes. We make them all the time. And sometimes the result is painful, for ourselves and for others. Sometimes when we make mistakes, people get hurt. Sometimes, people die."

She lifted her hands before her and gestured. "But we learn! We learn from our mistakes and we improve ourselves. Superman took a life in defense of his friends and in defense of society in general, and not for any thought of selfish gain. He now believes that there were other options, better ways to achieve the goal of making us safer in our homes, in our cars, at our places of business. He may even be right about that.

"But at the moment, that hot, passionate moment, all he could see was the monster in front of him. Even so, knowing what he knew, what did he do? He didn't go on a murder spree. He didn't randomly kill people he thought might be associated with Intergang. He didn't kill everyone he knew was working with Intergang. He didn't even kill the so-called 'inner circle' of decision makers he saw that night who were personally responsible for carrying out Bill Church's vicious, murderous instructions."

Connie's voice took on a personal, intimate tone. "He took one life. He took the life of one man who had masterminded nearly half a hundred deaths in one brief night and planned many more. He stopped a criminal organization from rending to shreds the very fabric of our society. It cost one life. It wasn't, and isn't, Superman's place to render judgment on criminals, but this one time he did, and while perhaps it wasn't what he should have done, isn't what he might do if he had the chance to do it over again, it was justifiable at the moment.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I beg you to do the right thing. You have this man's future in your hands. I ask you, for his sake and for all our sakes, let him be free. Release him. Don't put him in jail. He's a hero. And he's not guilty."

Connie sat down and dabbed at her face with the hand towel Blair offered to her. Jack Reisman sat for a long moment, apparently thinking, then he slowly stood.

"There's an intersection not far from the courthouse that I've driven past at least once a day since I've worked here. It's directly on my route from my home to my office. This particular intersection has a light that signals when it's okay to turn left, and it also has a sign that says that you can only turn left when the arrow is green.

"I've obeyed that signal for almost seven years. I've never made an illegal left turn there, partly because I don't want to be hit by oncoming traffic, and partly because I don't want a ticket."

He smiled, and some of the jury members smiled with him. "I see you understand my motivation. I'll also confess that some of it is my respect for the law and my desire to see justice done."

His hands filled his pockets. "But let's say, just for the sake of argument, that when I come to work tomorrow I make an illegal left turn at that traffic light. No one gets hurt, no cars wreck, no pedestrians have to dive out of my way, no harm, no foul, right?"

He shook his head. "Wrong. Because there's a police car following me. I get pulled over. The officer looks at my license and registration and insurance verification, all of which are in order. He recognizes me as the city district attorney. He runs my license and my car tags, and they come back clean. Not even an outstanding parking ticket.

"But he says he's going to write me a citation anyway." Jack lifted his hands in amazement. "I'm shocked! I tell him that I've obeyed that signal for seven years! I tell him I've worked hard to put criminals in jail. I've respected the rights of individual officers and tried to help them do their jobs better."

He began pacing. "But the officer tells me that even though all I've said is totally and completely true, doing right doesn't build up credit for me to spend in doing wrong. Just because I've obeyed the law every day for seven years, it does not give me the right to disobey it tomorrow morning."

He grinned and shook his head. "Under those circumstances, you'd see me mailing in a check to pay my fine."

Several members of the jury chuckled. Reisman's grin faded as he stopped and faced the jury box. "That, however, is the scenario the defense has painted for us. Ms. Hunter has quite eloquently requested that you acquit the defendant, partly because of the horrible character of the man he killed, and partly because of the upstanding character of the defendant."

He dropped his arms and raised his voice. "Those are facts, people! They're true! And the most important of all is this — they don't matter!" He leaned closer. "The only fact you should consider is whether or not Superman took Bill Church's life. And he did!"

Jack leaned on the jury rail and spoke more gently. "You can't acquit a defendant because he's a good guy any more than you can convict a defendant just because he's a bad guy. You must decide their guilt or innocence based upon the incident in question and the evidence surrounding that incident. Pete Rose is major league baseball's career hit leader, but he's not in the Hall of Fame because he broke baseball's rules about gambling. Former Congressman Ian Harrington, who was convicted of conspiring to sabotage the Navy's test of a new underwater defense system, didn't escape punishment because he was a member of the US House of Representatives."

He stood and softened his tone further. "Lawbreakers must be punished, or else the legal system means nothing. The law says that Superman was wrong to kill Bill Church, irrespective of what Bill Church had done or was doing or what he probably would have done in the future. The right thing to do would have been to bring Bill Church to justice, but because of Superman's actions that night, that's not possible."

Jack stepped back and spoke louder. "Superman broke the law. He took a human life. He must be punished for breaking the law concerning the deliberate taking of human life. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your duty is clear. You must convict Superman of murder in the second degree."

Jack sat down and glanced at Connie. She ignored him.

Judge Fields raised his gavel and let it fall. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's time for me to give you your instructions. They're very simple. You must read and consider what the statute says about murder in the second degree, you must weigh all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense, you must examine all the testimony given by the witnesses, and determine whether or not the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"You may request any part of the trial transcript at any time. You may also ask to examine any of the exhibits submitted by either the prosecution or the defense, as many times as you wish.

"Because of the nature of this charge, you must come to a unanimous verdict. If, after careful deliberation, you are unable to agree on a verdict, I will declare a hung jury and the district attorney may present the charges again. I must warn you that a hung jury means that everybody's time has been wasted and we haven't resolved anything, so it'd be in everybody's best interests for you to arrive at a verdict."

He smiled at them. "Folks, I'd like for you to get started considering right away. My bailiff will take your lunch orders. Today, and today only, lunch is on the city, as long as you're willing to risk something from the courtroom cafeteria."

The members of the jury chuckled. Fields banged his gavel once again. "This court is now adjourned. We will reconvene when the jury has reached a verdict."


Chapter Nineteen

>>> Tuesday, September 30th

The courtroom was packed to the rafters, with spectators literally crushed against each other. Lois sat alone in the front of the gallery and watched Superman rise as the judge accepted the verdict from the jury. He stood straight and tall, his arms heroically crossed over his chest and his cape billowing out behind him.

The judge looked at the iridescent blue paper the bailiff had handed him. "Mr. Foreman of the jury, have you reached a unanimous verdict?"

"We have, Your Honor."

"What is your verdict?"

"We, the people of Metropolis, on the sole count of the indictment of the charge of murder in the second degree, find the defendant — guilty."

Lois was shocked. He couldn't be guilty! They couldn't take him to jail!

"No!" she shouted. "Don't take him away from me!"

No one heard her. The roar from the crowd was deafening, and they stank of perfume and after-shave and deodorant and sweat and soot and flame and despair.

She tried to claw her way through the milling mass of humanity to reach Superman, but the crowd was too thick. No one would even look at her. She pulled a man out of her way but someone else took his place before she could step forward.

"Clark!" She shouted at the top of her lungs. "Clark! Don't go! Come back to me!" She clawed at the people around her but still made no headway. "Clark! Please! Clark! I love you! Don't leave me!"

Clark turned and gazed soulfully at her above the rabble. His natty wire-framed glasses contrasted with the week-old stubble on his face and the drab gray prison jumpsuit. He shook his head and his long, dirty, unkempt hair danced across his shoulders as the guards clamped the ball and chain on his ankle —

"Haaa!" She screamed as someone grabbed her arms. "No! Let go! Let me go!"

"Lois! It's Martha Kent! Wake up, Lois! You're having a nightmare!"

She grasped at the hands on her shoulders. "Wha — who — did I —"

Martha sat on the side of the bed. "It's okay, Lois, you were dreaming. Whatever it was, it was just a dream."

"Just — it was a dream? I — I was dreaming?"

"Yes." The older woman stroked Lois's hair. "It's okay. You're all right."

Lois sat up and grasped Martha around the waist. She leaned her head against the motherly woman's chest and sobbed as Martha gently rocked her and crooned to her.

Lois finally wound down and leaned back. "Oh, Martha, I'm so sorry! I woke you up!"

Martha smiled. "It's not a problem, dear. I'm just glad I was here to help."

Lois sniffed and looked around for a tissue. Martha made one appear in her hand as if by magic. "I'm glad you were here, too. That — the dream was —"

"A bad one?"

Lois blew her nose and nodded. "Really bad. Clark was convicted and they hauled him off to prison right in front of me and put the ball and chain on his leg and his beard was all scraggly and his hair was so long and so dirty and —"

Martha chuckled. "I know. I've had some like that, too. And if you pressed Jonathan hard enough, he'd probably tell you he's had one or two himself."

"Really?" Lois sat up straighter. "Did you wake up screaming like I did?"

"Last week I clipped Jonathan on the chin while dreaming about fighting a prison guard who was trying to put handcuffs on my son. Woke him up and almost knocked him out again with one punch."

Lois smiled wanly. "I guess I'm not the only one who's a little nervous." She ran a hand through her hair. "What time is it, anyway?"

"A little after five."

"Yechh. Too early to get up and too late to go back to bed."

Martha gently prodded Lois's shoulder with her index finger. "Too early for a city girl, maybe."

Lois smiled wider. "Okay, okay, I get it." She threw back the rest of her covers. "Time for me to start my day." She tried on a Western drawl. "Y'all want me ta rustle up some breakfast, pardner?"

Martha laughed. "I think Jonathan has some pancakes and bacon going." She sniffed and nodded. "Yep, that's his recipe. I hope you're hungry."

"Don't worry about that. I just hope you two leave me some."

"Why would we need to leave some for you? Aren't you coming to breakfast now?"

"I need a shower. I just realized how sweaty I am." Lois wiped perspiration from the back of her neck. "Wow. I'd forgotten just what hard work dreaming can be." She sniffed her hand. "Eww. I stink."

Martha stood up in mock horror and backpedaled to the bedroom door. "In that case, dear, please bathe thoroughly before you come to the table!"

The pillow slapped into the wall millimeters from Martha's nose. Lois's laughter finished the job of chasing Martha down the hallway to the dining area.


As soon as Catharine walked onto the newsroom floor at eight-fifteen, she could tell Lois was already there. The people on the reporting staff — except Ralph, of course — were never lazy and never shirked their duties, but when the managing editor was in her lair the entire floor crackled with energy. There was something about Lois Lane that lit a fire under anyone who worked with her. Catharine was grateful for that spark, that push, because it made her a better writer and a better reporter. Even she could tell how much her own work had improved in the last three years.

She smiled to herself as she thought about her still-new knowledge about the real nature of the relationship between Lois and Clark. She hoped that they could find some common ground on which to meet, just as she and Clay had done.

That thought drew her hand to her belly. She tried to cuddle the child growing within her, even though she knew the baby was still small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, and that any bulge on her stomach was only from her breakfast. Catharine sent what she hoped was a wave of good will to their child and what she knew was a flood of love and care.

Someone poked her in the shoulder and her head spun around. "You working today or is this the new mommy show and tell hour?"

The smile on Lois's face removed any sting from her greeting. Catharine smiled back and said, "Sorry, boss. I guess I was just gathering wool."

Lois's index finger touched Catharine's nose lightly. "As long as you can weave it into a coherent column by three o'clock today, keep it up."

Catharine matched her editor's smile. "I will. Lunch today?"

"Hmm. Have to wait and see. If the jury comes back today, I want to be there." Lois lowered her voice. "You understand why, don't you?"

Catharine softly touched Lois's hand. "Of course I do. I'll keep a time slot open for us just in case."

Just then Ron's voice rang out. "LNN just broke the story! The jury's coming back with a verdict!"

Catharine's face lit up. "There goes lunch!"

Lois spun around to face him. "So soon? They've only been out since yesterday morning!"

Ron stood his ground. "LNN says the jury has a verdict."

"Have they announced it yet?"

"No. The judge will hear the verdict at eleven o'clock today."

Lois took a deep breath, then she realized how quiet the newsroom was. They were waiting for the editor to tell them what to do.

They were waiting for her. And she was in her element.

She straightened and began shouting instructions. "Jim! We want photos, inside and out, before and after! Take Bernadette with you. Ron, Cath! Get me some reactions from people in the courtroom and on the street! Ron, don't let Cath hurt herself! Ralph, take Sheila and try to talk to the prosecution team. Find out what they think about the verdict. And check your facts twice this time! Paul, I want a comparison between this trial and OJ's trial, and see if you can work in the Harry Thaw trial in San Francisco back in nineteen-oh-something, the one with the girl on the red velvet swing. Geoffrey, you mind the store, and make sure the Metro section gets finished before deadline. I'm going to cover the verdict from the defense's point of view. Go, go, go!"

The room burst into barely controlled chaos as people shouted to each other and ran from one desk or storeroom to another and then either to the elevator or down the stairs. Lois chose the elevator to keep from being trampled, yet she chafed at their slow descent.

Catharine wedged herself between two other women and stood next to Lois. "If you need me, I'll be around."

Lois nodded. The people around them heard an employee reassuring her boss that she'd do a good job. Lois heard a good friend promise to be there for her no matter what happened.

She wished she could let Cath know how much that little bit of reassurance meant to her just then.


Superman sat at the defense table between Connie Hunter and Blair Collins. All three of them sat upright and were alert but not overly tense. Their words to each other were soft but clear, and their movements were crisp and smooth but never hurried.

Blair filled two glasses of water and offered one to Superman, who declined the offer but passed the glass to Connie, who accepted it with a nod. Blair chuckled silently as she contrasted her demeanor today with her appearance on the first day of jury selection. She'd been a nervous wreck who'd needed her client's help to pour water. Today, she might have been waiting for a taxi to take her home after lunch for all the stress she displayed.

She slipped a glance at the prosecution's table. Melanie Welch was playing with her watch, her wedding ring, her necklace, the expanding folder in front of her, and anything else her fingers touched. Jack Reisman wasn't much better. He checked his watch every ten to fifteen seconds and drummed his fingers on the table in between glimpses at his wrist.

Blair tuned her ears to the gallery. She heard muffled exclamations from people either trying to find a seat or defend the seat they'd already found. Occasionally a sharp word or two would be exchanged, but the bailiffs did an excellent job of managing the crowd. No fights broke out and no one lost a temper. Good thing, too, thought Blair, because there were so many people in the courtroom, a lost temper would've rolled under someone's chair and never been seen again.

Connie leaned over to her and whispered, "You ready for this?"

Blair nodded. "Since the day I called you."

Superman murmured, "Are you ready for the aftermath?"

Connie rolled her eyes. "I'm just hoping to get past the reading of the verdict."

"Me, too," added Blair. "But I know what he means. Boss girlfriend, we are gonna be hot topics for a while no matter what happens in the next ten minutes."

"Yeah, I know. I'd prefer to be on the winning side this time."

Superman whispered, "So would I."

Blair looked at her client with wonder in her eyes. "Huh? I thought you wanted justice!"

"Yeah, it's a little late for us to change our strategy!"

He smiled back. "I do want justice. But you've convinced me that I'm not guilty of murdering Bill Church."

Blair gave Connie a lopsided grin. "Hallelujah! If we can convince this thick-headed lunk, convincin' the jury won't be any problem at all!"

He smiled at both attorneys. "I think you ladies have done a marvelous job. Whatever happens, I'm both thrilled and thankful that you were on my side during this whole time."

Connie offered her hand. "Thank you, Superman. I know I speak for Blair when I say that what you just said means a lot to us."

Just then, the immense bailiff entered wearing a deadly serious expression. "All rise. State Supreme Court of New Troy, Section Eleven, now in session, the Honorable Judge Charles Walter Fields, presiding."

They stood as the judge made his way to the bench. "Thank you, Brett. Please seat these folks and call the jury in."

The bailiff did so. As the members of the jury filed in, they each sat in their assigned seats. The bailiff took a folded piece of paper from the first jury member in the front row and carried it to the judge.

As this was happening, the judge said, "Ladies and gentlemen, irrespective of the verdict from the jury, I enjoin you to curtail your reaction. I want no demonstrations, no parties, no fireworks of any kind, okay? Please, please try to control yourselves. I'd really hate to call in the big guns at this point."

A brief buzz of conversation reached Blair's ears, but nothing understandable came through. Judge Fields unfolded the paper from the foreman, read it, and said, "Mr. Foreman of the jury, has the jury reached a verdict?"

Mr. D'Angelo, the jury foreman, stood. His face was stone. "We have, your honor."

"Is this a unanimous verdict?"

"Yes, it is, Your Honor."

"Very well." He gave the paper back to the bailiff, who carried it back to Mr. D'Angelo.

Judge Fields took a deep breath. "On the sole count of the indictment, murder in the second degree, how does the jury find?"

Mr. D'Angelo also took a deep breath. "We, the jury, find the defendant — not guilty."

Pandemonium exploded. Blair was vaguely aware of Judge Fields whacking his gavel on the bench and declaring the trial over and the defendant free. She knew he'd dismissed the jury with his thanks, too, but she never heard the words, nor did she see Fields slip silently out the door to his chambers.

Blair found herself on her feet, hugging Connie with a fierceness she didn't know she possessed. She wiped her face and flicked tears she didn't realize she'd shed from her eyes. Then she did something she knew she'd never get another chance to do if she lived to be a hundred and eighty.

She turned, reached up, wrapped her arms around Superman's neck, and kissed him full on the mouth.

As the grinning hero disengaged himself from her, Connie replaced her and claimed her own kiss. Blair laughed and spun on her heel, and might have fallen had her client not grabbed her elbow.

He leaned close to her ear. "I think we should get out of here!"

Blair nodded and tugged on Connie's sleeve, but Connie only pointed to the gallery. All three of them turned to see the court bailiffs and marshals herding the people out of the courtroom and into the hallway. A few grumbled, but most left willingly.

As the last of the well-wishers and reporters were pushed into the hallway, Superman stepped over to Jack Reisman and extended his hand. "It was a fierce trial but a fair one, Counselor. Thank you for doing your job so well, and I hope you keep up the good work."

Stunned, Reisman stared at the hero for several seconds before accepting the handshake. "You're — you're welcome." A grin slowly inched its way onto his face. "I have to tell you, Superman, I've never been thanked by a defendant before, even after a not-guilty verdict."

Superman returned the smile. "Then it's something you can tell your grandchildren about."

"Huh! I should stay married so long." Jack released his grip and turned to his sister. "Mel, how about you?"

Melanie stepped forward and said, "Superman, I — you know, I — oh, what the heck!" Then she threw her arms around Superman's neck and kissed him.

Jack stepped back, silently counted to four, and then said, "Sis, I think you should remember who you're married to."

She released Superman and took a deep breath. Then she stepped back and straightened her suit. "Thank you, Superman. Kissing a newly acquitted defendant is a first for me, too."

The hero lifted an eyebrow. "I should hope so."

Blair offered him a tissue. "Here you go, big man. You really shouldn't be seen in public with three different shades of lipstick on your mouth."

They shared a laugh infused with tangible relief. As they wound down, the bailiff diffidently handed a note to Superman. "Sir, a very pretty lady with short dark hair gave me this note and asked me to give it to you. I hope you don't mind."

"Thanks, Brett." He opened the note and his smile faded. "If you'll excuse me, there's something I have to take care of right now."

Connie put her hand on his elbow. "Will you be at the Foundation at four-thirty this afternoon? There's a press conference scheduled then, and we'll need to tie up all the loose ends with them."

He nodded. "Barring some kind of huge emergency, I'll be there."

Blair wanted to say something encouraging, but she knew she couldn't speak what was on her mind with all those people around. So she settled for a grin and a thumbs-up.

Superman strode out of the courtroom and into the media maelstrom in the hallway. The last view she had was of his red cape billowing out behind him and reporters thrusting recorders and microphones towards his face as they scuttled out of his way.

She hoped none of them was stupid enough to actually hit him in the mouth in their zeal to report 'the big story.'

Connie nodded at Jack. "Well, Counselor, normally I'd wish you better luck next time, but in this case —"

He held up his hand. "I know. There won't be a next time."

Blair's keen ear caught a dissonant note in the DA's voice. "I hope that doesn't mean you think you won't be tryin' any more cases in here."

He gave nothing away with his face, but the tone of his voice said far more than his words did. "What do you think, Ms. Collins? That the people will revere me for trying to put Superman in jail? That they'll beg me to bring other innocent people to trial?" He snorted. "Not likely. In fact, you can pretty much bank on it. I'll be looking for a job before the end of next month."

Connie shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, I don't know. I'm pretty sure Superman's not going to go after you in the press, and the responsible papers haven't given you bad marks."

"That's right," Blair echoed. "Besides, y'all are family and y'all gotta stick together."

The conversation hit a lull, and Brett stepped in. "Excuse me, ladies, sir, but if any of you need an escort to leave the building, we'll be happy to provide it for you."

Blair smiled brightly and took his arm. "Thank you, sir. I, for one, will be happy to allow you the privilege of escorting me to my car." She turned her head. "Anyone else care to come?"

Jack glanced at Melanie before responding. "Thanks, but we've got a ton of paperwork to catch up on. Besides, this isn't the only trial in town. What about you, Connie?"

Connie shook her head. "Wish I could, but I'm in the same boat as Jack. I've got to wrap up some other stuff here, too. You go on. I'll see you in my office tomorrow morning at nine."

Blair stopped and faced Connie. "Tomorrow? What's happening tomorrow at nine?"

Connie smiled. "We're going to talk about us working together on a long-term basis. I think we both have some things we can bring to the party." She pointed her finger at Blair. "I also think we can do some real good in this city. Are you up to it?"

Blair's face almost split with joy. "I'll be there, boss girlfriend, don't you worry 'bout me. Legal Aid will have to do without my brilliance, wit, and legal acumen from now on." She began to turn away, then stopped. "And, I will definitely be at the Superman Foundation this afternoon at four-thirty."

"Good! I'll see you then."

Blair nodded and tugged on her huge escort's arm to get him moving again. "So, Brett, what are you doing for lunch?"

The closing doors blocked his reply. Melanie laughed. "Well, that's one for Blair. I don't know about you two, but I think they make a really cute couple."

Connie glanced at Jack and grinned slightly. "Maybe there's hope for us oldsters, too. What do you think?"

Jack quirked an eyebrow at her. "I think I need a vacation. I'm obviously getting too old for this." His eyes twinkled. "Maybe I should think about going into private practice, too."

Connie stepped closer to him. "Why don't we discuss that over dinner tomorrow night? My treat."

"My dear Ms. Hunter! Are you willing to be seen in public with a member of the opposing team? Surely the defense counsel union will have something to say about that."

Connie lowered her glasses and glared at him over the rims. "As Blair might put it, don't you worry your empty little head about that. I'll just tell them I was trying to seduce you but that you weren't smart enough to succumb."

She turned and walked away, leaving a stunned Jack Reisman standing there without a comeback.


Once again in his decrepit homeless man disguise, Clark swept the parking garage with his vision and hearing. Lois's Jeep was the only vehicle on the upper three levels, and no one was wandering around aimlessly anywhere nearby. It seemed that nearly everyone in the city had taken the opportunity to celebrate his acquittal.

He approached the vehicle from the passenger side. Just as he reached up to knock on the window, the driver's door opened and Lois stepped out.

Her visage was grim. Clark tried a smile, but she didn't change expression as she walked around the front bumper to face him.

"Hello, Lois."


He put his hands in his pockets and exhaled. "Well. Here we are."

"Yep," she replied flatly.

At least she's talking to me, he thought. "Thanks for the note. I, uh, I'm glad we met here."

"Oh? Why here?"

"Because there's no one else here."

"I didn't think there would be."

He pursed his lips and glanced at his shoes. "So, did you want to tell me something?"

She crossed her arms and put her weight on one foot. "I came here to listen to you, not talk to you."

Ouch. She wasn't giving anything away. "Okay. I'll have that interview with Superman about the trial on your desk by three this afternoon."

She nodded shortly. "Send it attached to an e-mail. I won't have time to drop it into the afternoon edition otherwise."

He nodded back. "I can do that."

"I'll look for it."

"I'll send the last part of the Muslim extremist story with it, too. I finally managed to talk to the leader. I think it's a good wrap-up to the series."

"Good. It'll probably go out on Thursday. Anything else?"

"Yes." He ducked his head and scuffed the concrete with his toe. "You're not making this any easier for me."

Her voice hardened. "Should I?"

He looked up. "I guess not." He sighed. "I wanted to tell you that I'm not leaving after all."

She didn't flinch. "Okay."

He wanted to step forward and embrace her, but he doubted she'd let him. "I also wanted to apologize."

"You want to apologize?"


"To me?"

He looked around. "There's no one else here."

She dropped her arms and snarled, "There's not a single blasted thing funny about this situation, mister, so don't try to joke with me!"

Unnerved a little, he took a step back. "I'm sorry. Yes, I wanted to apologize to you."

"Why?" she snapped.

Still angry, he thought. "You have a right to be angry, Lois. I was wrong-headed and stupid to tell you I was leaving for your own good. That wasn't the real reason."

"What was the real reason?"

Again, he almost stepped forward to hug her, but the granite in her eyes held him fast. "I was afraid."

"Afraid?" She shook her head and half-turned away. "You? Invulnerable you? Afraid?" She faced the Jeep and re-crossed her arms. "Afraid of what?"

"Of being hurt."

She shook her head. "You're invulnerable, remember? What could I possibly do to hurt you?"

He took a deep breath. "You could love me less than I love you."

If not for his hyper-sensitive hearing, he might have missed her quick gasp. If not for his enhanced vision, he might have missed the momentary quiver in her chin.

He stepped up beside her but didn't touch her. "Despite what you might think — and I know I've given you plenty of reason to think otherwise — I still love you. I also know I've made some really stupid mistakes and I've hurt you deeply. I'm so very sorry. I'm asking you to give me another chance." She didn't face him, didn't say anything. "Please."

She finally unbent a little. "Clark Kent will have to e-mail that story from the Philippines if he wants to maintain his cover. And Superman will have to go over there to give him the interview, and as a favor to Clark, maybe Superman could give him a ride back to Metropolis, along with all of his luggage." She took a deep breath. "And maybe Clark could — could drop over for dinner at my apartment tonight. About eight o'clock. Right after he visits with his parents." She almost smiled. "I got them a room at the Lexor for two nights. My treat."

He nodded and smiled. "I think Clark would be amenable to those suggestions."

"Good." She turned and strode quickly around the Jeep to the driver's door. "Then I'll see you at eight."

She started the Jeep and wrenched it into gear, then squealed the tires as she pulled away. Clark watched her leave, hoping she'd let him back in her life. He turned and launched himself into the sky. As he gained altitude, he wondered what his life would be like in twenty-four hours.

At least he'd know for certain, one way or the other.


Chapter Twenty

The afternoon edition of the Daily Planet blared the headline, "SUPERMAN ACQUITTED!" and dedicated nearly half the 'A' section of the paper to the trial and its aftermath. There was an editorial from Lois Lane insisting that the DA had worked hard to convict Superman, had done the best job he could, had lost, and was now free to pursue real criminals, an activity which the Planet heartily endorsed. She also strongly suggested that Jack Reisman be retained as District Attorney in the next election unless a candidate appeared on the ballot who was clearly more qualified.

Many retail businesses had either locked up and gone home for the day or released all but the most essential employees to celebrate the verdict. The mood in Metropolis approached the jubilation evident in photographs of San Francisco in 1945 when World War Two finally ended. Strangers embraced across color lines, across economic classes, over and around both sides of the law. All but the most hardened of criminals featured smiles and bought rounds of drinks for everyone in their circle of acquaintances. Even Walter 'Tiny' Macklin shut down his auto chop shop for the rest of the day to honor the freedom of his former cellmate and friend.

The video media outlets, for the most part, followed the Daily Planet's lead. Wisely, both the Metropolis Star and the Dirt Digger refrained from gratuitous attacks on Superman's character and his actions. To their deep regret, however, the editors of the National Daily Whisper did not display the same sort of restraint and common sense. Their next edition, bearing the headline "Alien Conspiracy Gets Super-Killer Off," sold less than a third of the printed copies. The resulting buyback forced the company to post a loss on their third quarter earnings statement. It took them until the second quarter of the following year to recover both the lost revenue and lost readership, and several names permanently disappeared from the masthead of the paper.

Clark Kent's interview with Superman, the only one-on-one interview that day with the Man of Steel, beat the deadline by ninety-six seconds and was published in the Daily Planet without editorial input that afternoon.


Clark Kent: Superman, thank you once again for making time to speak with me on this very momentous day. I know you're busy, so we'll try to keep this as brief as possible.

Superman: Thank you, Mr. Kent.

CK: Can you tell me how you feel right now?

SM: Despite the cliche, I really do feel that a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. As you know, I don't require much sleep, but I think that I'll rest more easily now that the verdict of the people of Metropolis has come in.

CK: You're legally a free man, and the death of Bill Church is behind you.

SM: Legally, yes, this is behind me, but I think this whole experience has changed me.

CK: Really? In what way?

SM: Personally, as well as making an impact on my future actions. I violated my own moral code when I killed Bill Church. I know that there are many others who feel that I should have paid some kind of legal penalty for what I did, but since I've been acquitted that's not going to happen. However, I want all of your readers to know that I'll never forget what happened that night in Intergang's bunker. I will live with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life.

CK: So you're saying that there's a burden of moral guilt that you're going to carry?

SM: That's exactly what I'm saying. I know that there are those who will, in the future, try to hold this time in my life against me, and I can't change that. All I can do is assure you and your readers that Superman fully intends never again to deliberately take a human life.

CK: Thank you. What else will you carry with you from your recent experiences?

SM: You know that I've never been a particular advocate of prison reform, nor have I been an opponent of it, but I think I'm going to pay more attention to the subject from now on. I don't have any concrete suggestions to make at this time, nor would I ever demand that my ideas be put into practice, but since I've experienced some of the process, I think I have some valid things to say about it.

CK: Interesting. It sounds like you might have a new focus now. Do you see your role changing from rescuer to reformer?

SM: Not changing, really, more like adapting. If I ignore the plight of a man or woman who is behind bars simply because that person is behind bars, I'm short-changing all of society. Our prison system is supposed to rehabilitate those who can be helped, and I'm not sure we as a people are doing that job very well. I plan to think about better ways to help people either become or remain productive, law-abiding members of society. But I also still plan to apprehend criminals whom I catch in the act and help out at natural disasters and accidents and so forth.

CK: I'm sure my readers will appreciate knowing that. Tell me, do you plan to work with Constance Hunter or Blair Collins on an ongoing basis?

SM: Well, the Superman Foundation has been doing a good job on the charity work and with licensing my logo and likeness, and I don't plan to be involved in any future criminal trials as a defendant, so I really don't know what our relationship will be from now on, other than as friends.

CK: Speaking of relationships, what kind of relationship do you think you'll have with Jack Reisman in the future?

SM: Mr. Reisman tried very hard to win the case, but he also played fair and didn't fiddle with the evidence, the testimony, or step outside the charge to convict me. I think he's an honest man who should be allowed to continue to serve the city of Metropolis in his current capacity as District Attorney. But that's up to the voters of Metropolis and not up to me.

CK: Do you plan to vote for him in the next election?

SM: Superman isn't registered to vote in Metropolis, Mr. Kent. I have no fixed address and can't prove that I live in the city.

CK: That's true. In that case, do you plan to campaign for him?

SM: He hasn't asked me.

CK: Would you agree to it if he did?

SM: I'd prefer not to be involved in politics on any side, but I would not categorically rule out some sort of endorsement. I think that anything along those lines had better wait until Mr. Reisman actually asks me, though. Assuming, of course, that he actually does so.

CK: Sounds like a wise plan. Tell me, are you planning to return to being Superman like you were before your sabbatical?

SM: (chuckles) My sabbatical. That's a nice euphemism.

CK: Thank you.

SM: Yes, I do plan to resume my patrols. I also plan to be more directly involved in law enforcement as a law enforcement official. I'm not sure yet how something like that would work, because of the problems of crossing jurisdictions and possible conflicts in authority, and we'd have to take into account my ability to be anywhere in the world in a very short time. But I'm confident such questions can be answered to everyone's satisfaction.

CK: What about the court of public opinion? Do you have any thoughts on how people should treat you now?

SM: There's no way for anyone to legislate how someone might feel about any given issue, especially one so intense as my trial. All I can do is behave as if I've been exonerated, which I have been, and make sure I don't break the law in the future. If anyone still has a problem with me personally, I'm more than willing to talk to that person about it, as long as it's a reasonable discussion and not a condemnation session. Beyond that, I can only hope that people still believe me when I say that I'm here to help.

CK: Sounds like a plan to me. Speaking of plans, do you have any plans to celebrate today or tonight?

SM: There is a press conference this afternoon at the Superman Foundation, and I believe there will be a live swing band after the speeches. Does that count?

CK: Yes, but I was really asking if you have any personal plans to celebrate.

SM: Yes.

CK: Would you like to share them with our readers?

SM: I'd prefer not to. My personal plans are, after all, personal.

CK: Of course. Since I have a deadline, and you have a press conference to attend, I think we'd better save anything else for later. Thank you again for allowing me to interview you, Superman.

SM: My pleasure, Mr. Kent. Have a pleasant day.


The mood at the press conference that afternoon was almost jubilant. Connie and Blair high-fived each other for the photographers as Superman stood stoically in the background, his arms crossed but wearing a slight smile on his face, the approximate equivalent of the average person doing backflips and screaming hysterically. The lead attorney for the Superman Foundation, Anthony Wayne, walked to the bank of microphones and waved for quiet.

When it was clear that his efforts were in vain, Superman rose up above the crowd and held up his hands. He never lost his smile, never appeared irritated, and everyone with whom he made eye contact quieted down. Within moments, they were able to begin.

As Superman drifted back down to the podium, Wayne spoke. "Thank you, Superman. And thank all of the media for coming. You know that there is no way for each of you to interview Superman personally, so for the benefit of those who don't pay attention — " he paused as a chuckle ran through the crowd and tickled most of his listeners " — each of you had the opportunity to write down two questions and give them to the Foundation's representatives. In turn, we agreed to ask Superman these questions, in no particular order, as long as the question pertains to the Foundation, Superman's continuing relationship with us, his recent experience with the law, or his own professional life."

A young woman yelled out, "Marry me, Superman!"

Superman gave her a mock frown mixed with a sly grin. "What category does that question fall in?"

Wayne paused as the laughter died down, then he said, "I must also add that anyone who appears to be intoxicated or who behaves in an unseemly fashion will be asked to leave. Anyone who refuses to leave when asked will be escorted out by officers of the Metropolis Police Department. Anyone who refuses to be escorted will be arrested, and, well, we all know what that could lead to."

The laughter was more restrained this time, but still relaxed. Wayne glanced at the note card in his hand and continued. "Now, we have a special guest who will present the questions to Superman as only he can. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce our own United States Senator from the great state of New Troy, and a man who still makes his home right here in our great city of Metropolis, Senator Perry White!"

Perry entered from one side, flanked by two obvious Secret Service agents. He waved to the people and shook a few hands, then bounced up the steps like a man fifteen years younger than he really was. He shook hands with Superman as if they were old friends, and several who stood close thought that the two might embrace.

But they did not. Perry stepped to one side of the bank of microphones and lifted his hand to the still-cheering crowd. They threatened to become raucous again, but before Superman could repeat his crowd-quieting performance, Perry shouted, "Hey hey hey! Is this a press conference or a pep rally? Give us some quiet, okay, people?"

The speech had the desired effect. As the noise level receded, Perry picked up the clipboard with the list of questions and turned to the hero. "Superman, it's my distinct pleasure to participate in this event with you. I remember when you first came to Metropolis, and I also remember how many stories my reporters at the Daily Planet published about you." A groan went up from some of the Planet's competitors, but Perry simply waved their pain away. "Listen, people, we got scooped a few times, too, so don't feel too bad."

Another laugh scurried through the crowd. "Anyway, y'all didn't come here to listen to me make speeches. Let's welcome the guest of honor: Superman!"

The cheering broke out once again as Superman ambled slowly towards the microphones. He nodded to Perry, who leaned close and said, "Welcome to my world, son!"

They shared a chuckle. When the partying had gone on long enough, Perry lifted his hands and shouted, "Okay, let's get this shindig in gear! Y'all quiet down so you can hear Superman's answers!"

The crowd of reporters remembered that they were reporters and obeyed. "That's better. Superman, you ready?"

"I'm ready if you are, Mr. White."

"Good. Here's the first question. Do you intend to stay in Metropolis?"

"Yes," he nodded. "I have no reason to leave."

"That's good to hear, son. Next question. What are your plans for fighting crime in the future?"

"Pretty much what I've done before. I won't interfere unless I see a crime actually being committed, and I'll hold the perpetrators for the police, who will make any arrests."

"All right. Someone wants to know what you think of the people of Metropolis now that you've been tried for murder and — let me make this perfectly clear — you have been acquitted."

Superman ducked his head, then looked up. "I want everyone to know that I hold no animosity towards anyone in the justice system. Everyone involved was merely doing his or her job to the best of his or her ability, and anyone who does that has my utmost respect."

"Thank you, Superman. Here's a similar question. How will you react if someone doesn't want your help?"

"Like I have before. I'm not here to force myself on anyone, and if someone doesn't want my help, be that person a crime victim or a police officer or stranded motorist or whatever, I will not make that person accept my help. That wouldn't be right."

"Okay. Next. Do you plan to accept some kind of official position in any law enforcement agency?"

"That one's still up in the air. I plan to talk with the police department, the FBI, Interpol, and several foreign governments first. Then we'll try to work out some kind of legal authority which will allow me to function freely in other countries without interfering with the various law enforcement agencies. I'll try to keep everyone up to date on that."

Perry flashed his famous smile for a moment. "Next question. Do you —"

Superman suddenly spread his hands to either side and looked around. "Did anyone else feel that?"

Nearly everyone looked at the people beside him or her, but no one knew what Superman was referring to. Perry said, "Is there a problem, Superman?"

The hero frowned. "I don't know. It felt like a seismic event." He raised his voice. "Is there someone here who can call Star Labs and speak to someone in their seismology department?"

The young woman who had jokingly proposed to Superman earlier lifted her index finger as she spoke on her cell phone. Superman floated down close to her and focused on her conversation, and when she lifted her head to speak, he cut her off. "I know. I heard. And thank you for calling them." He turned to the crowd and called out, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry, but there has been an undersea earthquake about halfway between Hawaii and the West Coast. There's a possibility of a tsunami, and I have to go help."

He lifted up into the air and flew to the west. Within seconds he was out of sight.

Perry sighed and shook his head. "He may be a hero, but that boy will never get elected to any political office. He just don't understand how to work a crowd."

The youngest of the Secret Service agents assigned to him scanned the area, then said, "Senator, don't you think that's a good thing where Superman is concerned?"

Perry laughed. "I sure do, young lady! It means I have a fightin' chance to get re-elected to another six-year term when I run again, because I won't be runnin' against him!"


Martha nearly knocked Clark off his feet when she hugged him. "Oh, son, it's so wonderful to see you!" She pushed him back but held his shoulders. "Let me look at you. Oh, dear, you look a little thin! Haven't you been eating well? Couldn't you find a good pizza delivery in Manila?"

Clark sent a quick sideways glance to the distinguished couple passing by in the hallway. "Nobody in the jungle in the Philippines does deep dish pepperoni very well, Mom."

She hugged him again. "Never mind! Now that you're home again I'll make sure you get fed!" She pulled him into the room and pushed the door shut. "Now you just sit here on the couch. Isn't this a beautiful suite that Lois rented for us? She's just too generous! Your father will be back in just a moment. He's going to be upset that he missed greeting you first."

Clark tugged his mother down beside him on the couch. "I've missed you both. Really." He smiled easily at her. "I'm back and I intend to stay here."

She canted her head at him. "Are you saying you're staying here in Metropolis?"

"I think so. It really depends on what Lois decides."

"Ah." She smiled back. "So, you've finally come back to your senses?"

"I sure hope so." He bobbed his head sheepishly. "And I hope Lois thinks so, too. I'm going over to see her tonight at eight."

Still smiling, still speaking gently, Martha asked, "What if she doesn't take you back?"

He shrugged. "I'll live. I just won't enjoy it for a while."

Her left eyebrow rose. "Just for a while?"

He met her gaze. "A really long while."

Just then the door opened and clicked shut again. Clark stood and faced his father for the first time since their conversation in the Stephanopoulos deli. Jonathan stopped about five feet from Clark and nodded briefly. "Hello, Clark. It's good to see you."

Clark didn't answer. He simply stepped forward and embraced his father enthusiastically. Jonathan returned the squeeze almost immediately. Martha rose and put a hand on each of the two men she loved the most.

Clark felt much of the tension in his chest drain away. He'd determined to follow a difficult course of action and had seen it through, even though there had been a number of speed bumps and potholes along the way, including one very iffy bridge he still had to cross with Lois. His parents still loved him, even if they didn't always approve of everything he did. Thinking back on the last four years, he didn't approve of everything he'd done, either, but he'd finally accepted the fact that there was no way to change those things. All he could do was to make the best choices he could from this day forward.

He loosened his grip on his father and wiped a tear from his cheek. Jonathan pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and turned to blow his nose and wipe his face.

"Son, I'm — I'm so proud of you. And I love you so much."

Clark grasped his father's arms. "Thanks, Dad. That means so very, very much to me. I love you, too."

"How bad was that underwater earthquake in the Pacific?"

"Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. The force of the wave the quake produced was directed mostly towards Antarctica, so I let that go and damped out the pressure waves headed for the Hawaiian Islands and for California. The worst they experienced was a slightly higher-than-normal tide."

"That's a relief. I'm glad it wasn't as bad as it might have been."

"Well, as far as southern California is concerned, it certainly wasn't the 'Big One.' They'll have to wait a while longer for that."

Martha put her hand on Clark's elbow. "Son, we'd love nothing better than to spend hours and hours with you, but don't you have an appointment at eight tonight?"

Clark smiled. "Yes. But I have almost an hour until then. How about you call up room service and get us something to eat? I'll even pay for it."

Jonathan chuckled. "You city folk and your crazy eating habits! We finished dinner over an hour ago."

Martha patted Jonathan's arm. "Dear, I could go for a light snack, couldn't you?"

He looked into his wife's eyes and smiled. "Well, I suppose a sandwich or two wouldn't hurt. Turkey and ham okay with you, Clark?"

Clark sank down into the couch. "That sounds wonderful to me, Dad."

Jonathan picked up the phone and dialed the front desk. Martha sat beside Clark and said, "That was a wonderful interview with Superman. You asked some very insightful questions."

"Well, I do have some insight into his character."

"True. And you weren't adversarial this time."

Clark frowned slightly. "What do you mean, 'this time'?"

"Well, honey, in the last Superman interview the Daily Planet published, you asked some rather — ah, pointed questions. You didn't do that this time."

"It wasn't a puff piece, Mom. I asked hard questions."

"Yes, but you didn't argue with Superman in today's interview. At least, not in print."

He shook his head. "The Planet printed everything I wrote. No one cut a single word."

She patted his hand. "Of course not! No one else could get a one-on-one Superman interview, and I'm sure Mr. Stern was overjoyed at the article."

"I suppose so. All I really wanted to do was satisfy the editor."

His mother smiled and squeezed his hand. "I'm certain she was satisfied. And I'm pretty sure she will be, too."


Lois answered the knock on her door at precisely eight o'clock. "Hello, Clark. I'm glad you're on time."

He stepped in hesitantly and moved aside to allow her to shut the door. Her tone was calm but a bit distant. She still wasn't giving anything away. Still, she'd been the one to invite him, so he figured he might as well jump in with both feet. If the water turned out to be too deep, then he'd escape the best way he could, with as much dignity intact as possible.

She left the room and came back with a bowl of popcorn, which she put on the table beside a tea pitcher and two tumblers. "Popcorn, Clark?"

Popcorn? These were mixed signals for sure. "Uh, maybe in a minute. Mind if I get some tea?"

She nodded and motioned to the pitcher. He grinned wryly; she wasn't going to give him a nanometer tonight. He silently offered to pour her a glass, and she nodded in acceptance.

They sipped their tea and regarded each other in silence for several long moments. Clark almost broke the silence once, but reconsidered when Lois glanced away from him as he drew in a breath. Instead, he reached out and gathered a handful of popcorn.

He knew that she watched him as he tossed the kernels up in the air and let them drop into his mouth. He even noticed her hiding a smile when he caught the last kernel on a column of air and held it above his lips for a few seconds before letting it fall between his teeth.

He took and last sip of tea to wash down the popcorn fragments, then decided to open the conversation.

"Nice weather for this late in September, don't you think?"

Lois froze in place for a moment, then shook her head. "You come all the way from the Philippines after having been away for more than a month, and all you can talk about is the weather?"

"It started the conversation, didn't it?"

"You — " and she surrendered a rueful chuckle. "Yeah, I guess it did." She drained her glass and set it gently on the coffee table. "So, what do you want to talk about?"

Clark shifted to face her more directly. "Oh, I don't know. The weather, the Superman trial, the Planet, Clay and Catharine's baby, maybe, um, the future?"

Her eyes took on the aspect of black diamond. "The future."

He nodded.

"You want to talk about the future?"

He nodded again.

"What, specifically, do you want to talk about?"

He sighed. "Us."



"As in you and me?"

"That was my plan, yes."

"Together or separate?"

He drew back in surprise. "I'm sorry, I thought I made it clear this afternoon that I wanted us to be together." He reached for her hand, but stopped when she made no move to either receive his advance or avoid it. "If I'm wrong, Lois, I'm sorry. And if I'm too late, I'm extremely sorry."

She stared at him for a long moment, then sighed and slipped her hand into his. "You're not wrong about what I understood you to say earlier today. And no, you're not too late."

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "But —"

She paused, then continued. "But there are some things we have to get straight, some ground rules we have to set in concrete."

He nodded. "I understand. Go ahead."

"First of all, we need to get something out in the open. I want us to be together for the rest of our lives, Clark. Is that what you want?"

He smiled and leaned closer. "Yes. With all my heart, Lois, I want us to be together for the rest of our lives, and not just in a professional relationship. I'm thinking about a wedding, a honeymoon, and a life together forever. You and me, always and forever."

Her eyes shimmered. "Are you sure? I don't think — I doubt I could take losing you again. I'm not sure I'd survive going through that a second time."

He kissed her forehead. "Neither could I. Take losing you, I mean. I feel — oh, I don't know how to describe it!"

She grinned and whispered mischievously, "And you're the great romance writer. Can't get the words out when it's most important."

He laughed, easily and freely. "Okay, I'll try. It's the softest and most pervasive emotional high I've ever felt. Better than flying or even saving lives. Because this isn't just for the moment, it's for today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and so on and so forth until time itself comes to a stop."

Lois chuckled low in her throat. "I think understand that feeling."

"I'm glad. Because I think I finally realize just how much you love me."

She smiled. "How much is that?"

"Enough to risk everything for me. Enough to make me the most important human being in your life. Enough to open your heart to me and let me see everything within you, all the greatness and the wonder and the dark places and the shame and the hidden places even you don't understand."

He kissed her hands gently before he continued. "And that's as much as I love you. I've been a fool, Lois, an absolute ninny, a complete doofus. I'm so sorry."

She smiled warmly. He waited for her to speak, and when she didn't say anything, he said, "I think that was your cue to tell me I haven't been quite that dumb."

"Sorry. That's what I get for missing rehearsals."

"Ah. So you think I have been kinda stupid."

"Yes. But I have, too, so don't think you've cornered the market on stupid. We've both made mistakes, we've both been guilty of not listening, and it'll happen again because we're both human beings."

"I'm Kryptonian."

"And I'm Terran. Just means we're from different parts of the galaxy, not that we're congenitally different. You're a special person, Clark, but you're not that special."

He smiled. "I can live with that."

"I should hope so."

They kissed. It was a tender kiss, full of promise and smiles and lots of close communication. Clark leaned back. "I wanted to tell you something about Mayson." He paused. "I was going to tell her that I was Superman. I told you that, right?"

She nodded and said nothing. She only sat waiting, ready to accept whatever he told her.

After a moment, he continued. "The real reason I was going to tell her was because we'd had a terrible fight about him about ten days before — before she was killed. I took her to dinner at The Catch of The Day the night before she went to Ohio for that Intergang conference, kind of as a make-up dinner, and she — well, she was ready to make up with me."

"I know. I heard you."

"Yeah. We — wait a minute, how do you know about that?"

She looked a little sheepish. "I was in the booth behind the two of you that night. I could hear how well you were getting along."

He chuckled ruefully. "Now I'm embarrassed. Mayson and I were pretty — um, well, you heard us."

"Yes, I did."

Clark shook his head. "Anyway, the fight was about Superman and his role in law enforcement and whether or not he was just a publicity-hungry vigilante. Mayson said some pretty harsh things, and I got kind of indignant about her attitude, and we both yelled pretty loud, and it was two days before we talked again and we both apologized. We decided to go on a date where Superman was not a subject for discussion, and while we were at dinner that night, I decided to tell her. I don't know if she would have understood, run away screaming, or had me arrested on the spot, but I knew I couldn't keep on the way we had been — with her thinking about marriage and all — unless she I told her everything."

Lois pressed his hand gently. "I think she would have come around eventually, Clark."

"Thank you. I don't know if that's true, but thank you anyway." He took a deep breath. "I didn't cry for her when she died. I mean, I missed her, I missed her terribly, and I couldn't even look at her picture for months. She gave me several, you know."

"I'm sure she did."

He looked at her expression and saw nothing but continued patience. "I don't know why I didn't cry. After I took all of Bill Church's Intergang lieutenants to the police, I went to the Arctic and smashed a lot of ice." He watched as her mouth quirked slightly. "I yelled a lot, too. I think I broke up some icebergs. Probably messed up the weather patterns in the North Pacific for a while. And I really don't remember flying back to my apartment that night."

Still she waited. "Then I went home. My parents — my mom, especially — tried for weeks to get me to talk about her, but for some reason I couldn't. I'd open my mouth to tell them what a wonderful person she'd been, or how I'd felt about her, but the words always stuck in my throat."

He paused and she prompted him. "Go on, Clark."

He canted his head. "You sure you want to hear this?"

She kissed him softly. "Yes. If you want to tell me, then I want to hear it."

"All right. Even when you came to see me this past summer, I didn't want to talk about her. I didn't want to talk about Superman, either, but you kinda pushed me into a corner on that one and dared me to come out."

He paused. She smiled. "I love you, Clark. You can say anything to me you want to say, as long as you don't ever say good-bye."

He shook his head. "You're incredible. Anyway, when we decided I'd come back to Metropolis and face the music, you came back here and I started cleaning up my stuff. I found a small box I'd almost forgotten about with all of Mayson's pictures in it. I didn't know what to do with them, so I put one picture, a face shot of her smiling at something just off-camera, up on my headboard and tried to talk to her."

Her voice was as gentle as the morning dew. "What did you say to her?"

He sighed. "That I was sorry I couldn't save her. That I wanted to tell her about Superman. That I wished I could tell her about — " he bobbed his head " — you know. Us. You and me. I said that I still missed her, but that I loved you and I really always have loved you and I wanted to have a life with you." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And that was when I finally cried."

She squeezed his hand. "Do you need to cry some more?" she whispered.

"No. Not now, at least. I think I finally let it all go that evening, what with the crying and the talking to Mayson's picture."

She put her fingers on his head and rubbed his scalp for a moment. "Did she say anything back to you?"

"In my mind, you mean?"

"I hope the picture didn't come to life."

He chuckled for a moment. "No, it didn't." He squinted as if looking at something far away. "It was a little weird. I felt — I don't know, a peace, I guess. It was like she was letting me go. So I could have a life with you."

"Or maybe you were letting yourself go. Allowing yourself to move forward with your life."

He nodded. "Yeah, that could be it, too."

Lois smiled again. "She loved you, Clark. But then, she did have very good taste."

They shared a gentle laugh. Then Clark said, "You know, she respected you. She held you in high esteem. For a reporter, that is."

Lois's eyebrows rose and her eyes widened. "Really? She said that to you?"

He nodded. "She told me once that you were the only reporter other than me she'd ever met who she trusted to report the story accurately. She also said she didn't — please don't get upset, okay?"

"You're going to tell me that I wasn't exactly her favorite person in her circle of acquaintances, aren't you?"

"Uh, yeah. How did you know that?"

She smiled. "I already knew that Mayson didn't like me very much, Clark, but I'm pleased to hear that she respected me. From her, that was high praise."

He exhaled. "Yeah. How did you know that she didn't like you?"

"Oh, that was a subject that she and I covered pretty thoroughly." She kissed his nose again. "And even though I never told her, I think she knew I was still in love with you."

"Oh." He drifted back in thought for several moments. "Yeah, some of the things she said about you make more sense now." He turned back to Lois. "But Mayson's in the past. You are my future. I love you and I'll do anything I can to make sure we have a future together."

She touched her forehead to his. "I am so glad to hear you say that. Can we talk about that now?"

"The future?"

"Our future."

He smiled. "That sounds so wonderful. 'Our future.'" He lifted his head and closed his eyes. "It has such a magical, musical ring to it."

She smiled back. "It does at that. Now, can we talk about practical matters?"

"Sure. Where do you want to start?"

She shifted her head back but didn't move away. "How about where we're going to live?"

"Ah. You do cut to the chase."

She gave him a gamin grin. "It's my special gift. Comes in handy when I'm digging for the truth."

"Hmm. Where to live?" He frowned in thought. "I guess it depends on what both of us are doing for a living."

She nodded. "It doesn't matter, Clark. As long as we're together I really don't care where we live."

His eyes widened. "Whoa. Do you realize —"

Her index finger stopped his lips. "Yes, of course I realize what I just said. That's why I said it." She leaned in and kissed him gently. "That's how much I love you."

"So, if I really, really wanted to live, say, on a horse ranch in Wyoming, you'd —"

"Move there right now. This instant. I'd call Mr. Stern and tell him how much I love the Planet, but that I love you more."

His eyes slid shut for a moment. "Lois, that's the most generous offer anyone's ever made to me."

"No. It's not generous. It's the least I can do. When I commit to the man I love, I don't use half-measures."

"I guess not." He nodded. "Okay. What about your preferences? Don't you think you should have a say in where you live?"

"I've had my say and you know exactly how I feel about it. I will always cherish my time at the Daily Planet, I'd miss all the good people who work there, and I don't think either Cath or Jimmy is ready to take on that kind of responsibility right now, so I'd rather not leave. I love what I do and I love getting the news printed accurately and on time." She touched her forehead to his again. "But I love you more. If it comes to a choice between being managing editor of the Planet and being with you for the rest of my life, there's no contest."

He quirked an eyebrow upwards. "So I'm going to decide where we live?"

She sat further back without moving away. "Yes. For all the reasons I've mentioned, and for all the reasons I haven't."

His other eyebrow joined its fellow. "No pressure, huh?"

One side of her mouth curled up a little. "None at all. Just the rest of our lives together."

"The rest of our lives, eh? Hardly worth breaking a sweat over." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it slide out slowly.

"When I commit to the woman I love, I don't use half-measures either." He quirked one eyebrow upward. "I think we should live in Metropolis."

She waited, silent and still. He opened his eyes. "You need to do more than just write ad copy or romance fiction, Lois. Taking you away from the Planet would be bad for the paper and a criminal waste of your talents, not to mention being incredibly selfish of me. Unless you really want to go somewhere else, unless you really want to move to Kansas or Montana or Florida or Alabama or some other place outside the US altogether, I don't know of a good reason to leave Metropolis."

She nodded slowly, not wanting to break the mood. "And what will you do with your time, Mr. Kent?"

This time he leaned over to kiss her. "I will continue to masquerade as the Man of Steel when necessary, write romantic fiction under the name of K. C. Jerome and spy thrillers under my own name, and cook and clean for both of us. Unless, of course, you feel it necessary to hire a housekeeper."

Her smile almost took off and flew around the room. "No. I'd rather save that money to hire a nanny in a couple of years."

"A nanny, you say?" She nodded to him. "Then we'd better hurry up and get married, don't you think? I mean, so we can start saving?"

She put her hands on his face and pulled him closer. "I thought you'd never ask."



>>> Wednesday, March 18th

Lois carefully parked beside the hospital entrance and blew out a breath. She hoped she wasn't late.

She walked through the doorway and smiled as she saw Cath being wheeled down the hallway. The woman in the lab coat looked up and returned her smile. "Lois! You're right on time. Catharine is ready to go home and see her baby."

Cath leaned forward and whipped her head around so that her hair flew out and then settled stylishly over one shoulder. "My dear doctor," she intoned, "I have been ready to go home since before I arrived."

"Yes, I know, and I'm glad you're finally leaving."

Lois stopped short. "What? What's wrong? Why are you so glad that Cath is leaving?"

"Are you kidding? This new mother has all the female nurses jealous of her and all the male nurses drooling over her. We can't get any work done with her around! Six days of Catharine Grant-Mooney is about five too many for this hospital."

Lois joined in their laughter as she realized that they were only teasing each other. "Thanks, Dr. Amundsen. You want me to take over now?"

The doctor shook her head. "I have to take her all the way to her transportation. Hospital policy. And I thought I told you to call me Cindy!"

Cath flashed a grin at Lois. "You did, Doc, but Lois rarely does what she's told. Just ask her husband."

Lois narrowed her eyes at her friend. "You'd better be nice to me or I won't tell you about the coming-home party Clay's waiting to throw for you."

Cath laughed again. "I already knew about it. Clark spilled the beans when you two were here yesterday."

"Then let's get to it. Can't have a party without the guest of honor. Dr. Amundsen —"

"It's Cindy!"

"Okay, Cindy. Is there anything I need to know before I take her home?"

"I don't think so. Just make sure she doesn't strain herself when she goes back to work."

"She won't." Lois gave Cath a friendly glare. "I'll see to it."

Lois pushed the outside door open and then trotted ahead of the wheelchair to open her Jeep's passenger door. Cath groaned. "Not the Jeep, Lois! I gave you the keys to my Porsche!"

"You did. And I traded it in for a Chevy mini-van."


"Clay was very helpful. He signed all the papers and everything."

"You'd better be kidding or I'll —"

"Hey! You two stop that! Doctor's orders! Cath, you can't drive Melinda around in a Porsche convertible and you know it."

Cath's face fell as she clambered up into the Jeep. "Oh, all right! I suppose it's time for me to grow up."

"Yes, it is. Now you and Lois go have your party. I'll see you and that beautiful baby in another five weeks."

"Yes, Doctor. Of course, Doctor. May I go now, Doctor?"

"Please do. Drive safely, Lois!"

The doctor closed the door as Lois started the Jeep and slowly pulled away from the curb. "Do you need to pick up anything before you go home, Cath, or do you just want to see your husband and daughter?"

Cath pointed forward. "Family first. Anything else can wait."

Lois chuckled. "Those are words I never thought I'd hear coming out of your mouth."

"Me neither. But I'm so thankful that I found Clay." She sniffed. "And I'm so glad we have Melinda. She's really a miracle baby."

"That she is."

They drove in silence for several blocks, then Lois said, "Do you mind if I ask you some — some personal questions?"

"No, of course not. What do you want to know?"

"I was wondering — I mean, how do you feel — knowing that you won't have any more children?"

Cath sighed. "I'm not sure how I feel. One the one hand, I'm glad I won't ever again spend a week in the hospital after giving birth. I almost died."

"I know. You had us really worried for about twelve hours, girlfriend. Clay was so scared, and he didn't want us to know how scared he was. You lost a ton of blood."

"I'm sorry you were all worried. But I'm better now. And now that my tubes are tied, I won't go through that again."

"Oh, I don't know. The Whisper ran a story last week about a couple who had a baby despite the husband's vasectomy and the wife's tied-off tubes. Who knows? Maybe you'll beat the odds too."

"Bite your tongue, girl. No, bite it harder. Make it bleed."

Lois laughed. "Okay, okay! I get the message."


They rode in silence for another minute. "Uh, Cath?"


"You said 'on the one hand.' What about the other hand?"

Cath relaxed and smiled. "When I held Melinda for the first time, it was like being part of a miracle. And in more ways than just the one. I'd almost be willing to risk it all one more time just to hold another baby in my arms."

Lois nodded. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For explaining that to me. I think that's how I feel, but I'm not sure yet."

"About having babies?"

"About babies, about a lot of things. My life certainly isn't what I envisioned it would be when I was in college."

Cath smiled. "You know, I've learned something over the past three years."

"What's that?"

"That whatever you're doing, whatever thing you're going through for the first time, it's not like you thought it would be."

Lois frowned for a moment. "I don't think I understand."

"When Clay and I got married, it wasn't like I thought it would be. Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, in fact it was great, but it was just different from what I expected. I didn't expect him to be as much a morning person as he is. I didn't expect to argue about who does what household chores, and I sure didn't expect him to insist on doing the dishes! He has this particular way he loads the dishwasher that I can't watch because it drives me nuts, so I just let him do it."

"Okay. What else?"

"Well, I expected him to be loving and attentive, but I didn't expect him to be so tender. You know how strong he is, right? Well, he has the softest touch of any man I've ever met. His fingers are so —"

Lois's eyes bulged. "Hold it! I think you're about to give me too much information here."

Cath laughed. "Okay, okay! But you get the idea. And Clay told me he loves holding me when I sleep, but he can't stand it when my hair tickles his nose and mouth."

Lois nodded. "I think I get what you're talking about."

"And when I was pregnant, it wasn't like I thought it would be. Sometimes I almost forgot about the baby for a little while, and other times I couldn't think of anything else. I was lucky that I didn't have much morning sickness, but I didn't expect the constipation in the last trimester. Believe me, that's no fun at any time, but especially not when you're pregnant."

"I'd give you a high five on that, but I'm driving."

"And I got to talk to several other women who've just had babies this last week. Most of them are repeat customers, and they all told me that being a mother was great, that they wouldn't stop being mothers for all the tea in China, but that it wasn't like they thought it would be."

"How so?"

"One woman told me that her oldest daughter is almost seventeen and already has a police record for burglary and misdemeanor drug possession, but her fourteen-year-old girl is an honor student and student council president and a volunteer in a nursing home and she couldn't be prouder of her. Yet she loves both of them. She doesn't like what the older one is doing, but she loves the girl anyway."

"So, you're saying you don't know what the future holds but you're going to live through it anyway?"

"That's part of it. But the other part is that even if it isn't like you thought it would be, there are plenty of good things about it."

Lois nodded but didn't speak again.

Cath waited until they stopped at a traffic light. "So, how's the newlywed thing working out for you? Still late for work at least once a week, even after almost five months?"

Lois blushed slightly. "Yes! And it's Clark's fault. If he wasn't so dratted good-looking I'd be able to keep my hands off him when he gets out of the shower in the morning."

Cath laughed. "Now who's giving out too much information?"

Lois blushed a little more deeply. "Sorry. I guess I'm enjoying married life."

"But it's not quite what you expected, is it?"

Lois hesitated, then sighed. "No, it's not. It's not bad, not at all, just not what I expected."

"Uh-huh. So what did you and Clark argue over?"

"Why do you assume we argued over anything?"

"Every couple does. Clay and I argued over chores. His parents argued over which wall to put the couch against in their living room." Cath turned to face Lois. "So, give! What was it about?"

"You won't believe it."

"Sure I will."

"We — we argued over — oh, this is embarrassing!"

"So tell me! I'm sitting on pins and needles!"

"We — the argument was over whose account would be the master account on our home computer."

Cath waited for a long moment, then said, "That's it? You argued over that?"

"I told you it was embarrassing!"

Cath laughed. "Oh, Lois, that's great! If the little things are all that bother the two of you, it means the big things aren't giving you too much trouble!"

"Yeah, but I thought we'd be able to settle stuff like that without any problems at all! I still don't understand why it was so important to me for my account to be the master."

Cath nodded. "Because you like to be on top."

Lois snorted and blushed again. "Cath! What — what did Clark tell you yesterday?"

"I'm not talking about that! I mean that you're the editor, you make the decisions, you're in charge at work, but at home you're married to a man who's also Superman, and there's not many ways you can help him do that job. And there's absolutely no way you can do it at all, much less do it as well as he does."

"So — you're saying it's a power issue with me?"

"No. I'm saying that you have a hard time not being in control."

"What's the difference?"

"Does it bother you that Clark has to leave sometimes to be Superman?"

"Well — no, not like you mean it. I mean, I don't ever want to be at home without him, but I don't resent Superman intruding on our lives."

"I didn't think you did. You know you can't be Superman so you don't fight about that. But you want to be in charge everywhere else. The computer represents a place where you two are equal, but you want to be in charge there, too, so there's the argument."

Lois pondered that as she drove. "Huh. Never thought of it that way."

"Amateur therapy. I might be way off."

"No, I don't think so. Thanks. I'll think about it some more."

Cath took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "How's Clark doing?"

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"I mean, how's he doing? The trial wasn't that long ago. Is he okay?"

"Well — mostly he's doing fine."


"Yes." Lois waited for Cath to respond, but she didn't. Lois sighed. "He has these dreams sometimes."

"Bad ones?"

"Yes. Last week he sat straight up in bed and yelled something like 'No, no, I won't, I won't!' Then he woke up. He was coated with sweat and breathing hard. When I asked him what he was dreaming about, he didn't want to tell me but I finally wormed it out of him. He said that Bill Church was standing in front of him with his shirt pulled open, daring him to rip his heart out again."


"Yeah. Neither one of us got much sleep that night."

"So, Clark still has some issues to deal with?"

"Yes. I think he'll have to deal with them for the rest of his life."

"Might be. But you won't hear about me grieving over Bill Church." They fell silent again for a few minutes, then Cath asked, "Is there anything else you're thinking about?"

"Like what?"

"Like babies. It would be natural, what with me being a new mom and you being a new bride and all."

"Uh. Yeah, I've thought about it. And Clark and I have talked about it."

"But you haven't made any decisions yet, have you?"

Lois grinned and blushed yet again. "Well, as it turns out, the decision has already been made for us."

"What? You mean — wait! No! You're not — Lois, are you —"

"The term you're searching for is 'in the family way' if you want to be extremely polite about it."

"Actually, I was thinking 'knocked up.'"

Lois laughed so hard she almost swerved out of the lane. "Easy, Lois! Tell you what, let's just talk when you stop at traffic lights."

"Okay. Hey! Don't say anything to anyone! I haven't told Clark yet."

"What? You haven't told him? How long have you known?"

"For about, oh, forty minutes now. I just came from my OB-GYN. I'm definitely pregnant. That's why it took me as long as it did to pick you up."

"Wow." Cath leaned back. "Superman's gonna have a baby."

"No. Clark Kent's wife is going to have a baby. Superman's not even going to be on the birth announcement."

"Right, right. Hey! K. C. Jerome is going to have a baby!"

They both laughed again until Cath put her hand on her stomach and flinched slightly.

"Hey! Cath, you okay?"

"Yes. Just a twinge. Cindy said I'd have to be careful for the next few days and not strain any of my stomach muscles."

"Well, then, you just sit there and behave yourself! You'll be home in ten minutes or less."

"We'd be home already if I was driving my Porsche," grumbled Cath.

"We're in my Jeep because it's safer. Now hush up so I can get you home safely."

"Okay, okay."

They were silent until Lois stopped at the curb in front of Cath's house. Cath slowly climbed out, pointed at a vehicle in the driveway, and almost wailed, "Is that it? I'm driving a light blue minivan now?"

Lois picked up the overnight bag and took Cath's elbow. "It's better than the pink one Clay wanted to get, believe me."

Cath only whimpered in response. When they opened the front door, ten or twelve people jumped up from various couches and chairs and in unison whispered, "Surprise!"

Clay quickly stepped close and gently embraced his wife. "Melinda's asleep. You want to go see her?"

"Yes! I mean, if we can delay the party for a few minutes."

Lois leaned in. "I think the party can wait until you see your daughter."

Clay and Cath made their way past their guests towards the baby's room. "She lifted her head today!"

"Already? No!"

"Yes! And she smiled at me!"

"That was just gas, Clay. All babies do that."

"No, she really smiled! And she told me she wants to be a famous writer, just like her mother."

"Oh, you darling man!"

They passed out of hearing before Clay could gripe about being called a 'darling man' in front of his police colleagues again. Lois smiled as Clark put his arm around her and squeezed lightly, then tugged her towards a corner away from the other guests. "They're going to be great parents, Lois."

"I know. Oh, is her Porsche in the garage?"

"Yes. Clay and I managed to rearrange everything so that there's still a path to the lawnmower and weed trimmer. And he's not going to let her drive it until after her six-week checkup, if then."

Lois giggled. "I told her Clay traded it in for a minivan."

Clark smiled. "And I suppose she thought the one in the driveway was hers now?"

"She seemed to. That belongs to one of Clay's friends from the precinct, doesn't it?"

"Officer Janet Owens drove it here. She brought most of the other guests with her. I'm glad they came."

"Me too. Did you get the galley proofs on the spy novel sent back to the publisher?"

"Wow. That was random."

She elbowed him lightly in the ribs. "Once an editor, always an editor. Have you sent them back yet?"

"Mailed them this morning, before I came over. Say, where did you go before you picked up Cath? You never did say."

"Didn't I?"

"No, you didn't, you not so innocent little minx. Where were you?"

She smiled a private smile. "I'll tell you all about it after the party, I promise."


Following is the URL for the text below, which quotes the state of New York's statute concerning murder in the second degree. I believe that we can safely assume that New Troy's laws are similar if not identical.

Superman's acquittal would be proper and correct under section 1, since the jury determined that he did not have "intent to cause the death of another person" when he burst into Intergang's headquarters, and section 1-a, the affirmative defense, acting "under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance" following Mayson's death. This section is also the reason it was important to point out that Superman was not charged with any other crime, so that he could not be acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter or assault or any lesser crime.

Thanks so very much for sticking with this monster to the very end. I know that it has been a long and somewhat torturous trip, and this writer appreciates your attention and patronage most keenly.

>>> Section 125.25 Murder in the second degree

A person is guilty of murder in the second degree when:

1. With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; except that in any prosecution under this subdivision, it is an affirmative defense that:

(a) The defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the first degree or any other crime; or

(b) The defendant's conduct consisted of causing or aiding, without the use of duress or deception, another person to commit suicide. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the second degree or any other crime; or

2. Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person; or

3. Acting either alone or with one or more other persons, he commits or attempts to commit robbery, burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse, escape in the first degree, or escape in the second degree, and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime or of immediate flight therefrom, he, or another participant, if there be any, causes the death of a person other than one of the participants; except that in any prosecution under this subdivision, in which the defendant was not the only participant in the underlying crime, it is an affirmative defense that the defendant:

(a) Did not commit the homicidal act or in any way solicit, request, command, importune, cause or aid the commission thereof; and

(b) Was not armed with a deadly weapon, or any instrument, article or substance readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury and of a sort not ordinarily carried in public places by law-abiding persons; and

(c) Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant was armed with such a weapon, instrument, article or substance; and

(d) Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant intended to engage in conduct likely to result in death or serious physical injury; or

4. Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, and being eighteen years old or more the defendant recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of serious physical injury or death to another person less than eleven years old and thereby causes the death of such person.

Murder in the second degree is a class A-I felony.