Reversal of Fortune

By LaraMoon <>

Rated: PG

Submitted: December 2006

Summary: What if Clark had been a rich man and Lex a small-time reporter? Would Lois still find her way to the man she's meant to be with?

Author's Note:

This is the "novel" that I wrote for NaNoWriMo ( in November 2006. It's been polished a little and edited slightly from the original version but not lots. I've removed some of the pointless drivel that was in the story so if you were to add up all the words in this story, it might not come to 50,000 — but the original version most certainly does. I just went through it and took out parts that would bore you guys to tears. *lol* (like the extra long description of the house at the beginning… it was very well written, but completely useless!)

It is an "elseworld" story. What I did is I switched Clark and Lex around. Of course, the good guy is still the good guy and Clark is definitely still Superman. I just made Lex a small time reporter (and Lois' partner… poor girl!) and made Clark a very rich man. Hence the title, "Reversal of Fortune". Clever, no? Lois is still Lois, because that's the way we like her.

As usual, you'll find a few references to movies/TV/comics and a couple 'inside jokes' in this story. I'm geeky that way. ;) You'll find a list of them at the end of the file — just in case you want to know what they were… although I'm sure you'll probably see them all, right? ;)

Special thanks to everyone on the boards who's left comments as I posted parts of this story. I'd just lost my job at the time and your feedback cheered me up more than you'll ever know. You guys are really the best! And many, many thanks to my GE, Tricia who read through pages upon pages of this long and crazy tale, fixed my silly little errors, taught me a few things on the proper use of English and even gave me a few things to think about for a sequel.

Disclaimer: The main characters in this story aren't all mine. They belong to their respective creators/owners. No copyright infringement is intended. I also borrowed a few lines from movies (see end notes), but other than those, all the words are mine. The idea is, too.

I hope you enjoy reading this story!


{*I'm content to live in the vacuum I have made

A comfortable existence on my own

The problems of the world are there for others to debate

I prefer to face my days alone!*}

— "Skin Game" by Arena


The man took a quick look around the spot where he had landed. He stood in a field sparsely covered with trees. He was relieved to see that no one had noticed his arrival. They wouldn't have understood how he was able to do that and they quite probably would have run away screaming if they had noticed his arrival. He definitely did not want to draw that much attention to himself! It was best that no one see him and no one knew he was here.

He walked the short distance that separated him from the little paved road which led to the house he had set his sights upon. There was no one around there either. This, however, was odd. He had expected to see someone here. He was sure he'd gotten the location right. But perhaps he'd gotten the time wrong, he wondered? No matter, he thought. He was here now and he'd make the most of this trip; look around, make sure that this place was all that he had hoped.

After a few minutes of inspecting the surroundings, taking notes and making observations, he knew that this was it. This was the place. He had been searching for quite some time now. He'd found other places elsewhere that were similar, but none were as perfect as this one was. It had everything the man hoped for. Every detail was just right and it offered possibilities that none of the places he'd visited before had. Perhaps this time, things would work out the way he hoped they would.

"It's just perfect!" he said, to no one in particular.

He rubbed his hands together and began planning his next move.


The creepy old mansion up on Eagle View Drive now had a new owner. It had been empty and up for sale for ages; no one in their right mind wanted to live there… well, not until a few weeks ago.

No matter who you asked, everyone it seemed had a chilling tale to tell about the house and why it had been empty for so long. Everyone had a different version and the story usually ended with accounts of ghosts or spirits having been seen roaming around the property. As a result, most people didn't dare venture anywhere near there. Even the squirrels kept away. But the fact of the matter was that it was just an old house. It had been uninhabited for the last twenty years and was pretty much falling apart now, but that was basically all there was to tell about the mansion. There wasn't anything there that was even remotely chilling. Except maybe the occasional gust of wind that came in through a crack in the wall…

The mansion stood on top of the small hill, at the end of Eagle View Drive. A tall wrought-iron fence surrounded the property, which consisted of the mansion itself and several acres of land. Had the place been in better shape, it might have been the envy of everyone living in the vicinity. But as it was, it stuck out as a sore thumb and served only as the subject of scary stories that parents told their children on Halloween.

When the residents of this nice little suburban town, on the outskirts of Metropolis, had learned that the mansion would once more be inhabited, their curiosity had been piqued. The new owner had to be an outsider or they would never have been interested in the house in the first place. The local people would not have been caught dead anywhere near the place, let alone going inside even for just a short tour of the mansion. So obviously, whoever had bought it hadn't ever heard of these stories. Come to think of it, considering the state of the property, they probably hadn't seen the place before purchasing it, either!

The real-estate agent had quickly earned himself quite a reputation for selling the mansion. Selling a place that had been unwanted and empty for twenty years was nothing short of a miracle. However, the truth was that the house had pretty much sold itself. When he'd gotten a call that Friday afternoon from a woman asking if he would kindly show her around that property, he had first thought it was a bad joke. But it wasn't and the caller was dead serious. So, shaking away the thoughts of ghosts and spirits, the agent had agreed to show her around. Barely ten minutes into the visit, the woman had made an offer on the mansion. An offer which happened to be well over the listing for the property.

And so the mansion on Eagle View Drive had been sold. Roughly a week later, the neighbors had noticed that the new owner had moved in. It seemed to have happened all of the sudden… one day the house was run down and empty and the next, the post-man had seen a man moving furniture inside the place and he had been astonished to realize just how many repairs seemed to have been made in such a short amount of time.

For several days, everyone had tried to find out who had moved in the mansion. It was the talk of the town. Women gossiped about it at the supermarket. Men talked about it around the water cooler at the office. Kids played guessing games in the schoolyard. Everybody wanted to know! They'd seen a fairly attractive woman in her early twenties go in and out of the house. She barely ever left the grounds and had never been seen in town. They knew from the real-estate agent that she was the owner's personal assistant. That is all anyone knew at first.

And then, one day, the post-man had needed to deliver a letter there. The first letter addressed to the new owner. This is how they all found out who had bought the property. Suddenly everything had made sense to everyone…


Clark Kent was a novelist. Extremely prolific and successful, this made him a very rich novelist. Even before he had ever started writing, he already had a considerable fortune. According to Forbes Magazine, he was currently the third wealthiest man in the world. He was also a very strange man. Refusing to have contact with others, he'd been living as a recluse for years. Other than that, no one seemed to know much about him. Depending who you asked, he was either a middle-aged man who'd lost his wife and had then turned away from the world, or he was horribly deformed and hiding away from others for fear of being ridiculed. What they did know for certain is that he wrote the most amazing adventure novels. He could make you believe that you were there in a way no other writer could. The only other widely known fact about this man was that he gave several millions of dollars every year to all manners of charities. Perhaps, as the tabloids kept insinuating, his generosity was a way of finding absolution for something he'd done.

There were rumors about the young woman who served as his personal assistant as well. They knew her name, but they had as much information on her as they had on him. Although she wasn't very old she had worked for him — or at the very least been with him — for several years. There was much speculation regarding the relationship that they shared. Some thought she was his wife, perhaps his daughter. It didn't seem likely that he kept her there against her will, for she always sounded cheerful on the phone and people who had had dealings with her always said that she looked friendly, even happy. Perhaps he was just paying her very, very well.

When word spread that Clark Kent was the new owner of the mansion on Eagle View Drive, most people had just shrugged. He was rich and eccentric, wasn't he? And somehow, in a very weird sort of way, it just made perfect sense that he would want to live there. The man and the mansion were a perfect fit: they both had a lot of mystery surrounding them, were the subject of constant gossip and neither were especially welcoming to visitors.


Lois Lane had been working for the Metropolis Star for almost a year now. Fresh out of College, she'd barged right into Preston Carpenter's office and had proceeded to explain to the publisher why not hiring her would be the worst mistake he could ever make. She had been hired on the spot, just as she imagined she would. It was common knowledge that Carpenter liked women who knew precisely what they wanted out of life and could articulate it with assurance and certainty. Naturally, it also helped that Lois had a nice long pair of legs, which the editor had most definitely noticed.

The Star had actually been her second choice… Lois had first tried her little stunt on Perry White, at the Daily Planet. Unfortunately, the man had seemed as unimpressed by her physical attributes as he had been by her rather original way to land a job there. He'd simply raised an eyebrow at her and then had launched into some completely off-topic story about Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker. Lois had looked at the man as if he had suddenly started speaking Mandarin and, excusing herself, had left his office, abandoning her dream of ever working at the Daily Planet. It might have been the top newspaper in Metropolis, but their chief editor was obviously deranged and she figured that unless she learned to do the Jailhouse Rock, she had little or no chance of ever working there.

As far as she could remember, being a reporter was what Lois had always dreamt of. It was the only thing she had ever seen herself as doing. She was bright and inquisitive and from a very early age, she'd spent all her free time investigating all sorts of mysteries for the small newspaper she had created. From her base of operations, in the basement of her parents' home, Lois did everything herself: she wrote the stories, took the pictures, printed and even distributed the weekly publication. Most of the stories weren't nearly as interesting as she would have liked them to be — disappearing signposts or families moving in and out of the neighborhood — but she prided herself on the quality of her stories. None of them were fiction; they weren't hearsay either. Every last word was the truth. Painstakingly verified and researched, all of her facts would easily have stood up in court.

So, even though her plans of working in the city's number one newspaper hadn't worked out exactly as she had hoped, working at the Star was still a wonderful opportunity. She was learning the ropes there and she would move up eventually, she knew. Besides, she needed the money and after spending so long at Metropolis University learning everything there was to learn about how to be a reporter, Lois Lane had been more than ready to spring into action and be one. A real one.

Since she did not have any concrete experience on the field yet, Lois had immediately been assigned to work with a more seasoned reporter. When the idea had first been presented to her, it had sounded like something perfectly acceptable. She'd viewed this as a learning experience; she would have a mentor, someone to show her how it was done. Besides, Lois had every confidence that she would be able to fly solo soon enough. But this partnership had turned out to be neither a pleasant thing, nor anything she could learn from. Worse yet, it was starting to look as though she would be stuck with Lex Luthor for a very long time. It had been almost a full year already and it seemed as though her editor had no intention of splitting the team apart any time soon.

The thought of being stuck with a partner for the rest of her career made her cringe. Even worse, the thought of being stuck with Lex Luthor for a partner for the rest of her career made her want to quit.

As much as she tried, Lois just couldn't shake the idea that Lex Luthor wasn't who he appeared to be. He would sometimes disappear for long periods of time — without any explanations — leaving her to cover for him and basically do all the legwork herself. He would always show up again right in time to write the article and share the byline, though. Lois didn't know where he went or what he did while he was gone, but her gut feeling was that the man was up to no good. There was just something about him that seemed off in a way. He was a good-looking guy and God knows he could have charmed the pants off just about anyone — he probably did, too! He wasn't stupid either, which as far as reporters went made him a fairly decent one although she guessed he was pretty much on his decline by now. But there was something about this man that just didn't click. Of course, it didn't help that pretty much everything the man did rubbed her the wrong way, but it wasn't just about that or even about her for that matter. Unfortunately, no matter how strong her gut feeling was about him, Lois couldn't prove anything… In any event, she'd stopped looking for skeletons in Lex Luthor's closet very early on; when she had understood that anything she did to threaten his reputation would reflect badly on herself and possibly tarnish her own reputation. She would keep working with him as long as she had too, but not a second more.

When she had heard that Clark Kent had recently moved right outside of Metropolis, Lois had seen this as an opportunity to advance in her career. She was going to land herself a one on one interview with this man. She knew that no one had ever been able to achieve this, so it would prove to be as much a challenge as it would be an achievement. People barely knew anything about him… Clark Kent's novels did not come with a picture and a few lines from his biography printed on their back covers. He didn't do tours or book-signings and he most definitely did not go on talk shows to discuss his novels. He probably didn't even answer his phone or his own mail… he had a personal assistant for these things, anyway. Lois was just about convinced that he hadn't even spoken to another soul outside his assistant for years. While she knew that trying to get an exclusive interview with this man was setting the bar pretty high for herself, Lois also knew that the rewards that could come from it would be worth the effort. She'd definitely get out of that partnership with Luthor and earn herself a promotion. It might even be worth a Pulitzer Prize!

No matter how long it was going to take to get there and no matter what the cost in time and effort, Lois Lane was going to do everything in her power to meet Clark Kent. Her future depended on it and she was not going to let such an opportunity for recognition just slip through her fingers.


The first time she'd called to try and set up an interview, Lois had played innocent on purpose. She knew full well that there was no way she'd get to meet the man so easily! This was just a way of finding out what his assistant was made of and being able to gage the amount of effort necessary before the woman finally caved. Obviously, it would take a lot more than just a few phone calls and Lois was prepared to go the distance on this, but she needed to first plan her "attack" meticulously so that she'd achieve the desired results.

Lois had politely introduced herself and had asked whether or not it would be possible to meet with the novelist. She'd tried to be a sweet as she could manage. Sometimes, she knew, a smile could go a long way. And while she was fully aware that she wasn't going to get anywhere near the man this quickly, there was no reason not to try and get some valuable information out of the exchange anyway.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lane," the woman on the other end had told her kindly. "Mr. Kent does not give interviews."

"He doesn't?" Lois had asked, feigning ignorance. "As in never? To absolutely anyone?"

"That's correct. He never gives interviews. I'm very sorry…"

"I see… Well, would it perhaps be possible to get a copy of his biography so that we may at least add these few details to our article?"

Of course, there was no article. Not yet anyway. There would definitely be one in the future, though, so it wasn't exactly a lie…

"I can send you a list of all Mr. Kent's published novels, but that is as much information as I am at liberty to give out," the woman said, without even the simplest hint of regret in her voice. "If there's a fax number I can send it to, I'd be more than happy to do so."

Lois gave her the number and kindly thanked the woman before hanging up. It wasn't much, for sure, but this list of novels was the first — the only — real piece of information for her file on Clark Kent. Besides, once she got the list she would be able to pick a title that looked interesting and swing by the library to borrow a copy of it. Lois didn't exactly have a very active social life — work was her life — so she'd have plenty of time to read at least one of his novels. This was an important part of her research, after all. How could one interview a writer about his work if they'd never read a single line of it? And the last thing Lois was ever going to do was go in to interview someone without the proper preparation.

Preparing for this interview might be only half the battle; it was still going to take an awful lot of work. For one thing, Lois knew as much about Clark Kent as she knew about making a soufflé au fromage… Considering she barely knew how to make a grilled-cheese sandwich, this placed her in the "even more clueless than average" category. She knew of people who had read his novels, but she wasn't one of them. She would remedy this, though. She'd also have to spend some time searching through microfilms and public records if she was going to be able to find out anything about Clark Kent. Judging as though most people really had no idea who the man was, other than the fact that he wrote books, she knew that the information wasn't going to come out and jump right in her face… she would have to dig deep to get it and probably spend several week-ends pouring over newspaper clippings and all manners of publicly available records.

No matter… Lois knew it would all be worth the effort in the end.


Late that evening, Lois sat in bed with a copy of "Across the Dunes" which she had gotten from the library. So much for looking at the list and picking out the ones that had inspiring titles… this was the only one that wasn't already on loan. Lois hoped that didn't mean it was the worst! Then again, it was one of the earliest ones, so it probably just meant that everyone — except her! — had already read it.

It told the story of a man's journey — both emotional and literal — as he crossed the Sahara Desert; from Khartoum in the Sudan, all the way to the delta of the Nile River, in Egypt. Definitely not something Lois would normally have read about, but it sounded interesting enough. Hopefully there was more to it than just the recounting of a motorcycle ride from one location to the other, with some stops along the way. There had to be or this novel would never have made it to the best-seller's list, no matter who the author was. At least, Lois was pretty sure that people didn't just go out and buy strictly any book that had the man's name printed in bold across the front page. Did they?

She opened up the first page and noticed there was a dedication. "For Lana," it said. Lois scratched her head for a second… she'd heard that name before. Ah yes, she'd read it on the fax that she'd gotten from the author's assistant. The note that came attached to it was signed Lana Lang. Lois wondered if this meant that she was more to him than just his assistant. For all she knew, she could be his wife maybe even his daughter. Lois grabbed her notepad and jotted this information down. It wasn't much of a clue, but something she could ask about when she spoke to Ms. Lang, next time. Because there was going to be a next time, of course.

Lois turned to the next page and started to read.

~excerpt from "Across the Dunes"~

As I prepare to leave Khartoum, I am overcome by a familiar feeling of loss. It's the same old feeling that always reaches in and tightens around my heart; darkness and despair once again flooding through my veins.

Sudan has been my home for the last months; a home that I am now forced to leave behind. Knowing that I shall never return almost makes it too hard for me to go. But I must and so I do.

I gather the few things I own and stuff them in the battered backpack that I've been carrying with me around the world these last few years. The feel of the worn canvas material under my fingers brings back memories of all the places this bag and I have seen. Its many quickly repaired tears remind me of all the adventures we've had; its wear marks, of all the times I thought I'd finally found a place to settle down for good.

I too bear wear marks, but you would not see them on my skin… they run deep in my heart and soul. Every single home I've had to flee; every single person I've had to leave behind, friends and loved ones alike; every heart wrenching goodbye has left scars which I fear will never fully heal.

The realization that I do not — and probably never will — fit in anywhere brings with it the same old pain that I still have not learned to live with. A pain I hope, foolishly perhaps, that I will never experience again every time I put down my backpack and start calling a new town "home". You would think by now I would have learned my lesson and stopped being so optimistic, but I cannot — I will not — let myself become jaded. Should that ever happen, should I ever lose faith, then this is when I shall settle down to die. Where there is no hope left, there can be no life.

I pick up my notebook, the one where I've written down accounts of all the places I've seen over the years. It's so old, it's a wonder it still holds in one piece. I open it to a random page. I like doing this; it contains so many fascinating tales which I have heard from all the people I've met. They are like precious gems that I've been entrusted with. I read them often so that I may never forget.

A picture falls out of the notebook and lands onto the floor. A pretty young girl in a school uniform looks up from it with sad emerald eyes. In the picture, she's twelve. It's the most recent image I have of her although she's fourteen now. Tears rush to my eyes as I pick the photograph up from the dusty carpet. I've left her behind in a boarding school in London. My life is too complicated for her… She would not be able to survive the emotional hardships, let alone the constant moving around. After all this poor soul has had to endure in her young life, she needs to have some sort of stability. In London, she has people around to take care of her when she needs them; friends to be with, to confide in. People whom she can, in time, start building a life and a future with. At first I told myself that this was for the best. But the truth, as much as I hate to admit it, is that I hate myself for leaving her there. I hate myself for all the hurt I've ever caused her and pray that some day — in another lifetime, I suppose — she may forgive my foolishness.

I shake my head, attempting to empty it of the painful thoughts that have started to creep up in there. I need to finish packing and leave. Ali will be here soon; he's agreed to take me across the White Nile to Omdurman. It's not very far from here, but I don't fancy getting there on my own anyway. From Omdurman I'll be headed north, to Egypt. I plan to follow the Nile all the way to its delta and from there, I'm not sure yet. I have several days of traveling before I reach it and besides, I could end up staying somewhere else along the way. I never make any concrete plans anymore… Plans have a nasty tendency of going awry on me.


I've bought a motorcycle in Omdurman and am now on my way north to Ed Damer. I plan to ride most of the way through the dunes of the Sahara rather than using the main roads. It would have been easier to travel through the desert on a camel I suppose, but if I run into trouble… well, I can repair a motorbike. Camels, I'm not sure I would know how to fix. Actually, I could have chosen to travel any number of ways, but I don't especially want to be noticed right now.

So, I've traded in what little money I had in my pockets for this motorcycle. It's not in the best shape it's ever been, but it'll do for now. Oh, it would have been easy for me to get some more funds wired over here, but I'd rather no one be able to pick up my trail for as long as I can manage.

Now here I am, under the scorching desert sun, soaring through the dunes. On my way to Ed Damer, 300 km away from where I started. I should be able to get there before nightfall, it's really not that far, but I'm not traveling especially fast. I have no one waiting for me; I have nothing but time. Spending time on the road is quite welcome, anyway. It helps clear my head; forget about these things which I do not care to remember on days like today.

I've affixed a compass to the bike's handle bar. I still need to stop for it to be able to show me precisely what direction I'm headed in, but for the most part it helps me navigate well enough so that I don't get lost. Everywhere you look, it all seems the same: sandy dunes as far as the eye can see, merging in with the bluest of skies at the horizon. It makes me wonder how the Bedouins managed to cross the desert and still find their way to where they were going. The mildest of sand storms; the slightest gust of wind and the whole scenery changes. It's impossible to tell where you are or how far you've traveled.

~end of excerpt~

When she felt her eyes would no longer stay opened by themselves, Lois put the book aside. She had read nearly a hundred pages already. Truth be told, as tired as she was, she was a little sad to have to put the book away now. The story was truly captivating so far. She'd heard people commenting on the fact that any time they'd read one of these novels, they had always gotten the impression that they were living the story along with the hero. And every time, she'd thought to herself that these people clearly needed a life! But reading this book, Lois found that they were barely exaggerating in their comments. You could almost see the dunes of sand and feel the burning sun at the same time the main character did. And that was nothing compared to the emotion you felt as you rode with him on his motorcycle, shared his feelings and thoughts, then eventually met with local people and learned of their life and customs. This was definitely a great way to escape reality, she thought.

Lois was definitely looking forward to picking up this novel again and finding out the rest of the story! She was seriously considering getting a few more of these at the bookstore as well. If they were all as well written as this one, then she really wanted to read them and not solely for the purpose of preparing herself in the prospect of interviewing the author, either.


"How are things progressing?" Lex Luthor asked the burly man who sat across from him.

They were meeting in the same dirty little diner they always did. The pretty waitress, the one with the long sandy hair, had ordered their usual breakfast the second she had seen them walk in. And she'd hurried with their coffees, just as she always did. Lex appreciated the fact that she was quick and efficient, just as much as he did the fact that she never came over to try and make conversation as so many other waitresses liked to do.

The man took a sip from the steaming cup in front of him. "As usual," he said after swallowing the hot beverage.

Lex looked at him, anger boiling in his veins. As usual… This is what he always said. This was the man's answer to everything. Not "as planned" or "as we hoped" or anything that would give him any real insight on the progress of the operation. No. As usual. As if he should read the man's mind or magically understand what this all meant. It took all his strength to refrain from slamming his fist on the table and demanding that he be given a proper answer. One that held some sort of actual meaning. Luthor wasn't a fool. He knew that no matter how angry he was, yelling at this man would get him nowhere. Besides, considering the difference in their build, it was likely the man could break all his bones in just a few quick blows. And this… well, it would make conducting business much harder in the future, wouldn't it? So he himself took a sip of coffee and tried to relax as he felt the searing liquid descend slowly from his mouth all the way to his empty stomach, like a flow of burning lava.

"Then everything will be set in time?" he asked his counterpart after a moment.

"As long as you keep your end of the bargain, they will," the man assured him.

Lex nodded. Of course he would keep his end of the deal. His word was as good as gold; everyone knew that. The man grunted his approval.

Just then, the pretty waitress arrived and set their breakfast on the table. Lex let his hand wander not so subtly on her thigh. She gave him an embarrassed smile and left in a hurry.

Both men ate in silence, as they always did. Twenty minutes later, they had left the diner, each of them going their separate way and in a different direction. The waitress came over to clean up their table and picked up the twenty-dollar bill that had been left for her there. She stuffed it in her back pocket with a happy sigh. The short slender man might have had arms like an octopus, but if his advances never went past that, it was definitely worth enduring, she thought. She needed that money to provide for her son — he was all that mattered anyway.


"Hey! Good morning, rookie!" Lex greeted his partner as he walked past her desk.

He was rarely in the office this early in the morning. What's more, he wasn't ever in this good a mood when he walked in the newsroom. Lex Luthor might have been good at his job, but he barely ever gave anyone the impression that he liked doing it. Especially if he had to come in the office before noon. Lois immediately knew that something was up. She guessed that, whatever it was, it probably didn't bode well for her day…

"I really wish you'd stop calling me that, Lex!" she remarked, interrupting her typing to look at him. Ever since they'd started working together, he had called her "rookie". It annoyed her to no end, although in a way, it was still better than to be called "darling" or "honey" as he did every other woman in the newsroom. At least "rookie" wasn't half as sexist and demeaning. Perhaps it even held just a tiny bit of respect.

"So what have we got on the horizon today?" he asked. In all honesty, he couldn't have cared less. Fate had given him a partner whom he could now dump all the work on. Lucky for him, she was bright enough to do the job right — sometimes even better than he would have done himself — and smart enough to know that complaining about it to the editor wasn't a good idea. Life was good, he thought. Things were finally going his way. He could only hope it would stay this way for a good long while.

"Well, I've just gotten some more information on the…" she started.

"Wonderful! Then you'll take care of it, right? I have this thing I need to attend this morning. But I'll be back sometime before this afternoon. If you need me, you can just page me. Okay? And do let me know when you've got enough to start writing the piece; I'll give you a hand so it's in tip top shape before we send it off to the editor."

"Right… of course. Yes, I'll do that," Lois answered, rolling her eyes as she turned back to her computer screen and started typing again.

Once more, her instinct had been right; Lex had something other than work on his agenda for today and she was stuck covering his pretentious little butt. For a second, Lois wondered what exactly would happen if she didn't "take care of it" and never got around to writing the piece. She wasn't really sure she wanted to find out, though. In theory, yes, she'd very much like to know. However, after having seen some of the people this man seemed to hang around with, Lois had started to think that perhaps playing tricks on him was not the safest thing to do. She shrugged. At least she still got some credit for all the work she did — not as much of it as she deserved, but she figured that some credit was still a lot better than none at all. For a second, she found herself wondering whether this was how Robin felt, working with Batman. It had to be a lot better than being Lex Luthor's sidekick, though, she thought. She giggled as she imagined herself running around town in a flashy spandex suit.

It didn't matter anyway, she told herself. Lois knew that once she managed to get that interview with Clark Kent, things would take a turn for the better. So for now she would cover for Mr.-I-think-I'm-so-much-better-than-you Lex Luthor and use whatever free time was left to work on getting the interview that no one else had ever gotten.


As lunchtime finally rolled around, Lois grabbed her purse and left the newsroom. She stopped over at her favorite take-out place, got herself something to eat and then made her way to Centennial Park. She picked a nice little spot where she wouldn't be disturbed and then took out the copy of "Across the Dunes" from her purse. Finally, she thought. She'd been waiting for this moment since last night.

She dove back into the story and followed the hero on his continuing trek through the Sahara.

~excerpt from "Across the Dunes"~

There was a sandstorm during the night. I managed to find a place to hide, but I fear that some of my travel companions have not. Against my better judgment, I hid here and waited for dawn like a coward, convinced that, even if I had tried, there is no way I would have seen them through the sand. For hours, all I heard was the rush of the wind; all I saw was sand dancing in the air.

I find myself wondering how long it would take for my clothing to come to shreds if I had been standing out there. It's pointless, I know, but there's nothing else to do. I've constantly been trying not to think of days to come; of decisions I need to make. I do not feel strong enough to make them. I am not man enough. Instead, I run. And running has landed me here, where the world is but a cloud of sand whirling madly around me. I must have lost my mind somewhere on this journey.

As the sun comes up and the wind finally dies down, I step out from under the rock formation which sheltered me. I immediately catch a glimpse of Ahmed. He seems to be digging through the sand. I run over and find that someone is trapped there and he's desperately trying to get them out. I dig with him with all the speed and strength I can willingly put into the task. We finally manage to get the man out from under all the sand he was covered with. Sadly, all our efforts are in vain. He's already dead. He's probably been dead for hours.

Once more I kick myself for hiding when I might have been able to help. I may not have been able to see the man through the sand, but I could have heard him… Then again, even if I had, who's to say I could have made it to him in time? Who's to say I could have found a place to hide again afterwards?

Ahmed notices my expression, which I can only imagine looks dark and tortured now. I tell him what's on my mind. His face lights up with the wise expression I have come to recognize as the precursor of some sort of philosophical adage, which I never truly understand.

"A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it," he says.

He tells me it's from a 17th century French poet: Jean de La Fontaine. For once he's quoting someone I've actually heard of before. But this by no means signifies that I really comprehend the sense of these words, however. Ahmed's wisdom is lost on me again as I cannot figure out if he means this about the man or myself. I'm afraid to ask; he's going to try to explain it with several other sayings and proverbs which I'm likely not going to be able to understand either.

We round up the rest of our little group and start planning our trip to Wadi Halfa. This is the last Sudanese city we're going to be in. The next stop we make after that will be in Egypt. From there I will travel alone once more.

I have not been with these people very long — a few weeks, I think. I've lost track of time, here in the desert. It will be hard to part company with them once we reach Egypt. Making friends along the way is always simple; having to leave them behind is the complicated part. I keep hoping to find a place to call home for good. But I know I won't find it here anymore than I have anywhere else yet.

Once I reach Alexandria, I will stop running, I tell myself. I'll go back to London and face my responsibilities. I'll never be the man my parents thought they had raised if I don't. Once I reach Alexandria… Part of me hopes that perhaps I won't make it there at all. She deserves so much better than this; so much better than what I can offer.

Mounting my motorbike, I take my usual stand at the lead of the pack. My heart isn't into it; it rarely is anymore. I wonder if it's ever been, sometimes. But I've promised I would help these people out as long as I could and so, no matter what happens, I will. The truth, though, is that I need them far more than they do me. Their inner strengths are much greater than my physical abilities ever will be.

~end of excerpt~

On a few occasions, Lois had taken out her notepad and jotted down a few names of places that were described in the book. Some day maybe she would go there and see for herself if it was anything like the book said. For the first time in her life, Lois was really getting an urge to travel and see the world. She smiled. Here she was, actually enjoying an adventure novel, and not only that but now the author had her dreaming about going on her very own adventure there. She had to hand it to him, Clark Kent was definitely good at what he did! This only made her want to meet the man even more…

As her lunch hour came to an end, Lois put the book away reluctantly again. She sighed. It was so easy to get lost in this story and forget about time and real life. She wondered if the author had visited all the exotic places that he'd been writing about… She grabbed her notepad and jotted down the question. This was definitely something interesting to ask about during their interview. Perhaps he'd even lived some of these adventures? That might explain why the descriptions were so vivid and detailed, she thought. She'd have to ask about this too.

Getting up to go back to the Star, Lois walked past a couple of elderly women who appeared to be sharing gossip.

"You know… the rich author?" the silver-haired lady asked the other, who nodded back. "Well Mr. Nichols, the postman, says that his assistant isn't the only other person living in the house."

"Really? Tell me!" her companion answered.

Lois halted, hoping to be able to get a little bit of information out of their exchange. It might be just gossip, she knew, but often hearsay had a good measure of truth behind it.

"Seems he's got a groundskeeper, too," the silver-haired lady explained. "A very handsome looking one at that. Tall, dark and nothing but muscles. Mr. Nichols says when he went there the other day, he briefly saw the man doing some gardening work. You know what I think? He must be the assistant's husband. I hear she's quite a looker, that girl. With long auburn hair and green eyes the postman says are brighter than jade. I tell you, it's a good thing Mrs. Nichols isn't the jealous type or she'd be furious by now… Her husband hasn't stopped talking about this girl since he first saw her."

The women giggled and pretty soon they were too far for Lois to understand the rest of their conversation.

So there was a groundskeeper, huh? Well if she wasn't able to get the assistant to cave, perhaps a little flirting with tall-dark-and-muscular would help get her that interview. She smiled and started walking towards the office again.


The next couple of days had pretty much consisted of the same old routine. Lois got up, went to work, barely saw her partner yet ended up sharing his byline every single day. Then after leaving the newsroom, she would head to the library and pour over old newspapers in search of any bit of information she could possibly find about Clark Kent. Most of the time coming up empty handed. When she finally got home at night, exhausted from her day, she would dive right back into "Across the Dunes".

Lois giggled as she realized that in a strange way, she was now spending all her evenings with Clark Kent and that it was the highlight of her day. If her sister Lucy were here, she'd tell her what a pitiful life that was and that she should be going out at night and meeting real actual men, instead of the make-believe kind. Sure it was sad that all the male characters in the book were hundreds of times more interesting than most of the living ones she'd ever encountered, but that didn't mean that Lois had lost all hope of meeting one that would rock her world, so to speak. She just didn't have time to go looking for that right now. But once she was certain that her career was on a good, solid path, then she would be at leisure to find the ever-elusive perfect man. For now, he — or any other guy for that matter — would have been just a distraction from her work and her objectives. She didn't want that. Not for her or for a possible male companion, either. Because if she ever did manage to meet Mr. Right, she wasn't going to just brush him off, she fully intended to put all her energy into making such a relationship last. And now just wasn't the right time for it, she had no energy to spare for this sort of thing.

She almost laughed as it occurred to her that while she wasn't chasing after a potential mate, all of her energy was still very much concentrated into chasing after a man right now. One that was probably just as hard to catch, she knew. She shook her head as she realized that she was actually much more interested in meeting Clark Kent than she was in meeting Mr. Right. How pathetic!

Lois picked up the phone to make "the call" again. She wondered how Lana Lang was going to try to get rid of her today… So far, she hadn't been very creative in her arguments. It was hard to imagine that this woman worked for one of the world's most celebrated novelists. Apparently, imagination wasn't part of the woman's job description.

When Lana answered, Lois started her usual little speech again. She would introduce herself, exactly the same as is if she'd never called there before, and then ask in her sweetest possible tone whether it was possible to arrange a meeting with Clark Kent.

"Miss Lane, as I have explained to you several times before -" Lana Lang had told her, in a slightly less polite tone than usual "- Mr. Kent does not give interviews. It doesn't matter what newspaper you work for. There will be no interviews. You'll just have to live with it, Miss Lane. I'm sorry."

"But I never said I wanted to interview him," Lois retorted. "I simply said that I would like to meet him. There is a difference…"

She knew perfectly well that this was a lame comeback, but it was the only thing that came to mind at the time. Besides, she felt as though Lana Lang was getting really close to losing her temper. That was when she would move in for the kill and get her to agree to set up an interview with her boss. Lois had used that tactic on so many secretaries and assistants before; she could tell just when it was starting to work. As soon as they got past the point where they were seriously annoyed with her for harassing them, they would agree to anything, just to get rid of her once and for all!

"Not for a reporter there isn't," Lana replied acidly. "Goodbye, Miss Lane."

Lois stared at the receiver for a second. She shrugged and hung up the phone.

"Learn to live with it?" she thought to herself. "Is that the best she can do?"

Apparently, this one assistant was a tougher nut to crack than what she'd expected. She shrugged. Maybe it was time to move on to plan B instead… flirting with the groundskeeper.


Lana had all but slammed the phone down in frustration. For the fourth day in a row, she had had to tell Lois Lane the exact same thing. She was trying to be polite about it, but her patience was wearing thin.

"Reporters, huh?" Clark asked as he walked into the office. "How do they ever manage to get the phone number, anyhow? We've barely been here for a month."

"Ah! Your publisher willing gives it to them," Lana explained. "I think it's supposed to be payback for you never going on promotional tours that would surely make him quite a bit richer than he currently is. Anyway, I'm sure they could get their hands on it easily enough. The number being unlisted doesn't mean much anymore… Most reporters take a hint after calling a couple of times, though. Except this one. This Lois Lane person is unusually persistent! If she calls again, I'm afraid I might end up screaming at her. She's starting to be very annoying!"

"Oh? That bad, huh?" he smiled at her. The thought of her yelling at anyone over the phone was just so strange. Lana was anything if not a patient woman. "I'm sure she'll stop pestering you soon enough, Lana. I'm sorry that you have to play bulldog with these people. I didn't expect people to be so nosy."

"Come on, Clark, don't be so naive! You're one of the richest men in the world and by far the most secretive. Of course they want to know more about you! They'd want to know everything there is to know even if you weren't anywhere near as successful — or wealthy. It's exactly because you are being so secretive that they're interested. Everyone's heard of you, but no one knows anything about you. It makes it that much more interesting for journalists to try and get information on you. If they should happen to get any, it would likely constitute the high point of their career. Surely you realize that!"

"It hadn't occurred to me at the time, you know… I wish it had. And I sincerely had no idea my books would sell so well, to tell you the truth. Not to mention I most definitely never meant for you to have to take all the heat from these people."

"First off, you need to stop doubting yourself! Everything you've ever written has always been just… magical. I've been telling you this for years and you know full well I'm not just saying that because of… well… you know."

He nodded.

"And second -" Lana continued "- if I really did mind fending off these people for you, don't you think I would have said so before?"

"I know… I'm sorry. I just wish they'd stop thinking there's anything to report about."

Lana raised her eyebrows. "Clark, the more you hide, the more they think there is something to report about. I've told you before, some secrets are best kept when people act as though they don't exist instead of trying to hide them at all costs."

"Why do we always end up having this discussion over and over and over again, Lana?" Clark asked, with a frustrated sigh. "I am not going to go out there and pretend that I'm just as normal as everyone else is. I'm not. I can't. I can't do it to them; make them think I'm just like them. There's no way I could pull it off for very long anyhow and you know this as well as I do. You have no idea what it's like to be me, Lana. Don't even try. And don't tell me how I should live. I've tried fitting in countless times before and it just doesn't work. I'm not going to try again. It's not worth it! You, on the other hand, have every right to go out and have a life of your own. A real one, Lana. You don't need to stay here. I know why you do it, I know why you're staying, but there's no need for that. You do not have to take care of me. Mind you, I don't think I'd be able to manage all the daily stuff without you, but other than that, Lana… I've told you a million times before, you shouldn't feel obligated to stay here twenty four hours a day. There's no reason for you to."

"Clark… I stay because I want to, not because I feel I need to. I owe a lot to you, yes. But that's got nothing to do with the fact I'm sticking around. I don't feel like I need to be here because I have a need to repay you. I used to think you were my savior, but I was a kid, then. And trust me when I say I'm not staying around because I don't know where else I could go."

"Some savior I am… unless you've forgotten, it's my fault if…"

"It is not your fault, Clark!" Lana interrupted. "Would you please stop blaming yourself. It's been over ten years, Clark. Could we please move on? I have. You need to do the same. I beg you; please stop living in the past. I don't know if you realize what it's doing to you. I don't think I should be the one to explain it to you either, but I can tell you one thing: it's killing me. It's killing me to see you carry around the blame of my parents' death on your shoulders when you have had absolutely no part in that. Oh, and don't even think of saying that you should still have been able to prevent this from happening. You couldn't and nobody blames you for it. Nobody."

"Yes, but…"

"I swear, Clark, if you finish that sentence…" she warned him, pointing her index finger to his face in a menacing sort of way.

He sighed. "Yes, ma'am," he said as he hung his head. "I'm just… I'm sorry. You know?"

"Yes," she said softly. "I do."

Clark gave her a sad smile and left the room.

There was nothing in the world that Lana hated more than having to be tough with Clark like this. It wasn't even in her nature to be like that, but she didn't know how else to convince him that he shouldn't blame himself for the death of her parents. It just broke her heart to see him so miserable, so unable to move on. She'd kept hoping that one day, he would stop thinking that everything was his fault, but she was starting to think this was just as improbable as it would be for him to stop living like a hermit. She loved him dearly, he was the closest thing to family that she had left in the world, but sometimes… sometimes he could be so dense and so frustrating that she wished she was strong enough to wring the man's neck!

Lana shook her head at the thought and laughed softly. Wringing his neck! Even if she was strong enough and, by some miracle it did hurt him just the tiniest bit, she doubted it would do him any good.


As Kathryn had picked up the fat tip that had been left her again the next morning, she had been hailed by one of the police inspectors who frequently visited the diner. Everyone knew that this served as a meeting place for all sorts of shady business dealings and so policemen often came to eat here, just on the off chance they could catch someone red-handed.

"You know who they are?" the inspector asked her, tilting his head in the direction of the table she'd just come from.

"Not so much, no," she'd told him in a low voice, careful not to be overheard. "I can tell you exactly what they eat every time they come in here, but that's all I know. I can tell you pretty much what anyone who walks in here will order, actually. But as I've told you a good number of times already, I do not know any of these people. I don't want to know any of these people. I have a son to take care of, as you well know. Listening in to these people's conversation could be hazardous to my health or worse, my son's. I may not have a College degree, but I'm still smart enough to know what's good for me."

With that, she left to go back to the kitchen. As the revolving doors closed behind her, she let out a sigh. Would they ever stop with their questions? How many times would she have to tell them that she didn't know anything before they finally understood and left her alone? It was hard enough working here among all these suspicious looking men, but being harassed by the police half the time was not only getting to be annoying, it was also starting to be dangerous. Surely, they realized that?


"What are those?" Lex asked Lois as he rummaged through the plastic bag that was on her desk. He'd come out of nowhere again and was sticking his nose where it didn't belong. He had real talent for this sort of thing.

"Leave that alone, Lex. It's none of your business!" she warned him, her cheeks turning slightly more pink than usual.

He pulled out a book and looked at its front and back covers. He noticed that the plastic bag on Lois' desk contained about a dozen similar books. All of them by the same author, it seemed.

"Wow, I guess that makes you his new number one fan or something," he teased. At least, teasing is what he called it. Lois would probably have called it being obnoxious.

"No, Lex. They're not for me," she lied. "It's a present for my sister. Her birthday is coming up and I promised this year I'd send her anything she wanted. I really have no idea what made her ask for all these novels, but a promise is a promise so I got them for her."

"Oh sure, rookie. And I'm supposed to believe that this Clark Kent guy hasn't got you under his spell, just like he has all the other women in the city? Please… You're single, you have no social life to speak of; of course you spend all your evenings reading his novels and dreaming that you're the female lead. They all do."

"What do you mean 'no social life', Lex? I most certainly do have one!" she barked at him.

He raised an eyebrow before putting the book back in the bag and heading over to his desk. He knew it was pointless to get into a discussion about this with her. She'd just get all fired up as usual. Of course, sometimes it was worth it to see her get into a full-blown rage — she was particularly sexy then! — but now wasn't the time for that. For one thing, he could think of a better use for his time right now. For another, he was going to have to spend the afternoon with her and, sexy or not, spending any length of time with an angry Lois Lane wasn't something Lex particularly enjoyed.

He picked up a file from a pile on his desk and walked back to his partner's.

"Come on, rookie, we're going to meet a source," he informed her. He had to repress a strong urge to tease her and ask whether she would prefer going on home and plunging into fantasy world instead. He'd have other, better opportunities for this sort of thing later on anyway.

"I'll go, but we're taking my car. There's no way I'm riding in that rust bucket you call a vehicle," she informed him.

"I was hoping you'd say that," he replied, winking at her.

Lois stifled a sigh. He may not have been in the habit of calling her "honey" or "darling", but winking at her felt just as condescending.

"Where are we off to? What story is this for?" she asked him as she picked up her notepad and stuffed it in her purse.

"Ah, you know… Crooked politicians. Scandalous dealings. The usual."

"Well, if you're not going to be any more precise, I don't see how I can possibly drive us there, Lex!" Lois told him in an exasperated tone.

"Just get behind the wheel and I'll tell you where to turn. You know the drill. It's better for you not to know where we're going beforehand," he explained.

Lois didn't like this one bit. She never really liked it when she had to go off on some blind chase around the city with Lex, actually. But these days, she was getting a vibe from him that was worse than usual. He was up to no good, she could just feel it! If she was smart — and careful — maybe this could turn into an even better story than the one he had in mind, she thought.


Lois was just about to go into tornado mode now. She was so beyond angry, she could barely put it into words. They'd spent almost an hour driving around town to meet this "source" and once they'd finally gotten there, they'd found that there was no one waiting to meet them. They'd waited for close to forty-five minutes in a dingy little alley before Lois had had enough and had gotten behind the wheel again.

"Get in, Luthor. Now! Or I'm leaving you here!" she bellowed.

He got in and she drove off like a NASCAR pilot at the start of a championship race. Of course, after he had made her take all these twists and turns all along the way, Lois was completely lost and had no idea just where she was or how to get back to the Star from here. Every time Lex tried to tell her where to turn, she would tell him to shut the hell up. And so he would, until the next time he got the urge to give her directions. Reason told her she should listen, but she was so incredibly mad at him that she didn't care anymore.

She finally managed to find her way onto a main road after a half hour of seeing the same street corners over and over again. Once there, she decided that she had had enough of Lex for today and she drove in the direction of his flat.

After Lois took Lex to that God-awful place he called home, she stopped at a coffee shop. She needed to relax. It was a wonder she hadn't smashed her car somewhere along the way here! A nice cup of mocha latte and a few pages from "Across the Dunes" would definitely calm her down.

She sighed as she sat down at a quiet little table. "Finally," she whispered, smiling at the prospect of losing herself in Clark Kent's novel once more. She smiled as she realized that in a weird way — and with just a simple book — he now held the key that brought happiness back into her life. If Lucy were here, she would be quick to tell her how pathetic that was. And she knew it, too. But she couldn't help it; she needed to be able to immerse herself in this story. It was almost as though her sanity depended on it. Right now, for instance, the prospect of reading a few paragraphs had managed to calm her down from the incredible amounts of anger she'd felt just a few minutes prior. She couldn't remember anything ever having that effect on her. She wondered if anyone else reading his novels also felt that way?

Lois took a nice long sip from her latte and opened the book.

~excerpt from "Across the Dunes"~

Egypt. This is the end of the road for most of our group. Others are going in a different direction from here. I will be traveling alone from here. It will be hard to part company with these people. We've been through a lot together in the past weeks. From sandstorms to a couple of the camels dying mysteriously, even being held at gunpoint by bandits. Had they not been there for me and I not been there for them, who knows if any of us would have made it all the way here? None of us will ever forget this trek through the Sahara.

As I bid farewell to my new friends, Ahmed leaves me with one last proverb to ponder about.

"Make your life worthy to look at, for one day it shall pass in front of your eyes," he says wisely.

I smile at him. If I knew any better, I would swear the man learned English reading fortune cookies! Every second sentence that comes out of his mouth sounds just like this one. And as usual, while I understand the words and know what they themselves mean, I do not fully understand this new pearl of wisdom. I know Ahmed has a reason for saying this and *that* is what I truly need to find and understand.

I thank him for all the times he sat with me around the campfire and told me stories about life in the desert. I can't help but wonder why — with all the hardships this man has faced, living in the dunes, under the scorching sun — he insists on staying in the desert. He's tried to explain it to me with those stories, I know, but I fear I cannot fully comprehend his desire to remain there. The bond between man and sand, I guess you could call it. Perhaps if I were from around here, I'd know what this means.

"May your journey be free of incident," he says finally, bowing his head before he turns to join the others.

I wave and stand there looking at them for some time before I mount by motorbike once more and start heading north again. I'm still over a thousand kilometers away from Cairo. This time, since I'm completely on my own, I should be able to travel a lot faster. I expect to reach the capital in a couple days. Unless something happens, of course.


I thought I'd be able to cross Egypt in a couple of days, but I was being slightly too optimistic it seems. Sand keeps getting inside the engine of my bike and it's in rather poor shape right now. I've had to stop to lubricate several of the engine parts a few times already. I'm afraid that if this keeps up, I'm going to be stuck walking the rest of the way.

I'm really tired of being in the desert! Every gust of wind covers you with sand from head to toe. Not that I mind the sting of it on my skin or the fact that there's enough in my hair to build a sandcastle, complete with a drawbridge… It does get hard to breathe through, though.

I finally manage to make it to this small town, and not a minute too soon as my motorcycle dies on me. I'm barely a few steps inside the town when the motor stops humming for good. Even if I were to try and revive it again, I know just by looking at the amount of smoke coming from the engine that it's just given its last few breaths of life. I'm surprised it lasted this long, to be honest. I'm a bit sad that it didn't make it all the way, though. We've seen some interesting places together, this bike and I. And we've had some pretty amazing adventures on this trip.

I don't think I'll be able to find another means of transportation that I'll enjoy just as much… If I didn't have such a hard time with flying, that could have been nice. But flying is one way of getting there that I would much rather avoid. I'm quite happy having both feet on the ground, for now anyway. Besides… Egypt is beautiful. Why would I want to travel high above it and miss most of the things that I can see from down here?

I've had to trade in my watch for a place to sleep tonight. I have a bit of money in my pockets, but these people have no use for it here. It doesn't matter, I'm so sick of all this sand that hiding from it tonight is well worth this old watch. I'm not sure it keeps the time really well anymore, there has to be sand all through the mechanism… He doesn't seem to mind, though. I guess I was lucky to have this old wristwatch; I don't think the man would have gone for the digital kind. Then again, I can understand. I'm not very big on digital myself. I'm an old-fashioned guy that way.

~end of excerpt~

As she exited the coffeehouse where she'd spent the last hour, Lois decided she was going to have a little look at the mansion on Eagle View Drive. The trip took her about half an hour. It was definitely out of her way, but it didn't matter much. She had nothing better to do for the rest of the day, anyway. Besides, if she was lucky enough, maybe she'd catch a glimpse of the groundskeeper?

She drove up the small road leading to the wrought iron fence, which surrounded the property and parked her car right near the entrance. She got out and looked around. She'd heard all the ghost stories and rumors about this place, but at first glance, this house wasn't even a tiny bit creepy. Then again, it might have something to do with the fact that it had apparently undergone some serious repairs… Looking at it now, you would never have been able to guess that the mansion had been uninhabited for the past twenty years. It seemed to be in perfect order now. Lois guessed that having a lot of money had probably helped get the house in a livable state very rapidly.

There was nobody around, so she approached the fence door and pulled on it a little to see if it was opened by any chance. It was locked, of course. She really hadn't expected to be able to just walk in that easily, but it was worth a try anyway. She noticed an intercom system set in one of the brick columns, but she didn't really want to ring in. What would she have said anyway? 'Hello, I'd like to speak to the man of the household'? Like that was going to work!

Lois walked along the fence for a few hundred feet, peering through it every once in a while, hoping to see something or someone there. All of the sudden, she heard noises. It sounded like someone was trimming a small tree, maybe a bushy plant or the hedge that bordered the fence. There were sounds of branches rattling and the unmistakable metallic click of secateurs coming from just a few more feet to her right. She walked over, her heart racing. There was someone there!

The noises stopped as Lois got closer to their source. She stuck both hands through the fence and pushed aside the cedar hedge so she could peer into the property. She sucked in a sharp breath as she found herself face to face with a man. He was holding a pair of secateurs in his hands and looked just about as startled as she did.

"You're not supposed to be here, Miss," he told her nicely. "This is a private property."

It seemed that the postman had been right, Lois thought. Clark Kent's groundskeeper definitely fit the tall, dark and handsome category well. Very, very well, as a matter of fact. For a second, all she could do was stare into the man's eyes.

He, on the other hand, had been surprised both by the fact that he had found himself face to face with a woman and the fact that she was really very pretty. He stared right back at her, unable to look away for some reason.

As she stood there, in front of this man whom she had never met before, Lois felt some odd sort of connection to him that she couldn't explain… It was just the weirdest thing, like somehow she knew him, which of course she didn't. It took some effort, but she eventually managed to look away and speak.

"I'm sorry. My… uh… my cat ran away," she lied. "I thought I saw him headed over this way. I heard some noise and I figured it had to be him. I guess I was wrong. I'm really sorry to have startled you."

"Your cat? I haven't seen one around, but if I do… is there somewhere we can reach you? If we find it, I mean… What does he look like?"

"Oh, he's your typical tabby cat. You know? Rusty fur and big yellowish eyes. Cute little bugger, but he's so curious and adventurous, he keeps running away. Maybe he'll find his way home on his own, this time? I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

She pulled her hands out from the hedge and left, leaving the man to continue his work. So much for trying to flirt with him, she thought. She hadn't been quite prepared enough for this encounter. There was something about this man that had sent all sorts of strange feelings fluttering through her body. She hadn't expected that to happen. She'd do better next time. Next time, she'd be ready for it.

For several long minutes, the man stood literally frozen to the ground. This was the strangest encounter he'd ever had. The fact that this woman was looking for her cat was really nothing out of the ordinary, but… she herself definitely did not fit the "ordinary" category. Not at all. He kicked himself for not trying to find out who she was. He couldn't explain was it was about her, but there was something that drew him to her in a way. Something he'd never felt before. Something that frightened him very much.


Lex was so absolutely furious, it was mind-blowing! He had kept his end of the deal and made sure he was where he needed to be, when he needed to be. His contact had promised to let them in on a little interesting gossip, in exchange for a part to play in Luthor's operation and hence, a few more dollars in his pockets.

But when Lex had shown up where they had agreed, his contact was not there. And he had had to deal with a seriously pissed off Lois Lane on top of everything else. He had angered her once already today… this was pushing his luck, he knew. If she got any angrier, he was afraid she might ask for a new assignment and definitely get rid of him as her partner. This was the last thing he needed!

He picked up the phone and made a few calls. He made certain that his "contact" would be found and treated just the way that he deserved to be, *after* he'd gotten that juicy bit of gossip on the mayor that the man had promised him, of course.


Lana noticed that something seemed to be troubling Clark all through supper and most of the evening. He hadn't spoken much and looked like he was completely lost in thought most of the time.

"Ok, spill it," she said, finally giving in to curiosity. "You've been acting all kinds of strange tonight. What's up?"

"Oh, uh… It's not important," he replied absently.

"Well, maybe it's not important, but clearly whatever it is has gotten you all preoccupied. You can tell me, you know. I'm always here to listen."

"It's just… it's silly, Lana. I'm not even sure I can explain this in a way that makes sense," Clark told her, shaking his head.

"Try me," she encouraged him.

"I was outside before. Trimming the hedge… It's a relaxing activity, you know. Clears my head and lets me think," he explained.

"And it's a good thing you do that, too, or we'd need a gardener," she teased. They had had one before, when they lived in Lancaster several years ago, but the man had been fired when they had found him trying to break into the attic. After finding himself unemployed, he had started spreading the nastiest rumors about them, precipitating their departure from the area. From then on, they had never hired anyone else to do any sort of work that they could do themselves. Besides, considering all that Clark was able to do himself, they didn't have much of a need for help anyway.

"Right. Well anyway, I was trimming away and suddenly this woman appeared from out of nowhere."

"Out of nowhere?" Lana asked, puzzled. He wasn't imagining people again, was he?

"No, not like that," he said, fully aware of what she was thinking right then. "I didn't imagine that man, by the way. It's not about him, anyhow. This woman… she was on the other side of the fence and she just poked her hands through to push the hedge aside and look in. She said she'd lost her cat."

"Seems to me she wanted to take a peek inside the property, more likely. Cats are just as frightened as everyone else of this place, they don't come wandering in."

"Well, I don't know… it doesn't matter if the cat was real or not anyway," Clark said, shrugging.

"Still, what's silly about all of that? So a woman shows up and says she'd lost her kitty? You can't possibly be so preoccupied by something like that?"

"Oh, no. No, that's not it. It was just… the strangest thing, really. That woman. It was like I've known her all my life. I've never seen her before, I don't even know who she is. I would have remembered her, believe me. But, I just can't explain, it's the oddest thing, really. She left as fast a she'd come and for some reason it's like she ran off with a part of me. And now… I'm having trouble adjusting to life without that piece of… I don't know… soul? That she took from me somehow."

Lana looked at Clark with an increasingly puzzled expression as he spoke. What on Earth was he talking about; she'd stolen part of his soul? That made absolutely no sense.

"See, I told you that I couldn't explain this in a way that you'd understand it," he told her, noticing the air of confusion she had.

"As long as it makes sense to you, Clark, it's the only thing that matters," Lana said with a warm smile.

This was the first time in years that Lana had heard Clark talking about having contact with another human being. Whatever effect that woman had had on him was probably just a result of him not meeting anybody else and not speaking to another soul outside of herself for such a long time. Perhaps, she thought, this might encourage him and make him want to seek other human contact. Maybe even slowly reintegrate society? Of course, it would take a lot more than just that little encounter. It would take a really big push, she was sure of it. But this might be a beginning. She hoped it would be. She hated seeing this man so miserable. He needed companionship, something she could not offer him. At least not in a way that would have made a difference.

"I just wish…" he started, but then he thought better of it and said nothing else. He excused himself and made his way back to his private apartments.

Lana wondered what it was that he wished, exactly. She wasn't going to ask if he didn't feel like sharing, though. However, a plan started forming in her head. Perhaps if she could force him into seeing people, without it looking like she had had anything to do with it; perhaps it would help get him back on the way to being his old pleasant self again. Suddenly, Lana found herself hoping that nosy reporter, Lois Lane, was going to continue to try and get that interview. Maybe she'd just have to give in and make Clark go through with it…


As she prepared Timmy for bed, Kathryn heard a knock on the door. Who could this possibly be, she wondered? She barely knew anyone in Metropolis; she didn't have time to meet people… And she doubted any of her family would show up here. She hadn't seen any of them since she'd left that two-timing husband of hers and she wasn't expecting them to come waltzing back into her life anytime soon.

She pulled the covers gently over her son and gave him a tender kiss on the forehead before going over to the front door.

"Who's there?" she asked, looking through the peephole.

"FBI," a man said, in a low baritone voice.

She unlocked the door and pulled it open slightly. The man flashed his badge at her and so she opened the door some more. As she did so, she noticed that there were two agents standing there.

"Kathryn Parker?" he asked.

Kathryn nodded.

"I'm special agent Mike Decker," the man said. "And this is my partner, Steve Johnson."

"Can I help you?" she asked, nervously.

Kathryn knew that she had done nothing that was even remotely outside the law, but opening your door to find a couple of FBI agents — of all people — standing there wasn't something especially reassuring anyway.

"We were hoping you might consider doing something for us, actually," he replied. "Can we come in? It won't take long, don't worry. Just a few minutes."

She was pretty sure that they weren't really going to give her much choice in the matter, so Kathryn let them inside. She showed them to the kitchen and offered them something to drink. They politely refused, but sat down at the table nonetheless.

"Ms. Parker, we know that your job at the Maple Ridge Diner puts you in contact with certain types of… let's say… businessmen, on a daily basis," agent Decker said.

"I don't know anything of their dealings!" Kathryn protested. "I don't listen in on their conversations!"

"I'm sure you don't," the other agent said, in a reassuring tone. "We're not accusing you of anything. You have absolutely nothing to worry about."

"Absolutely nothing," agent Decker confirmed. "We'd simply like to make you an offer… We're aware of the fact that there are several restraining orders against your ex-husband, one in just about every state you've ever moved to. I don't suppose this is the life you had planned for your son, is it?"

Kathryn looked at them, confused and frightened. They seemed to know everything about her… What if they weren't really with the FBI? She was on the verge of panicking when one of the agents noticed her distress.

"I'm sorry if we sound threatening. I promise, this wasn't the intention," he said. "The thing is, if you agreed to do just a little bit of 'listening in' to the conversations that you hear every day; if you would consider talking to us about that and about the people you meet at the diner… Ms. Parker, we could put you on a witness protection program. This would ensure a better future for your son and keep the threat of your ex-husband away for good."

"You… you want me to… to spy?" she asked, incredulous.

"If that's what you want to call it, yes," agent Johnson replied with a reassuring smile.

"We're by no means asking you to get involved in any of their dealings. You wouldn't need to do anything that you don't normally do. Just listen in a little bit more than usual and report information back to us."

"But why not just send one of your agents there, or better yet have one pose as a waitress?" Kathryn asked.

"Because… regular customers are wary of any new employee that shows up there. Surely you must have noticed this sort of behavior. Besides, you've been there long enough to know who meet there for business and who the inspectors in civvies are."

"Well, yes, I know… but I'm not certain I want to do this. I mean… what if someone found out what I was doing? What if they realized that I was talking to you people? These men… some of them are really frightening. What if they did something to Timmy? I couldn't live with myself if something ever happened to him. He's the only family I have left. He's my only reason to live."

"We understand, Ms. Parker. And you have nothing to worry about. For one thing, no one would ever know that you are working with us. We'd set up the proper channels for you to be able to give us the information that you get your hands on. Channels that are perfectly inconspicuous and safe. We can even set up surveillance so that nothing could possibly happen to your son."

"I suppose… but…" she started.

"Listen," agent Decker said. "This isn't an obligation. We're not going to force you into doing anything that you feel is not in your best interest. We fully understand your situation and believe me when I say that the last thing we would possibly want is for any harm to come to either you or your son. But on the other hand, if you do decide to work with us, there are definite benefits for you in the arrangement."

"Absolutely," agent Johnson chimed in. "However, the choice is very much up to you. You can take the time you need to think about it, but don't wait too long before letting us know. Once you reach a decision, whatever decision that may be; just call us at this number here." He handed her a business card. "You'll get an answering machine there. When you hear the tone, you need to leave a precise message. To signal your acceptance, simply ask that someone call you back. You don't have to leave your name or number, just pretend that you're calling someone you know and ask that they call you back. If, on the other hand you decide that this is too much for you, simply say that you're sorry and you've dialed a wrong number. This way, anyone listening in will think that this is a perfectly normal conversation. Whereas we will know exactly how to proceed from there. Does that make sense?"

Kathryn grabbed the card from the man's hand. "Yes, that's fine. I'll think about everything and call you when I reach a decision."

With that, both men got up and made their way back to the front door of Kathryn's apartment.


"I haven't seen much of you around these days, Lana. Is everything OK?" Clark asked, concerned.

"Oh, just busy," she explained. "We're just a couple days away from this year's charity event. You know… the costumed ball for Halloween?"

He looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"We have one every year, Clark," she explained. "Well, it'll be the first time in Metropolis, but we have this event every single year, no matter what city. I'm surprised you don't remember about the annual Halloween party."

"I guess it's just because I never go…" he shrugged.

"Right… You usually hide in Smallville instead. Which is ridiculous, because it's the one event you host that you could easily attend every year! It's a costume party, Clark. If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, no one would know it's you. Besides… people don't even expect to see you at these things anymore. And who knows, maybe your mystery woman will be there?"

"You think?"

A spark of hope lit up his eyes suddenly. He didn't know who she was and therefore had pretty much let go of the idea of ever seeing her again. He didn't venture outside the property and he was pretty sure she was not going to come around here a second time. Besides, good things rarely ever happened to him, so why should this be any different?

"Well, it's hard to say without knowing who she is…" Lana said. "But there are always so many people present; it's possible she might be there. Who knows?"

"I'm not so sure I want to do this, though…"

He knew Lana had a point. More than one, really. There was always a chance this woman would be there. And it was easy to preserve one's anonymity at a costumed ball. But for some reason he still felt that he would stick out like a sore thumb or that someone would be wise enough to unmask him, somehow.

"Why not, Clark? It's the one night of the year where you can blend in. Completely blend in. Everyone there is going to be pretending they're someone they're not! It's perfect, Clark! Even if you showed up there dressed as a little green man from Mars, no one would think anything of it. They'd just think it's fun."

"Could we please not get into the whole alien thing again, Lana?" he sighed.

"I'm sorry… I didn't mean it that way. You know what I mean, though, right? No one there is going to be who they seem to be. You could pretend to be anyone you like. For just one night you don't have to be Clark Kent, you could be whoever you want to be. I can arrange to get a costume for you. Just say the word."

"I don't know about this, Lana… You really think that's such a good idea? I mean, granted I wouldn't mind the opportunity to have a conversation with other living souls, but…"

It had been years since Clark had been in the presence of other people besides Lana and in a way he missed it. But being around other people always brought its share of heartache and pain in the long run and there was just so many of these a man could take before he broke down completely.

"A costume party is the perfect occasion for that," she interrupted before he could voice whatever reason it was that he shouldn't go. "I promise, no one will ever know you were even there. People don't even know for sure what you look like, you made sure of that after Capetown — remember? Come on! Actually… you know, for once I really wouldn't mind having a dance partner… I don't know anyone in this town, as usual."

Clark knew she didn't mean that to sound resentful, but the words still stung a little bit. Lana was old enough that she didn't need to have a legal guardian anymore, but for some reason she had still stayed. For the life of him he could not see why she hadn't left a long time ago. He surely wasn't keeping her there against her will! She knew that, too. They'd moved around a lot and he'd often expected that at some point she would find a place where she would want to stay and that would be it. Of course, having her here meant a lot to him — it helped a lot, too — but he wished she would see that there was no reason for her to live the same life he did.

"As you are well aware, there is no reason for you to spend absolutely all your time at the mansion, Lana. You have no reason not to have friends in Metropolis. I wish you did, really. You need to go out and have fun, meet people."

"And you don't?" she shot back.

Lana knew she was right although she was stepping into quick sand with this line of questioning. She'd tried to convince him time and time again that the life he led was terribly unhealthy, but he no longer listened. And while she knew that she was free to do as she pleased, she couldn't help but stay there with him. He was miserable and she knew it. How could she have left him all alone with no one to speak to ever again? He'd given her a future when she no longer had one; he'd taken care of her when there was no one left who would; how could she then, in good conscience, just abandon him when it was clear he needed her? If she'd done that, then he would have likely just withered away and died. Forgotten and alone. Just the thought of that broke her heart.

"That's a different story. You have no reason to hide," he said.

"If you were half as smart as people say you are, you'd realize that you don't either!"

He simply raised his eyebrows at her. There was no point in getting into that argument again. She knew his reasons and he wasn't going to explain it to her again.

"Okay, okay… I get it. But please come to this party, Clark. Just this once. This might be your one chance at seeing her again, you know. Everyone who's anyone is going to be there."

"I'm not so sure I want to see that many people…"

"Please? For me?" She looked at him with pleading eyes.

This was one of those irrational arguments that Clark had never been able to say no to.

"Well, maybe I could just poke my head in and see what all the fuss is about," he said after a short moment of reflection. "After all, this is a party I'm technically hosting, right? Just… I won't be caught dead looking like a little green man! Anything but that!"

"I'm not sure green is really your color anyway," she teased. "I'll find something appropriate. Unless… well, is there anyone you'd like to be?"

"Yeah, I wish I was a normal human man…" he whispered, barely loudly enough for her to hear. He continued, in a normal speaking voice. "Whatever, it doesn't matter. I'll barely be there long enough for anyone to notice anyhow."

He left the room and went back to his study.

Lana turned to her computer and tried to find a costume idea for Clark. After a few minutes of clicking and scrolling, she saw something that was positively brilliant. It took only a few minutes to call the rental place where she'd reserved hers and make sure they had what she needed for him. She smiled as the clerk confirmed they could have both ready for her and delivered on the 31st. This was going to be a wonderful Halloween, Lana thought.


When she got to the Star in the morning, Lois looked at her timetable and realized she didn't have lots planned for the day. She almost hoped that Lex would show up. Almost.

She'd been trying to get the groundskeeper out of her mind ever since she had run off from Eagle View Drive yesterday. He'd had the strangest effect on her and as much as she would have liked to find out what that was about, she was scared out of her mind of having to talk to that man again. Her instinct told her that, in the oddest of ways, this man was dangerous. Although she wondered if he was more dangerous for her physical safety or for her mental balance.

No matter how hard she tried, Lois could not get that encounter out of her mind. She couldn't get his face out of her mind either. Everywhere she turned, she thought she caught glimpses of him.

She had hoped that work would help clear her head, but she had nothing on the horizon. She would have taken anything right now, even covered a dog show! Just something to occupy her mind with. She'd even enjoy chatting with her partner, she thought. But then, of course, it was still way too early in the morning for him to show up, wasn't it?

Lois wondered how this little setback was going to affect her plans of interviewing Clark Kent. She'd tried talking to his assistant, but that hadn't led her anywhere. Flirting with the groundskeeper was pretty much out, now, too. She didn't think she'd be able to put three words together in a sentence if she ever saw him again, anyway. What other choices did she have now? How about trying to get inside the mansion, she wondered? Seeing as though she had nothing else interesting planned, Lois thought maybe this would be a good use for her time. And she new exactly how she was going to get in, too…

Just then, a copy boy walked past her desk hurriedly and dropped an envelope there for her.

"I guess he's got you doing gossip, this week," the young man said with a grimace.

Lois picked up the envelope and opened it. Inside, she found an invitation to a charity fundraiser. It was a costumed ball for Halloween. It wasn't addressed to her per se, but to the Metropolis Star, so she knew that this was an assignment and not an option. She wasn't exactly pleased at the prospect of going to one of those things… Lois hated costumes. And this would make her job so much harder if she didn't know who the people were. How would she know to ask the right questions to the right people?

She was about to throw the invitation in her drawer when she happened to notice the address on it… Eagle View Drive. Lois did a double take. Could that be? The man who never saw anyone and didn't leave his mansion was throwing a party and inviting people to come and visit his home? That did not make sense. She'd have to ask what that was all about for sure!

If all else failed, this would be her key to get in the house, she realized. She might even get to see him if she was observant and careful enough. Maybe finally land that interview? Lois smiled brightly and set the precious invitation down on her desk as if it was made out of twenty-four carat gold.

Of course, that was just when Lex Luthor had decided it would be good of him to make an appearance in the newsroom.

"So we're going to the costumed party?" he asked.

"We?" she blurted out, somewhat confused.

"Well, yes, of course 'we'. What do you think? That I'm going to pass up an opportunity to mingle with the rich and famous? No way, rookie! Why do you think the invitation made it to your desk anyway? I practically had to beg for that, you know!"

"Beg? What? Lex, why would you beg for something like that?" Lois asked. She was completely confused now.

"Geez you're dense! The Star got two pairs of those. Carpenter's got one, obviously. And the other pair was going to end up in the newsroom. Of course, I was getting one of them. Seniority and all that. But I'll be damned if I have to go there with that ditsy girl from the gossip column! She may be all curves, but those don't write articles. That's where you come along. You know… ask questions, type up the article and all that. The usual."

"Lex! I'm not your lackey!" Lois protested vehemently. "I will not spend my evening there doing all the work for you to put your name on the byline!"

"Ah, but I know for a fact that you will come, no matter what. Little Miss Lois Lane's been eating up all of Mr. Clark Kent's novels recently. Of course she's dying to go to a party he's throwing," he explained with a sly smile.

Touché. He was good, she had to admit. He knew her pretty well.

"Okay, okay! You win this round," Lois mumbled under her breath.

"Get yourself a sexy costume, now, you hear? If we're going to be seen there together, I'd like you to look… you know… like a woman. Not like what you usually wear… Lois, suits are for men — it doesn't matter if yours have a skirt instead of a pair of pants, they're still suits. You'd get much better results if you dressed… you know… more attractively."

Lois let out a frustrated sigh. She would throw such a huge party the day she got rid of her partner! She grabbed her purse and set off towards the bathroom.

As she got there, she hid in one of the stalls and pulled out the book from her bag. When she put it down last, she had but a few pages left before she was done with it. She almost ached to know how it ended. This and the fact that she was grabbing for this book every time she felt down or angry and needed something to cheer her up, made her realize that this had become almost like a drug. The novel was to Lois what a fix was to an addict. But, it didn't matter. She could ponder the repercussions of this later on if she thought she needed to. For the moment, what she really needed was to read the last few lines of this story.

~excerpt from "Across the Dunes"~

I've been in Cairo the last week or so. Every morning as I get out of bed, I tell myself that today I'll be leaving for Alexandria. Today, I'll take that last big step towards this goal that I've now set for myself. Once I get there, once I reach the port of Alexandria, I will embark on a trip across the Mediterranean and make my way to Europe. And then, come hell or high water, I will head north, to London. I promise myself I will. I promise her I will, even though she cannot hear me; even though she doesn't know.

But every morning, as I look out the window of the cramped living quarters that I call home for now, every morning I lose courage. And I end up here again at the end of the day, to find myself standing in the same spot the next morning, looking out the same window and making empty promises to the wind once more.

Today was Sunday. At least I think it was. It had to be… It doesn't really matter. Today was yet another day that saw me get up from bed and go from the strong-willed person I want to be to the cowardly lion I really am. Sometimes I wish I were in Oz. I want to pretend that I'm strong, but the fact of the matter is that even Dorothy could kick my sorry behind from here to kingdom come if she only knew where to find me. I would deserve it, I guess.

I take her picture out of my notebook once more. This pretty little girl whose life I turned upside down; whose future I've made a complete mess of; whose happiness I've probably ruined beyond salvation. This pretty little girl who, for reasons that I cannot even begin to comprehend, actually thinks the world of me. She sits in her dorm room in London every night, hoping that I'll come back for her soon, yet for the life of me I still can't understand why she would want me there in the first place. Why she would want to be anywhere near me? I've caused her so much pain. Granted, when she needed someone to be there, to be strong for her, I was. I had to be. But how she could forgive me — when I cannot even begin to forgive myself — is beyond me.

It's not her I run from. It's never been her that I've run away from. On some level I'm sure she knows. It's myself I run from, I guess. Although after all this time, you'd think I would have come to terms with the fact that I can't change who I am and what I've done. Or rather, what I haven't done. I'm just afraid. Afraid of myself just as much as I am for myself, in a way.

But tomorrow… When I get out of bed tomorrow, I will pack up and leave Cairo. Ride on to Alexandria. Stop being so afraid. Stop pretending. Stop running.

Tomorrow is the day I start being a man.

~end of excerpt~

Lois reached in her bag and pulled out a Kleenex. She blew her nose and grabbed another Kleenex to wipe away her tears with. That last chapter was heart wrenching to say the least!

She wondered again whether this was an autobiographical novel. If it was, then this man had wrestled with a lot more than just the hard road through the desert and he was obviously tortured by something in his past. On the other hand, if it wasn't and this was just a fictional character in a book, then Clark Kent deserved an award for that. Maybe he's already won one, she thought. She'd have to look that up. She knew he'd racked up a good lineup of awards, but she didn't know for sure which or what he'd gotten them for. In this one case, the prospect of more research didn't put her out one bit. Lois felt like she was starting to know this man a little more every day. And every day she found she really liked him.

Once she had dried her eyes and thought that she looked presentable enough to go back out in the newsroom, she left her little sanctuary and headed back into the lion's den.


Kathryn picked up the handle of the pay phone in the diner. It was near the restrooms, so she knew it was out of the way enough that no one would hear her conversation. She wasn't exactly going to have a conversation, but she didn't really care for anyone listening in to this call anyway. She was scared enough of leaving a message on that answering machine to begin with, she didn't really need more reasons to be afraid.

She slid a coin inside the opening and waited a second for a dial tone. She then dialed the phone number that she'd been given by the FBI agents the other night.

The phone rang a couple of times and then she heard the answering machine pick up.

"Hey there," a cheerful female voice greeted her. "You've reached Joe and Kathleen's place. We're out enjoying life, but we'll be back when we're done, so leave a message, OK?"

Kathryn took a deep breath and hesitated for a second before she finally spoke.

"Hi guys!" she started, trying to sound cheerful herself, although she was mostly scared and rather shaken. "It's Kathryn. I thought maybe we could have dinner some time. Give me a call back when you're able. Ciao!"

She hung up the phone a bit abruptly and stood there staring at it for a minute or two. She hoped that she'd made the right choice. A future for Timmy, this was all that counted. God willing, this would give him one. A secure one, free of the fear that had been her constant companion the last few years. Timmy deserved so much better than that. So much better than what she could normally have offered him.


Lana was quite surprised, when she answered the call on the intercom. She'd first thought the deliveryman had gotten the address wrong, but when he'd said who the delivery was for, she knew that this wasn't a mistake. She wondered what this was all about. Why would anyone send her flowers?

She made her way to the front door and opened it for the deliveryman, who brought in a huge potted plant just a minute later. Lana directed him to her office to set it down. Once he had, she signed the delivery waiver and showed the man out of the mansion.

When she returned to her office, Lana found herself face to face with a woman. A woman who was snooping around her desk!

"What are you doing here?" she just about shrieked. "How did you get in? You have no business being here! And you definitely do not have permission to go through my things! I'm calling the police!"

The woman froze in place for a second.

"No, no, you've got it all wrong," she told her once she recovered from the shock. "I have an appointment." She should have known this would happen… She hadn't been careful enough. If she was lucky, maybe her line about an appointment would work, but Lana Lang did not seem that gullible at all. She knew that she was pushing her luck getting inside the mansion, she'd just thought it would be a good idea at the time…

"An appointment? I sincerely doubt that you have an appointment with anyone here. How did you get inside the mansion, anyway? I most certainly did not authorize your entry!"

"Well, the gate was opened," she said after a second. "I figured it was OK to come in. Like I said, I have an appointment."

While it was true that the gate had been open when she'd come in, it most definitely wasn't opened for her to come in through. There was a delivery truck going inside the property. She'd just taken the opportunity that was offered her. Granted, the opportunity has cost her $50, but it had been worth it, hadn't it? She was inside the mansion now! There was no point in waiting for the costume ball, she had decided that morning. He wasn't going to attend that charity event. He wouldn't even be anywhere near the mansion that night, she was sure of that! So why wait when she could make things happen right now?

"Just who are you, Miss? And stop it with this nonsense about an appointment!"

Before either of them had a chance to say anything more, Clark showed up in the office. He'd heard the argument and thought perhaps Lana needed help getting rid of whoever the intruder was.

"What's going on?" he asked, looking towards Lana.

Lois turned to face him. A shiver ran through her spine as she saw him. The groundskeeper… Why wasn't he outside keeping the grounds? That's where he ought to be! Not in here, making her all jittery. She took a deep breath as she strengthened her resolve. He was not going to stand in her way of this! She'd bully her way into an interview if she needed to, but she wasn't leaving here empty handed for sure.

Clark was equally surprised to see his mystery woman from the other day standing there, in front of him. Who was she and what was she doing here?

"My name is Lois Lane," she said in an exasperated tone. "I'm supposed to be meeting with Clark Kent at 10 AM. So would either of you please be cooperative and get him? He'll be able to confirm that we have an appointment. Trust me. Just one of you move your little butt and get your boss for me. Okay?"

Lana gasped. Her eyes grew wide as she looked from Lois to Clark and then back again. She opened her mouth to speak, but Clark held out his hand to indicate he was going to handle it.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lane," he said with an amused look in his face. "But you most definitely do not have an appointment. I would know if you did, believe me."

"And who are you? His body guard?" she threw at him, without thinking.

"Actually, no. I'm Clark Kent," he told her, one of his devastating smiles playing at his lips. "Pleased to meet you," he added, extending his hand in welcome.

Oh. God. Lois' blood ran cold. That was him? How could that be? She'd seen him trimming the hedge, for crying out loud! What sort of millionaire trims his own hedges? Her eyes grew wide and her face turned a deep shade of crimson.

"Oh… Uh… I'll just let myself out. I'm… I'm sorry, I… Oh, God." she stammered as she bolted out of the room and ran away as fast as she could!

Clark stood there puzzled, his arm still outstretched in front of him. He let it drop back to his side.

Why did she keep running off like that? He wondered for a second if he should go running after her and find out, but he thought better of it.

"I guess that's the last we see of her," Lana said with a sigh of relief. As much as she thought forcing Clark to be in contact with other people was a good idea, this Lois Lane person was starting to be more than annoying!

"I… hope not," Clark said, somewhat absently.

"Huh?" Lana could not believe what she had just heard. Clark hoped he would see her again? What could possibly possess him to think such a thing?

"It was her, Lana," he explained. He had a dreamy look on his face, like he was trying to recapture a special moment.

"Her? Her who? What are you talking about?"

"The woman I told you I saw the other day. You know? She was looking for her cat. Although now I'm thinking maybe she wasn't looking for anything but a way in… Doesn't matter, I'm glad she found one. It was her. Lois Lane. She's the woman who was peering through the hedge. At least I got her name, this time."

"You've got to be kidding! That's your mystery woman? She's a small time reporter, Clark. And a seriously annoying one at that!"

"Annoying? Lana, mosquitoes are annoying. Lois Lane… she's… fascinating." He sighed.

Lana couldn't believe what she was hearing. Fascinating? Lois Lane? Clark had definitely been cooped up inside way too long, she thought. He was losing his mind if this is what fascinating was to him!

"Is she on the guest list?" he asked a bit embarrassed to be doing so.

"The? Huh? Oh… that… Well, the press has been invited, of course. But I could make sure…"

"Thank you," he said before leaning over to brush a small kiss on her temple and leaving the room.


Kathryn got home that evening to find a thick envelope, which had been pushed through the mail chute on her door. She set Timmy down on the floor and he ran over to the living room to watch his favorite cartoons on TV. Kathryn picked up the envelope and ripped it open.

It contained instructions and names of contacts to reach when and if she had anything to report. The note said that it was imperative that she read through all the documentation and that she make sure she followed the guidelines properly.

She set the papers on the table and proceeded to prepare supper. She glanced over to her son. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, a little too close to the TV, watching Bugs Bunny and clapping excitedly every time the rabbit showed up on the screen. Kathryn hoped she had made the right decision.

"You're too close to the TV, sweetie," she told Timmy.

"But, Mommy… it's Bu' Bunny, Mommy!" he protested.

"I know, honey, but you need to sit a little further from the screen, OK? It's not good for your eyes to be so close," she explained.

"Yes, Mommy," Timmy answered, contrite. He got up, took half a step back and sat right back down.

Kathryn shook her head. He was still way too close, but at least he'd made an effort, she told herself.

She read through the documents she'd gotten as she finished mashing carrots and potatoes. Most of it wasn't very complicated and sounded logical enough. She was sure she could manage this without getting herself in any danger. At least for now.


Lois picked up her costume and headed home. She wasn't altogether certain that she wanted to go back to that mansion again. Not after that very unfortunate incident from the other day. But she didn't have much choice… She had an assignment and she knew full well that pulling a little Prima Donna stunt on her editor and changing her mind about going to the charity event was a sure fire way of getting her in trouble. She needed to be in her editor's good graces, not his doghouse! Especially not if she was ever going to get out of this partnership with Lex Luthor! So, she'd gone over to a rental place and had chosen a costume. There weren't a lot left to pick from, but she was satisfied with what she had managed to find anyway. It was romantic in a sad sort of way and she liked that about it.

As she prepared for the ball, Lois went through all the information she had gathered about Clark Kent. She wanted to be ready, even though she probably didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of talking to him again. He was most likely not going to be there anyway, was he? He hid in his house from the people outside it; he would probably hide outside his home when there were people inside it. It only seemed logical. Besides, even if he was really actually there, even if he was in the room with her and she miraculously found herself staring right at the man, she probably would not recognize him through whatever costume he'd be wearing. Besides, he probably wouldn't be too inclined to want to chat with a woman who had broken into his home!

Lois remembered the odd feeling she had had the first time she'd seen him. The sense of a connection that she could not explain. Even though she'd made an absolute fool of herself, that thing that she'd felt made her want to go to this costumed ball. It made her look forward to it, even though it was foolish.

Spending the evening with Lex, however… Lois wasn't looking forward to that at all! She just hoped that he would behave. She would have rather died than have this man make passes at her all evening long. He was likely to try, she knew. He could never resist a pretty woman. And, truth be told, Lois looked pretty darn amazing in this dress!

She sighed as she took one last look at herself in the mirror. Satisfied with her hair and makeup, she grabbed an evening bag and left the apartment. A few minutes later, she pulled into Lex's driveway and piped the horn on her car, to signal that she was there. Normally, she hated people who did this sort of thing and she would never have done it herself, except getting out of the car wearing this dress wasn't exactly easy. Besides, she'd told him exactly at what time she would be there to pick him up and she was there at the exact time — 8 PM, right on the dot. He should have been nice enough to be ready by then! She was not going to get out and ring his doorbell. No way.

She waited for a couple minutes and then honked again. Still no sign of her partner. Where could he be? What was taking so long? Lois decided that if he wasn't out in five minutes, she was just going to leave him there and let him get to the party on his own. If he didn't have the decency to be ready on time, then why should she bother waiting for him until the cows came home?

Eight minutes later and still no sign of Lex anywhere, Lois backed out of his driveway and left.

"Go to hell!" she spat, her eyes narrow with anger.


When she arrived at the mansion on Eagle View Drive, Lois stepped out of her car and let the valet go and park it for her. For a second she felt like some sort of celebrity. She had never had anyone park her car for her like that. Pleasant feeling, she thought. She could get used to something like that!

She went inside the mansion. It was beautifully decorated. Light fixtures had little pumpkin light bulbs on them. They shed an eerie orange glow in the corridors which was perfectly well suited for the occasion. A few little handkerchief ghosts were hanging from the chandeliers here and there as well. Everything was very classy and tasteful, nothing tacky like she had imagined it. She didn't know for sure why she'd thought it might look that way… Perhaps it was just the impression she got from that Lana Lang person. She didn't care very much for her, she realized. There was no real reason for that, she knew, but she just couldn't help it. She shrugged the thought away as she met up with a very cute usher in a Peter Pan outfit who kindly directed her to the ballroom.

She was surprised to see that there were so many people attending the event. Obviously, outsiders had never heard any of the rumors about this mansion. Anyone from or around Metropolis would have, though. Unless the stories made it that much more appealing on Halloween night? Surely there were no real ghosts or spirits hanging around here; people couldn't possibly have been expecting to see any. Perhaps rich people just didn't believe in those…

Judging by the costumes the guests were wearing, they certainly were rich! The women's dresses were so opulent and fancy — and original, too! — They had probably had them custom made for the occasion, she guessed. She saw an elderly woman dressed as Marie-Antoinette who had on such an elaborate wig that it made her wonder how it held on her head. And the jewelry she wore was definitely not made of cubic zirconias! It had to be worth several times more than what Lois earned in a year.

Heads turned as Lois entered the ballroom. The entire place seemed to fall silent for a second. She heard people whisper, wondering who she was. It felt strangely pleasant to be the center of attention like this even for just a moment. No matter what Lex Luthor had told her about her appearance, Lois was an attractive woman — and she knew it — but she'd never been the girl that everyone noticed and went after. Dressed like this, however, she was definitely the center of attention. Being all dressed up in a queen's outfit would do that. Marie-Antoinette probably had gotten the same sort of welcome, she guessed.

She looked around the room to see if Lex was there already, by any chance. She was quite intent on giving him a piece of her mind! Finally, she recognized him. He wore an awful looking costume, which appeared to be that of a matador. He had on a ridiculously long cape to go with that and it didn't match the rest of the outfit at all. He was standing near the bar with a scantily clad young woman whose cleavage he seemed to find completely spellbinding. He turned around to look at Lois suddenly, as if he'd sensed that she was eyeing him intensely.

"There you are, darling!" he called out from across the room, waving his hand at her.

Lois felt her cheeks flush. Just what she needed! She could have gone without having everyone think she was with him. She didn't care that people saw them together at all, but the fact that he'd just called her darling so loudly, well… people were bound to imagine that they were together in a much different sense. This, she could easily have lived without.

The woman he'd been talking to seemed somewhat offended to realize that she had no chance of getting anything from Lex. She left, looking rather frustrated at having wasted her time with the man. Lois shook her head. Poor girl had no idea she'd really been done a favor here, did she?

Lex strolled over to her.

"I am not your darling," Lois told him, her teeth clenched; once he was close enough to hear her.

"Ah, but you are still my date for this evening, aren't you?" he slurred.

"Right… that's why you were ogling the belly dancer and why you weren't there when I went to pick you up earlier. These things make so much more sense now that I know I'm supposed to be your date, Lex!"

"Calm down, rookie. Calm down! Let's dance," he suggested as he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her towards the dance floor.

Lois stood there, pondering his suggestion. This might be the only dance she got out of this ball, she thought. And then of course all she had to do to get out of it, was argue that she had work to do and she would be free of him for the remainder of the evening. She knew that he needed her to do all the work, anyway. This is why she was there in the first place, wasn't it? Why he'd made sure the editor would give her the second invitation. Lex was smart enough to understand that if he spent all evening dancing with her, then she would have nothing to write about tomorrow and it would impact him negatively. He'd leave her alone, she was sure of it. So, somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to dance with him.

He grabbed her by the waist and drew her close. Not too close at first, but then it seemed he'd gotten it in his head that since she hadn't pushed him away, he was welcome to get a little more comfortable and hold her tightly.

Lois complained a few times, but Lex pretended he didn't hear anything and just kept on dancing. At one point, he let his hand wander just a little bit south of her waist and he patted her behind.

"Hey!" she protested.

He removed his hand at once, but tried his luck again a few seconds later and let his hand fall right back on her posterior. This time, Lois had had enough! What was he playing at? They were here for work! Why did he even want to dance with her? He'd made it quite clear he was in no way interested in her the other day. And even if he had found her attractive, she wasn't the least bit interested in him. Surely he realized that. Besides, she really needed to go and ask people all sorts of nosy questions now. Questions she would then use to write articles, which would have his name on the byline, of course.

"Lex, would you let me go!" Lois ordered.

"I'm not Lex," he answered. "I'm Don Juan tonight, my darling."

Lois hadn't noticed before, but Lex had been drinking heavily. As he spoke, she smelled the Scotch on his breath. That would definitely explain his behavior. He scared her somewhat. She didn't know just what he was capable of and she really didn't want to find out, especially since he'd been drinking.

"Lex, you're drunk! And I'm not your darling! Now let go, you're hurting me!"

He tried to kiss her, but she fought him desperately. Why wasn't anyone paying attention to what was going on? She needed help! Now! She didn't want to cause a scene, though — this wasn't the place for such things — but surely people around could see and hear that she was in trouble. Why wasn't anyone offering to get her out of this situation? Didn't anyone care? Rich people didn't know how else to help but throw money around, she realized angrily.

Suddenly, she saw a man standing behind Lex. He was dressed as the main character from Phantom of the Opera and hence had most of his face covered by a mask. Lois didn't know exactly who was hiding under it. She really didn't care, though, as long as he could help!

The Phantom tapped Don Juan/Lex on the shoulder.

"May I cut in?" he asked politely.

Finally, Lois thought. Whoever he was, he was a godsend.

"No way, buster," Lex answered. "She agreed to be all mine for this evening. I'm not sharing."

"Let go of me, you pig!" Lois just about shouted.

"Sir," the man said in a firm voice. "I believe the lady wishes you to release her. I would strongly suggest you do as she asks. You wouldn't want to be thrown out of here, I'm sure."

Lex grunted and let go of Lois. "You'll pay for that, rookie," he threw at Lois, his eyes ablaze with pure anger, before he stumbled away.

"I don't know how to thank you," she told the man.

"I do. Dance with me," he suggested, taking her hand lightly in his.

"Oh? Certainly." She smiled. She was still pretty shaken up, but something inside her told her she shouldn't turn him down. "Mister…?" she asked.

As she found herself in the Phantom's arms, Lois felt a surge of something she could only describe as sheer joy run through her. She didn't understand where it had come from. She guessed it was simply the fact that he'd just saved her from the wandering hands of Lex Luthor. Whatever it was, she didn't want to fight it. She hadn't felt anything like this in a very long time; she definitely wasn't about to spoil it!

"My name is Erik," he told her with a sly smile.

"Ah, yes, of course," she said. Erik, she knew, was the other name by which The Phantom of the Opera was known. "Pleased to meet you. I am Guinevere."

"My Queen," he whispered, reverently.

The words sent pleasant tingles throughout her body.

"How appropriate that I be rescued from Don Juan by the Phantom of the Opera," Lois told him, trying to hide the reaction his words had just caused.

Her attempt at humor wasn't completely lost on him. "I would hate to have seen him triumphant."

She smiled at the double entendre. It was nice to meet someone who had enough culture to understand what she meant in the first place, but he apparently was witty enough to continue on the same path.

They danced in silence for a little while. And then Lois decided she should try and find out who this man really was. This is why she was there anyway, wasn't it? Ask questions, find out things, and write articles about it.

"This is a lovely ball," she said. "I'd never been to one of these before. Have you?"

"Me either," he confessed.

Lois guessed this meant he was probably some local businessman who wasn't high up enough on the who's-who list to get invited to this event the previous years as they were held elsewhere in the country. She hoped she wasn't unlucky enough to have hooked up with another reporter, though…

She asked him a few more questions, but none of them gave her enough information to figure out who was hiding under the mask. However, the more he spoke, the more Lois got the feeling that she knew who this man was. She just wasn't able to place him, yet. She could have just come out and ask, but she rather liked the whole guessing game. She figured things like these kept her mind sharp. Although since her previous questions had led her nowhere, perhaps it was time for a more direct approach.

"I've got the strange impression that we've met before," she said.

"Your impression would be correct. We've met twice before," the Phantom replied.

Lois looked at him puzzled. Obviously, he recognized her, but she was still unable to figure out who he was.

"I must apologize," she said. "I really do not recognize you. I… wish I did. Then I would know who saved me from my work partner's drunken clutches."

"There's no need to apologize," he told her. "It's easier for me to see who you are under your makeup, but it can't possibly be as simple for you to see through this mask. I'm not certain if I should tell you who I am, though… You've already run away from me twice and I would really hate to see you dash out again tonight."

Lois froze. It couldn't be?

"Um… I… Oh, dear God! But you can't be…"

"Shhh," he said, taking his hand from her waist and placing a finger gently to her lips. "Please? No names."

She nodded and so he put his arm around her again, but Lois' feet were stuck to the ground and her body was as stiff as a board. Clark took that as a sign that the dance was over and so he let go of her and took a step back.

"Forgive me," he said. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

Lois said nothing, she just stood there staring at him. Her mind was racing and her heart was thundering in her chest.

Clark motioned towards an empty table not too far way. Still somewhat dazed, Lois nodded and walked with him in that direction. He pulled out a chair for her, then sat down as well.

"I thought you said you'd never been to one of these parties," she asked finally.

"That's right, I've never been to any of them," he smiled. "It's just… too much. You know? Too many people."

"Why come this time?" Lois asked, suddenly very curious.

"I… just wanted to see you again," he said after a long awkward pause.

Lois' eyes grew wide. What was it that he was saying? It had sounded like he'd willingly come to a party — something he absolutely never did — because *she* was there? This made no sense. For all intents and purposes, this man lived away from the rest of the world. He did not socialize. Ever. Besides, what would possess him to want to see her again? She'd broken into his home and insulted him just a few days ago. Something which most normal people wouldn't be too inclined to forgive very easily.

"Me?" she asked. "But… I broke into your home. And I… um…"

Clark could see the panic rising in her expression. She looked like she might spring off her chair and run away again.

"Please, don't run off again," he said, reaching over the table to take her hand.

As he placed his hand on top of hers, Lois felt something like a jolt of electricity run through her. How could a simple touch do that, she asked herself. She felt his hand go a tad stiff for a second and then relax again. Apparently he had been taken by surprise by something as well. Had he felt the same thing she had?

"I… um… I have to go," she told him, in apology, sliding her hand from under his. "I'm here for work tonight, actually, and…"

"I see," Clark said, in a saddened tone.

"I'm sorry… I mean, I really appreciate what you did back there, but the thing is that… if I don't bring back anything for tomorrow's edition, I'm going to be in a heap of trouble, both with my editor and my currently very drunk partner."

"Is there anything I can say that might keep you here just a little longer?" he asked, hopeful.

"Not unless you're willing to grant me an interview," she blurted out.

Realizing that she probably shouldn't have said that, she mumbled an incomprehensible apology and got up from her chair. She quickly headed off towards a group of people who seemed to be listening with rapt attention to this one man who was dressed as Elvis. Perhaps he was someone important, she thought, to have so many people interested in what he was saying.

"Miss Lane, please don't…" Clark started, but Lois was gone by the time he could finish his sentence. "…run away from me again," he whispered, shaking his head miserably.

He wondered why she kept doing that. Taking off like a rocket every single time they'd met. Was he that frightening? Or was it just that he had become so inept at this whole "conversation with other human beings" thing? Perhaps hiding in his home for so long had started to rob him of his social skills, he thought. It had been just perfect while they danced, but it seemed as soon as he had opened his mouth to speak, he'd said all the wrong things and he'd scared her away. Why couldn't he just have gone on pretending he was the Phantom and left it at that. She hadn't objected much to being in his arms, what was it about his true identity that had caused her to run from him? She couldn't possibly have known that he was different, could she?

He got up from the table and walked over to Lana. She was dressed as a fairy, complete with a delicate set of translucent wings.

"There you are," she said with a sweet smile.

Lana was so glad to see that Clark had ventured further inside the room. At first she thought he might stay by the door or cling by her side, afraid of having to speak to anyone. But clearly that wasn't the case. Perhaps he was looking for his mystery lady? Not that there was any mystery left as to who she was, but Lana didn't know whether or not Lois Lane was even here at all. She knew that she was supposed to be… When she'd called the Metropolis Star and asked who the invitations had been given to, pretending to have to put their names on the guest list, Lana had gotten the confirmation that Miss Lane would indeed be attending, but that didn't mean she was already there. Besides, even if she was, it would be hard to tell her from the other guests even if she had met her before and knew what she looked like. She didn't know what she was dressed as anymore than she knew who hid under any of the other costumes.

"I'm leaving," he told her.

"Leaving?" Lana asked, surprised. "I guess you haven't seen her around, then?"

"Oh… No, I've seen her all right," he said. He let out a sigh and shook his head. "She ran off again," he whispered finally.

"She did? Oh… I'm sorry," Lana said, stroking his arm affectionately. "Maybe she's scared of ghosts?" she added, in an attempt at humor.

"Actually, she ran off pretty much the minute she figured out who the Phantom was," he explained.

"She realized it was you under there?" Lana was even more surprised. How could anyone have seen through his costume so easily?

"I sort of gave myself away. I mean, not in so many words… She is quite perceptive, really, but I gave her a big clue without really meaning to. I wish I'd known better and kept my mouth shut, though!"

"Maybe she was just afraid of what you might do? You know, since she broke in the other day?" she suggested.

"I don't know." Clark shrugged. "I'm pretty sure something I said scared the daylights out of her, though. I guess I'm going to need some refresher courses on the great art of conversation."

"Oh, come on! You're doing just fine. I'm sure she was just spooked."

"Yeah well… I'm going back up to my suite. Enjoy yourself, Lana. It's a great party, you've done a wonderful job with it."

"No, wait! You promised me a dance, remember?" Lana knew it was pointless trying to keep him here. His sole reason for coming in the first place was to be able to see Lois Lane. And the woman had managed to spoil it for him. If she managed to find her, she'd have a couple words with the woman for sure! She'd give her a nice big piece of her mind!

"I'm sorry, I… My heart really isn't into it, Lana. I just want to be alone," he said, sounding downright miserable.

"That's okay," she said. "I understand. Would you like me to bring you something up, a little later on?"

"Nah… don't bother, I'm fine," he told her as he left the ballroom and disappeared into a dark corridor that led to where his private apartments were.


Lois saw the Phantom leaving the room, out of the corner of her eye. She guessed that he would probably not be back again. She felt somewhat guilty to see him go, as she knew she probably had something to do with that. He'd said he had come so he could see her and she'd all but pushed him away.

She'd been so stupid! He was *there*, talking to her, why did she have to go and make an excuse to go back to work? He *was* work. He was the subject of the article she desperately wanted to be able to write. Why bother with any of his guests when she had him right there? Talk about not having your head screwed on right! And then when he'd asked if there was anything he could do so that she wouldn't leave, she'd told him there was no way unless he gave her an interview? What was wrong with her! For one thing, this was far from the right way to go about getting an exclusive from someone who never spoke to reporters in the first place. And besides, why had she not just kept her big mouth shut? Dancing with him just then had felt so pleasant and so right, what could possibly have possessed her to go and ruin *that*?

She shook her head and looked around the room in search of someone she might recognize. She still did have work to do, so she might as well get on with it. She saw someone at the other end of the room, dressed as Batman. She smiled. She had just the right question to ask him! She walked over to him and introduced herself.

After a few minutes of chatting with the Dark Knight, Lois had found out that Batman was really Bruce Wayne. Well, *this* Batman was Bruce Wayne anyway. She seriously doubted that the millionaire playboy moonlighted as a vigilante. Besides, the real Batman couldn't possibly be dumb enough to show up anywhere in his real actual costume and give away his secret identity. Nevertheless, she thought it was a fun idea for Gotham's most eligible bachelor to come to this party dressed as that city's most well-known vigilante. She walked off a few minutes later, having gotten a few quotes from him and an invitation to dinner. That man certainly didn't waste any time, she thought. At least he was subtle and gentlemanly. And although he wore a mask tonight, Lois knew the man was quite a looker. No wonder he had women falling all over him!

Lois spent the rest of the evening going around the ballroom and asking questions, trying to get some sort of useful information that would make an interesting article. She saw none of her partner again. Maybe he had been escorted out of the property? It didn't matter much anyway. He'd come here not for work, but to enjoy himself while she would do all the work. As usual.

Around 10:30 PM, she decided to call it a night. She went to get her car and drove straight to the office. Once she got there, she quickly typed up her piece and sent it off to the night editor. It might still be early enough to make the next morning's edition, she thought. There wasn't a lot in ways of real actual news in that article, but a report on the event printed the morning after it had taken place was still bound to make the publisher happy. And a happy publisher was always a good thing.

If only she hadn't completely ruined her chances at an interview with Clark Kent! Lois guessed there was probably no way she would ever get one now. Her comment would have insulted him one too many time for sure. She sighed. So much for her big plans of moving up the food chain and getting rid of that thorn in her side who called himself her partner!


Lex woke up in a foul mood that morning. He had gotten a call on his cell during the ball, the night before. A call he wasn't expecting and one that made him especially angry. Someone had messed up. Really messed up.

He had rushed out of the mansion and spent half the night trying to fix things. It hadn't been easy tracking people down and making sure everyone was on the same page and the operation could proceed as planned. What was worse is that it looked like there remained some lose ends to tie so he would be stuck doing that today.

He was lucky he had a partner he could count on to do all the work for him, he told himself. At least he hoped that she wasn't going to go over to the editor and file a harassment suit against him for his behavior at the ball. Or worse left when she realized that he wasn't around anymore. He would worry about that later, though, he didn't have time now. If he didn't manage to get everything back in order and make sure the operation was still safe, he would have no need for a job or a partner, he knew. The cops would be on the hunt for him and he'd likely spend the next ten to fifteen years in the big house.

How could he have been so nearsighted when he picked these people to work with? He kicked himself for his stupidity.


Lana saw none of Clark at all, the next day. He stayed in his suite and although she knew he was there and had called out to him from outside the door a couple of times, he did not answer her.

She hoped he would come out for dinner that night, but he never showed up. He didn't come down for breakfast the next morning either. Finally, around mid-morning, Lana decided she was going to drag him out of that suite he was hiding in. It was bad enough the man hid from the rest of the world, she wasn't going to let him hide from the only human being whose contact she knew he actually welcomed!

She walked up the stairs that led to his suite. She knocked a few times, but there was obviously no answer, so she decided to go in. The door was locked, but she had the master key and so she unlocked it and went in.

"Clark, you can't stay in here forever!" she called out as she made her way to his study. She found him sitting in front of the fire, looking just as miserable as she had expected he might.

"Lana, when I lock the door, it usually means that…" he started.

"I don't care what you want it to mean, Clark," she cut him off. "You've been cooped up in this suite since Halloween night. I know you're miserable in here. Talk to me, Clark, let me help. Tell me what I can do that'll make you come out of here. Please."

"There's nothing you can do, Lana. You can't make it so that I fit in. No one can. I just don't. I don't even know why you hang around here anymore. You should leave, Lana. You could have a life, you know. A happy life, with friends, a family even. You deserve that. I don't know why you think you need to stay with me, because you don't."

"Clark!" she all but shouted. "Don't talk like that! I know you don't mean that!"

She had expected to find him sulking, but apparently, it was a lot worse than she had thought. He was downright depressed!

"Yes, I do," he told her. "You should be with your own kind, your own people. I'm not one of you and even if I pretend that I could be, I never will. For God's sake, I'm not even human! I'm an alien, Lana; an alien from another planet. I don't belong here. I'll never really have a life here and I can't go back there because there is no there to go back to. Just please leave. Leave me alone. Go out there and reclaim your life. If you stay here, you'll end up just as alienated as I am."

"Do you really think I've been staying with you out of pity all these years?" she asked, on the verge of tears. "Because I haven't. If you would just stop blaming yourself for everything, you'd know that. Clark, you're the only family that I have. And whether you see it or not, you mean the world to me. Now, I will not stand here and let you wither away and die of misery. Just tell me what I can do that'll make you smile again. Hell, if I have to go out there and drag Lois Lane back here kicking and screaming, I will!"

For a few minutes, they just stayed there in silence. He knew this was an argument that he couldn't win. And she was starting to seriously consider forcing Lois Lane to come crawling in here and apologize for whatever she had done that had made him feel so rejected again.

"What if…" Lana started after a moment. "What if you invited her to dinner?"

"Who? Lois Lane? What would possibly make her want to stay in the same room with me that long? Every single time she's run off like I was going to eat her alive."

"I know… but… Clark, she's been trying to get an interview for weeks. Desperately, I might add, judging by the fact that she actually broke in here precisely for that reason. What if… What if you agreed to one?"

Clark looked at Lana, outraged. How could she suggest that he submit himself to the questioning of a reporter? Even if she happened to be Lois Lane. Hadn't he spent enough time trying to hide who he was? Didn't she understand the necessity of hiding the details of his personal life?

"Wait," she added, as she noticed the expression on his face. "Wait! You could tell her you'll only answer questions about your work. Clark, I'm sure she'd agree to that. She's persistent, sure, but she's certainly not stupid. I've read her articles, she's actually a pretty good reporter. Put down some ground rules, don't let her ask any personal questions. No matter what, you'd still be granting her the interview of a lifetime. There isn't one reporter in the world that would pass something like that up."

"I doubt you can actually convince her of that, Lana," he said, shaking his head.

"Just watch me," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.


A delivery boy walked into the newsroom of the Metropolis Star, carrying a big bouquet of flowers. He asked around for directions to someone's desk; someone whom he was supposed to bring these to.

Lois heard footsteps coming towards her desk and stopping right next to it. She looked up.

"Lois Lane?" the delivery boy asked, reading the delivery waiver.

"Yes, I'm her," Lois confirmed. She was puzzled as she noticed the flowers that the kid was carrying. Who would want to send her flowers? Maybe that was Lex apologizing for his inappropriate behavior — not to mention the fact that he'd been missing in action since that night.

"These are for you, ma'am. Would you sign here, please?"

He handed her the bouquet and showed her the waiver. Lois grabbed the flowers and set them down on her desk, then signed the waiver and started rummaging through her purse to find something to give the delivery boy as a tip.

Once the kid left, Lois started looking for something she could put the flowers in. She borrowed a vase from Isabel, the girl who wrote the gossip column. She had a few lying around — this woman received flowers every other day, it seemed. Lois had no idea why that was, but she was glad she could borrow a vase from her anyway. She filled it up with water from the water cooler and walked back to her desk. She put the flowers she'd just received in the vase and removed the card from them.

As she read the note, Lois was so shocked, she literally fell back in her chair. This was the last person she ever expected to be getting anything from!

The gossip columnist rushed over to Lois' desk when she saw her reaction to the card. She was sure something was wrong.

"Are you OK?" she asked.

Lois didn't answer. She just sat there looking completely taken aback. Isabel yanked the card out of Lois' hand. If she wasn't going to tell her what was wrong, she'd just have to find out the only way she could.

The note read, "Have dinner with me tomorrow. Your wish will be granted." It was signed, "The Phantom".

"Oooh! Lois! You met someone at the party, didn't you?" Isabel asked, with a smile.

"Um… Oh? You could say that," Lois said, finally.

"What's wrong?" the gossip columnist inquired. "Not someone you want to see again?"

"More like someone I wasn't expecting to hear from in this lifetime," she explained.

"But it's a good thing that he's inviting you to dinner, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I think it's a good thing. I'm just… Oh, I'm just completely blown away, to tell you the truth!"

"Come on," Isabel said, grabbing Lois' hand. "I know for a fact you haven't had a real date in months. I'm taking you shopping, girl. You need a new dress! And shoes, and accessories… Let's go!"

Lois quickly pondered with the idea of letting herself be dragged out of the newsroom by Isabel to hit the shopping mall. She would never have gone out shopping with this girl, especially considering that her usual choice of clothes was "the least fabric there is, the better". This was definitely not Lois' style at all; especially not if she was going to have dinner with a millionaire! But she could use some new clothes for sure. Nothing she had in her wardrobe looked nice enough for this sort of occasion. Besides, the workday was almost over and Lois had submitted a few articles already. She could afford to leave early.

"Hang on… Let me just RSVP," Lois said. "I'll swing by your desk in a minute."

Isabel gave her a bright smile and nodded before going back to her desk.

Lois picked up the phone and dialed the number, which she knew by heart now. It rang a couple of times before Lana Lang finally answered.

"Ms. Lang? Hi, this is Lois Lane…" she started.

"Ah! Miss Lane, I was hoping I'd hear from you this afternoon," Lana said. "Should we expect you tomorrow?"

"Um… Yes. Yes, definitely," Lois answered, somewhat hesitantly. "May I ask… um… the note said something about my wish being granted. Does that mean…?"

"You wished for an interview, didn't you?" Lana asked, with a smile. She was rather enjoying this little exchange.

"Yes, but… You mean? Seriously?"

"Mr. Kent has agreed to grant you the interview you've been trying to get, yes," Lana confirmed. "I should tell you that he's not going to answer any personal questions, though. You can ask him whatever you like about his work, but that's it. And you should probably prepare yourself to be denied the answer to any question which Mr. Kent feels is not appropriate or is not inclined to answer, whatever his reasons may be."

"I understand. I'll stick to his work, that's not a problem," Lois promised.

"Wonderful, then we'll be expecting you tomorrow evening, then. At 8 PM, if that's alright with you?"

"It's perfect, Ms. Lang. Thank you. Thank you so much!" Lois said, ecstatic before she hung up.

"No… I should be thanking you, Miss Lane," Lana whispered as she put the handset back into the cradle.

Lois jumped out of her chair and all but ran over to Isabel's desk. Both women stormed out of the newsroom, each of them excited to be going shopping, although they had very different reasons to be happy about it.


Kathryn saw two regular customers come in: the short, slender man with octopus arms and his companion, the burly man who barely ever said more than two words at a time. She called in their usual order and prepared their coffee as fast as she could.

As she brought the cups over to them, she noticed that the slender man seemed strangely agitated. He was talking very fast and kept gesturing with his hands in an angry manner. Something must be wrong, she thought. This man was usually a lot calmer than this. He always wore an annoyed expression, but he never really let it show in his actions.

She went back to the counter and sat down behind it, closer to their table than she usually did. There were barely any clients in the diner and she knew that it wouldn't look suspicious if she just sat there and pretended to work on a crossword puzzle. This is what she always did when the place was empty enough so that she could take a breather while she waited for customers' orders to be ready.

It was a good thing that no one was close enough to look at the puzzle she was working on, or they would have noticed that she wasn't actually following the clues at all. Instead, she was filling the empty boxes with words that she picked up from the two men's conversation… Thursday. Underground. Waterfront. Contract. Dealers. Export. Percentage. Careful. Last. Chance.

Once she had taken down all the information she thought could be useful, she rolled up the newspaper and went back to the kitchen to stuff it in her handbag. It was her copy of the paper, so no one would think any of that. She took a deep breath. She needed to keep acting normal, she told herself. It wasn't going to be very easy, especially considering that she had probably caught a discussion that the FBI would be most interested in. Not to mention that, even though she had taken every possible precaution, she was concerned that someone would have noticed what she was doing and would pull the plug on her little spying operation.

Kathryn grabbed the plates that were now ready and went through the revolving kitchen doors.


Lois barely saw the day go by. She was completely lost in thought, trying to remember all the questions she was going to ask and making sure she could ask them in a way that he wouldn't object to them. She had agreed to the 'no personal questions' rule, sure, but if she was smart enough maybe she could get some personal information without it sounding like she was asking for it.

Around 4 PM, she noticed that the other thing she had barely seen today was her partner. Lex had dropped by around noon, had walked over to his desk, picked up a few files and walked right out of the newsroom again. He had not bothered to address anyone or explain where he was going or where he'd spent the last couple days. Lois just shrugged. If he wanted to go on a self-destruct path, then he was free to do so, as far as she was concerned. Nothing would please her more right now than to come in to work one morning and find that he'd been fired.

Then again, once she came back with the interview she was going to get tonight, maybe she could just quit and get work elsewhere. She was more than certain that anyone would want to hire her after she managed to get that interview. For *years* other reporters had tried to get it, but none had ever achieved it. Oh, some had pretended that they had and had printed make believe answers to their questions. She'd heard all about them. But she was going to get the real thing. Actual real answers from the actual real man. She smiled. Why he had agreed to this was beyond her — especially after all the times she had stuck her foot in her mouth and insulted him or just bolted right out of the room — she would have considered asking, but she knew this would fall into the personal questions category and she didn't want this interview to end after just the one question!

Lois left the newsroom as soon as she felt was acceptable for her to do so. She'd left early the day before and when she'd come in this morning, she had heard other reporters complaining about the hours she kept. It was stupid of them, she knew. She wasn't chained to her desk! How could they know that she wasn't going off to meet sources? They had no idea what she did when she wasn't in the newsroom to begin with, why would they simply assume that when she wasn't in, she wasn't working? She might be partnered with Lex Luthor, but she most definitely wasn't following his lead. He was looking more and more like a slacker, sure, but that was one thing Lois Lane could never be accused of being! Nevertheless, she hated when people spread rumors about her and she figured it was probably best that she try and keep her reputation clean, so she had waited as long as she thought was necessary before she left for home.

The butterflies in her stomach started waking up and fluttering around as soon as she got to her apartment. Lois felt anxious, but excited at the same time. She was nervous about this meeting, yet she was looking forward to it in a way that didn't seem logical. She felt a strong pull towards that mansion, towards that man. But she didn't really know or understand why. It was just something in her gut that told her this was the right place to be, that this was were she was meant to be. So even though she was quite a bit frightened of finding herself alone with Clark Kent, she was still looking forward to it very much.

It took her over an hour to get dressed and ready to go. Normally, it would have taken her less than half an hour, but this was an important meeting and she wanted everything to be absolutely perfect. Not to mention her hand were shaky, so applying makeup had taken triple the usual time! The little black dress that Isabel had convinced her to buy looked absolutely perfect on her. She had been a bit reluctant at first… It had a plunging neckline and was slit on the side so it showed off quite a bit of her left leg. This was definitely not the type of dress Lois typically wore, but she had to agree with her co-worker: it really did fit very, very well. It was sexy enough, yet still proper for meeting with a man of this standing.

She looked at herself in the mirror for a few minutes and then, finally satisfied with her appearance, she left her bedroom. Lois grabbed the jacket that Isabel had picked out to go over the dress and a small evening bag, which was barely big enough to hold her notepad and a pen, then she left the apartment. She had made sure to park her car as close to her home as she could manage. She was thankful for it, because her shoes weren't really broken in yet and she didn't think she'd be able to walk very far in them. She wouldn't have to do much walking tonight anyway. She'd be OK, she knew.

Lois made her way to Eagle View Drive. She had to drive a little faster than she would have liked, though, because she was a little bit late. Fortunately, the roads were pretty empty and she didn't run into any traffic or any problems getting there. When she reached the entrance of the big wrought-iron fence, she hit the intercom button and waited for an answer. She heard Lana Lang's voice come on. She announced herself and the gate opened itself up. Lois drove the short distance between the gate and the entrance to the mansion where she parked her car. She ran the doorbell and was greeted by Lana just a short minute later.

"Good evening, Miss Lane" Lana said. "If you'll just follow me…"

"Oh, please," Lois said as she walked inside the house. "There's no need for you to be this formal with me. I think we've spoken often enough to be on a first name basis. Don't you?"

Lois followed Lana down a long corridor, which wasn't especially well lit. It could have used some of the little pumpkin light bulbs in the fixtures, Lois thought, amused. Even a few little handkerchief ghosts would have been welcome in this gloomy corridor.

"You realize, though…" Lana started. "If we're on a first name basis, you'll no longer be allowed to call and pretend you've never spoken to me before in the hopes that I'll let you speak with Mr. Kent," she said, laughing softly.

Lois giggled a little. "Fair enough!" she agreed.

"I have to admit, I might miss having to argue with you over the possibility of setting up an interview. I was almost starting to enjoy it, you know."

Having reached the end of the corridor, they started going up a couple flights of stairs.

"You must be pretty lonely if you're going to miss me harassing you like that," Lois said, concerned. Somewhere along the way, she had lost that feeling of dislike that she felt for Lana. She felt rather sorry for her now. What sort of life did this woman have if she enjoyed the phone spats they kept having?

"Um… You could say that," Lana confessed, her cheeks turning slightly pink. "As pathetic as this is going to sound, you're about the closest thing to an acquaintance that I have around here."

"Listen… Lana?" Lois had a sudden urge to reach out to her. "I don't really have very many friends either. Maybe… we could have a cup of coffee together sometime and chat a little? If you like, I mean."

"Yeah, I think I'd like that," Lana told her and they reached a room which had a solid maple double door at its entrance. "This is Mr. Kent's private study," she informed Lois. Lana grabbed the doorknob and opened the door. "Go on," she encouraged Lois to proceed.

Lois walked in the room. A second later, Lana had closed the door and she had heard her footsteps leading away from the room.

The study consisted of two rooms. The one she was currently standing in, which was barely a couple of feet wider than the double doors she'd just gone through, and a second one to the left that seemed about twice as big.

Lois looked around the smaller room; there wasn't any furniture in it. Only bookshelves that covered the walls from the floor to the ceiling. She estimated they contained close to a thousand books in total. Easily. Most of the ones she could see looked very old.

She walked over to the next room. Inside, she saw a huge antique mahogany desk, with a big leather chair behind it. The walls of this room were also covered from top to bottom with bookshelves filled with hundreds of books. To the left of the desk there was a fireplace in which a nice and warm fire currently burned. A little further away, she saw a table set for two. Around the fireplace there was a loveseat and two chairs. There, on the chair furthest away from where she was, sat Clark Kent. He sat there wearing a simple business casual outfit. Lois suddenly felt herself going weak at the knees.

"Good evening," she said, as she walked over to him.

He immediately stood up. "Hi," he answered. "I'm glad you decided to come."

"Thank you for inviting me," she said, blushing. "And thank you for the flowers, they were beautiful."

Flowers? Clark guessed that this is how Lana had sent her the invitation for dinner. Nice touch, he thought. She might have informed him of it, though… He smiled and nodded, hoping Lois hadn't noticed his surprise.

"Shall we?" he asked, motioning towards the table.


Kathryn stopped at the shopping mall on her way home that evening. She had worked late once more. Luckily she had a wonderful baby-sitter who didn't mind staying a little later, or coming over on a moment's notice. Kathryn stopped to pick up a little something to thank her for all her hard work; one of those scented candles in a big glass jar that she loved so much. She grabbed a toy for Timmy as well. Poor baby had seen more of the baby-sitter than he'd seen of his mom over the last weeks. This was so far away from the life that she knew he deserved.

Her shopping done, she started looking for a pay phone. She found them close to the rest rooms on the lower floor, where the food court was. She called her home first and told the baby-sitter that she'd be there in about ten minutes, then asked if Timmy had been good and checked whether there was anything she could bring back from the mall. The conversation over, she then called one of the contact numbers she'd been given.

A woman answered the phone. Kathryn had expected a man to answer, for some reason, so she was a little confused at first. However, after she went through the verification procedure that she'd been told to follow, she was satisfied that she was speaking to someone she could trust. She told the woman about what she had heard in the dinner and gave her all the details that she could remember. She described the men as accurately as she could and answered all the questions that the woman then asked.

The woman gave Kathryn some more instructions and then she hung up. Kathryn left the shopping mall and drove home. She hoped that she would never have to listen in on another conversation again, that this was it. The big one. What the agents had been looking for and that very soon someone would come for them and get them enrolled in the witness protection plan, just as she had been promised.


Clark had insisted that they not spoil dinner by jumping right into the interview. This, unfortunately, had not left them with much to talk about. Lois didn't dare ask anything personal for fear of the interview being over before it had even started. She noticed that he did not ask her any personal questions either. She wasn't certain if she should take that as a sign that he showed very little interest in her or simply that he didn't want to encourage her into asking him for the same type of details which she had agreed not to talk about tonight.

Lois hoped that once they did finally get started with the interview, that he would be a little more talkative or this might end up being a very short evening!

They sat near the fire after dinner. Lois pulled out her notepad and a pencil from her evening bag. She started off with a few easy icebreakers and the conversation was off to a good start. However, at one point, as she had asked something about the number of awards that he'd won, he had started laughing. She looked at him puzzled and a tiny bit offended by his reaction to a very valid question.

"I apologize," he said. "It's just… You've called me 'sir' about half a dozen times now and it's starting to make me feel very, very old."

"Oh… I didn't realize. I'm sorry, mist- uh… I mean…"

He laughed again. "Hang on, let's start this over."

He got up and took a few steps towards her. "Hello," he said, holding out his hand. "I'm Clark. Pleased to meet you."

She took his hand, looking up at him. "I'm Lois," she said with a small nod. "The pleasure is all mine."

Time seemed to stand still for a fraction of a second as their eyes met.

Lois looked away, hoping to hide the fact that this had completely thrown her off balance. What was it about this man, she wondered? Ever since the first time she'd seen him, he'd conjured up feelings inside her that she wasn't sure she could name or explain. She was definitely attracted to him — any normal human female would have been — but it wasn't just that, it was something else. Something more. She wondered if he felt that as well… Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she hoped he did.

Clark cleared his throat and went back to his chair. He was a little thrown off balance himself… Hopefully, she hadn't noticed, he thought. There was something that drew him to her; an unstoppable force that he couldn't fight. He had no desire to fight it, either. He didn't know exactly what it was, but he kept getting this strange sense of a connection between them. Every look, every touch, seemed to confirm this. Clark had never really believed in fate or destiny — it always seemed like a very pessimistic way of seeing the world — but he was starting to believe that they'd been meant to share these moments together. There was no other way to explain why it felt so right. He had never really belonged anywhere — he didn't even belong on this planet to begin with — but when he was around her, at that moment, he knew that this is exactly where he was supposed to be. Somehow, he was supposed to be with her.

"Have you actually visited all the places you mention in your books?" Lois asked after a moment.

"You know you're getting real close to the line marked 'personal' with a question like this," he told her with what he hoped resembled a teasing grin.

"Oh… I… I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" she stammered. She knew this would happen if she wasn't careful. Damn!

"No, no, it's fine," Clark said immediately. He definitely had a knack for making her uncomfortable, he though. How stupid of him! "I'm the one who's sorry. I… um… I was just kidding. I don't mind you asking that at all." He smiled at her. "I guess you can tell I haven't been around very many people for a while. I'm not very good at this, am I? I'll give you straight answers from here on end. I'm very sorry."

"I should have known better than ask about that, anyway," she explained. "I know the rule. I sort of have a hard time stopping to think before I speak… I'll make sure I stick to the rules properly, you should feel free to answer in whatever way you feel comfortable with."

"I have visited all these places," he informed her. "And you can ask whatever you like, Lois. I promise, if you step over the line, I'll let you know."

Her heart skipped a beat as she heard him speak her name. It sounded so much nicer when he said it, she thought. She wasn't sure she'd be able to work up the nerve to call him by his first name, though. Sure, he'd asked her to — and she'd make every effort not to call him 'sir' ever again — but it was a big step from here to actually saying his name out loud. She wasn't sure she was ready to take it just yet.

"You've really been through the desert and all the cities you've written about?" she asked, her curiosity was piqued. "Seriously?"

"Yep. Every single one." He smiled. "It's much easier to write about places that I've seen. Besides, I wouldn't want to write about cities without having ever seen them first. You can't get a real sense of what it's like if you've never even set foot there. And I don't think the stories would be as believable if people could easily pick out all the factual errors about where the action takes place. Now, mind you, the places are real and I try to describe them just the way that I remember them, but the stories themselves are romanced. I didn't actually have all these adventures."

"But some of them are real?"

"All my novels contain a few things that I've really done, yes. But in some cases it's not even part of the plot. Like a sunset that I've seen or something someone's told me. That's usually how I start writing, as a matter of fact. A memory will surface — it can be anything. In one case it was the scent of a flower, it's never anything in particular. It just inspires me to write. And of course the source of the inspiration will make it into the book at some point, but the stories themselves are fiction."

"None of them are autobiographical at all, then?"


"I'm sorry," Lois said, slapping her hand over her mouth. She'd done it again! "You don't have to answer that," she added a second later. "Pretend I didn't ask."

She was about to direct her questioning to another aspect of his work, but he spoke before she had a chance to. "Off the record? The very first novel I've ever written was autobiographical, from start to end. But I doubt you could tell which one it is. It's not the first that was published. I didn't actually write it in the hopes of seeing it published, in the first place. It didn't even occur to me at the time that it could even be made into a novel."

"Why are you telling me?" she asked, cocking her head to the side. "I thought… well, it's definitely across that personal question line."

She was surprised and curious. Why was he answering a question that she knew fell into the category of those she wasn't supposed to ask about? Of course, it was off record, but still.

"Honestly, I'm not sure. But since you said I should pretend you didn't ask, let's just pretend I didn't tell you either." He smiled warmly.

She smiled back. For a quick second she imagined that she was in a 'pretend' universe, where they could talk about anything and where she wouldn't need the excuse of an interview to be allowed to have a conversation with him in the first place.

Lois asked a few more questions and then eventually decided that she couldn't get away with much more without really going into the personal stuff. She would have loved to ask why he moved around so much or what his relationship with Lana really was — she had to be more than his assistant, she lived in his home and didn't leave it anymore than he did; this was way beyond what a personal assistant would have normally be expected to be doing, she knew. But Lois had stuck her foot in her mouth a couple times already and she didn't want to take any more chances, so she left it at that.

As Clark showed her back to the front door, Lois thanked him for his time and promised that she would keep her article on the straight and narrow.

"I never had any doubt you would," he said.

"You know, if this makes as much noise as I'm thinking it will, you may just have saved me from my work partner a second time," she told him with a delighted air as they stopped in front of the main entrance.

"Glad to be of service," he replied, bowing his head solemnly. "The third time is free, by the way," he added with a lopsided smile.

"I'll keep it in mind." She smiled back.

"I'm… glad you didn't run off on me, this time."

"Oh… I apologize for doing that. It's just that… you always turned out to be someone other than who I expected to see at the time," she explained. "I thought you were just the groundskeeper and you turned out to be… well… you. And then I didn't know who the Phantom was, but I didn't expect him to be you again."

"What about the first time?" he asked, amused. "Through the hedge…" he added seeing that she wasn't following his train of thought too well. "Who were you expecting then?"

"Um… a cat?" she replied, trying to hide a grin.

He laughed. "Ah, well… it must have been some disappointment to see me there instead of a cute little creature."

"Quite the opposite," she replied, the words coming out of her mouth faster than her brain could analyze them. Her eyes grew wide as she realized what she'd just said. "Oh… I didn't mean… I wasn't… Uh…"

"You don't have to explain," he said softly. "I'm glad you didn't turn out to be a cat either, you know."

She gave him a shy little smile. "Thank you, again. For everything."

"It was a pleasure, Lois."

"Well, I guess this is it, then," she said, sadly. "I'll make sure they send you a copy of the paper tomorrow. I… um… I'll be looking forward to your future works," she added, not knowing what else to say.

This was it. The interview was over. The evening was over. She was standing at his door and… it was over. She'd have no more reasons to see him again. She couldn't explain why, but this realization was incredibly depressing. It was ridiculous, she thought; she barely knew him! Maybe that was it, though. She hadn't had a chance to get to know him at all — and now she never would. She looked at the floor and tried to stifle a sigh before she grabbed the doorknob.

Clark gently placed his hand over hers on the doorknob, to stop her from opening the door for just a few seconds more.

"You make it sound like I'll never see you again," he said, sounding downhearted himself.

"Well, now that you've given me the interview I kept trying to get, I don't see why you would…"

"Please don't finish that thought," he whispered, with a concerned expression. "The interview was just an excuse, Lois. You kept running off and I… well, I didn't think you'd ever agree to have dinner with me otherwise. It didn't occur to me that once it was over… that you would just leave and…" He cleared his throat before going on. "I'm not very good at this… what I'm trying to say is that I'd very much like to see you again. That's if you… uh…"

She looked up at him and, for a second, he thought he might drown in those soft brown eyes.

"I would, Clark," she whispered. "I would like that very much."

His heart leapt. She would! It was all Clark could do to keep both feet on the ground. Literally.

"I hope you don't think I'm being too forward," he said softly as he leaned in closer to her. A mere second later, his lips covered hers and he was kissing her, gently at first, then more fervently as she leaned into him and returned the kiss just as ardently.

It felt like floodgates had just opened up inside each of them. For several long minutes, they shared kiss upon kiss, caught as they were in a whirlwind of emotions that neither thought they could ever experience.


Lois went back to the Star after she had left the mansion. It took her forever to drive there; her mind was too busy replaying the soul shattering kiss that they had shared before she'd left. She didn't believe in fairy-tales and never for a second imagined that she could be the princess of a fantasy world in which she was whisked away by a handsome prince to his castle where they would live happily ever after. Things like that just never happened in real life. But there she was, a simple reporter, coming back from having dinner with a very handsome and very rich man whom she was starting to believe she was falling head over heels for.

Once she finally made it to the office, Lois went over to see the night editor and told him that she had landed an exclusive interview that she was sure would be the talk of the town once it got printed. She explained that she had managed to meet with Clark Kent and ask him questions about his work. The editor looked at her with an expression of utter disbelief.

"I swear to God, it's absolutely true," Lois told him.

"Sure it is, Lane. But do tell me how I can possibly get a fact-checker to verify this information when none of it is in the public domain because no one knows anything about this man to begin with? Come on!" the editor protested.

"Here," she said, handing him a piece of paper. "This is the number where you can reach his assistant. Her name is Lana Lang. She'll verify that I was over there tonight and that I most certainly did get an interview with Clark Kent."

The editor grabbed the phone number and called up one of the kids from research. He told Lois to start typing and that if her story checked out; he'd make sure to save a great big spot on the front page for it.

Lois typed up her article, making sure she kept in everything she could use and left out all the personal details that he had told her off the record. The last thing she wanted was to scare this man away. She wasn't going to mess this up, whatever this was!

Once she felt satisfied with her piece, she went over to see the night editor. He had been able to verify that what she had told him was the truth and he'd made sure the story would run on the front page and that they would print a large number of extra copies, since this edition was sure to break sales records. Her story now in the hands of the editor, she went back home.


Lois woke up at the first sign of sunlight. She was so anxious to see her story on the front page of the Star that she had barely slept at all. Of course that wasn't the only thing keeping her up, but it was a big part of it. This could make her future a lot brighter, she knew, and she couldn't wait to see it happening. When she heard the delivery boy throw the paper in front of her door, she had gotten up from bed in a hurry and had rushed over to get it.

As she picked the newspaper up from the floor, Lois suddenly felt the world closing in around her. She stifled a cry of surprise and desperation. Stumbling back into her apartment, she kicked the door closed and walked over to a couch where she let herself fall.

Oh. God. No!

The front page of the Star seemed to scream at her, in the biggest and boldest type Lois had ever seen on a newspaper before. They had changed the title of her story into "I spent the night with Clark Kent". Under that was a subtitle in a much smaller font, which read "An exclusive interview by Lois Lane".

Lois was pretty sure that this is what it felt to witness the end of the world.

How could they have done this? How dare they have printed her story with a title like that? How was she going to explain that to him; that she wasn't responsible for it, that she hadn't picked that title? He wouldn't believe her, she just knew it. No one would believe that she hadn't come up with the title! Granted, it was sure to sell a *lot* of papers, but it made her story look like it was gossip, like it wasn't to be taken seriously.

She picked up the phone. He couldn't be allowed to see this. She had to explain!

"Lana? It's Lois… um… I'm sorry to call you this early. I apologize. It's just… ah… God… please, please, don't let Clark see this morning's edition of the Star. Please, I beg you!"

"Lois… calm down," Lana told her. "What's this about? What's wrong?"

"My story's on the front page, this morning. The interview from last night. But… oh… geez… Lana, I'm sorry! The title they put on the front page… it's horrible. It's not mine. It wasn't supposed to be like that. I'm so, so sorry!"

"Oh, come on! I haven't seen it yet, but it can't be that bad. I mean, I'm sure they made it so they would sell more papers. We expected that, really. Don't worry…"

"No, Lana! You don't understand. It is that bad. It's worse than bad. I can't even say it out loud. If they deliver it to you, just please don't let him see it yet! I'll bring a copy over myself, so I can explain. OK? I'll be right there."

Lois didn't wait for an answer, she just hung up. She ran into her bedroom and threw on the first pieces of clothing she found — a pair of jeans and an old University of Metropolis t-shirt. She grabbed her jacket on the way out and jogged all the way to her car. Less than half an hour later, she was standing at the door of the mansion on Eagle View Drive. She wasn't sure how she had possibly managed to get there in one piece… Her eyes had been filling with tears the entire way there. Her dreams were crumbling; her hopes for the future were falling apart. No one would ever take her seriously again! How could they when she had a front-page story with a title in huge bold letters that made her look like a skank? Worse yet, she was absolutely convinced that Clark would resent her for this. She'd promised him she would keep it professional… Well, this definitely did not fall into the professional category. Not by a long shot!

"I let Clark know you were coming," Lana said as she showed Lois in. "He should be down soon, I imagine."

"This is what they printed," Lois told her pitifully as she opened up the paper she held rolled up in her hand.

Lana took a look at the front page. "Ouch!" she said simply.

"You see? That's what I was trying to tell you. I'm so… so very sorry. It was supposed to be my big break and now it's ruined, everything is ruined! I'm… ah, damn!"

It was all just too much for her. Everything she could have achieved with this one article — and more! — was utterly and completely lost. The newspaper fell out of Lois' hand as she broke into tears again. Lana tried to console her, but she wasn't very successful at it. Clark joined them shortly. When he had heard the commotion, he had started to worry that something was seriously wrong.

"Hey, hey," he said softly as he placed his hand gently on Lois' shoulder. "You know… there's a rule that says you need a written authorization to cry in this house," he added, hoping that his attempt at humor wouldn't bomb this time around.

He turned to Lana and nodded. She took that as her cue to leave them alone, so she did.

Lois looked up and tried to smile. "I'm sor… sorry," she hiccupped between ragged breaths. She bent down to pick up the newspaper and handed it over to him. "I didn't know… they would pri… print it… like that," she explained. "I'm so sorry."

She couldn't bear to look at him while he checked out the front page of the Star. She let her head drop and stared at her feet, like a kid waiting to hear her sentence after having been caught by her teacher doing something she wasn't supposed to. She was mortified of his reaction; she didn't want to see it. She could already imagine the anger on his face and she was certain the next words out of his mouth would be ordering her to leave the premise.

Lois was completely flabbergasted when she realized that instead of the shouting she had imagined, he was laughing. Her head shot up and she looked at him in complete puzzlement.

"They sure know how to sell papers," he said, shaking his head and still laughing.

"You're not…" Lois started, but the rest of her sentence died in her chest before it had a chance to come out.

"What? Mad? No… This is really tame compared to all the nasty headlines I've read about myself over the years."

"But… it's awful! It's not true! I didn't think my editor would do that! He's never changed a title before. People are going to read that and think… they're going to believe… and it's not like that… I'm sorry…"

Her eyes filled with tears again.

"Shhh, don't cry over something like that," he said as he pulled her into him arms. "Shhh," he repeated over and over while he gently stroked her hair as she continued to cry.

She moved away from him after a moment. "I'm ruining your shirt," she mumbled.

He gently titled her chin up so she would be looking up at him again. "I don't care about the shirt," he said softly. "And I don't care much about what people may or may not think. They've got it all wrong no matter what they believe. The one thing I don't like is finding pretty reporters in tears at my doorstep first thing in the morning."

She gave him a weak smile.

"Come on, let's get you some coffee," he suggested

Clark placed his hand on the small of her back. Lois started walking forward in response. He led her to the kitchen where a fresh pot of coffee was brewing.


Kathryn got up early that morning. She went over to Timmy's room where she sat in a chair next to his bed.

They would have a better future, she told herself. She'd done what the FBI agents had asked and she had given them the information that they sought. At least, she hoped it would be useful to them. She understood enough of what the men had said to know that they were discussing some sort of illegal operation. So, obviously, the FBI would be interested in that. But she wasn't sure if there was enough information or even if it was important enough that they would do something about it. She hoped so… because she really did not see herself going in to work every day and listening in on conversations, then secretly passing it over to a contact. It scared her just thinking about it.

She watched her son for a while, as he slept peacefully and probably dreamt of things that he loved, like playing soccer or watching Bugs Bunny cartoons on TV. Timmy was such a special little boy, precocious and bright. He was her entire world and Kathryn wished with all her heart that she could give him what he needed to grow into the little man that she knew he could be, but the truth was that working as a waitress in that awful diner wasn't the best way to achieve any of that. She could barely make ends meet, not to mention she worked long hours, often having to take on double shifts and ended up seeing her baby so very few hours every day that she sometimes wondered if she wasn't going to wake up one morning and find Timmy calling the baby-sitter "Mommy".

When she looked at her watch and saw that it was almost 8, Kathryn got up from her chair and went to wake Timmy up. She didn't have to work the day shift today, so she had promised him a trip to the zoo. As he woke up, Timmy jumped out of bed and threw himself in his mother's arms. Tears welled up in her eyes. She carried him over to the kitchen and sat him down for breakfast. In between two spoonfuls of his Cheerios, Timmy told her all about the wonderful dream he had had. Kathryn smiled, hoping that someday, all of her son's dreams would stand a chance at coming true.


Lois eventually left the mansion and went directly to the Metropolis Star. She felt a little better about things after spending the morning with Clark and Lana, but she couldn't help but think that the sky could come falling down and crush her at any moment.

She got a lukewarm welcome from the staff in the newsroom, as she walked in. Some of the women looked at her with envy, obviously wanting to know if she'd really actually "spent the night" with the man. Men, on the other hand, seemed to be checking her out, as if she was some sort of prized merchandise that they should go hunting after. The people she was closest too appeared to be quite happy for her — they obviously understood that she had nothing to do with the titling — they were the only ones to come over and talk to her about her achievement. Sure it didn't save lives or put criminals behind bars, but she'd seen an opportunity and she'd made things happen and that took guts and determination. She'd single-handedly been able to do what none of them had ever done: get an interview with a man who was quite possibly the most secretive human being on the planet.

Lex Luthor was waiting for her, looking all smug; sitting on her chair, with his feet propped up on her desk. She shuddered as she saw him there. Lois wasn't looking forward to that confrontation one bit. And she truly hated that he was sitting there like he was allowed to. That was her desk! What right did he have to be there and act like he owned the place?

"So that's what you've been up to with all the cheesy novels and the long hours at work, huh, rookie?" he said.

"It's called having 'initiative', Lex. Maybe you've heard of it?" she said, defensively. If Lex was going to take a condescending tone with her, then Lois wasn't going to bother being civil with him at all. Two could play that game, she thought.

"Initiative? You mean cleavage, I'm sure," he replied.

"Shut up, Luthor! I worked my butt off to get this interview!" she spat. "And I would appreciate you taking your dirty feet off *my* desk and getting your butt back to *yours*, thank you very much."

"Yeah, I'll bet you worked your butt off! And the rest of that little body of yours, too. Did your clothes get ripped out in a fit of passion last night for you to show up to work in an old t-shirt that's probably not even your own?"

She walked over closer and, with all the strength that she could put into it, slapped him across the face.

"Ooooh, look at little missy 'I spent the night with Mr. Big Shot Millionaire'. One interview and she thinks she should be crowned queen of the newsroom! All hail the Queen!" Lex said with a nasty expression in his face.

Lois didn't even bother to dignify him with an answer, she just walked on to the editor's office. Once inside, she slammed the door closed and started yelling things that her co-workers could only wish they were able to hear.

Half an hour later, she emerged, still red in the face and with pure unadulterated anger shining in her eyes. She picked up a few files from her desk and stormed out of the newsroom without stopping to look behind even once. That was it; she would never be going back to the Metropolis Star ever again.

She drove home in a bit of a daze and fell right into bed as soon as she got there. She cried for a while before she finally fell asleep, completely exhausted as much from a night of tossing and turning as from the events of the morning. How could things have gone from bad to absolute disaster so quick?

The phone rang several times, waking Lois up each time. She didn't get up to answer any of the calls, though. Whoever it was would just have to wait until she was good and ready to talk to them. The last thing she wanted was to have people ask her about "last night" as if they could actually get some juicy gossip out of it. And she most definitely did not want to speak with her mother, whom she was sure had probably called half a dozen times to check on her — or rather admonish her as she did every single chance she got.

She managed to sleep until supper time, at which point she woke up screaming from an awful nightmare in which Lex was threatening to shoot her if she didn't agree to sleep with him. Lois got up from bed and walked over to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Looking out the window she thought she saw Clark's reflection in the glass. She shook her head — it was one thing to see his face everywhere she looked, but this was beyond ridiculous now, she thought. She let herself drop on her living room sofa and turned on the TV with a sigh.


Early that evening, Lex got a very disturbing call on his cell phone. Someone was on to them. Someone, somewhere, had talked. He didn't know who, or why, or for how much, but someone who should otherwise have kept their mouth shut had spilled the beans.

It wasn't bad enough that he had spent nearly two days trying to sweeten his contacts into keeping their end of the bargain. One of the idiots that was in charge of the shipment had failed to show up when and where he was supposed to and as a result, the entire operation had been in serious jeopardy. He had just barely managed to save the whole thing and now this…

Unreliable shipping schedules were just as bad for business as were imbeciles who didn't know when to shut up.

According to his "friend" on the police force — a young agent with a serious gambling problem who had agreed to keep them informed of all police activity on the waterfront in exchange for his debt to be wiped out — the place was now crawling with FBI agents. And if he knew that the feds were there, then obviously his business partners would know too.

He had to do something, had to reassure them that this was not a trap that *he* had set. That he was just as much a victim as they were.

He got up and paced for a few minutes and tried to think of something. Finally, unable to find a workable solution, he had called his contact and had let him know that the deal could not go through tonight. He had explained that the waterfront was under surveillance by the feds and that it was best for all parties that no one show up there tonight. He would make sure none of his team set foot anywhere near there tonight.

Apparently, this had satisfied the man on the other end of the line. He had said that this had given him a good sense of Lex's loyalty and dependability and that the deal would simply have to go through at another point in time.

Lex smiled as he hung up the phone. Who knew that this little incident would actually prove to be a good thing after all? He still needed to find the source of the leak, however. And once he did, he promised himself that he would make whoever it was endure their worst nightmare!

He spent hours making calls and asking questions, then meeting with sources and associates, before he was certain that none of them had done anything to hinder the operation. This left only a very small handful of possible culprits. Lois Lane was one, though he doubted she would have called in the cops when she could easily have cracked the case herself. Another was the sandy-haired waitress at the diner where he and the burly man had had most of their meetings. Rethinking about the last conversation they'd had over lunch there, Lex was just about certain that he had his answer…

A plan started forming in his head. He rubbed his hands together. Things would work out fine after all, wouldn't they?


Kathryn got home the next afternoon after a long night shift which had turned into one and a half when a morning girl had called in sick. When she walked into her apartment, she was shocked to find that her home had been broken into. She looked outside to where she expected to see the FBI agents that were supposed to be guarding the place, but saw no one there. She started to really panic after she called out to Timmy and the baby-sitter and got no reply. She went looking in the other rooms, but saw no sign of them.

As she entered the kitchen, she noticed a piece of cardboard from a discarded pizza box that had been stuck to the refrigerator. The writing on it said, in very broken English, that they were on to her and that she would need to do everything they asked if she was ever going to see her son alive again.

Kathryn fell to the floor, frightened and worried. Her life had just turned into a nightmare. Her baby had been kidnapped! In all the worst-case scenarios that she had ever imagined, things never went so wrong. This was even worse than anything she had ever thought possible.

There was a phone call, some minutes later. She picked up, more out of habit than anything else. The man on the other end told her that her son was safe as long as she did everything they told her to. Firstly, she was not to talk to the police and especially not to anyone in the FBI. Second, she would meet the man's boss tomorrow so that he could give her more instructions. Kathryn readily agreed to everything. She didn't care what they did to her, as long as they didn't touch a single hair on her son's head.

She left the apartment and walked for some time. She didn't want to be in her home right now, she could not bear to see what they'd done to the place when they had come to take her son away from her. She wandered aimlessly for some time.

Kathryn was so completely lost in her despair that she crossed the street without even noticing she was doing it. As a result, she was almost hit by a car. A woman came out of the vehicle, frantic.

"Are you okay?" the woman asked. "You just came out of nowhere, I never even saw you."

"I'm all right," Kathryn told her. But the woman could tell that this couldn't be further from the truth.

"Do you life far away? I could give you a lift back home," the woman suggested.

"Oh…no, thank you. I… I don't want to go back there," she explained.

"Is something wrong? If you're scared of your husband, I can take you to someplace where you'd be safe."

"No, no, that's not it," Kathryn started, but she broke down in tears before she could tell the woman that everything was fine and that she should not bother.

"Well, something is definitely wrong! Come on, you can't stay on the street like this, especially not in this part of town. Would you like some coffee? There's a place not very far that we can go. I'm Lois, by the way."

"Kathryn. Coffee sounds good," she told her through her tears. "Thank you."

"Give me just a second," Lois told her. She grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and made a quick call, asking the person on the other end if they could reschedule a meeting. She gave them an explanation that Kathryn didn't really understand about them giving her a chance and that she might be on to something.

They got in Lois' car and drove a few blocks away to the little coffee shop that she had mentioned. They sat down in a quiet corner, away from prying eyes.

"Listen, if there's anything I can do to help you. I mean, obviously something is wrong. Let me help," she told Kathryn.

"I don't think you could help… and they said not to go to the police. It's just so awful…"

"If something is going on, please talk to me. I'll do everything I can to help, I promise. I'm a reporter — whatever it is, we can do something about it, trust me."

Kathryn looked at Lois, hopeful. "You really think? That you could…? I can't go to the police, they said if I did… something would happen. And I don't know who else I can go to."

"Kathryn, trust me. I know people who know people. I can help make things right, I promise."

"My son… they kidnapped my son."

"Oh, God! Kathryn…"

Kathryn told her the whole story. How she worked as a waitress for a small diner in a lesser part of town and how she had been contacted by the FBI because several of the people who regularly visited the diner were known criminals. She explained that she had agreed to help, because they had told her that once she did, they could put her on a witness protection plan and that it would insure a much better life for Timmy. So when she had heard something that she thought they might find useful, she had reported it back to them. She had hoped that this would be the end of it, she explained, but obviously something had gone very, very wrong.

"Do you have any idea who could be behind this?" Lois asked, in full reporter mode.

Kathryn described the man that she had seen and whom she had talked to the FBI about. The man with the octopus hands. Lois pulled out a copy of the Star from her briefcase and showed her a picture of Lex Luthor. Sure enough, Kathryn identified the man as being the short slender customer whose business associate always left her generous tips.

"I know him… I work with him… Well, I used to work with him, actually. Don't worry, Kathryn, we're going to get Timmy back. Come with me, we'll go to my apartment. You'll be safe there. Trust me, OK?"

Kathryn just nodded and gave her a weak smile. There were still some good people left in the world, she thought, relieved.


When Lois had picked up all the messages that had been left on her answering machine, the night before, she had been surprised to find that most of these people actually meant well. None of them were from reporters trying to get information out of her. Maybe they just hadn't bothered leaving a message?

As she had guessed, she had half a dozen messages from her mom. She sounded increasingly anxious with every new message. The first being mildly reproaching ("How could you not have told me you were dating?") to a very stressed last appeal for her daughter to call her ("I know you're there, would you just pick up? What are you trying to do, let your own mother die of worry?"). There was a message from Lana, just letting her know she was around if she needed an ear to bend; even one from Clark saying pretty much the same. She smiled and shook her head as she had the hardest time trying to imagine him placing a simple phone call. There was also a wrong number and a call from someone who wanted to offer her a subscription to 'Popular Science', of all things!

The very last message, however, took her completely by surprise. She hadn't expected it at all. She had to replay the message a few times to be certain she hadn't just imagined it. A job offer! And not just any job, either. What had started out as a complete fiasco might actually turn into a position at the Daily Planet. It was almost unbelievable! She knew that news traveled fast, but this was a lot faster than she had thought possible.

It was probably too late in the day to return the call now, but she tried anyway. Lois remembered Perry White from the time she had tried to get him to hire her the year before. She was glad to find that the editor in chief was still around even though it was past 8 PM. They spoke briefly and she had agreed to meet him the next afternoon.

She was on her way to meet him when she'd almost ran Kathryn off the road… While logic dictated that she should leave the woman be and go to the interview, her conscience would not let her do that. It was clear that Kathryn was in distress and needed assistance. Reluctantly, she had called Mr. White and had managed to reschedule the interview by telling him she was on to something that he might be interested in. Of course, at the time, it was just a ploy and she had no idea that this really had the potential to turn into a major story.

When both women reached the apartment, Lois had asked Kathryn if she could leave her there alone for just a little while. She told her she had an appointment that she absolutely could not afford to miss. There was no way she would even have tried, anyway; she wanted that job and rescheduling twice would surely not help her out at all. Kathryn looked scared, so Lois tried to comfort her, telling her that she wasn't going to see the police about this at all; that this was a prior engagement and had strictly nothing to do with her. Of course, Lois knew that this kidnapping story would likely come up during the interview, but she wasn't going to tell Kathryn that anymore than she had told her, while she was a reporter, she was a currently unemployed one.

She had finally been able to reassure her guest that everything would be fine and she had then left to meet with Perry White. When she entered the newsroom at the Daily Planet, Lois looked around and was pleased to see that this looked like a very well organized, very well oiled machine. Nothing like the chaos that reigned at the Star! This was a real newspaper, she thought, a serious one. She walked over to the editor's office and introduced herself, her heart beating a mile a minute.

Lois' meeting with Perry White had gone a lot better than the first one had, a year ago. For one thing, he had barely even mentioned Elvis — something she knew now was a habit of his — and second, this time he was ready to hire her.

She told him about the 'story' that had kept her from being able to make the appointment earlier. He had seemed pleased that even though she had originally had nowhere to send her story to, that she was still on the trail of something big. This, he told her, was what made someone a real reporter: being on the lookout for stories to break even when you weren't on the clock. He seemed even more pleased — for whatever reasons, she didn't ask — that this story she was working on somehow revolved around Lex Luthor. She figured that they might have known each other. She'd have to do a little bit of research, she thought. But not now…

When Lois came out of Perry White's office, she had a wonderful new job, an assignment she was more than looking forward to working on and a bright smile on her face.


Lois went back home and started asking Kathryn all sorts of questions, in the hopes that her answers would lead to clues, but Kathryn really didn't know much. So Lois told her that she would try and find Luthor, maybe follow him if she could and find out where he was hiding out. She knew things about him that other people didn't, so she already had an edge there. She promised her houseguest that she would do nothing to endanger the life of her son on purpose and after changing into some darker and more comfortable clothes, she left.

It took her a few hours to catch up to Lex, but she eventually saw him coming out of his favorite bar. A seedy little place where she knew he regularly met with sources. They were probably his business associates, she realized now…

She trailed him to an old office building. Something in her gut told her that this is where he kept Timmy. She ran inside, far enough behind him not to be noticed, yet close enough not to lose track of him. She saw him get on the elevator, so she waited to find out what floor he would stop on. The elevator made only one stop — at the very last floor.

She went up the stairs a couple floors before she called the elevator herself. She thought it safer to proceed this way. If anyone was watching the elevator, they wouldn't necessarily think that Lex had been followed if she did that.

She got off at the 43rd floor and looked around. No one. Lois took the stairs once more and climbed up the last two floors, for the same reason she hadn't gotten on the elevator on the very first floor. As she reached the top floor, she exited the stairwell and checked out her surroundings. She heard voices, but there was no one in sight. She walked in the direction of where the voices seemed to come, being careful not to make any noise and not to attract attention to herself. Unfortunately, on her way to where Lex was sure to be, she came face to face with a nasty looking thug who was standing in a hallway, guarding the entrance. How he had managed to get there without her noticing him before was a mystery… But he'd done it. And now she was pretty much done for.

The thug grabbed her by the arms and dragged her to his boss.

"What are you doing here?" Luthor asked.

"Same thing you are, no doubt. Following leads, trying to get the story," she attempted. Maybe if she pretended that she didn't know he was in charge of this whole operation, he would let her go?

"Ah! And do you really think that I'm going to believe *that*? I might not be the most brilliant reporter there is, but I'm not stupid either, Lane. I know exactly why you're here. And I'm telling you now; you're not going to get out of here in a way that you'll be able to tell anyone about this whole thing."

He motioned to his henchman who immediately handcuffed her. He then threw her on his shoulder, like a sac of potatoes. Lois protested as best she could, but the man completely ignored her.

"The roof," Luthor ordered.

Once they got up there, Lex made a thumb down gesture, which the man understood as meaning he should drop his baggage over the ledge. Lois kicked and screamed as much as she was able to. She knew it was pointless, but thinking logically wasn't going to help her now, anyway.

The man grabbed her from his shoulder and threw her down towards the street. Lois yelled as loudly as she possibly could. The proximity of the other buildings made the sound reverberate in an eerie way. She found herself thinking of Clark and how he had told her that the third rescue from her partner was "free of charge". Oh, how she wished he could have been there before… She would definitely have cashed that in, she thought. But what good would it do her to think of him now? Her life was over. This is how it was going to end. How pathetic. All they would find of her would be a mangled pile of flesh and bones on the street. They'd try to catch the culprit, give her a funeral and life would go on for everyone. Except her. She closed her eyes as tightly as possible, knowing there was nothing left to do but wait for the impact.

When the impact did come, it felt a lot softer than what she had imagined. It didn't even hurt. Lois guessed she had been killed so instantly that she hadn't even realized it. And there was an afterlife, it seemed, for she appeared to still be able to have thoughts. Too bad she couldn't go back and write about that.

"It's okay," came a man's voice. "You're okay, Lois."

Lois opened her eyes. She was shocked as she realized that the man who had just spoken was Clark. Was he dead too? And why did paradise look like the buildings that she had just seen a second ago? She had to be dead though, because she felt like she was floating in mid-air.

Wait a second, she thought… Why was Clark telling her that she was OK? She most certainly wasn't OK! She was dead!

Lois looked around. She saw the street below but there was no sign of her body there. Wasn't that how it worked: your spirit leaves your corporeal body behind it once you died? Suddenly, she realized that she still had all the sensation in her arms and legs. Was that normal for a dead woman?

"Am I dead?" she asked, feeling rather stupid that she actually had to ask in order to be certain.

He smiled. "No, Lois. You're still very much alive. Don't worry, I've got you."

"You… you've got me?" she looked around. They were floating in mid-air! What in the Sam Hill was going on around here? "Who… who's got you?" she asked, completely panicked.

He laughed softly and continued his descent into a nearby alley where he would be able to land safely without being noticed. "This is going to require a little bit of explaining… I promise I'll tell you, but for now, you need to tell me what's going on. Who did this to you?"

"Luthor," she said simply.

"Him again? Lois, why didn't you tell me he was dangerous?" Clark asked, looking even more worried.

"I… I didn't know then," she confessed.

"Can you stand?" he asked as they finally landed.

Lois nodded, so he delicately put her down.

"I'll just need a minute to grab him and…" he started.

"No!" she implored. "He's got an army of goons up there with him! Don't go after him, they're going to make minced meat out of you!"

"Don't worry, Lois. They can't hurt me," he told her with a reassuring smile.

As she saw him taking off again, this time at incredible speed, Lois' legs gave out from under her and she lost consciousness. When she came to again, he was standing over her, clearly concerned.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I should have known you might react that way."

"What… what are you?" she asked, after a moment.

The words she used made him wince. What. What was he? As if he was some 'thing' that couldn't be explained. Some 'thing' that didn't belong.

"Are you… uh… are you my guardian angel?" she continued. She didn't believe in angels, of course, but… well, up until now she would never have believed that a man could fly, either. Because that's what she had seen him do, she was absolutely sure of it. This man could *fly* of his very own power!

He smiled. That sounded better than a 'thing' that couldn't be explained, at least. "Maybe I am," he told her as he picked her up in his arms and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Let me get you home, OK? I'll come back for Luthor in a minute."

"In a minute?" she repeated, amazed. "You mean that literally, don't you?"

"Pretty much…"

"But you can't let them see you, Clark. They could identify you! You can't do that!" Lois said, her eyes wide in panic.

"Identify whom? They don't have a clue who I am to begin with, Lois. Outside of Lana, you're the only person who has any sort of idea. No one knows my face. They couldn't even venture a guess. If anyone's got anything to be scared of right now, it's them. I… well… I can deal with the repercussions of this anyway. Wouldn't be the first time."

"Oh my God! I almost forgot why I was here in the first place!"

He looked at her slightly puzzled.

"Timmy!" she explained. "They've kidnapped Kathryn's son! We have to get him back, we can't leave him there with Lex! I'm sure he's in the building someplace, I just know it."

"Who? What? He's kidnapped a child? What sort of man is your partner, Lois?" he asked, as he started looking at up and down at the building.

"Ex… Ex-partner. I quit," she told him. "What are you doing?" she added as she noticed he was staring at the edifice as if it would help him locate people inside it.

"Looking," he explained. "I… um… I can…" He shrugged and finally added, "I can see through walls."

Lois looked at him with an expression of surprise and fright, as if he had just informed her that Martians had just landed and were about to go hunting for dinner. The thought almost made him laugh… Man hunting Martians; right!

"I see them," he announced after a minute of searching. He put Lois back down. "I'll be right back."

He took off with a loud booming sound and was replaced by a gust of wind a fraction of a second later. Lois barely had time to blink a couple of times before he was right back in the alley, with a young boy in his arms.

"I promise I'll explain," he told her, seeing as though she was completely in shock. "Where are his parents?"

Lois just gaped at him, unable to process any thoughts. How could he do those things? Who in God's name was this man? She could tell he wasn't dangerous — something deep inside her told her she was safe with him, that she could trust him with her life, even. But she wasn't able to make heads of tails of what was going on. Maybe she *had* died after all and this was a sick joke from the powers that be; a test of some kind. For what, she had no idea, but it seemed like the only plausible explanation for all of this.

"Lois?" Clark asked, hoping she'd snap out of that catatonic state she was currently in. "We can't stay here long. Let's get Timmy back to his parents. Then we can talk about… well, whatever you want to know." He sighed as he finished his sentence.

"My apartment. Kathryn… his mom. She's at my place right now," she explained. "It's a long story!" she added, seeing the confused look on his face.

Clark handed Timmy over to Lois, who took him carefully in her arms.

"You're OK, sweetie," she told the child, as she gently caressed his cheek. "Don't worry, you're safe now."

Timmy looked up at Clark, amazed. "Are you Peter Pan?" he asked, his eyes wide in admiration.

"No, I'm not Peter Pan," Clark said with an amused grin. "Let's get you back to your mommy, OK?"

Timmy smiled and nodded excitedly. Clark picked up both Lois and Timmy and took off in the direction of Lois' apartment. They landed in an alley behind the building a few minutes later. Lois found it somewhat odd that he already knew the way there, but she decided against asking why that was. She could ask him later, anyway.

"Thank you, mister!" Timmy said, with a huge grin on his face as Clark set him and Lois down.

"You're welcome, kiddo," he answered, tousling the kid's hair.

"You go on with him, I'll keep watch out here," Clark then told Lois. "Don't worry, as long as I'm there, nothing is going to happen to either of you. I promise."

She gave him a dubious look. How could he keep a promise like that? Then again, she thought, the man could fly and see through walls… There was probably a lot more to him still. She realized that this was certainly the reason why she hadn't been allowed to ask him any personal questions before.

"I… I won't tell anyone," she told him. It sounded like a silly thing to say, but she figured he probably needed to be reassured that the secret he was obviously going to great lengths to keep wasn't going to end up on the front page of a newspaper tomorrow.

"I know," he said, nodding. "I always knew. Go on, get him to his mom and call the police. I'll just be… around. Call if you need me and I'll be right there." He smiled.

"Call? How?"

"Oh… Just say my name out loud. You don't have to shout or anything, I'll hear. I have… well… *very* good hearing." He raised his eyebrows in a sort of unspoken apology for revealing yet another something about himself that was likely to startle her.

"Thank you, Clark," Lois said, looking up at him in awe. She took a step forward and kissed him softly on the cheek before running off with Timmy in the direction of the entrance to her apartment building.

"There may be some hope for me yet," Clark whispered to himself, grinning from ear to ear.


Lois stormed in her apartment and set Timmy down as soon as she could. The five year old rushed over to his mother and threw himself up in her arms. Kathryn gasped. Her baby was safe!

"Timmy, honey! You're okay!" she cried, hugging her son tightly against her heart, her eyes filling with tears of joy and relief.

"Kathryn, we need to call the FBI," Lois said after a few minutes. She hated interrupting the mother and son reunion like this, but things needed to be done to insure that they would be safe. "Do you have a contact there that we can speak to in case of an emergency? If they were ever going to put you on a witness protection program, now's the time!"

"Yes… yes, they gave me a number, I have it in my purse," she said. She tried to put Timmy down so she could get the number out of her handbag, but he would not let go, so she carried him over to where she had left her things. A few seconds of rummaging through her purse later, she had found the card that had the number to call written on it and she placed the call.

An agent answered. Kathryn went through the little routine of confirming who she was and that she was speaking with someone who could be trusted, like the last time she'd placed a call to the FBI. She might have been stressed and frightened, she still knew very well how important it was to follow the directives that they had given her.

Once both identities had been verified according to procedure, Kathryn explained what had happened to the agent and asked for assistance. The agent took down the address from where Kathryn was calling and quickly informed her that they would send someone right over to take her into protective custody. She just needed to stay put a few minutes and everything would be perfectly fine, they would insure her safety from there on end.

"They're sending people over," she told Lois, after hanging up the phone. "Thank you so much for all you've done for us. How can I possibly ever repay you?"

"You already have, in a way," Lois explained. "The story on how my former work-partner kidnapped a helpless child in order to protect his illegal business dealings is going to impress my new boss quite sufficiently. I wouldn't have that if I hadn't met you. Don't worry, I won't name you or anything. I realize you don't know me and have no reason to trust me on something like that, but I swear to you, I won't put you in any danger. I think you've been through enough already."

"Thank you, so, so much. We could all use more people like you, helpful and kind. And a hell of a lot more courageous than most of us." Her eyes welled up again as she spoke. "You were brave, too, Timmy," she told her son as she tousled his hair.

"A man came to save me," he announced, proudly. "I flew with him, Mommy."

Kathryn looked at Lois, puzzled. Lois shrugged and shook her head, pretending she had no idea what he was talking about. She couldn't even have begun to explain it to her anyway. She barely understood it herself. Lois knew that Kathryn would just chalk it up to Timmy's stressful experience that he had imagined something which wasn't possible. Who in their right mind would believe a man could fly anyhow, right? Well… she herself would, of course. But then, she wasn't altogether certain she was in her right mind anyway.

Lois made up as believable as story as she could on how she had found Timmy in the building and had called in a friend to help her rescue the child. He was the man who had gotten Timmy out of the building. When Kathryn asked why he didn't come along — she would have liked to thank him — Lois explained that he was surveilling the entrance to the building, just in case anyone had the bad idea of showing up there. At least, that part was true, she thought. She wondered if Clark was listening in the conversation she was having with Kathryn… He'd said all she would need to do was speak his name if she needed him to show up, so was probably able to pick up on the conversation they were having as well. If he wasn't completely convinced before that she was telling the truth when she had promised not to tell anyone about him, he would be now, she guessed.

About ten minutes later, a couple of FBI agents showed up at the door. Satisfied that they were the genuine article after having asked for them to show her their badges — and having demanded they let her check them out closely to assure herself that these were real actual badges — Lois let them in. She gave them directions to the building where she had found Timmy and gave them as much information about Lex Luthor and the men she had seen there as she possibly could. They radioed the details to their dispatcher who, Lois could only imagine, sent over people to "take care of it" and apprehend the culprits.

The agents left, with Kathryn and Timmy, after telling Lois that they had taken the precaution of posting an agent near the entrance to her building. He would be there for the night, just in case. But they suggested that she not spend the night alone, if she could manage it. It was always safer for a woman not to be alone in a case like this, they told her.

Once everyone had left, Lois remembered that Clark was still hanging around in the alley somewhere. He probably knew that she was alone in her home now, but she figured it would probably be best to invite him up here, rather than let him think he should stay out.

"Clark, if you can hear me," she said, somewhat louder than her normal speaking voice. She really wasn't sure how well he could hear… "I hope this really works, because it sure feels silly!" She rolled her eyes, thinking this was completely insane and that it would never work.

Just as she was about to add that he could come up if he wished, she heard what sounded like someone knocking — on her living-room window! She turned around, startled, and rushed over to see what it was. In the back of her mind, she already had the answer to that question, but her logical mind could still not bring itself into accepting that this man could actually, really fly. Sure enough, once she opened up the drapes, she found herself face to face with Clark. She threw open the window and motioned for him to come inside at once.

"It really works," he whispered. He tapped his ear to show just what he meant.

"How…" she started, halfway between puzzlement and awe.

Clark made a hand gesture indicating that she shouldn't say it out loud — he knew she was going to ask him about all the things that defied logic — not to mention just about every law of physics! — but that he could do. He knew that the FBI agent posted outside was probably surveilling quite a bit more than just the door. He grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote down a note at extreme velocity, explaining his suspicions. It was likely the agent had audio listening devices pointed in the direction of the building, so she should be careful what she said. The note went on to suggest that if she would come back with him to the mansion, they would be free to talk about anything there and that he would answer absolutely all her questions.

Lois read the note, amazed at how little time it took him to write all of that down. Was there anything this man couldn't do, she wondered? She looked at him; he had a pleading expression on his face. She guessed that he really wanted to explain things to her, which was fine because she really wanted to know. She wouldn't have been a reporter if she hadn't been at least a little curious about all the astounding abilities that he possessed.

Remembering what the agents had said about being safer if she wasn't alone in her home, Lois nodded her acceptance. She would be even safer if she wasn't even here, she guessed. She scribbled down a few words saying it would be best if the agent posted downstairs saw her leave — rather than think she'd disappeared, if they happened to come up for whatever reason. She'd take her car and meet him there shortly. He smiled, then took a few steps back towards the window, opened it and left in a gust of wind.

Lois stood there, completely astonished. She wondered if pinching herself would help make sure this was all real… She shook her head sharply, bringing herself out of her reverie. She quickly tore the notes into small little bits and threw them in the trash, then she picked up her jacket and her handbag and left the apartment.

Twenty minutes later, she was standing outside the mansion, yet again.


Lana had just about gone out her mind with anger when she had learned that Clark had not only gone out there and used his powers, but that Lois now knew that he had them. He tried to calm her down, but none of what he told her worked, in fact it had just made her angrier by the minute.

"She's a *reporter* Clark and she knows who you are," she yelled at him. "How could you! You promised this time it wouldn't happen, you promised me we wouldn't have to move again. We haven't even managed to stay here more than a few weeks! Clark, how could you do that?"

"What would you have had me do, Lana?" he answered, throwing his arms in the air in desperation. "They dropped her from the roof of a building! Was I supposed to just ignore that and let her fall to her death? Have you no idea how much worse that would have been? I don't care that she knows, I'm glad she does."

"Are you completely out of your mind? Has it not occurred to you that she can use the information and print it in the paper? The whole world is going to find out, now. And you know what that's going to do, don't you? How can you trust her?"

"I know I can trust her, Lana. I just know," he told her calmly.

Lana stared at him for a second, in utter disbelief. "You… You're in love with her, aren't you?" she said finally, more as a statement than a question. She would not get a chance to hear him confirm it, however. Instead she heard the sound of the intercom system. There was someone at the front gate. Lana immediately knew who it was when she saw Clark take off and leave through the front door faster than… well, much faster than she ever could!

She shook her head and hoped that he was right and that things would turn out better than they usually did once someone found out that he had powers beyond belief. But she didn't want to hang around and find out, so she retired to her private suite. She was in bed in minutes but lay there staring at the ceiling for hours, trying not to cry. She knew that if she did, he would hear her and he was bound to come see if she was OK. She didn't think she had it in her to talk about this with him again tonight. Maybe tomorrow…


Lex and his associates had tried to get out of the building as quickly as they could, but the elevator was no longer working and they had had to go down the stairs instead. Every time they had reached a new floor, Lex had been convinced that on the next flight of stairs they would end up face to face with a law-enforcing agent. His suspicions had become a reality on floor number three. They had almost made it…

He was now sitting in a small room at the police precinct. There were two police officers there, asking questions which he consistently refused to answer. They'd tried the good-cop/bad-cop routine on him, they'd tried a few other interrogation techniques as well, but Lex did not say a single word besides "no comment".

"This is not an interview, Luthor, and we're not asking for your *opinion*," one of the agents had said, slamming his fist on the table.

"I don't care what you think it is," he replied smugly.

The other agent had grabbed him by the collar and with the help of his partner, had led Lex to a holding cell. They had thrown him in, literally. A painful groan had escaped the man's lips as he had hit the wall and fell on the floor. But he didn't care. They could hurt him all they wanted — that would only come in handy later when he sued them for police brutality. They'd pay through the nose for that, he knew. They could barely prove that he was guilty of anything. Other than being in the building, of course, which he knew full well was not a crime per se. They'd have to release him eventually and when they did, he would not only be making quite a bit of cash over this, but he was also going to get his revenge on the people who had caused him to be caught in the first place. He would find whoever it was that had shown up and gotten the kid away from them — and called the police, no doubt. They were going to pay for this!


When she saw Clark show up at the gate, Lois quickly put the car on park and rushed out to meet him. She hugged him tightly.

"Thank you," she said. "I don't remember if I thanked you before… You saved my life. I was… I was going to… die." Her voice was cracking as she let the last words out.

"I would never let that happen," he whispered.

They stood there for a moment, neither of them saying anything, until Lois remembered that her car was still running. She took a step back and explained that she should at least stop the engine. He nodded and then suggested maybe it would be best if she parked the car inside the property, rather than outside. So she drove up the short distance that separated the gate from the front door and finally turned off the engine.

Clark took Lois back to the main living room, on the first floor. He thought she might be more at ease there than in his suite, which was much further away from the main entrance. At least here, if she decided she wanted to leave, she could find the way easily. It was pessimistic to think that she might do that, especially considering she seemed quite happy to be there at the moment. However, given that she had run away from him on a few occasions before, Clark wasn't really sure how Lois might react to what he had to say.

He sat at one end of the leather couch and motioned for her to do the same. She took place on the other end, sitting cross-legged with her back to the armrest so she could see him better.

"Who *are* you?" she asked after a moment.

He smiled. 'Who' sounded a lot better than 'what' had earlier. "I don't suppose I can get away with simply saying I'm Clark Kent," he said, with a lopsided smile.

"Are you?" she asked. "I mean, I can still call you that, can't I?"

"Yes, of course."

"Oh, good," she said with a certain degree of relief. At least some of what she knew about him was true, she realized. Clearly there were many things about him the she didn't know, but apparently, he had been honest with her about the things he had willingly told her about himself. "How did you… how did you get to be able to do these… things?" she added.

"Ah… I'm from another planet. A place called Krypton," he explained.

"You… Seriously? You're…"

"An alien, yes." He hung his head as he revealed the secret he had fought so hard to keep from the rest of the world all his life.

"Um… I was just going to say 'not from Earth'. 'Alien' sounds awful and scary, like that movie with Sigourney Weaver. Have you seen it? You shouldn't call yourself that! I mean, I don't know what other aliens are supposed to be like, because I don't know any personally. Do you? Anyway, you're nothing like what they show in the movies. You're nice and caring and… well, you look a heck of a lot better than they do! Not that you need me to tell you that, I'm sure. But, you know… You really shouldn't use that word, Clark. It really doesn't work for you at all."

Lois noticed that he was smiling from ear to ear and had a very amused look in his eyes. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said. "You're kinda babbling," he added as he saw the air of disbelief in her face.

Her eyebrows shot up and she was about to voice a protest, but he continued before she had a chance to speak. "I just think it's sexy," he said.

"Oh." She blushed and looked away for a second. "So… um… How did you get here? On Earth, I mean. Did you just happen to see it and decided you wanted to visit? How long did it take you to get here? Actually, how long have you been here? Quite a while, I think, right? Is it because you can't go back there?"

"Slow down…" he laughed softly. "I won't exactly turn into a pumpkin at midnight, you know. If you want me to answer your questions, you need to pause in-between them, Lois."

"Um… sorry. I'm just…" she started.

"I know," he said placing a hand on her knee. "Ok, let's see… I got here in a spaceship. Now, I really have no idea how long the trip took, because I was just a baby then. You see, my parents — my biological parents — sent me to Earth to save me from the destruction of Krypton. In fact, as far as I know, I'm the only remaining Kryptonian alive today. So, no, I can't go back there at all. Besides, even if it did still exist, I'm not entirely sure I would know how to find it… I don't remember anything about Krypton or my parents at all, actually. All I know comes from what little information was stored in the spaceship they sent me off in. Earth is the only home I know. Mind you, I don't exactly fit in around here, but I have nowhere else to go."

"And that's why you're hiding away? Because you feel like you don't fit in?"

"I *don't* fit in," he said. "I have to control myself all the time; I have powers that I can't use because every time I have it's hindered my chances of leading a normal life — like everyone else here. And that's the thing… no matter how hard I try, I always end up in a situation where I just *have* to do something. Something people won't understand. Something no one else can do. And that's when the vicious circle starts again. Running away, hiding, hoping it won't happen again. And of course it always does. I can't tell you how badly Lana is taking it this time. We've usually managed to stay put in one place quite a bit longer before something happens that makes us need to leave. She had a fit when she found out… I'll be lucky if she ever speaks to me again."

"The other night, you said one of your novels was autobiographical. Across the Dunes. That's the one, isn't it?" Lois asked.

Clark nodded.

"So that means Lana is your…?" she asked, curious. It had become obvious that Lana was the little girl in the picture whom he mentioned in the novel.

"Oh… I guess you could say she's my younger sister. It's a little bit complicated, really. Her father used to work for my family; when Lana's parent's died, she was still just a kid and since she didn't have any family outside of them, she stayed with us. It was best for her to remain in a place that was familiar and she'd known us all her life. Besides… well, let's just say if it hadn't been for me, her folks would never have found themselves in that private plane and they wouldn't have…" He swallowed hard and looked at the ceiling for a few minutes.

Lois said nothing, giving him a chance to gather his thoughts so he could continue with his explanation when he was ready.

"They died when the plane crashed," he continued after a long moment of silence. "I… I wasn't fast enough to save them. I didn't get there on time. They weren't even supposed to be on the plane that night to begin with. If I had only…" He looked at Lois, his eyes filled with the deepest sorrow.

She moved in a little closer and ran her hand down his shoulder and arm.

"I'm so sorry," she said softly. "You shouldn't blame yourself, Clark. Accidents happen. It can't possibly be your fault."

"What good am I if I can't even be there when I'm needed?" he asked.

"But you are there when you're needed," Lois told him, reassuringly. "You were there for me tonight. No one else could possibly have saved me then, could they? Besides, think of all the charities you've handed out donations to — all the sick children whose lives you've helped make a little bit better and brighter. Indirectly, sure, but nonetheless. They may not know that they have you to thank for it, but if you hadn't been there, it would definitely have made a huge difference, Clark. You have to know that!"

"Maybe…" He shrugged. "Anyway, as I was saying, Lana stayed with us after her parents passed away. She was just a kid. And I was busy feeling sorry for myself at the time, so I ran off to South America to see if I could… find myself, I guess. One day, I got a call from my mom telling me my dad had had a stroke. I came back, but I was too late then as well. Mom didn't live very long after Dad died, so I found myself having to care for a teenager when I was barely just an adult. And I… I couldn't do it. I just wasn't able to. I wasn't ready for it and I made a real big mess of everything at first. Eventually, I sent her off to a private school in London and I ran off as far as I possibly could. For two entire years I went running around the world, looking for God knows what. Eventually… well, I reached Alexandria and traveled up to London. And then I tried blending in and being normal for a while. But that didn't really work out at all, so I've moved around a lot since then. The only difference is that I've always taken Lana along with me. Mind you, I'm not at all convinced she's had a better life than she would have if I'd just stayed away…"

He stared blankly at the wall in front of him for a short while. Lois kept running her hand gently up and down his arm in a comforting manner.

"You shouldn't think that way," she told him after a moment. "I'm sure you did the best you could. It couldn't have been easy for you having to care for someone and all the while having no one to care for you when you needed it."

Clark simply nodded, not trusting himself to say anything for fear he might actually start crying. Not that he thought that grown men shouldn't cry, but simply because he'd done enough of crying over the events of the past to last him a few lifetimes already. He changed the subject to something more pleasant and so for the next few hours, they talked about some of the places where he had lived over the years. He had literally been all over the world and had seen places Lois could only dream about. She found it absolutely fascinating. Sad, but fascinating. Suddenly, it occurred to her that his time here would probably be very limited as well. If anyone ever found out what secret he was keeping, this would all be over. Anyone other than herself, of course. It was plainly obvious that he wasn't afraid of her telling anyone — or running away screaming, either.

He told her of some of the times when he had had to pack up and leave, explaining what had happened. It always turned out to be because he'd seen — or heard, as he really wasn't kidding about how good his hearing was — someone in trouble and had been unable to sit idly by and do nothing. Whenever faced with a situation where he was probably the only person in the world who could help, he had never been able to turn away. This is why he lived far away from other people; so he wouldn't hear their cries for help. And why he gave away so much money to charities; because it was the only other way he could do some good for others.

"It must be awful living like this," she said at one point. "Being afraid all the time and staying away from people, not having any friends."

"It is… But what else can I do?" he asked.

It was a rhetorical question — one he'd asked himself a million times before — and one he wasn't expecting to find an answer to. But that was underestimating Lois Lane quite a bit… She thrived on being able to find answers where there appeared to be none. That's what excited her about being a reporter: solving mysteries and cracking cases before everyone else. Mysteries that other people often weren't able to find a solution to, to begin with. And here she was, presented with quite a big problem. One that she wanted to solve. Because finding an answer to that — finding the *right* answer to that — would mean keeping him here. Insuring that he would not have to move again. That in some manner or another, Clark Kent would be a part of her future. He'd saved her from certain death just a few hours ago; perhaps there was something she could do to save him in some way in return.

For some minutes, Lois stared blankly at the coffee table, thinking up different solutions. None of which seemed likely to have any chance of working.

"Lois?" Clark asked after a while. "You're half a world away…"

"Oh… Sorry. Clark? I guess I could have asked before, but… out of curiosity… Other than flying — which, mind you is pretty impressive all by itself — and seeing through things… What else can you do?"

"Are you really sure you want to know? I mean, I don't mind telling you, but…"

"Why? Are you concerned that it's going to scare me away?"

"Something like that…" Clark confessed. "I kind of look like a regular human man, but that's pretty much where it ends, you know. Quite frankly, I'd be scared of someone like me if I were you."

"Oh, please! Even if you can do stuff that sounds like it's straight out of a sci-fi novel, why would I be scared of you? You've shown me nothing but kindness up until now. Why would I think you're going to use whatever abilities you have to harm me? I mean, really, if you were going to do that, why bother coming to my rescue earlier tonight? That's just nonsense, Clark. I'm not afraid of you. And I'm not going to run away. I'm sorry I ever did that in the first place. Honestly."

"Just remember… you asked for it," he said, which caused her to raise her eyebrows. "Ok, well… you've seen me fly, obviously. I can move at incredible speeds, too." He used his fingers as if he was counting every one of his abilities as he explained them. "I also have heightened senses: I hear and see several times better than any normal human being. I can see through pretty much anything, as well. Those you already knew, though. What you haven't seen is that I'm a few hundred of times stronger than anything you could possibly imagine and… well… I'm just about… um… invulnerable? As far as I know, there isn't anything that can hurt me. Physically, anyway. Oh… and this, too…"

He blew in the direction of the glass of water that was on the coffee table, causing it to turn into a solid block of ice. He then appeared to stare at the glass intensely, which made the liquid defrost and boil in a matter of seconds.

"Wow…" she whispered, completely blown away. Questions started rushing through her head, but she sensed that he was a little bit uncomfortable with all of this, so she decided against it. She would get other opportunities to ask them anyway. Besides, he'd promised he would answer all of her questions, hadn't he? And Lois Lane wasn't one to turn down offers such as that for sure!

"It's getting late," he said finally. "We… um… We have a guest room if you'd rather not go back home by yourself tonight. We have about a dozen guest rooms, actually and they're always empty." He laughed, as he found his last statement amusing in a pathetic sort of way.

Lois didn't answer. She was lost in thought again. Half of her mind busy thinking up questions to ask him, the other trying to find a way for him not to have to leave Metropolis.

"Lois? You've gone off to far-far-away land again…"

"I'm sorry… I was just thinking," she told him. "What was it you were saying? Empty rooms?"

He laughed softly. "Empty guest rooms," he explained. "Lots of them. If you'd rather not stay all alone in your apartment, that is."

Clark got up and extended a hand to her to help her up. She graciously took it and got up. "That would be nice, thank you," she said.

He showed her to a nicely furnished bedroom, on the second floor, which he told her had a great view of the garden behind the mansion. Of course, she couldn't see it now, but it was nice knowing that the room had a pleasant view anyway. It had its own adjoining bathroom, so she wouldn't have to go looking for one and get lost on the way back. She had giggled some when he'd said that, knowing she could very well have gotten lost in the dark in such a big house. He explained how to get from here to the kitchen and wished her a good night, as he walked back towards the door.

"Listen, if you need anything…" he started.

"I know," she replied. "Clark?" She walked over to where he stood and took one of his hands in hers. "No matter what else you are — or what you *think* you are — you're a good, kind man. You went out of your way tonight, exposing a secret you've been hiding all your life, to come to the rescue of someone who has the power to tell the whole world who you are; in big bold letters, to boot. If that's not a selfless act, then I don't know what is."

"See, that's just where you're wrong. That wasn't the least bit selfless, Lois. That was actually very, very selfish." He sighed. "When I heard you… and I realized what was going on, I didn't stop to think about anyone other than myself. I even completely ignored every promise I had ever made to Lana; all I could think of was how much worse my life would be if…"

He stopped, unable to articulate the words. She might not want to hear him say it anyway, he realized. He probably shouldn't even have hinted to how desolate his world would be without her in it. Besides, how could he explain to her that even though he had met her less than a week ago, he felt like he'd always known her. That when he was with her, he actually felt like he fit in. Really fit in. And that she was the first person — the only person — to ever make him feel like he belonged anywhere. And losing her — even though he barely knew her; even though she had no idea how profoundly he'd become attached to her in a very short period of time — losing her would break his heart. Being that this was the only part of himself that wasn't invulnerable, he wasn't certain he'd ever be able to recover from it.

It suddenly hit her… the strange connection that she kept feeling towards him; the odd sense of belonging… he felt those, too. In a very short period of time, he had become an intricate part of what made her happy. Reading his book had the power to turn her rainy days into glorious sun filled moments, but what was more was that whenever he was around, she felt sheer joy running through her. Up until now she could only hope that maybe this went both ways. She was drawn to him in a way she had never been to anyone; in a way that she couldn't even begin to explain. She knew that she would be completely, utterly crushed if he told her he had to pack up and leave tomorrow. The truth was that, on so many levels, she needed him. And now she knew: he needed her too. Probably even more.

"That's… um… that's just about how bad mine would become if you moved away and…" she started, but the words couldn't get past the lump in her throat any longer. She squeezed his hand a little more tightly.

He slowly slipped his hand out of hers and pulled her into a tight hug. "I'm really glad you didn't turn out to be a cat," he whispered.

She giggled softly. "So am I," she whispered back.

He held her in silence for a few minutes. How he had managed to find her, he would probably never know, but right at this moment he knew that this is where he belonged. With her. She was the one person who made his world make sense. The one person he'd been waiting for his entire life. The one person with whom he could find happiness.

"Thank you," Lois said, after a moment.

"What for?"

"For always turning out to be different than the person I expected."

This time, they both knew that she wasn't going to run away. And for the first time in his life, Clark felt like being different was actually something positive.

He wished her goodnight reluctantly and left to go back to his suite.

Lois stood there, at the door of the guestroom for the longest time. She watched him walk away and then stared at the empty corridor once he went out of view. For a second she had an urge to go running after him — aching to be held by him again, to feel the contact between them once more. But that would have made her look needy and desperate and… well, that just wasn't like Lois Lane at all, was it?

She eventually closed the door and let herself fall on the bed, not bothering to slip under the covers. She had to find a way to prevent him from leaving, she knew. She just had to.


As the sun started shining in the window, Lois got up and threw her clothes on as fast as she could. She ran down to the kitchen, hoping she might find Clark there. She had had an idea during the night and had stayed awake for hours, waiting for the sun to rise. They were bound to get up soon enough after then, she thought. She knew she could have just called out to Clark when the idea had first popped into her head — he would have heard her and she could have told him right away, but she didn't want to disturb him.

She knew someone was up when she smelled the coffee that was brewing in the kitchen, as she ran through the corridor to get there. When she got there, however, she saw no one. Perhaps the coffee maker was just set to start automatically, she thought dejectedly. She looked around, but couldn't find in which cupboard the coffee cups were stored, so she turned her attention to the fridge, hoping to find something to eat while she waited for someone else to show up.

She grabbed an orange out of the crisper and closed it back with her foot, before shutting the refrigerator closed with her foot as well. When she turned around, she found herself face to face with Clark. The orange fell out of her hand and rolled on the floor.

"Didn't mean to startle you," he apologized and bent down to pick up the fruit and hand it back to her. "You're up early. I hope you slept well?"

"Oh… um… yeah. Well, actually… no… I've been up for hours. I was just waiting for the sun to rise. Anyway… it doesn't matter! I've got it, Clark. I've got it!" she told him.

"What 'it'? What are you talking about?"

"It, *it*. The solution," she said, as if that would explain everything. She started pacing as she spoke. "I don't know why you didn't think of that yourself. It's so obvious, it's so easy! I mean, it's going to take a little bit of work, but it's… ah, it's just perfect! This is going to work, I just know it will!"

Clark moved slightly so he would be standing in front of her, stopping her from pacing any more. He grabbed her shoulders gently. "Lois, calm down. I'm not following you… You're not making any sense."

She shot him a semi-frustrated glance. "Oh, come on! Of course I'm making sense. I'm making perfect sense! You're just not listening to me!"

He just raised his eyebrows and sighed, not knowing how he could possibly reply to that.

"Two words," she announced. "Secret. Identity."


"Yes, yes! A secret identity. I told you, it's perfect! This way you can help *and* no one will ever know it's you. Don't you see? It's perfect, I'm telling you!"

"A secret identity? What exactly did you have in mind?" he asked, although he wasn't exactly sure he liked where this was going.

"Well, a costume. Something. You know… like Batman. Except, well, obviously you can't be Batman. But, I mean, something like that. A costume. So you could help if you need to and you won't have to worry about anyone finding out about you. Don't you see? You wouldn't have to hide anymore. And you'd never have to run again. Ever. I'm telling you: it's brilliant!"

Clark was shaking his head all through her explanation. "I'm not sure it's as good an idea as you think, Lois…"

"Well, I think it is," Lana said. They hadn't noticed her there, but she had been standing in the kitchen for a minute or two already.

"See," Lois said.

"Seriously?" Clark asked at the same time.

"Yeah, seriously. Clark, I think that's the best idea I've heard in a long time," Lana told him.

"Well, if you're going to gang up against me, now…" he said with a teasing smile, before he continued on a more serious tone. "You girls are certain this would work? Really? I mean — it's got to be foolproof. If anyone saw through this disguise… They can't hurt me no matter how hard they try, but if they figure out who I am and… if anyone went after either of you to get back at me… I don't think I could possibly ever live with myself if that happened."

"We'll do everything we can to make sure no one recognizes you, I promise," Lana said, in a reassuring tone.

"Don't worry," Lois added. "Oh, you know what? You could also wear glasses when you're being, you know… just you. No one knows you don't need them, so they wouldn't question it at all. Trust me, glasses can change your face so much no one will ever know you're the same person."


Lex Luthor had spent most of the night yelling that he should be allowed to see his lawyer. He knew his rights and this was one of them!

"Will you let me out of here?" he had screamed at the agent guarding the cell.

"I'm not allowed to comment," the agent had answered, snickering.

In the morning, two policemen had come to get Lex from the holding cell he had spent the night in. He had kicked and screamed and desperately tried to get himself free, but there was no way he was strong enough of course. He had no idea where they were taking him and they weren't saying.

They took him to the same little room he had been questioned in. There, he met with an FBI agent. A few short minutes later, they were joined by a lawyer who was going to sit through the entire interview.

The FBI agent explained that they had eyewitnesses and that they had several written testimonies against him. There was nothing left for him to do but confess to his involvement in the kidnapping of little Timmy Parker and a drug smuggling operation. Several of his business associated had been caught too, he'd been told, but they had had the good sense to talk when asked to. So, while they were out on bail and awaiting trial, he was still in here and facing more charges by the minute. The agent warned him that he wasn't going to take kindly to being told that Luthor had "no comment" and that he was going to need to talk and talk very soon. Perhaps the local policemen had let him get away with his childish tactics, but he had no patience for it.

Lex had started talking after almost a full half-hour of just staring at the agent. For the entire time that he was being stared at, the FBI agent had not moved a muscle. He had barely even blinked. He could have lasted much longer, he knew, but he was relieved that Lex had finally decided to cooperate.

The interview over, Lex was sent back to the holding cell. He would rot there for a long while — plotting his revenge — before anyone came back to inform him of his court date.


Lois and Lana spent most of the morning working on sketches for a costume. They had looked at several options in ways of colors and material. They had finally decided to go with spandex; that's what all the most fashionable superheroes were wearing these days. And they had narrowed down the color palette to very bold shades of red and blue, plus a hint of yellow. Lois wasn't crazy about the yellow, but Lana wouldn't cave and so they had compromised and while the costume would have some on it, there wouldn't be much at all.

They left the mansion to get supplies, much to Clark's dismay as he realized that this whole costume thing was going to happen whether he wanted it or not. He really wasn't sure about this at all. Although, running away all the time was really beginning to take its toll on him. It was just that thinking of himself as a "superhero", like Batman… well, it was odd. He did not feel like a hero. If he had been, he might have thought of this secret identity before. He would not have hidden in shame, afraid of people — and for them, in a way, too. But he had to admit that being able to help was something to look forward to. He had all these special abilities that enabled him to do things others could not — even Batman couldn't do those things — and there had to be a reason for that. The scariest thing about it, though, was that someone might see though the disguise and figure out who he was. He knew that this would endanger the lives of the people around him. There weren't many people around him, but those who were meant the world to him.

When the girls came back, not very long after, they told Clark that they needed to take measures so they could make the costume properly. It was going to be tight fitting, they informed him, so if they got it wrong, it would look awful. How would it look if the suit was sagging? And sure, spandex could stretch, but if it was so tight that just flexing his muscles would cause the suit to tear, it would be just as bad! He needed to look heroic in it, not silly. So they had to make absolutely sure that they got every single measure right.

While he understood the need for measurements, Clark had originally refused to go along: they wanted him to stand there in his underwear while they did it! He really did not want Lois to see him standing there in his briefs. Not yet, anyway… Not to mention that for someone to be able to measure him, they'd have to touch him and… well, if that someone was Lois, he was likely to "react" to her touching him and he really was not convinced that he wanted her to see such a reaction. Not in these circumstances for sure and especially not with Lana standing in the room! He wasn't sure he'd be able to control that part of his body just as well as he was able to control his strength, for instance.

So Lana had agreed to take all the measures herself and Lois had promised to keep away and not come in to look. She had had a very hard time keeping that promise, however… Upon leaving the room, she had turned around to let them know she'd be taking a walk in the garden. Clark had already taken his shirt off at that point and while she saw only his back, she had a good sense of exactly how well defined his body was. She sucked in a sharp breath and left the room quickly. Had she not left right then, she knew she would probably never have.

Lana took all the measures as accurately as she could. She went as fast as she managed to, knowing that Clark was not enjoying this at all. Not to mention that although they both considered her to be his younger sister, they were in no way related and Lana was starting to have a hard time running her hands on his body and not having any reaction to that herself. Once she was done, she let him get dressed again and went back out to get Lois so they would get started with the actual making of this costume.

They had to start over a few times, being that they weren't exactly used to sewing at all. Fortunately, they had bought more than enough fabric to compensate for any mistakes they might make. After a while, they finally had it! They held up the costume and admired their work. It looked rather simple — like a blue ski-suit with a yellow belt and a red brief — but they were very pleased with it. Lois went looking for Clark so they could show him.

"That's it?" he asked upon seeing their 'masterpiece'.

They looked at him, both having a somewhat frustrated air.

"Well, I mean…" he started. "It's OK, but it looks like it's missing… I don't know… something?"

"Oh!" Lois exclaimed. "I know!"

She whispered something in Lana's ear and both women started giggling. Clark shot them a very nervous glance. He had heard some of what Lois had said and he wasn't sure he liked that idea a whole lot…

Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. "I've got an idea," he told them. "Hang on, I'll be right back."

He left at super speed and showed up again in the blink of an eye. He had a piece of fabric of some kind in his hand. He gave it to Lana. It was yellow and shaped like a diamond, with a big red "S" in the middle of it.

"Here," he said. "I think this could make it more… well… complete."

"What is that?" Lois asked, curious.

"Family crest," Clark explained. "My Kryptonian family, I mean. It's the crest from the House of El."

"The House of what?" Lois replied. She realized that while she had heard a lot about his life here on Earth, he had barely told her anything about his birthparents. And the only thing she knew about Krypton was the name of the planet and the fact that it was no more. She was clueless otherwise.

"Oh, right. I hadn't gotten around to telling you about that," he said. "The House of El. You could say it's our last name: El. My parents — I mean my biological parents — named me Kal-El. My father is Jor-El and my mother, Lara. That 'S' isn't an 'S', it really means El, in Kryptonian. I guess it's just a coincidence that it looks like an 'S'."

Lana started sewing it to the front of the suit. She held the suit up again once she was done and they all looked at it with a smile. It definitely looked better like this! Lois asked Clark to leave them while they added… something to it. She promised that once they were done with that, it would be ready. He gave them a worried look, remembering what he had heard them say, and left.

The women immediately got started on sewing a long red cape to the suit.

When Lana brought the costume to him, Clark looked at her with a very uncertain look. It was bad enough they wanted him to prance around in a spandex suit — although it did look really nice with the crest — but a cape? They seriously wanted him to wear a *cape*? He shook his head. This was crazy! He didn't care that Batman wore one. Batman was free to do whatever the hell he wanted. He himself thought a cape looked silly and he didn't particularly want to be seen wearing one!

She had to pretty much order him to wear it before he said he would. Seeing that she would not let go and would not leave until he had agreed to try it on, he finally caved. He growled as he took the clothing from her and promised he would put the suit on.

After a moment, Clark came in the living room, wearing the spandex suit. The cape — which he really disliked — rustled as he walked. He also had on a pair of red boots they'd gotten to match the outfit. As they saw him arrive, both women held their breaths. They pretty much already knew he had the body to pull off such a tight fitting costume and Lois was expecting that she might go a little weak at the knees upon seeing him in that. But what neither of them expected was that his showing up dressed like that would be so awe inspiring. They stared at him, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. He looked everything like the hero they knew he could be — and then some.

"I knew it…" Clark said, thinking their surprised expression meant they hated it. "I look stupid in this thing!"

"No," both women said simultaneously.

"You look…" Lois started. "Just… Wow!"

"Yeah," Lana added. "What she just said."

"Really?" Clark asked, dubious. "You don't think I look like… I don't know… stupid… in a spandex suit? And with a *cape*?"

"Well, if you do, there are a few really dumb superheroes out there, because they're all running around in tights, you know!" Lois replied, giggling.

Pretty soon the room was filled with laughter.

"And I don't think you have to worry about people seeing through your secret identity, Clark," Lois added, more seriously. "Because, one thing's for sure: nobody's going to be looking at your face."

Before anyone could reply to that comment, they heard a special report on TV. They had left it turned on while they worked as Lois could not spent more than a few hours without knowing exactly what was going on in the rest of the world. Apparently, there was a fire on the waterfront. A very big one. It had started in an empty warehouse, but had spread to several buildings nearby and had very quickly turned into a five-alarm fire. The reporter who was on site explained that one of the buildings was part of a low-income housing project and there were some people still trapped inside, on the top floors.

Lois turned to Clark, with pleading eyes, silently telling him he should go and help. He was able to after all and he even had the costume on already. It was perfect! He could go out and help and prove to himself that which both women already knew — the secret identity was not only a good idea, it was going to work perfectly well, too.

He gave them an uncertain look, to which Lana replied by nodding, encouragingly. Clark took off like a rocket a second later. The next time the women saw him, he was on the news.


Clark got to the waterfront as fast as he could. He landed in front of one of the buildings that he had seen on TV — the one they said was part of an affordable housing complex. The one that had people trapped inside of it. He started blowing towards it as hard as he could. As he did, the fire grew smaller and smaller until it was completely out. He guessed that the firefighters would be OK handling the warehouses for now, so he rushed inside the apartment building and started looking for people trapped inside.

He flew out of there a few minutes later, carrying a couple of very scared looking kids. He set them down near an ambulance, hoping the EMT would know to take care of the kids right away, and he rushed right back into the building. Several times he came out again carrying people to safety and he rushed back inside to make sure no one was left. Every time people saw him come out of the building, they applauded and cheered. Every time he went back in the building, they held their breaths, hoping he would come out again soon.

Clark couldn't believe that people were actually applauding every time he came out again. Granted they had to be happy to see that more people were now safe, but it was him they were applauding, he knew. He heard them talking and he knew what they were saying. And he just couldn't believe that he inspired such awe in all of them. At least they weren't scared of him, he thought. That would have been especially bad, obviously.

Reporters were all over him every single time he landed, but Clark did everything he could in order to avoid them. He hadn't been ready to answer questions yet, at all. He'd have to ask Lois about that, he told himself. She'd certainly be able to coach him and help him answer questions in a way that he would not reveal his identity by mistake. He really wasn't used to the press, even though he was a celebrity in a manner of speaking in his "regular" life. He would definitely need help with that.

As soon as he was certain that everyone had been safely transported out of the building, he gave the fire fighters a little bit of help in extinguishing what was left of the fire. Finally, once he was satisfied that everything was under control, he left the scene. Reporters yelled out to him to come back and give them a quote, but he just flew off in the direction of home.

He flew back, above the clouds, at a slow pace. He needed time to process everything that had just happened. He felt incredible about having been able to help those people — finally being able to help people and not have to be afraid of running away. But he didn't think he would be able to take much more of this adulation. The crowd was literally going wild every time they saw him. He wondered if Batman had to deal with that, too? Maybe he'd have to go over to Gotham and ask…


"I'm really not sure I can do this," Clark announced as he got back. He had flown in through the back of the house and had immediately made his way back to where Lois and Lana were still watching TV.

"What do you mean, you can't do this?" Lois asked, alarmed.

"Have you heard what they're calling me? How can I live up to that? Lois, this is silly!" he complained.

"So they're calling you 'Superman'?" Lana said with a lopsided smile. "I think it's cute. Don't you, Lois?"

"Well… I do happen to think you're pretty super, you know," Lois told Clark. "Besides, it makes sense, you have super human strength and speed and all that. Not to mention you just happen to be wearing a really big 'S' on your chest. What else were people going to think but that it stands for your name?"

"I don't know… I just think it's crazy! People were cheering me on. It's completely insane!" he said.

"Clark, you're a hero to them," Lana told him. "Of course they're going to cheer you on! You showed up over there and you saved those people's lives when it's quite possible that nobody else could have. You're quite a bit spectacular, you know — what else are people going to do?"

"It's the first time you're out, Clark. Relax," Lois said, trying to sound reassuring. "They've just never seen anything like you before. They'll get used to the idea. You'll get used to the idea. It'll get easier."

"Well, I must admit it felt… wonderful. Being out there, for one thing. But being able to help. For the first time in my life I wasn't afraid to show myself and use my abilities. And not having to turn a deaf ear on cries for help makes it a lot easier to live with the fact that I have these abilities to begin with."

"See, I told you it was a good idea," Lois told him and she walked over and hugged him. "Plus, you know… you're really very sexy in that suit," she whispered in his ear.

He blushed a little and hugged her back tightly. "Now I understand why it had to be this form fitting," he said, in a husky tone.

"Okay, well… I think this is my cue to go see if anything needs to be done… you know… elsewhere," Lana told them, with a soft laugh. She left rather quickly.

"So, do I get to have the exclusive?" Lois asked Clark. She was only partially serious, but she was hoping that he would agree.

"What exclusive?" he asked.

"The story, Clark. The exclusive story. The scoop. You know? Who is this strange visitor and why is he here. That kind of thing."

"Not an interview again?" he asked, pretending to be annoyed at having to submit himself to more of her questioning.

"Well, you know, I am a reporter. And you're one heck of a great story… Superman." She made a point of using the moniker that had been bestowed upon him — and to make it sound as sexy and suggestive as she possibly could. If there was one thing Lois Lane knew how to do was convince people to talk when she had questions to ask.

"I'm not really sure about this…" he started. He was just teasing of course, he knew there was no way she would ever let him get out of that, but he found it amusing to play hard to get just a tiny little bit.

"Oh, come on…" she said, with pleading eyes. In a low whisper, she called him "Superman" again.

"Well, if you keep calling me that," he whispered, "I just might agree."

She smiled and leaned in for a kiss. It was just as powerful as the first time they'd kissed. The world just seemed to melt away, time stood still and all conscious thought completely escaped them.

After a moment, Lois remembered what had happened the first time she had interviewed him. She hoped that he knew this wasn't going to happen again…

"Believe me, Clark," she said. "This time it's not going to be printed with a stupid title that makes the story look like it's just gossip. Cross my heart! Anyway, the Daily Planet isn't just another rag and I'm sure Perry White would never stoop that low."

"Oh, so no 'spending the night' with me this time around? Are you sure? Because I was kinda starting to look forward to that," he said, winking at her suggestively.

"Don't push your luck, flyboy! First the interview. Then we'll see. And that's just *if* you answer all my questions," she answered playfully.

"You drive a hard bargain, Miss Lane," he said, planting a kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Does that mean you'll answer all my questions?" she asked with a bright smile.

"If I agree, does that mean you'll spend the night?" he replied, teasingly.

Lois swatted him on the arm, playfully.

"I'll give you all the exclusives you want, Lois," he said.

"There's a definite possibility I might spend the night, then," she whispered before she leaned in to kiss him again.

Right at this moment, both of them knew — in absolute certainty — that this is where they belonged. That this is where they were meant to be. That this is what it was like to be truly and completely happy.


The man took a look around the spot where he had landed. He stood in a dark little alley. He was relieved to see that no one had noticed his arrival. It was always best that no one saw him and no one knew he was here. They would not understand how or why he was here anyway.

He walked over to a newsstand that stood at the corner of the street. It was early in the morning and they had just put out all the newspapers. He picked up a copy of the Daily Planet. The front page title made him wince. The headline, in big bold text, read: "Caped Wonder Stuns City". The man walked back to the alley he had come from and let out his frustration on a trash container.

He had failed. Again!

He knew he should have kept a closer eye on them this time! They always managed to find a way to make his plans crumble! He had tried countless times to keep this from happening; to keep them apart. But no matter what he did, no matter what he threw their way, they always got out of it. They always won!

Would he never be able to destroy Utopia?


Bottom Dweller's Notes:

— Obviously, the guy who "lands" in a field at the beginning is the same as the guy who "lands" in an alley at the end. And yes, this is Tempus. Most definitely. It's all his fault!!

— Eagle View Drive is the name of a street in Memphis, not very far from where my friend Diana lives. :) I was looking for a street name and figured that one from her neighborhood would be cool. The name of the diner (Maple Ridge Diner) comes from a street that's in another part of Memphis.

— In the original version, the real-estate agent was a woman and she had a name (Diane Russell). In this version I took out the name and her life story. (Because we don't care about this character at all!) Once I had done that, I made the character a man so the paragraph where the agent is speaking with a woman would be less confusing. It's easier to know who the "she" in the sentence is when there is only one. The original version also has a full paragraph about the mansion's previous owner, but we could really care less about him, his sole purpose was to add more words so I would make it to 50,000… hehehe!

— The title of Clark's novel, "Across the Dunes", was loosely inspired by a French idiom ("la traversée du désert") which translates into "a journey across the desert" and can also be taken to mean "going through rough times". Obviously, once translated, the meaning is lost, though. But I couldn't help using that for its title since the novel is as much about crossing the desert as it is about the emotional turmoil in his life.

— Names and locations in the book excerpt all exist and you'll find them precisely where the story says they are. I've researched everything though Wikipedia and Google Earth. I've actually spent close to 5 hours looking for info about Sudan, Egypt and the Sahara so I could write something that made sense, even though in the end there is very little information about these places in the story. :)

— Kathryn's last name (Parker) was most definitely inspired by Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man). But I had not realized the irony of having her talk about a man with "octopus arms" when I wrote that… (Doctor Octopus is one of Spider-Man's foes) Thanks to Olympe for pointing that out to me. ;)

— "Make your life worthy to look at, for one day it shall pass in front of your eyes" is something I adapted from an Arabic proverb that I found on Wikiquote. With a name like his and the fact he lives in the part of the world we find him in, Ahmed would likely be an Arab.

— "May your journey be free of incident" is from 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home'. This is what Lt. Saavik says to Spock before the crew of the Enterprise leaves Vulcan in a Klingon Bird of Prey. Of all the Star Trek movies, this one is my absolute favorite.

— The message on the answering machine that Kathryn calls says "You've reached Joe and Kathleen's place." Joe and Kathleen are the main characters in "You've Got Mail!" which is one of my favorite 'chick flicks'. :) I was originally going to call them "Lucy and Jack" for the characters in "While You Were Sleeping" (best 'feel good' movie ever made!) but since there are characters in 'Lois & Clark' with the same names, I figured people would think that was the joke and… they'd have been completely wrong. LOL!

— The scene at the ball when Lex is dancing with Lois and Clark asks if he can cut in… is similar to the one in the pilot, of course. Except this time, Lois is pretty happy to have him cut in!

— Explanation for the double entendre ("I would hate to have seen him triumphant."): for one they're both happy Lex wasn't able to get Lois to kiss him (we're happy too, of course!) and secondly it's because in the book ("Le Fantôme de l'Opéra") the Phantom writes an opera which is called "Don Juan Triumphant". And with this, you also understand why Lois says it's appropriate that the Phantom has saved her from Don Juan. Mind you, I'm not sure if the Phantom from the book wants Don Juan to triumph or not… It was just to make the dialog look smart. ;)

— The man wearing the Elvis costume at the ball is Perry White, of course.

— Bruce Wayne is not wearing his real Batman costume, obviously. But Lois would not know the difference anyhow.

— "I spent the night with Clark Kent" is a variation on the front page title from the Daily Planet in 'Superman I' which says "I spent the night with Superman". ;)

— "You… you've got me? Who… who's got you?" is obviously from 'Superman I' as well. My absolute favorite quote from any movie ever made.

— "Man hunting Martians" is a 'sort of' joke. One of the members in Justice League of America is called the Martian Manhunter. (I don't think he actually eats men, though. He does, however, eat Oreo cookies!)

— "I'll just be… around" is a reference to 'Superman Returns'. Twice in the movie, Superman tells Lois that he'll be "around". ;)

— "I'm from another planet. A place called Krypton" is taken from 'Lois & Clark'. It's in the episode 'Strange Visitor' when Lois interviews Superman.

— "far-far-away land" is a reference to Shrek (Fiona's parents are the King and Queen of Far Far Away Land) which in turn is a reference to Star Wars ("in a Galaxy far, far away"). This is so beyond geek… ;)

— The scene with Luthor staring at the FBI agent was inspired by the stare-down (which actually lasted a mere few seconds) between a Canadian soldier and a Mohawk warrior during the Oka Crisis (near Montreal) in the summer of 1990.

— "Caped Wonder Stuns City" is the front page title from the Daily Planet after Superman makes his debut, in 'Superman I'. I thought it would be perfect here as the front page title of the Daily Planet, since Superman just made his first appearance. :)

— The official, final word count for the original version of this story — as per the NaNoWriMo validation system — is 50,002. The last 2 words are "The End" (which in fact are the only 2 words that weren't actually part of the story — the title wasn't in the file at validation time and none of the separators were, either.)