Smallville Style

By rkn <prov2727@mail.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: June 2007

Summary: Do the events of your childhood change who you are? How would Lois change if she got to live life Smallville style during her high school years? What if the Smallville boy of her daydreams grew up to become the man every woman dreams of? That would be perfect, right? Except that Clark Kent is busy chasing dreams of his own.

This story is not set in the 1990s as "Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman" is, but will end in the modern day 2007.

For purposes of being realistic in terms of travel, in this story the 51st State of New Troy exists between Missouri and Illinois, making travel to Kansas City a 6 hour drive on I-70. Smallville is 4 hours south west of Kansas City. I realize that this is a big change from viewing Metropolis as an East Coast City, but I also don't see any DCFS sending children literally half-way across the country for any reason. Even a 10 hour drive would be stretching it, but I don't think that Metropolis should be right next door either.

I always thought that Lucy seemed much younger than Lois, and that her whole attitude was so very different from Lois' that it was almost as if they had grown up in different homes giving them different outlooks on life. In my story there is an eight year age difference.

I have quoted heavily from the script where my story meets up with Season One. This is not in any way an attempt to plagiarize, but meant as the sincerest form of admiration. I don't think that the original script could be much improved on and I don't want to make the story less by not using it. I am just looking at the story from a different angle.

Special thanks to my beta reader for his help in developing this story and pointing out inconsistencies and unfinished thought processes. It is a much better story due to his patient assistance.

***

Alisha Taylor walked down the Metropolis, New Troy sidewalk, sipping her latte, a frown wrinkling her forehead. She stopped at the Daily Planet vendor to get a paper, digging in her purse for change and handing it to the clerk without looking up.

"You look worried, Alisha. Anything I can help with?"

That got her attention. She looked at the balding clerk, "Do I know you?"

"Of course you do. I'm Mike."

"That's right! Mike, how are you?"

"Tremendous as always, but you look worried. Is it one of your cases?"

While Mike certainly was familiar to her, she couldn't remember ever discussing her job as a social worker with him. "Mike, you know I can't discuss my cases."

"Alisha, maybe you need to think about your childhood and what made all the difference for you."

Not only did the guy know what she did for a living, he knew of her early childhood as a foster kid. He certainly had a better memory than she did! She still couldn't place exactly where she knew him from. "You mean Smallville and the Georges."

"I'm certain that you can think of someone like the Georges that could make a real difference in Lo- to the persons involved in this case."

"Hmmm." It was a great idea but was it even possible? "Well, I'd better go. I don't want to be late. Mrs. Bailey will be upset. She likes to make sure everyone knows she's in charge."

"Maybe that is because work is the only place where she feels like she has control of her environment."

"You know Mrs. Bailey?"

"I know about everyone. It's my job."

"Working at a newsstand? How…oh, look at the time. I'd better rush."

Still nursing her latte, Alisha continued her walk to Metropolis Department of Children and Family Services. The case she was working on was a familiar story, but somehow the children- two girls- really got to her. Maybe it reminded her of her own situation, a little. How had Mike known she had been a foster child? She rarely mentioned it, even to her friends. She considered the Georges her parents and Smallville her hometown. Her past was just that, the past. Still, she related to these girls and it was bothering her a lot more than her cases usually did. She'd seen a lot, both as a child in the system and now as a social worker. Her parents had been very surprised when she chose social work as her career. They figured that she would want to get as far away from her past as possible. But, as she explained to them, they had made such a difference in her life, and she felt that she could understand the children in these situations like no one else could, because she'd been there. And maybe she could make a difference in their lives too.

The Georges had come to Metropolis and taken her home to Smallville when she was 10 years old. She barely remembered her "real" parents, as she was only 5 when she landed in "the system", along with her older sister, Tracy. Tracy was more aware of the bad situation that they were living in and even at 9 was already in with the "bad crowd"; pre-teens experimenting with drugs and sex. Alisha couldn't blame her. It was the lifestyle that their mom and her string of boyfriends participated in and it was all that Tracy and Alisha had known. One night one of those boyfriends got too rough with their mother. A neighbor called the police. The sisters were handed over to Metropolis DCFS and they were told the next day that their mother had suffered a cranial hemorrhage from repeated blows to the head. That didn't make sense to a young Alisha, who just asked when her mommy would come and get them over and over until Tracy bluntly explained that "Mom is dead. She's not coming back."

The girls began a tour of the foster homes that Metropolis had to offer. Alisha considered herself fairly lucky. While none of the places she lived in was "home", she wasn't mistreated, though she missed her sister. Unfortunately, things did not work out as well for Tracy. She had ended up with one of those families that appeared so nice and perfect when the DCFS interviewed them, but it turned out that the "dad" had a young girl fetish and Tracy was a prime target. His wife did not believe the stories that Tracy told about her husband and Tracy turned to drugs for escape. After that, Tracy did not seem to care what was done to her. When DCFS came to investigate due to a complaint from another young teen, Tracy backed up her foster parents that the idea was preposterous and her "dad" was a great father. She had her friends and her dealer and she didn't want to lose them. Tracy moved in with her boyfriend and his family when she turned 17 and continued to lead the life that she was brought up in, doing whatever it took to feed her drug addiction. Alisha shook her head. How had she gotten so fortunate? When she was 10, the Georges came to visit her at her current foster home, the Bentons. Mr. and Mrs. Benton weren't her parents, and they had told her up front that they didn't plan to make the situation permanent, as they hoped to have children of their own one day, but they were nice to her and she liked her school. But the Georges wanted her to come live with them and be a real family. They told her about the town they lived in (Smallville- who thought that one up!) and the dairy that they owned providing goat milk and cheese to the Smallville community with the extra brought into Kansas City once a week to be sold in some of the restaurants and smaller grocery and health food stores. Alisha was sure it had to be a dream. She could hardly wait.

There was no contest to her adoption. Her father was in no shape to take care of children and was glad to finally wash his hands of her. When the adoption was made final, Alisha traveled to Smallville to live with her new family. The Georges had a bedroom just for her, and, sure enough, a farm with lots of baby goats, cats, and dogs to play with. Most of all, the Georges really loved her and the citizens of Smallville opened their hearts to her. Everyone knew her name and treated her like she had lived there all her life. Malts at Maisie's, the weekly farmer's market, the Corn Festival…Alisha fit right in Smallville. She was home.

Alisha's frown reappeared as the case she was working on came back to her. Of course, the situation wasn't really that similar to her own. Lois and Lucy Lane weren't even orphans. Lois' grades were plummeting, but as far as she could tell, the young teen knew better than to seek solace in drugs, likely because she faced an addiction every day in the form of her mother's alcoholism. But the hardness in Lois' face and her mistrust of everyone she met reminded Alisha of Tracy before circumstances separated them. Lucy was the same age as Alisha had been, 5 years old. Their situation had been brought to the attention of the DCFS when a ticket agent reported to the police that a young girl had purchased two bus tickets for her and "her poor, sick auntie" with rolled up one dollar bills, and assorted coins- a piggy bank raid. The agent had seen no sign of "auntie" and was suspicious. The police woman that came to the scene found Lois and Lucy curled up together on the bench awaiting the bus. Lois tried to convince the officer that the agent had misunderstood and she and her sister were traveling to visit her aunt, who was very ill and really, really needed their help. Not believing a word, the officer took them to the police station.

They put each girl in an interrogation room. Lois stubbornly refused to offer any information to the police, but Lucy proudly recited her address and phone number, declaring that she had learned it in school. A phone call brought Mrs. Ellen Lane to the police station, laughingly stating that she and Lois had had a disagreement about Lois wanting to go out with her friends and Lois was just trying to get back at her. The argument sounded reasonable enough, but the skilled officer noticed a little unsteadiness in Ellen Lane's walk, the way that Lois rolled her eyes in disbelief at Mrs. Lane's explanation and the muttered "like anyone would be friends with me when I have a mother like *you*". Something was up here. He explained to Mrs. Lane that DCFS would have to follow up, but he released Lois and Lucy into her care.

When DCFS followed up, Ellen Lane tried to hide her intoxicated state, but the stress of her situation had obviously caused her to seek solace in a bottle of vodka and under Alisha's questioning she degenerated into the weepy state of drunkenness. Sobbing, she explained to Alisha that her husband had started seeing other women around the time that he discovered that his pregnant wife was expecting another girl. He'd stuck around for two more years, but, while they had never legally separated, Sam Lane spent his time dabbling in ridiculous research and was currently incommunicado in the jungles of Africa studying some plant that was supposed to expand your brain or something. "You'd think his brain could expand to see that he has two children that need him, even if they are not the precious sons that he wanted."

Many tissues later, Alisha had the whole story, how Ellen had slapped Lucy for whining about not having any dinner. Ellen had instructed Lois to make Mac & Cheese, but "that stupid girl burnt it, just like she always burns everything. She never learns!" Lois waited until Ellen had drifted off before bundling up her sister and trying to leave Metropolis with no plan other than to find somewhere better for her sister to live. Alisha was able to get Ellen to agree to go to a treatment center for alcoholism. The girls would finish the school year the end of next month, and summer would be an ideal time for Ellen to begin the program. The DCFS staff would find somewhere where the girls could stay for the summer and they wouldn't have to worry about changing schools. Until then, Ellen would meet with a counselor on a regular basis.

Alisha's heart ached for Lois, knowing that the anger and attitude she displayed were just her way of trying to protect her heart. She had seen how Lois tried to shield Lucy from the reality of their situation. No wonder the poor girl's schoolwork was suffering if she was trying to be the mother to Lucy that Ellen couldn't be. There was simply no time left to study. If something wasn't done soon, Lois could fall farther and farther behind in school, which would affect her ability to go to college and make a better life for herself. Alisha laughed to herself. What Lois needed was a good dose of Smallville. She needed to learn that not everyone in her life would disappoint and reject her. Alisha shook her head. It would probably never happen. Alisha worked in New Troy, not Kansas where Smallville resided. Her cell phone shrilled and she almost dropped her coffee and the paper. Flipping it open without checking the caller ID she apologized, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Bailey, but I was up late with a case last night and I just can't seem to get moving this morning, but I'm almost there I promise."

"Alisha, it's mom."

"Oh, Mom, I'm sorry. I thought you were my boss calling to bawl me out for being late. How are things in Smallville?"

"Great as always. I was calling to let you know that your dad and I will be in Kansas City this weekend. We were hoping you could come visit. The Kents are coming too. Our project combining our cheese with their herbs and vegetables has been a great hit. We're so excited to be invited to serve our cheese to all the big wigs in Kansas City! It's a great way to promote the agriculture industry."

"That's great Mom! If I'm not on call this weekend, I'd love to see you guys. And it is always great to see the Kents. They're just so—Smallville."

"They're the salt of the earth all right. And you remember Clark, right? He is 15 now, can you believe it. He's such a great kid. The Kents have really done a good job with him."

Alisha remembered Clark. She had been almost 11 when she heard about the baby left on the Kent's doorstep. Smallville was just shocked that anyone would abandon his or her child like that. They felt that the parents had to be out-of-towners just coming through Smallville. Smallville residents were sure that if the mother had been from Smallville she would know that we would have all pitched in to help in her time of need.

Alisha remembered a long ago day when she had seen a younger Martha Kent holding baby Clark close to her chest and looking down at him with amazement and love in her eyes.

"Why is she crying, Mom? Doesn't she like babies?"

Chelsea George looked down at Alisha and Alisha saw the tears in her mom's eyes too. "No, sweetie. Martha is just happy, and a little sad too. See, sometimes some women can't have babies of their own for whatever reason, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't want a baby. In fact, Martha has wanted a baby as long as I've known her, which is a long time, since we started kindergarten together."

"So why is she sad, too? You said she wants a baby. And God sent her one."

"Well, yes, He did, but, unfortunately, the DCFS needs to find out if the baby's mother wants him back. Martha may not be able to keep baby Clark."

"That's just wrong! Martha would be a great mom. If Clark's mom loved him, she wouldn't have abandoned him, just left him…" Alisha began to cry too. Chelsea George knew Alisha wasn't just talking about Clark.

"Sweetheart, sometimes mommies and daddies just can't keep their children. Sometimes the best thing that they can do is give them to someone else to love."

"Like you love me."

"Just like that. I know your mom loved you too, in her own way. She was just sick."

"That's why the social worker took me and Tracy away. She helped us."

"That's right. We all need help sometimes." That day Alisha decided two things. One, that when she was a mom, she would love her children just like Don and Chelsea George loved her and Martha loved baby Clark and, secondly, that Alisha would be a helper and help kids find good homes like she had.

Adult Alisha sighed. Life wasn't always as black and white as it looked back then. Some cases were clear cut, but others were harder. Sometimes the parents needed help just as much as the children.

"Sure I remember Clark. I remember how happy Martha was the day she and Jonathan found out that Clark was theirs for keeps."

"Well, it helped that he ended up in Smallville. The second his feet touched Smallville soil, he belonged. I don't think the social worker wanted to take on Maisie, the Senior Center, or Martha's dad, Mayor Clark. He was thinking about running for state representative at the time. I don't think she wanted to be on Mr. Clark's bad list. Mr. Clark died of an aneurysm about three months later."

"I remember that."

"Yeah, but I was so thankful that he got to see Martha truly happy and I think he even decided that Jonathan was okay. He had a different future in mind for Martha than the one she chose. He always encouraged her in the arts and sciences. I think he resented that marrying Jonathan put an end to that future, and then when they couldn't have kids, I know he blamed Jonathan, even though the doctors Martha consulted thought that the problem might be with her. Actually, Clark brought a lot of healing to that family and to Smallville. He's really special."

"Well, I can say from experience that Smallville is a great place to grow up. I can never thank you guys enough for taking me in. I love you, Mom."

"Oh, I love you too sweetie. You have been such a blessing to your dad and me. You're the very best."

"So why didn't Jonathan and Martha adopt again? Were they still hoping for kids of their own?"

"I don't think so. I don't know why. They have a lot of love to give."

"It's not like Clark is such a handful they couldn't handle another child."

"Well, I'd better help dad milk the goats before he comes looking for me. And I've probably made you really late. I hope your boss won't be too upset."

"I don't care if she is. It was great to talk to you. Tell Dad hi for me, and I'll see you this weekend if I can. I'll let you know."

"Sure thing, sweetie. Love you."

"Love you too. Bye." Alisha flipped her phone shut, took a deep breath for confidence and entered the DCFS offices.

Unbelievable! Mrs. Bailey wasn't in her office, so she couldn't be upset at Alisha for being "late". Technically, she only owed them 40 hours a week and since she had been up half the night…But Mrs. Bailey liked to be sure Alisha was in her office bright and early. Mrs. Bailey was such a grump. Mike's statement that work was the only place that Mrs. Bailey felt in control might be true. Maybe she should try to be a little more patient.

Right now she needed to find somewhere the Lane girls could be taken care of while Ellen was in the treatment center. Alisha really did not want to see the girls split up, but finding a home that would take both might be difficult. She really wanted to pack them both up and take them to her parents, which just wasn't an option. She started flipping through the files in the cabinet by her desk. She came across a flyer from an agency that provided summer vacations for children from large cities. The agency had several camps, but it was the other option that caught her attention. The fund also had families in neighboring states that would host children for the summer giving them the opportunity to experience a different lifestyle than the "city-life" they were accustomed to. If she could find a family in this program that would have room for both girls, it would be a great opportunity for them. If she could find a family from a small town similar to Smallville, it would be even better.

After ensuring that she was not on call for the weekend, Alisha had asked Ellen if she could take the girls with her to Kansas City. She told Ellen that it would be a good opportunity for the girls to see a different city.

They would need to leave early and be home very late, but it would give Ellen the opportunity to go to her counseling session and not have the responsibility of caring for the girls for the day. It might not be exactly what Mrs. Bailey might have in mind as an outing, but Alisha really wanted the girls to meet her parents and to see what a family life could be. As Alisha drove Lois was uncommunicative but Lucy chatted away. At least by listening to her, Alisha knew that the girls were physically doing okay.

In Kansas City, Alisha found the room her parents were staying in. She introduced her parents and then suggested that the girls lay down on one of the beds and watch TV. Alisha knew that Lucy would likely fall asleep, but hopefully TV would keep Lois busy for a while. She went back into the living area of the suite.

"You didn't mention you were bringing company, Alisha."

"No, Dad, I didn't. But these girls need some Smallville, and this may be as close as I can get them."

"What do you mean?" her mom asked.

"They, especially Lois, need to be loved, really loved, just like you guys and all of Smallville did for me. That's why I brought them."

Lucy came into the room. "Ms. Taylor, Lois is watching boring TV. I want cartoons and she won't let me."

Alisha could hear the History Channel in the background. History? Most teenagers would have been looking for MTV or a movie channel. "Well, we will just have to find some other way to keep you busy. Hey, why don't you ask my mom about her baby goats?"

Lucy's eyes flew to Chelsea. "Real ones? Real baby goats?"

"Lots and lots of baby goats. Too many. I need help just to keep them all fed."

"I'll help you."

"Well, they're at my home in Smallville."

"Aw. I bet they're cute."

"We have some kittens right now too. They like the extra milk and keep the mice out of the feed."

"I love kittens! Lois says maybe I can have a kitten one day when she's big enough to adopt me. But she can't right now."

Alisha's heart broke. Lois was already planning to take Lucy from her mother as soon as she could. Doubtless, Lois would work herself into the ground, waiting tables and cleaning bathrooms to make sure that Lucy had it all. It was not the life any girl should have to look forward to. Alisha met her mom's eyes. Chelsea read the unspoken message there; please, help me help these girls.

The local foods presentation was the next day, so the Georges and the Kents were getting together to explore Kansas City before the hard work began. Alisha gave Martha a hug and shook Jonathan's hand. She gave Clark a quick hug too, and his ears turned bright red. Jonathan had to tease his son. "Alisha, you've made Clark's day. He had a crush on you the year you were prom queen."

"Dad! That was 10 years ago. I was only 5. I though she was a fairy princess."

"I felt like a fairy princess. Smallville is so great. I really miss it."

"Why don't you come back?" asked Jonathan.

"Boone County already has great social workers. And I want to be somewhere I can really make a difference. I hope I am."

"Alisha, whatever you can do is enough. I think the children you help must know that you really care." Martha said.

"Thanks, Martha."

"Hey, we had better get going if we want to see the Plaza the sights?"

"Yea!" cried Lucy, excited, but not really knowing why.

"Can I just stay here and watch TV?"

"No, Lois, I'm sorry, "Alisha said. "I'm sure you would like some time to yourself, but I promised your mom I would keep you with me at all times."

"Hey, Lois, it'll be fun," said Clark. "There's a great Chinese place. Maybe we can eat lunch there and get some fortune cookies."

A look of interest crossed Lois' face. "Chinese, really? I had some once. It was great. I like spicy foods."

"Cool. With all of us we can get lots of different things and share. Can we eat Chinese, Dad?"

Jonathan looked around, and seeing that no one objected, said, "Sure, Clark. That sounds like a good plan."

***

It was a warm day, and the group had great fun touring the Plaza. Lucy kept her hand in someone else's all day as she ran from place to place. She is going to sleep all the way back to Metropolis, thought Alisha. Lois didn't say much, but she responded politely when spoken to, so Alisha assumed she was enjoying herself more than she let on. They ordered a lot of food for lunch. Alisha knew that this whole trip was expensive for the Kents and the Georges, but they didn't seem to be worrying about it so she guessed she shouldn't either. Jonathan joked about how much Clark ate and was he sure that two entrees were enough. Clark grinned back good naturedly as he helped Lucy with her fortune cookie.

"A horse is like a member of the family? How is that a fortune?" Lois questioned of her fortune.

"I don't know about a horse, but Zoe thinks she's member of our family," Don laughed. "She thinks she needs to live in the house."

Chelsea laughed and explained to Lois, "Zoe was born late one night during one of our coldest Smallville winters. I hadn't intended for any of the girls to kid that month, but Kati surprised me, the bugger. Poor little Zoe was so cold. I just had to bring her in the house. She couldn't manage to keep herself warm, and if I left her with the does, she would get squished when they cuddled up for warmth."

Don laughed, "Zoe spent a month in our kitchen before I finally put my foot down and made Chelsea put her outside."

"Put your foot down! Who was it who let her watch TV with them on the couch, huh?"

"Goats in the house?" Lois wrinkled her nose.

"It's no biggie, Lois," chimed in Clark. "It's not an everyday thing, but sometimes an animal needs help and we'll bring young ones into the house. We had an early calf in our kitchen for a week one time. Sure, he smelled a little different, but we just didn't have the heart to leave him outside. Kinda like me, I guess."

"You're a cow or you smell?" Wait, was Lois actually teasing Clark? This was the girl that barely said a word all the way to Kansas City, wasn't it?

"No, I mean, I ended up on Mom and Dad's doorstep and they took me in."

"Their doorstep?"

"Yep. They found me there and they adopted me."

"So you don't even know who your real parents are?"

"Not a clue"

"Doesn't that bother you?"

"Yeah, sometimes, but Mom and Dad are the greatest. I can't imagine better parents."

Wow. Lois thought. I can't imagine not knowing who my parents were. Actually, it would drive me insane! I'd have to know, if it took every minute of every day, I would find out. How could Clark be so accepting? At least I know who my parents are, even if they're not here, I know where my brown eyes come from. That I'm quick to jump to conclusions, even wrong conclusions, like my mom, and I'm built like dad's side of the family. Clark couldn't possibly be for real. She looked around at the Kents and the Georges. These people were on something. No one could be that happy and…loving. But Lucy was eating it up. She was now hanging over the railing of the bridge with Jonathan's arm around her waist to keep her from leaning over too far. Alisha was handing her bread to feed the swans. Yep, unreal.

***

When Lucy's five-year-old legs had tired out, she had ridden around on Clark's shoulders. Alisha had a feeling that Lucy's legs recovered long before she asked Clark to put her down so she could touch the water in the fountain. Clark quickly dug in his jeans to produce a coin for her to throw and even offered Lois one. For a moment, Alisha thought that Lois would scoff at the idea of making a wish and refuse, but she surprised Alisha by taking the coin. Maybe "Smallville" was already rubbing off on her.

***

Martha and Chelsea sat on the bench watching the children and their husbands. "What's with Lois and Lucy, Chelsea? Does Alisha usually bring "work" home?"

"No, I don't think so. These girls seem to have struck a chord with her. I think that something about their situation reminds her of her life before Smallville. Actually, she said as much. She said those girls needed a good dose of Smallville. That's why she brought them."

"They need to be loved."

"All children need to be loved."

"Yeah, but don't you look into Lois' eyes and just see that she needs someone to hug her?"

"Lois? Lucy,yes. But then she is affectionate. I can't really read Lois at all."

Alisha came over to sit with them after surrendering the last of the bread to Lucy.

"Are you guys talking about me again?"

"Yes and no. Mostly your mom and I were talking about Lois and Lucy."

"I'd like to find somewhere that they can stay for the summer, maybe in a small town where they might get to feel some of that unquestioning acceptance that Smallville gave me."

Martha's face lit up. "You mean like a summer program for city kids?"

Alisha nodded. "I'm planning to start looking at some of the host families on Monday to see if anyone has requested kids with Lois and Lucy's age and sex. If I can't get them in the same home, at least I may be able to get them into the same town. It looks like a really great program. They had sent some literature to us some time ago, but I hadn't really looked into it until now."

"I'm spilling the beans here, but, Chelsea you know that I'm on the city council. Last year one of the other ladies just talked and talked about the little boy that her niece in Virginia had hosted. The whole town had gotten involved and both the townspeople and the boy had a really great time. We talked about it and decided that Smallville should participate in a program like this with one of the cities around here. Several of the committee members have signed up to be hosts this summer and if everything goes as well as we hope, we want to ask others in the community to sign up to host next year. There's going to be an article in the Smallville Post on Monday," Martha spoke excitedly.

"That's a wonderful idea."

"I can't believe it." said Chelsea and Alisha at the same time. Martha and Chelsea looked at Alisha.

"As soon as I met these girls I wanted to get them to Smallville, but it seemed like an impossible wish. Martha, what you're telling me is that it is a possibility. You've made my day!"

***

"So, what's your favorite subject in school?" Clark and Lois had ended up together with the adult women talking at the bench and the men held captive by Lucy's young charms.

"I'm not good at school."

"I'm sure you're exaggerating. But that's not what I asked you, anyway. What do you like?"

Lois glanced sideways at the handsome teen. Why was he asking? Why did he care? She decided to answer anyway. It didn't matter. She'd never see him again. Why did her heart hurt a little at the thought?

"English, I guess. History too."

"You like to read?"

"I like information. I want to know what's going on. Who is doing what? Why?"

"Sounds like you would be a good reporter."

"Like on the news?"

"Well, maybe not on TV, but they get their stories from someone. There's radio. Like talk-radio."

"All they do is go round and round and argue."

"Or newspapers."

"Like the New York Times?"

"Or the Daily Planet."

"What's your favorite subject?"

"Football."

"That is NOT a subject!"

"No, and it's not really my favorite either. But Smallville thinks it is." Clark surprised himself that he would admit this aloud.

"Who made that name up? It is so not original."

"You'd have to ask my dad. He's the Smallville history buff. Actually, I like English and History too. I do really well in Science. Math is okay. I don't really like math. Geography- I love geography. I want to travel the world when I get out of school. I want to see what's out there."

"Travel where?"

"China, Borneo, Japan, Australia…everywhere."

"Wow. I haven't thought of anything like that."

"Well, you're still young. You have a long time to think about what you want to do when you graduate."

"I'm 13! Besides, I know what I'm going to do when I graduate. I'm going to get a job and take my sister somewhere safe."

"Won't she be a teenager herself by then?"

"She'll be 10."

"You're talking graduating from high school! Lois, what about college?"

"What about my sister?"

Clark frowned, stuffing his hands in his pocket. "Are things that bad?"

The old Lois was back, "Why do you care? Nobody cares about me except Lucy. We'll take care of each other."

"Alisha cares."

"It's her job. Besides aren't you in love with her or something?"

Clark blushed. "My dad was just teasing me. Alisha is 10 years older than me. Besides, there's someone else."

"Someone else?"

"Yeah. Lana. Lana Lang. Her dad is the mayor, like my grandpa used to be. She's really pretty. A cheerleader too."

"And blonde, I bet."

"Y-e-s. What do you have against blondes?"

"Nothing. Just my dad seems to prefer blondes. Like Mrs. Bellecanto."

"Who? Now who made that name up?"

"Who cares? I don't want to talk about it anymore." Lois walked away to stand with her sister watching the swans swim lazily on the lake.

"Can we stay here, Lois? Can we stay here forever?" Lucy asked, her brown eyes pleading.

"Someday, Lucy. I'll bring you back here and we'll watch the swans all day."

There were hugs all around (which Lois bore stiffly) when Alisha announced that they needed to leave. Tired from not taking a nap, Lucy cried that she wanted to stay with Clark and the "goat lady", as she dubbed Chelsea. As Clark handed her over to Alisha, Lois thought for a second that she saw the sheen of tears in Clark's eyes.

Clark stuck out his hand to Lois. "Lois Lane. I hope we see each other again. Have fun with all your classes." Lois took his hand and shook it. She didn't want this time to end. The Kents and the Georges seemed to be genuinely nice people. After all, they had adopted Alisha- Ms. Taylor- and Clark and the two seemed to really love their parents, even though Alisha laughingly told her dad that she was never coming home again if he didn't stop asking her to bring him son-in-law. Well, then again. Maybe they weren't so nice. Don George had a great daughter yet he still wanted a son. Just like her dad.

Lois stared out the window in silence all the way back to Metropolis. As Alisha predicted, Lucy was asleep almost as soon as they left Kansas City. Alisha tried to engage Lois in conversation for a while, but after a few monosyllabic answers, she gave up and left Lois in peace.

***

"I heard what Alisha said, Mom, about looking for a Smallville home for Lois and Lucy," Clark said

"You did?" queried Martha.

"What are you talking about?" asked Jonathan.

Martha reminded him about the program that Smallville was participating in and told him that Alisha wanted to get Lois and Lucy into their program or at least one like it.

"Why aren't you and dad hosting anyone?" Clark asked.

"Us?" asked Jonathan. "You know we can't. You know why we can't."

"Because of me. Because of my…abilities." There was a tone of resentment in Clark's voice. He hated that his differences could keep his parents from being free to open their home to another child.

"It's not your abilities or *you*. It's that we don't know how some small-minded people might react if they found out about what you can do. And if you heard your mom's conversation from where you were standing, your hearing is getting even more acute."

"But Alisha said it was just for a few weeks. Didn't you like Lois and Lucy?"

"That's beside the point. If someone found out about you, they might want to take you away from us and—"

"Dissect me like a frog. I know. But they're just little girls. I can hide my abilities at home just like I do at school. No one there suspects me. And even if they saw something, who would believe them?"

Jonathan shook his head. "It's just too dangerous."

"Mom, what do you think?"

"I can see your father's point, Clark—"

"But, Mom—"

"I can see yours as well, Clark. And it is just for a few weeks. Our application to host might still be accepted for this summer. If Clark thinks that he can keep up the pretense at home…?"

"How long is a few weeks? That's something that we really need to know." Jonathan stated practically.

"Jonathan! Does that mean you might agree?"

"You know I can't resist you, Martha Clark Kent. I never could. And that Lucy is really a sweet girl. She really took to Clark too."

"Yes, Lucy's sweet, but did you see her eyes, Jonathan? Did you see Lois' eyes? She's really hurting. Alisha couldn't tell us anything about her situation, but I know her mom needs personal time this summer and she didn't mention a father."

"I don't think Lois has anyone to take care of her. She told me that she plans to adopt Lucy when she turns eighteen" said Clark.

"Clark, what about college? How can she go to college and care for a young child."

"I think Lois realized a long time ago that college is not going to happen for her."

"Oh, that's awful. Jonathan—"

"Martha, a few weeks, is not going to solve the Lane family problems."

"No, but maybe we can help her. Somehow. Even if it is just giving her the love that Alisha says she needs. Smallville style."

***

Clark was very quiet the rest of the way home. His mind kept going back to Lois. She had been amazingly easy for him to talk to. Not that he had revealed anything about his abilities, but admitting that Smallville only saw the Clark Kent that he let them see, not who he really was? He didn't even express those feelings to his parents, because he knew that it would pain them. They didn't hate that he had these powers, but they hated the fact that his powers made him feel different and alone. Lois was so brave. He hoped that her future would not turn out the way she envisioned, but the point was that at thirteen she had already made plans for the future and she seemed so unafraid to face that future, even one that was certainly not ideal. He didn't even think about his own future very often. His powers were continuing to develop and he couldn't help wondering when, or if, they would stop. Would new abilities keep popping up his whole life? How long would his life be? He seemed to age normally, but if nothing could hurt him, and his powers kept him extremely healthy, would he even die, ever? He remembered hearing a song on a TV show that said, "No One Wants to Live Forever". Not that he wanted to die, but a life stretching endlessly into the future was scary too. With all his physical strength, Clark worried that he was not as strong of a person emotionally as he should be, as he wanted to be.

***

Alisha was at home flipping TV channels when her cell phone rang. It was Sunday evening. Her mom had called earlier to say that the presentation had gone beautifully and they were headed home. They would call when they arrived. The digits on the screen confirmed it was a Smallville number, but not one she was familiar with.

"Hello."

"Alisha, it's Martha."

"Martha? Is something wrong?"

"No, no, not at all. Your mom gave me your number. I was calling about the summer program we were talking about." Martha gave her the contact information for the program.

"Thanks so much, Martha. Do you know of any of the hosts that might have requested two girls?"

"Clark knows someone."

"He does?"

"Us, actually. Clark thinks the girls should stay with us. He…uh, he heard me talking about it to Jonathan on the way home."

"Really? I know you're very busy. You didn't mention that you were one of the hosts."

"We are busy, but Clark can lend a hand. He was great with Lucy, you saw them, and he said that he would be happy to tutor Lois and help her catch up in school."

"That would be great. She's already about a semester behind. Last year she missed a lot of classes or didn't pass. Her mind just isn't in it."

"From the little she said to Clark, it seems she's a lot more worried about her sister than herself."

"I noticed that she seemed to really take to Clark. I've never got her to carry on a real conversation with me. I guess as an adult, I'm 'the enemy'." "Lois has had a hard way to go, hasn't she?"

"Yes, she has." Alisha sighed. "If you're serious about this Martha, I'll be happy to talk to you about it. Tomorrow morning I'll start seeing what I can do to make this happen."

"Actually, I will need to send in the application to be a host, but since I have already been working with the foundation to set the program up in Smallville I'm hoping that we'll be accepted quickly. And I want these girls, Alisha. I really do. You're right. They need some love and we will love them as long as we have them."

They said their good-byes and Alisha hung up the phone. Interesting! The Kents? She thought back to the conversation with her mom about why the Kents never adopted another child. Of course, it was only for the summer, but they had a lot of love to give.

Her phone rang again. Her dad was calling to say they were home and her mom was out feeding the goats. Zoe was on the front porch when they got home and Grandma's rose bush was a little the worse for wear. Alisha laughed knowing that her dad loved the spoiled goat just as much as her mom. He just liked to complain. She hung up again and started getting ready for bed. Tomorrow was bound to be an interesting day.

***

Alisha was more than on time to work the next day. She hung up from her call to the contact at the foundation. She hastily called Martha Kent.

"Martha! Mrs. Crane says she can't see any issue with getting you set up as a host for this summer."

"Really! Susan is a wonderful lady." Susan Crane had formerly been a social worker in the Smallville area but was now working as a liaison between the foundation and host families.

"She's the best. She's my inspiration. Anyway, she says she can come over to do a formal inspection anytime you're available. You and Jonathan both need to be there, but she doesn't need Clark to be there unless he wants to"

Martha laughed. "I'll call Susan and set something up. Then what?"

"Well, after Mrs. Crane gives you the official okay, I think the rest will fall into place. I've already told Mrs. Crane that you have met the girls and she indicated that she would make sure that you would get matched."

"Well, we'll be crossing our fingers."

***

"Smallville, Ms. Taylor! Why would we want to go to Smallville?" Lois scoffed.

"Is that where the goats live?" Lucy asked.

"Yes, Lucy. But, actually, you'll be staying with the Kents. You remember Clark and his mom and dad. They don't have goats, but they do have some cows and chickens." Alisha explained. "Lois, it wasn't that long ago you were at the bus station, heading out of Metropolis with no idea where you were going. Now you have a destination. And a plan. Clark thinks that he and Lana can help you catch up on some of your schoolwork. I've talked to your school and they are going to put some work together for you to take with you. Lucy seems to think it sounds like fun. What do you say?"

"Does it matter?"

"Lois, please. Give this a chance. I guarantee you, there is no place like Smallville, and the Kents are such great people."

"When do we leave?" Lois asked resignedly.

So, she would be seeing Clark Kent again. Lois was aware that she had some sort of feeling- a crush- on Clark Kent. Stupid, stupid Lois! He has blonde Lana, why would he look twice at you? He thinks you're just some little kid, like, like Lucy!

***

Jonathan and Clark carried the girls' belongings into the house from the car. Martha went ahead and started showing them around the house- the kitchen and living room- and up the stairs. "I put you both in the same room. I hope that's okay. We have only three bedrooms."

Lois had decided to be polite. "It's fine Mrs. Kent. I really prefer to be with Lucy anyway."

"Great! And, Lois, you and Lucy can call me Martha. We don't stand on ceremony here in Smallville. We expect children to be respectful, but as long as you're under the Kent roof, you're family."

Really, maybe it was something in the water, Lois thought. Or maybe these people had been taken over by aliens, or they were robots or something!

"I want to see outside! Ms. Taylor said you had chickens."

"Well, Jonathan and Clark can show you around, Lucy. I think Jonathan said we had a new calf this morning. And Mrs. George, Chelsea, brought over one of their kittens yesterday. She thought you might enjoy playing with it while you were here."

"Really, a kitten of my own?"

"He'll have to stay here, of course, but while you're staying with us, he can be yours."

"Lois, my own kitten! Just like you said."

Lois was very happy to see her sister so excited. She wished for a second that the situation was permanent and Lucy could stay with the Kents forever. Lucy deserved a home like this. She was so little and she just didn't understand Mom at all.

"Lois, it's almost lunchtime. Do you want to help me get lunch started, or go with Jonathan, Clark, and Lucy?"

While Lois was sure that she would be of no help in the kitchen, she had decided that she should avoid being around Clark as much as possible. Every time she was around him she felt like her face was on fire. And he was so nice to Lucy. He was always nice to her, too, but he never looked at her the way she looked at him when he wasn't watching.

"I really can't cook, Mrs. Kent. But I'll help set the table or something."

"It's Martha. Maybe I can show you some simple recipes while you are here."

"Mac & Cheese is simple and I still burn that."

Clark had come up behind them. "Don't worry Lois. My mom will have you slaving in the kitchen in no time. She's the best cook and a good teacher too. She taught me and I have to, I mean get to, cook dinner on Wednesdays. So look out for my special tatertot casserole coming your way in three days."

"You make it sound like an upcoming movie." Lois giggled. Why was she giggling? Stupid!

"It would be a comedy if it was a movie, Lois." Jonathan interrupted. "Who's going to come help me check the stock before lunch?"

"Me! Me! Martha said you would show me the kitten."

"I sure will. Pesky fellow probably would like a snack. Why don't you ask Martha to give you some leftover turkey?"

Lucy collected the turkey just before Clark swung her up to sit on his shoulders, and she squealed in delight.

"Mom showed me the schoolwork you're supposed to get done this summer, Lois. Remember, Lana and I will help you with anything you need. She'll be here Monday night for dinner. Her parents aren't going to be home that evening, so I suggested that she come here instead of staying home by herself. I think you'll like each other."

"I just noticed you're wearing glasses," Lois said to Clark.

"Yeah. Actually, I've had them for a while, I just forgot them at home when we went to Kansas City. Lana wants me to get contacts, but I just can't stand the thought of putting stuff in my eyes." Clark gave an exaggerated shiver.

"Well, I like them. They make you look…scholarly."

Clark groaned, "That bad, huh."

"I think they really fit your personality. And if you don't like them, I read about a surgery in one of my dad's medical journals that can correct your vision. It's done with lasers."

"I don't want lasers any where near my eyes!"

"Come on, Clark," urged Lucy. "I want to see the kitten."

***

Lana was blonde and beautiful, just like Lois knew she would be. Clark's eyes had a special gleam in them when he looked at Lana, which was almost constantly. Lana was telling the Kents about her activities with the Smallville High cheerleading squad. She was very proud of the fact that she had only been on varsity team for a year yet she was one of the best on the squad. After dinner, Clark and Lana had gone out on the porch. Martha, Lois and Lucy were working on folding the laundry. The laundry load had certainly increased since the household had expanded by two people. Jonathan had gone out to the barn to tinker with his tractors.

"Lois, why don't you go ask Clark and Lana if they want some ice cream? I'm hungry for some and we can get out the ice cream maker and I'll show you how to make homemade ice cream."

"That sounds like fun! I'll go see."

Lois could see Clark and Lana through the screen door. Before she reached to open it, Lois saw Clark giving Lana a quick kiss on the lips. Lana made some sort of protest, but Lois thought that she actually looked pleased.

Lois pushed the screen open and Clark jumped. Lois couldn't meet Clark's eyes and she didn't want to look at Lana's perfect face either, so she looked over their heads when she said, "Martha is going to make ice cream and wanted to know if you guys want some."

"Sure!" said Clark jumping up. "I'll help."

***

At first Lois had determined that she wasn't going to ask Clark and Lana for help with anything, but there was some stuff, especially in math, that she needed help with. She decided that she could put up with Lana. She did want to get caught up in school so she would be able to graduate on time. No one would let her adopt Lucy if she was still in high school, even if she would be 18 by the time she graduated.

Life settled into a routine. The Kents really didn't ask too much of Lois and Lucy, though they expected them to pitch in if they saw something that needed to be done. Lois was trying to learn to cook, and she only set the kitchen on fire once when she left a hand towel too close to the stove. She apologized profusely, but Martha assured her that everyone had done that. Well, judging by the faces made (and Lucy's overly honest comments) Lois knew that her culinary skills needed more work, but she could make a good tuna salad sandwich and if Martha and Clark were helping Jonathan, it was something that she could make and bring to them.

***

Lois had finally decided, after being in Smallville, that the residents weren't Stepford wives. For some reason, the people just accepted and stood by each other, as if untouched by the greed of Metropolis. Some would think that they stayed in Smallville because they didn't know any better, but Lois was amazed by how many had moved away as college students, but returned to Smallville to raise their families. Lois missed the noise and busyness of Metropolis, but she admitted to herself that Smallville had charms of its own, and you just couldn't see stars like this in Metropolis. Clark had shaken her awake one night, bundling Lucy in a quilt and hurrying them outside to stand with his parents as they watched a meteor shower. The blue-green and yellow streaks against the black sky were breathtaking. No, you didn't see things like that in Metropolis. But despite herself, she missed her mother. Even though Ellen wasn't a bit like Martha, Ellen loved her children in her own way, and Lois knew that.

***

Alisha came in early August to let the girls know that Ellen was home from the treatment center and anxious to be reunited with her children. Lois knew this time was coming and had steeled herself to accept it, but she still felt a sense of loss. Lucy wanted to know why she had to go home if she wanted to stay there. Alisha explained that Ellen loved the girls and really wanted them with her. "Your mom is feeling much, much better, Lucy. Things will be different now."

They stayed another few days, but wanted to be back to Metropolis to start school. Clark gave Lucy a stuffed cat that resembled the growing kitten. "You can take this one home with you," he told Lucy. Lois' heart beat with anticipation as she opened his gift to her. Oh, my! It was a hand tooled leather-bound journal. Clark blushed at his parents' compliments on the craftsmanship. "I knew Lois liked to write and I thought that this would be the perfect place for her to keep her thoughts."

Lois' throat ached with tears as Martha held her tight and said, "Lois, if you ever need anything, even just someone to talk to, please call me. We love you so much and we are going to miss you around here. I've never had a daughter, but if I did I would want her to be just like you."

Lois choked on a laugh, "Me? I'm nothing special. Just Lois."

"Lois, you care about things. You love your sister and you are fiercely loyal to her. You are very strong emotionally, and you care about the people around you, even if you try not to show it. You are a good person and don't let anyone tell you different."

Jonathan hugged them both. "You guys are honorary Kents now, you know. Don't forget to call or write."

"You've got my e-mail," put in Clark.

***

The trip back to Metropolis was as silent as the trip to Smallville had been, but instead of the angry, sullen silence, this one was calm. Alisha knew in her heart that Smallville had been the right choice for Lois and Lucy. The reunion with Ellen was tearful and Ellen promised over and over that she was going to be a better mother. Alisha believed that she was sincere in her promises and hoped that Ellen Lane would be able to keep them.

***

Lois did stay in touch with the Kents. She called Martha for cooking advice on occasion, but Ellen was doing wonderfully and when Lois cooked it was because she asked if she could so that she wouldn't forget everything that Martha had taught her. Ellen was very surprised at how good those dinners tasted. When Lois started high school she e-mailed Clark about her teachers and the activities she was involved in. She even joined the cheerleading squad until she twisted her ankle. The time off the squad helped her to realize that she had only joined because Lana was a cheerleader, not because she really enjoyed the activity. She did enjoy the debate team, and Clark gave her some good thoughts to expound on. Clark was keeping busy with football and helping out on the farm.

Then came the e-mail that Lana had broken up with him. Clark did not say why, but Lois could tell that it was hurting him. Though Lois could never understand what Clark saw in Lana, she still hurt for her friend. Clark wrote that he had decided to ask Rachel Harris to go to the prom with him instead. He already had the limousine and tux reserved and he knew that Rachel wasn't going with anyone. Lois couldn't remember ever meeting Rachel, but Clark seemed to think that Rachel would be open to going as "just friends". Lana is the world's biggest fool, thought Lois. Clark was excited about starting his senior year. He was already taking some college classes through Kansas State where he hoped to go to college. He hadn't decided on a major, but he still liked English, so was leaning toward something in that area, teaching and/or writing. <Of course, I still plan to travel after college>, he wrote.

Clark stayed very busy in his senior year. Lana had apologized for breaking his heart and begged Clark to take her back. Clark decided to date her again, but Lois wondered if Lana only wanted him back because he was now first string quarterback as the former quarterback had graduated a year earlier. As head cheerleader, it was important to Lana to be seen with the right people and she was determined that Clark was the "right people."

Lois had been to a few school outings on "sort of" dates. She was 16, and willowy with big brown eyes and she certainly could turn boy's heads. But as she no longer felt the pressure to adopt her younger sister, she spent a lot of time studying, determined to get good grades and a scholarship to Metropolis University. Clark's parting gift to her was filled with her ideas and hopes of what could be. She was so proud of her mother, and Lucy was a very happy second-grader. Lois almost felt like she could relax from worrying.

Alisha checked on them periodically. As Lois had once told Clark, it was her job, but Lois could see now that she and Lucy were more than just a job to Alisha. Alisha even confided that she had met someone, maybe the son-in-law that her dad had been wanting. Lois was very happy for her. From the picture Alisha showed her, Lois knew that Ben was no model, but he had kind, laughing eyes and Lois knew that was what Alisha was interested in.

When football season ended, so did Clark's relationship with Lana. Lana had decided that she needed to date "older men", specifically the former Smallville quarterback who was now a hot-topic in the Metropolis Star's college sports section. Clark didn't seem nearly as hurt this time, but he did seem a little distracted. He told her that he had been offered a football scholarship to Met. U., but that he had accepted a journalism scholarship to Kansas State.

<Journalism? e-mailed Lois, not English then?>

<No, answered Clark, I've discovered I really like writing. And I can write about the places that I go when I do my world tour after college. Maybe get picked up as a freelancer by one of two of the better newspapers.>

His next e-mail surprised her, but sent a delicious thrill through her.

<Mom has suggested, Clark wrote, that you might be interested in visiting Smallville for a weekend and go with me "as friends" to my senior prom. Not that you're second choice or anything, but Rachel has a boyfriend this year and it would be nice to see you again. I can skip school on Friday and come get you. We would be back in Smallville by 10:30 or 11:00, and we can both sleep in. Mom says she can handle getting all the details set up for you. I'm not sure what all those things are, but she said to call her. So would you? Would you like to come back to Smallville for the weekend?>

While Lois' crush on Clark was not as strong as it had been, she still was excited at the opportunity to go on a "date" with Clark. And she would love to see Martha and Jonathan in person again. <That sounds great, Clark, she typed. I'll give your mom a call.>

Ellen was not enthusiastic about the plan. Not knowing the Kents, she was hesitant to let her "little girl" travel such a distance alone with a teenage boy. Lois called Alisha and asked her to talk to Ellen. Lois realized that her mom actually had a point, but Ellen didn't know Clark like she did. Alisha put Ellen's fears to rest deciding that she and Ben were overdue for a visit to Smallville and she would take care of transporting Lois. It was a long distance for Clark to travel alone. Lois e-mailed him about the change in plans.

Typically, Clark was not offended, but he did say that he would miss seeing Lucy and meeting Ellen Lane.

***

Getting her hair done in a Smallville salon was an experience. She hadn't realized how those beauticians liked to talk about everyone and everything going on in Smallville. But the gossip did not hold the maliciousness that Lois so often felt in Metropolis. When the ladies learned that she was going with Clark to his prom, they regaled her with stories of his childhood and his appearance in Smallville. Over and over she was told of acts of kindness, rescued pets, and even a mad dash to pull a toddler out of the way of a car going much too fast for Smallville streets. Clark had a real following among the citizens of Smallville. "That boy is going to do something really special with his life, save the world from destruction or mediate world peace. He's no ordinary boy, that Clark Kent. And doesn't he look so distinguished in those glasses! It's a really good look for him." Lois felt very proud to be on his arm as they entered the prom and had their picture taken. She knew that she would always treasure that picture and that moment.

They danced and browsed at the snack table. Clark introduced her to Rachel and her date as well as several other classmates. Clark stopped Lois from filling her cup from one bowl, "I just saw Ted spike the punch. You don't want to drink that." Setting her cup down, he whirled her into a dance, then tripped over his feet knocking into the card table with the punch on it. He managed not to spill the entire bowl, but it brought the table to the attention of the chaperones and the now near empty punch bowl was replaced with a new one. "Clark, man, I'd just spiked that last one. You're such a klutz." Klutz was not a word that Lois would ever use to describe Clark Kent and she suspected that Clark had intended to cause the small upset. She continued to dance with Clark, enjoying being close to him when he suddenly said, "Um. Lois, I really need to go- go do- something." And he hurriedly left. Was Clark Kent blushing? If he needed to pee, he should just say so! Actually, she would take the opportunity to visit the ladies herself. She followed Clark out the door. But Clark wasn't headed to the restrooms. He went the other direction, turning the corner in the hall. Curious, Lois followed him. When she reached the corner, Clark was nowhere to be seen. Where had he disappeared to? Unfamiliar with Smallville High, she wandered until she found herself near one of the emergency exits. The door was slightly ajar, and she pushed it open, in time to hear the crunching sound of metal as if there had been two cars hitting each other, but she hadn't heard any squeal of tires. She rounded the corner to see Clark grabbing a boy out of a car whose door was hanging crazily on its hinges. He pushed the boy up against the car holding him with one hand as the boy struggled clumsily to free himself. As she got closer, she could hear a girl sobbing.

"Rachel, are you okay?"

"Oh, Clark. I feel so stupid, I thought he liked me."

"Rachel, I think he does like you. He's just little drunk right now. Ted spiked the punch. Or maybe Pete had some of the 'spike' before it got to the punch."

"My dad's going to kill me."

"Are you okay? I mean really okay, don't just say so."

"Yes, I'm fine. He just scared me. He's not usually like this."

"Then maybe we can keep this between us?" He gave the boy a little shake, "Right, Pete."

"Yeah, sure Clark. Sorry, Rachel," the boy muttered.

"I hope you really are, Pete. The only reason I'm not taking you to Rachel's dad is because you are a little soused and I know that you are usually a nice guy. Rachel, can you and Lois take our limo home? I don't think that Pete should drive himself home. I'll drive him there." Besides, thought Clark, I'm going to have to fix this door before Pete or his dad notices the damage I did to it. Either I'm getting even stronger, or I pulled on it harder than I thought. Just when I think I'm getting the hang of these powers, they change on me!

"But how will you get home, Clark?" Rachel asked.

"Don't worry about me, Rachel. It's a nice night for a walk anyway. Can you find Lois and just tell her that you needed someone to drive Pete home?"

"Sure, Clark, and thank you. I'm not sure how far he would have taken it…"

"Don't worry about it, Rachel. You're my friend. I'm glad I was here to help."

Clark put his arm around Pete and started leading him back to the main entrance of the school, hoping some cold water on his face would sober him up before Clark took him home. Rachel trailed behind as she headed towards the gymnasium to find Lois. Lois furtively ran toward the now abandoned car, touching the twisted door, and the broken locking mechanism. Had that been the sound she heard? Was Clark so angry that he had done this? Maybe he cared more for Rachel than he let on, but the way he had acted towards Pete all night did not lend itself to that theory. Well, she'd better get back to the gym before Rachel realized that she wasn't there.

***

She was standing next to the dance floor by the time Rachel entered the gym. "Lois? My date is not feeling so well; a little too much of the punch Ted spiked. He needs to go home. Clark thought that he would be a better help than I would be. Clark's really strong and Pete is a pretty big guy."

"I'm sorry. I'm sure that's not how you were expecting your senior prom to turn out," Lois said sympathetically. Rachel would assume that Lois was referring to her date not feeling well, not the fact that Clark had to put a stop to Pete's drunken behavior.

"Clark wanted to know if we could take the limo home. He'll drive Pete home in his car. I'm sorry about this, Lois. Pete was just really not himself. I'm sure this isn't how you expected the night to turn out either."

"It's not a problem, Rachel. Forgive me for prying, but does Pete drink very often?"

"No, I don't think so. I've never seen him like- uh, drink like this before."

"Rachel, I know that you don't know me, except through Clark, and you have no reason to listen to me, but please be sure that this is an isolated incident. My mother is an alcoholic. And a high percentage of teens that drink become alcoholics. You don't want to get involved with someone like that."

"Thanks, Lois. I'm not sure after seeing Pete like this that we're going to keep dating, but I promise you I will talk to him about this."

While Clark seemed to think Pete was a nice guy, Clark always tried to see the best in everyone. Lois hoped that Rachel would take her advice to heart. She did not talk about her mother's alcoholism often, but Lois knew that Rachel would not judge her for her mother's problems. Another Smallville tradition.

***

Clark was in the kitchen making breakfast when Lois came down the next morning. Neither Martha nor Jonathan was around. She wasn't sure if that was because they had already eaten or because they were still asleep. Lois got a glass out of the cupboard and pulled the milk out of the fridge.

"Lois, I'm so sorry I couldn't bring you home, but Rachel-" Clark began.

"Don't worry about it Clark. Rachel is your friend. I expect you to help her out. She said you are really strong and could handle Pete better than she could." Lois poured herself a glass of milk and took a drink.

Clark blushed, "I'm just average strong, Lois, for a football jock." Remembering the twisted car door she thought, "methinks he doth protest too much", but didn't say anything about it. Could Clark have been so furious that he had an adrenaline rush of superhuman strength? It just didn't mesh with the Clark that she knew, or thought she knew. Could there be a part of him that she didn't know? One seriously in need of anger management therapy? And why had he gone outside anyway? For a moment she wondered if she really knew Clark Kent at all, but then she shook her head thinking of the ladies at the salon yesterday morning and Maisie declaring, "With Clark Kent, what you see is what you get."

***

She hugged the Kents, thanking Martha for her help in getting ready and Clark for the wonderful evening. After Ben was pointing the car in the direction of Metropolis, Alisha turned to Lois. "I have some news. *We* have news."

"Really?"

"Yes. Ben asked Dad if he could marry me. And Dad said yes!"

"What did you say?'

Ben answered for her, "She said, "It's about time."

Lois laughed. "Alisha, aren't you glad that Martha and Clark arranged all this?"

"I sure am. But I wanted to tell you, because I'm hoping that you will stand up with me? We're getting married before school starts in Metropolis in the fall." Ben taught math at a Metropolis High School, though not the one Lois attended.

"Of course I will! I'm so happy for you. But why me?"

"Mrs. Bailey would really lecture me about getting too involved in my cases, if she heard this, but I sort of think of you as the little sister I never had. And I don't even know where my real sister is. Last I heard she was in Kansas City, but that's been a few years. I tried to keep in touch, but her phone got disconnected and I never got her new number."

"That's really terrible, Alisha. I hope that Lucy and I are always close."

"Tracy just didn't have the blessings that I did. Life with the Georges formed me into a much different person than I would be if my mother had raised me. Tracy's never known any other life."

"I'm very blessed to have you in my life. I can't believe now that I was just going to take Lucy and get on a bus. There are so many weirdoes out there! Anything could have happened to us. Thank you for caring. I will be forever thankful that you got 'involved' in our case."

"So will I."

***

To Lois' complete shock, her father was there when she got home. He said he was taking a break from his "breast blossoming formula" and was going to be helping out another scientist in his lab, which was located, of all places, in Metropolis.

"So you'll be looking for an apartment?"

"No, princess, I'll be staying here. It is still my house." Legally, maybe, but Lois knew her mom paid the mortgage. Sam's work paid so sporadically and since he and Ellen weren't divorced, they had never been able to count on child support or alimony. All her father's money went into more of his research. Oh, this couldn't be good. Would her dad be able to stay faithful to her mother? And how would Ellen handle it if he left again? For a moment she longed for the serenity and security of Smallville. But Lois knew that she was a stronger person than she had been three years ago, and her mother was doing great. She allowed herself to believe that things would be fine.

She finished her sophomore year with some of the best grades in her class. Excitedly, she showed her parents the results.

"Lois, that is wonderful," Ellen said delightedly.

"Why is your science grade the lowest, Lois? You'll never get into a good pre-med program with a score like that."

"Pre-med? Dad, why would I be worried about pre-med.?"

"You need a good pre-med program to get into the finest medical schools. Any daughter of mine should be able to attend Yale or Harvard."

"But, Dad, I've always enjoyed writing, I was thinking—"

"The medical field is the way to go, Lois", Sam said. "Do you know how lacking the medical field is in doctors? People are living longer these days, and soon there are not going to be enough doctors to treat everyone. You'll be able to name any price for services and get it too, if you have a degree from a really good school."

"But—"

"Maybe you should listen to your father, Lois. It does sound like there is a need for doctors. I know that there is a nursing shortage as well. It could be a great future for you."

Lois decided that arguing with her parents was not going to help. Why couldn't her dad just be happy for her? She had the highest score of her classmates in creative writing. And she had excellent grades in English.

***

Alisha and Ben had asked to take both Lois and Lucy with them to attend Smallville's baccalaureate and graduation. They wanted to start talking to Maisie about catering the wedding and getting the flower arrangements set up with the local florist shop. Her dress and Lois' were from Metropolis, but everything else was going to be from Smallville.

Clark was the salutatorian for his class. Lois' heart swelled with pride as he gave his speech thanking the citizens of Smallville for providing a firm foundation for the class to go out into the world from. "You are looking at future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even some farmers that know who they are and know that no matter how far we go in life, we can always come back to Smallville and know that we are home. Ladies and gentleman, please enjoy this 40th graduation of Smallville High." When the graduation concluded, the room erupted in cheers and whistles as the mortarboards went flying into the air. Clark made his way to his parents and accepted their hugs and offered his mom his handkerchief to dry her tears. They ran into the Georges and Lanes as they both tried to exit the auditorium at the same time. "Lois! And Lucy. I'm so glad you guys could come."

"Well, Clark, it's not every day that you graduate from high school. How does it feel?" Lois queried.

"Super, but if I never had to give another speech as long as I live, it will be too soon."

"Why? You did a great job, Clark," protested Alisha.

"Thanks, Alisha. I hope my point got across anyway."

"It got across to me. You know my heart will always belong to Smallville."

"I thought your heart belonged to me now, sweetheart," teased Ben.

Alisha poked at him. "Of course, it does, silly. Lucky for you, there's room enough in my heart for you and Smallville."

"I guess you guys are excited about your wedding," commented Clark.

"Yeah. I can't wait to show my parents and my brother, Paul, around Smallville," Ben said excitedly.

"We're flying out of Metropolis the day we get back to attend Paul's graduation. Paul's planning to attend Met. U. this fall, so we'll be seeing a lot more of him," Alisha said.

Rachel came running up, "Clark! Congratulations, graduate!"

"Thanks, Rachel. You too."

"Hey, Alisha, can I steal Lois for a minute for some girl talk?" Rachel asked.

"Actually, a lot of us are headed over to Maisie's. I'll make sure she gets back to your house, Alisha, if she can come with us," Clark pleaded.

"That's fine with me, Clark, if Lois wants to."

"Sure, Alisha. I can soak up some Smallville social life while I'm here."

"Clark, don't keep her out too late. We have a long drive back to Metropolis tomorrow," reminded Ben.

***

"Lois, I just wanted to thank you for telling me about your mom. I talked to Pete and found out that he had been drinking with his friends pretty regularly. I looked up teens and alcoholism on the Internet and showed him the studies. He had a long talk with his parents and the school counselor, and I think he's going to be okay. I probably won't ever date him, but still, he's a friend, and—"

"And Smallville takes care of its own."

"And we suddenly had a group session in the auditorium with a MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) spokesperson. I think a lot of the kids really took it to heart. The Smallville Post reported on her visit and included some statistics. It woke a lot of the parents up. I think that the kids at next year's prom will find alcohol a little harder to get a hold of."

"I'm glad, Rachel."

"You know, Pete was more than just drunk that night. He was a little…amorous too."

"Clark didn't mention it."

"He wouldn't. My reputation, you know. I'm just glad he came when he did. I don't know how far Pete would have taken it, but I don't want my first time to be like that."

Lois blushed, but she said, "Martha says you never forget your first time or whom you were with, so you need to be sure he's the one you want to remember the rest of your life."

"Wow. My parents just told me that I shouldn't let any guy pressure me into anything I wasn't ready for. I hadn't thought about having that guy's face in my head the rest of my life. I'll remember that."

"I haven't really dated anyone yet, but some of the girls in my class have and I know some of them got too serious too fast and regretted it. I don't want to regret anything I do in my life, much less something as special as that."

***

Alisha and Lois spent a few hours the next morning with Maisie and the florist. Chelsea and Don were keeping Lucy and Ben entertained at the farm. As a result of the wedding planning taking longer than expected, they were late leaving Smallville, and Alisha dropped them off at the house in a hurry. Ellen would be home from work later. Lois unlocked the door and re-set the alarm. She told Lucy to hurry and get her pajamas on and get to bed. They both had school in the morning. Lois headed to her parents' bedroom to use their bathroom as she got ready for bed herself. She flipped on the light and shrieked when a responding groan came from the bed. "Mom? What's wrong? Why are you home?"

"He's left us again, Lois. He just up and left. Some young lady doctor has convinced him that she can help him fix his stupid breast enhancing pill!"

"I'm sorry, Mom. But aren't you supposed to be at work?

"I, uh, I called in sick. Aren't you home early?"

"No, Mom. Actually we are a little late. It's almost midnight."

"Oh. Well, can you hurry up? The light is hurting my eyes."

Lois met her own eyes in the mirror. Her heart was beating so fast. Fear. All of the sudden she felt like the rug was ripped out from under her. She hadn't seen any evidence that Ellen had been drinking, but it just reminded her so much of the way things had gotten started when her father left 5 years ago. For a minute she wanted to call Martha. But she knew they went to bed early down on the farm. She could call Alisha, but she was a social worker and Lois was afraid that the law would require that Alisha report Lois' fears. And, Lois reminded herself, she really had no facts to base her suspicions on. Lois would have to investigate this on her own.

***

The last week of school was over. Finals were completed and the end-of-the-year parties were over. Ellen had returned to work, and Lois would be spending her summer keeping an eye on Lucy. She was looking forward to her junior year. After all, it was all downhill from here, and then on to journalism school at Met. U. Maybe she would even apply for the summer internship at the Daily Planet next summer. It would be a great experience. Spending more time at home made it easy to find the bottle of vodka in the top of her mom's closet. "Oh, Mom." Should she try to talk to her mom? Maybe she just kept the bottle as a reminder or something. Didn't some alcoholics keep their last bottle of liquor just to remind themselves of how long it had been since they had a drink?

"Mom, I was wondering. How are your AA meetings going?"

"They're fine, Lois. Just fine. I don't answer to you. I'm your mother, not the other way around."

"I'm just trying to be supportive. How long have you been sober now, Mom? Is it two and a half years?"

"Something like that." Yes, something was definitely wrong.

The next weekend, Lois came back from a double date with her friend Linda King, her boyfriend, and his best friend to find Lucy crying in the kitchen eating cereal out of the box. Lois threw her purse on the table and gathered her in her arms. "Lucy, what's wrong? Where's mom?"

"I don't know. She just left with some guy from her work, and I'm so hungry, Lois."

"What guy from work? Did she get called in? Why didn't she phone me to come home?"

"I don't think she was going to work. She wasn't wearing her uniform."

What was going on! In all the time that her father had run around on her mother, Ellen had never shown interest in another man.

"Lucy, how about I fix you some of my Smallville tuna sandwiches? That will fill you up, and then you need to get to bed. It's after 10:00."

Lois stayed up waiting for her mother to come home. It was 2:00 when the key turned in the lock. Her mom stumbled through the door and started heading for her bedroom. Lois rushed to re-set the alarm. The last thing she wanted was to have the police calling. She followed her mother into the room. "Mom?"

"Lois," Ellen slurred, "I didn't think you'd be up."

"Are you drunk?"

"No, I'm not drunk. I don't get drunk anymore."

"You're drunk, Mom. You left Lucy home alone. She is too young to be left by herself. How long have you been drinking?"

"I told you, I'm not—"

"Stuff it, Mother. I don't believe you. You've been doing so great. Why do you let dad do this to you?"

"It's not my fault, Lois. I've never been enough for your dad. Never."

"Mom. We can't do this again. I'm trying to get into college and Lucy isn't so young anymore. She's going to figure it out this time."

Lois left the room. She had to talk to someone. She dialed a familiar number on her cell phone.

"Martha?"

"Lois, what's wrong?"

"Martha, I know it's the middle of the night—"

"Lois, I told you to call if you ever needed me, and I meant it."

"Mom?" Lois heard in the background.

"Clark, go back to bed."

"Is Lois okay?"

"Let me talk to her, Clark. Just go back to bed."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I've woken up Clark too. How'd he know it was me anyway?"

"Uh, maybe he picked up the phone when it rang. Lois, what's going on?"

"Martha, I've been suspicious for weeks, but tonight my mom left Lucy alone and went out drinking with some guy from her work."

"Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry."

"I just can't do this, Martha. I let myself have dreams and make plans and I want to go to college, Martha!"

"You need to call Alisha."

"No, I can't take a chance that I'll get separated from Lucy."

"Call Alisha."

"It can wait until morning."

"Okay, but I'm calling Mrs. Crane tomorrow to talk to her about your situation."

"If you think that's the best thing."

"It is, Lois."

"Thanks, Martha."

"Sure, sweetie. Bye." Lois held onto the phone not wanting to hang up. She could feel Martha's love through the phone line and the calm that accompanied it.

"Mom, is Lois okay?" Lois heard Clark's voice ask. Martha must have forgotten to hit the disconnect on her end.

"Her mom is drinking again."

"How could she-? Mom, I can be up there in no time. Does Lois need someone to stay with her?" What was Clark talking about? It took hours to get from Smallville to Metropolis.

"And how would you explain how you got to Metropolis so fast? She heard you earlier."

Lois hit the end button. If she continued to listen, she would be guilty of eavesdropping on the nicest people she knew. What had Clark meant he could get here so quickly? Wait. What am I doing? Keep on the subject, Lois. You're distancing. Your mother, remember your drunk mother?

***

Alisha called Lois. After staying up worrying most of the night, Lois had finally fallen into an exhausted sleep about 6:00.

"Alisha," she mumbled sleepily.

"Oh, Lois, did I wake you up?"

"Yeah, what time is it?"

"It's about 12:00. I was getting worried. Mrs. Crane called me. She passed on what you had told Martha. Is Lucy there?"

Lois threw off the covers and padded over to her door and stuck her head out. Lucy was settled in front of the TV watching Justice League with a box of pop tarts.

"Yeah, Alisha, she's watching TV."

"Martha wants you to come to Smallville."

"I can't, Alisha. I need to stay with Lucy."

"Let me worry about Lucy. You are 17. In New Troy that means that if you leave your parents' home you are legally an adult and you can do what you want. Go to Smallville, Lois. You can finish high school there."

"I won't leave Lucy, and I don't want her fostered to anyone I don't know."

"Lois."

"No, Alisha. You said I'm an adult. And I'm deciding to stay here. I have to be here for Lucy."

"But, Lois—"

"Look, Alisha, I know you want to help. But…wait, mom's waking up. I'm going to take her in some coffee."

"Lois—"

"Bye, Alisha. I promise, we'll talk later." Lois hung up the phone and headed into her parent's…no, her mother's bedroom.

Ellen was in tears. "Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry. I'm a horrible mother. I don't deserve you. No wonder your father left me."

"Mother, you deserve just as much as anyone else. But drinking is something you do to yourself. It's not healthy, and you need to think of Lucy."

"Lucy, my little baby, so little…"

"Mother, do you want to do something good for Lucy?"

"Of course, I do. She's my baby."

"Then tell Alisha you want to sign her over to the Kents."

"What are you talking about?"

"It doesn't have to be forever, but Lucy needs a stable home. She can get that in Smallville."

"But she's my baby."

"Mother, you need to look at this reasonably. You're sick. You can't care for Lucy. And I shouldn't have to, either. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a dead-end job trying to make ends meet to pay the rent and take care of Lucy. I want to go to college."

"Right, pre-med."

"No, not- Mother, you're not focusing. Lucy, remember?"

***

Alisha came to the Lane's home that afternoon. Providentially, one of Lucy's friends had called her to come over and Lois agreed, anxious to get her out the door. Lois, Ellen, and Alisha sat in the kitchen where Lois placed some strong coffee in front of her mother as she said, "Alisha, help me convince her."

"Lois has a great idea, Ellen. Grant the Kents temporary custody until you can get back on your feet again."

"But she's my baby."

"Ellen, Ellen! Look at me. Do you love Lucy?" Alisha questioned.

"Yes, why are you yelling, my head is killing me."

"That's because you have a hangover, which is exactly the point. If you love Lucy, you don't want her to see you like this."

"No."

"Then give the Kents custody."

"I don't even know the Kents. Smallville sounds like some kind of cult mentality."

"What if the Kents came here and met you, Ellen?"

"I just don't know. What kind of mother am I if I give away my own child?"

"I happen to think that sometimes that is the best gift that a parent can give their children."

"You don't resent your parents?"

"No, I don't."

"And neither does Clark", chimed in Lois. "Clark thinks the Kents are the best thing that ever happened to him."

Ellen nodded, seeming deep in thought. "I'll think about it. I'm going to go lay down." Ellen placed her mug in the sink and left the room.

"Do you think she'll change her mind once the hangover wears off, Alisha?"

"I don't know Lois, but we can hope not. Your mom does love you, Lois. But addictions are a hard thing to overcome, whether it's drugs or gambling or sex or alcohol. We have to hope she'll do the right thing."

"Is it the right thing? What if Lucy doesn't understand? What if she does resent Mother?"

"Lucy loves Smallville. And she'll have a sister that can explain it to her."

***

Ellen had switched shifts so that she was off the next day to meet the Kents. Lois was very worried that her mother would refuse to consider letting Lucy go when she was sobered up. Except that she still wasn't completely sober when the Kents arrived. I guess that bottle in the closet wasn't just a memory, thought Lois.

"Mrs. Lane? Jonathan Kent. This is my wife, Martha, and our son, Clark."

"Clark, Lois, Alisha's taking me to the Fudge Castle, want to come?" spoke Lucy excitedly.

Clark glanced to Alisha, who nodded. "Sure, Lucy. Chocolate sounds like just the thing," Lois agreed.

"It is nice to finally meet you. My girls talk about their visit to Smallville all the time."

"That is what we're here to talk about, Mrs. Lane," spoke up Martha. "Lois called me—"

"Lois called to tell you that her mother is a lousy drunk. She's—"

"Lois called me because she was frightened for Lucy and for herself."

"I've always provided for the girls. My husband is worthless in that department."

"Lois knows that you have been a good provider, Mrs. Lane," said Jonathan. "We understand that it has been hard on you trying to raise two girls by yourself, and you have done an admirable job."

"Except when Sam leaves me and I fall apart. I was doing so well, too, and the girls, as well. It is just not fair that Sam left me to be with that floozy."

"We wondered if it might be less stressful for you if Lucy lived with us for a while. Just while you get your feet under you again," Martha said gently.

"Maybe I do need to concentrate on me right now."

"You could come to visit Lois and Lucy as often as you wanted. Or we can bring them to visit you," Martha offered.

"You see, Ellen. We are suffering from pre-empty nest syndrome. Clark will be heading off to Kansas City to get ready for college in just a few weeks. It's been 18 years since it was just Martha and I. We are going to rattle around in that old farmhouse," explained Jonathan.

"I'll talk to Alisha when they get back," Ellen agreed.

***

"Mrs. Lane, let me help you." Ellen was in her element as hostess and had offered everyone lemonade and was headed to the kitchen to fill some glasses.

"Why, Clark, thank you."

"I wondered if you might want to ask me anything. I guarantee my parents think the world of your daughters, and we know that you are a big part of their lives."

"Lois says that you don't resent your biological parents for giving you to the Kents."

"Not at all, Mrs. Lane. I admit, sometimes I wonder who they are, why I was …abandoned. But I couldn't imagine any better parents than the Kents."

"Do you think Lois and Lucy hate me?"

"No, Mrs. Lane. I know they don't. Lois has told me how proud she was of how you were doing."

"And then I blew it."

"We all face set backs in life, Mrs. Lane. But I believe that you have the strength inside you to push through this and come out the other side a better, stronger person. Adversity makes us stronger, and our experiences can be used to help others."

***

"It was nice to meet the Kents, Lois. They are just as nice as you had said."

"So does that mean you are willing to consider-?" Lois asked hopefully.

"I just don't see why I need to legally give the Kents custody."

"The Kents need medical power of attorney and the legal ability to make any decisions affecting Lucy. Smallville is far enough from Metropolis that there might not be time enough in an emergency to consult you," explained Alisha.

"If you get your lawyer to draw up papers giving the Kents limited custody, I will sign them," Ellen said, resignedly.

"Why don't we put a time limit on it? Lucy will start school in August and we don't want to pull her out during the year. Why don't we plan to re-evaluate the situation again next July? Until then, Lois and Lucy will live with the Kents in Smallville."

"I'm agreeable to that. Alisha, can you help me get back in that program again? I think I need to remember the things that I learned there that I have let slip away."

"I'll call them right away," said Alisha, squeezing Ellen's hand.

***

Alisha drove the Lanes to Smallville. The Kents had insisted that Ellen come and see where the girls would be living while she took some time for herself. Ellen took note that there were several pictures of her girls scattered among the many pictures of Clark on the walls in the house.

"Come see my room, Mom," said Lucy excitedly tugging on her hand. Lucy was thrilled to be back in Smallville. Alisha had explained that Ellen was going away for a while and that the Kents were going to take care of her until Ellen got back.

"It's a nice room, Lucy."

"The girls can sleep together in here, or, if she wants, Lois can take Clark's room after he leaves next month."

"I don't want to take Clark's room, Martha. He'll need it when he comes back to visit," Lois said quickly.

"I don't mind, Lois," Clark offered. "And there's a great desk in there for writing at. It looks out over the back pasture and you can see the waterfowl come in and land on the pond." But Lois knew that she would feel very uncomfortable invading Clark's room, even if spending time there would make her feel closer to him. She again pushed away those thoughts of Clark that sometimes crept back into her heart. Clark was the nicest guy ever and she was ungrateful to wish for more than friendship with him. Besides, anything more would be terribly awkward when they were living in the same house.

Lois hugged her mother as she and Alisha prepared to head back to Smallville. "I'm proud of you, Mother. This is the right thing to do."

***

The next few weeks Martha stayed busy trying to think of every possible thing that Clark would need. "I'm just in Kansas City, Mom. It's not the other side of the world. And I'm sure if I need extra sheets and towels, there is at least one store that I can purchase them at."

"Don't try to convince your mother, Clark. Her little bird is ready to fly the nest and make one of his own. She wants to make sure it is well padded. Meanwhile, I can use all the help from you I can get. I still want to get that section in the back pasture re-fenced before you leave."

Jonathan kept Clark pretty busy. Lois and Lucy tried to help out by doing some of the easier farm chores, putting out feed and collecting eggs, helping Martha in the kitchen and manning the booth at the Farmers Market. Lois wouldn't want to do this the rest of her life, although she knew that Martha and Jonathan really loved it, but she decided to enjoy it. This life would give her another perspective from which to look at things. It would make her a better writer. There was no way that she and Lucy could possibly replace Clark on the farm, but they did what they knew how to do and Martha and Jonathan let them know that they appreciated it.

Martha had told Lois to go get Jonathan and Clark from the barn. Jonathan was trying to get his favorite tractor running and couldn't hear Martha calling over the noise. Both men had their heads hung over the tractor engrossed in what they were looking at. "Thanks for all the help with the fencing, Clark. Sometimes I feel like I take too much advantage of you, but it would have taken me and three men all week to do what you got done yesterday."

"Come on, Dad. You and Mom have done so much for me. Most people would have just left me lying where I was, if they had the bravery to even look. If my strength gives me the opportunity to help you out, I am happy to do it."

"Speaking of, do you see anything I'm missing? Can you take a look in the gears?"

Clark pulled down his glasses. He must be nearsighted, though Lois. "No, I don't see anything, Dad. Try her again."

Lois interrupted, "Actually, you two grease monkeys, Martha wants you to come in for lunch."

Clark jumped, "Lois! I didn't hear you come in."

"That's because it is so noisy in here with that tractor running," Lois said.

There was something odd about that conversation, but she really couldn't put her finger on anything. Obviously, Jonathan was a little prone to exaggeration when it came to his son. Lois knew he was really proud of anything that Clark did.

***

Clark was all smiles as he drove away heading to Kansas City, the back of his pick-up filled with everything (and more) than he would need to make his dorm room home. Martha held tightly onto Lucy as she tried to hide her tears until Clark was gone. Jonathan came and put his arm around her. "Now, now, Martha."

"I'm not crying, Jonathan. I am so proud of our son, and I'm so happy that he has this opportunity, but he's been my baby for 18 years, the child we hoped and dreamed for and it is just so hard to watch him go out into the world."

"He'll be fine. He's Clark."

***

The workload was heavier on Jonathan and Martha, but they actually seemed to relish in staying busy. Clark had made Lois promise to tell him if they worked too hard. He could always come home on a weekend if they had a big project. He had called his parents and e-mailed to Lois that he was moved into his dorm and was getting to know other students on campus. He was planning to come home right before classes started to attend Alisha and Ben's wedding.

It was a beautiful wedding. Ben choked up a little on the vows, which endeared him to the hearts of women of all ages in Smallville. Alisha spoke her vows clearly with confidence. Lois knew that Alisha was very sure of her choice. Ben would never grace the cover of GQ, but he was generous, loving, and very supportive of Alisha's work. Now his brother Paul, who was standing up with him, might actually make it into GQ. Paul was not at all disappointed to be escorting Lois down the aisle. "They say, you know, that the best man gets first pick of all the bridesmaids."

"Really? I was told that the maid of honor gets the cutest groomsman. Unfortunately, I think he fell asleep on me." She glanced at Chelsea's youngest nephew who had been the ring bearer curled up on the church pew fast asleep. Paul laughed good-naturedly. "Since your first choice is asleep, I hope that means you'll be willing to dance with me at the reception?"

"I'll look forward to it."

Lois and Paul joined the happy couple out on the dance floor on the second dance. Then they split up to begin pulling others from the crowd to join them. Lois pulled Jonathan onto the dance floor as he complained that he only knew how to two-step. Still he managed not to step on her toes. Clark joined them, dancing with Martha. On the next dance, Jonathan took Martha in his arms. Lois could see that Jonathan could dance just fine. She and Clark headed back to the table for a breather. Clark smiled fondly at his parents before turning to Lois, who was also watching the Kents. "What?"

Lois glanced at him, before looking back at the couple. "Do you think that you and I will ever find someone to love like that?"

"I'm sure you will, Lois. I mean, look at Alisha and Ben. I think that they'll be really happy together."

"What about you, Clark?"

"Oh, by the time I've traveled the world, I'll probably be so old and travel worn nobody will look twice at me." Lois laughed, picturing Clark as a bent over old man with a backpack weighing him down as he struggled to climb a mountain.

"Or maybe you'll find some exotic princess on your travels and decide to stay."

Jonathan claimed Lucy for a dance, and Paul came over and extended his hand to Lois, "Unless you and Clark?" he asked glancing from her to Clark.

"No, go ahead. I think I'll go see if I can get a dance with the bride," Clark assured him.

"So, you're from Metropolis, right?"

"I guess. Smallville's home too, though. I'm hoping to go to Met. U. when I graduate."

"I'm starting there next week. Hey, we'll have to hook up when you get there. I'll know my way around by then and I can show where the best hangouts are."

"That would be great." She smiled over Paul's shoulder at Martha as Martha kept an eye on Jonathan and Lucy and Lois and Paul. Clark was standing behind his mother with his hand resting on her shoulder. Paul twirled her around and dipped her suddenly. Lois laughed as Paul brought her back up to a standing position in time to see another guest stumble into the cake table. Clark stepped forward and placed a steadying hand on the side of the table and the crowd breathed a sigh of relief as the table settled firmly on four legs without toppling the cake. Hadn't he just been standing by Martha, though? She knew he had before Paul dipped her. As the song finished, she saw Martha pull Clark into the hall, and she did not look pleased. Lois excused herself to go see what was wrong. Before she rounded the corner of the hallway, she heard Martha hiss, "Clark, that was very foolish!"

"Mom, I couldn't let Alisha's cake get ruined! They hadn't even cut it yet."

"You'd risk your secret for a cake! Clark, you need to be careful, especially now that you aren't living in Smallville anymore. I doubt Kansas City will be as accepting of your explanations for how you happened to be at the "right place at the right time" as the people of Smallville are. I know you're an adult now, and you are old enough to think for yourself, but you are still my son, and I'm scared for you."

"Mom, no one is going to dissect me. I haven't even been able to hurt myself since I was 15."

"I'm not worried about anyone dissecting you. I'm worried about what people would try to make you do, if they knew about your abilities."

"No one's going to find out, Mom. I'm always careful. Just now, no one saw anything. They were all focused on the cake."

"Just, please, be careful, son. For your old mom."

"You're not old, Mom. Now come dance with me."

Lois shot down the hall, hoping to make it back into the reception before Clark finished hugging his mother and turned the corner. What secret? Dissection!? And what abilities was Martha referring to? Was there more to Clark Kent than "what you see is what you get"?

The more formal dancing was over. Alisha wanted to have some country dancing at her wedding, and Lois helped Alisha change into a white calico dress and remove the veil, leaving only the tiara in her hair. Her full length wedding gown would be too much to work around with the lively steps of a country dance. Martha had presented Lois with a burgundy calico dress and some cowboy boots. Lois had wrinkled her nose at them, but Martha laughed and insisted. "We'll show you how we dance in Smallville, Lois."

The room erupted in whoops when they returned. Ties were loosened or even cast aside. Ladies took off their heels and joined the men in forming a line. Clark grabbed Lois' hand. "Here, let me teach you. It's really easy." Clark was patient as she tried to copy his moves. By the end of the first song, she was finding some rhythm. "Remember the last time we danced together?"

"Sure, it was at your prom. You ran out on me."

"Oops. I'd forgotten about that or I wouldn't have brought it up. I was just going to say that I really enjoyed going to the prom with you. I keep our picture in my wallet. I'm sorry we didn't get to spend the whole evening together."

"It turned out to be a good thing, for both Rachel and Pete. I didn't really mind, and I got to know Rachel a little. She is really nice."

"Pete's nice, too. We were best friends, once a long time ago."

"Really? What happened?"

"Life. Changes. By the time we started high school, he had a different set of friends. Pete played basketball. I played football. Pete dated the class president. I dated Lana—"

"and got dumped…twice!"

"Don't remind me. But Lana's a good person and she was always a good friend to me. Like you are, Lois."

"Me?"

"Yeah. You're a good friend. You and Lucy are part of my family now. I hope you'll keep e-mailing me."

"Of course I will. But you're probably going to be too busy with school and activities to have much time for e-mailing."

"I will make time for my friends."

"Speaking of Lana, I don't see her."

"Didn't you hear? Lana's decided at the last minute to attend K. State instead of Met U. She's busy moving in this weekend."

"Did the football player dump her?"

Clark laughed, "Actually, he did. I doubt that had anything to do with it, though. She probably just decided she wanted to be closer to Smallville." Or closer to Clark, thought Lois. Clark is so na´ve.

***

<Guess what, Clark? Lois typed. I am the editor of the Smallville Scholar. I can't believe it. I'd been helping out in the Scholar office, and the principal asked me to be editor! I know some of the others have worked there in prior years. But he said that the English teacher had been impressed with my papers and recommended me.>

<That's scary. Lois Lane with authority over the printed word.>

<It's just a school newspaper, Clark, but it is a start. How's school going for you?>

<Great! The work is harder than high school, naturally, but I really like the challenge. I love learning from professors who've been out there, you know "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" and hearing them talk about their careers. I miss Smallville though. It'll probably be a month or so before I can come for a visit. I've got to study for my mid-terms and get them over with. Midterms are the pits because you're just starting to get a hang of what the professors are looking for.>

<But you think you can come home after midterms?>

<For a weekend. So tell Mom and Dad to save up some work for me. They're doing okay?>

<They're fine. This is Smallville, Clark! If someone needs help, he's got 10 neighbors anxious to return a favor. I even tried to help your mom can the fall vegetables.>

<Tried?>

<Let's just say I'm sure it has been many years since your mom had to clean green beans off the ceiling in her kitchen!>

<At least it wasn't tomato sauce!>

<Oh, that would have been a mess.>

<Hey, gotta go. Some of the guys just came in and want to get a touch football game together. Talk to you later.>

***

As Lois and Lucy climbed the steps of the farmhouse after the bus dropped them off, they could hear voices coming from the kitchen.

"I flew! I mean, I've floated before, but—"

"I don't understand, Clark. You could have been genetically enhanced to be stronger and faster, but flight?"

Lucy bounded into the house, letting the screen door close behind her with a bang.

"Clark!" she cried, running into his arms.

"Hey, Lucy. Goodness, what is Mom feeding you? You're getting big."

Lois entered the house. "Clark! It's so great to see you. I thought you said you wouldn't be able to get away before mid-terms?"

"Lois," said Martha, "is the bus early, or have I lost track of that much time?"

"It was a half-day today. Teacher conference."

"That's right. I'd forgotten."

Lois turned to Clark, "I didn't see your truck. How'd you get here?"

"I took the bus—"

"I picked him up-" said Clark and Jonathan simultaneously.

"—at the bus station," finished Martha.

"Right. At the bus station to surprise Martha," agreed Jonathan.

Lucy laughed, "Were you surprised, Martha?"

"I sure was! Clark scared me to death, sneaking up behind me while I was making lunch for Jonathan. Speaking of lunch, Lois, can you finish up those tuna sandwiches? I need to sit down for minute."

"Sure, Martha. I'm going to add in some more tuna and mayo since your guest list just jumped from 2 to 5. So, you rode the bus in, Clark. I thought you guys were saying something about flying when we came in. I wondered if you mailed yourself home and came in with the mail to the Smallville Post Office."

Lucy giggled, "Clark wouldn't fit in a letter, Lois."

"Well, some of him might stick out, that's for sure."

***

Lois had trouble falling to sleep that night. If Clark had come by bus, why had he been talking about flying? And wasn't it odd that he did not bring a thing with him? Yes, he had left some clothes in Smallville, and there was sure to be a spare toothbrush lying around, and she supposed he could borrow Jonathan's razor and aftershave, but it seemed terribly inconvenient when he could have packed an overnight bag more easily. And he had specifically said that he could not come home before mid-terms. She finally pushed the thoughts from her mind. The Kents had been more than generous to her and Lucy. She felt very guilty for even wondering about some of the unexplained things that happened in the Kent home.

***

Martha fixed a huge breakfast with pancakes and steak and eggs. Clark ate more than his fair share. "Mom, I missed your cooking so much. Half the time I just grab something and go."

"Clark, you need to make sure you eat right. And breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Martha scolded.

"I will. Dad, can you, uh, drive me back the bus station after breakfast?"

"Clark," said Lucy, "you just got here. Do you have to leave already?"

"No, problem, Clark, I'd be happy to," Jonathan answered.

"Hardly seems like the time spent on the bus was worth it. Or the money for the ticket," Lois said.

Clark hugged all those around the table that he could reach. "Of course it was. I got to see my family. That will do me better than hours of studying."

"Can I come with you, Jonathan?" asked Lucy.

"Lucy, I need you to stay home and watch that calf that was born the other day. He lets himself get too hungry because he gets busy playing and forgets to eat, and then he gets all silly trying to nurse because he's hungry," Jonathan let Lucy down easily.

"I'll make sure he eats his breakfast," Lucy assured.

Lois didn't ask to accompany Clark and Jonathan to the bus station. Jonathan seemed to want to spend some time alone with his son. "Martha, why don't you go with Clark and Jonathan, and I'll get this cleaned up."

"Why, thank you, Lois. I think I will."

***

Clark did come home after midterms and for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was great to see him and the house rang with joy and laughter. Clark drove Lucy and Lois to Metropolis to see Ellen so that the Lanes could celebrate Christmas together. They dropped by to see Alisha and Ben, who had stayed in Metropolis over the holiday because Paul was spending the break with them. "Don't forget to look me up next year, Lois," Paul reminded her. "Met. U. is a great school, and there is so much to do. There's a waiting list to work on the school newspaper, but I should get in this fall. Next fall at the latest. I'll introduce you to all the journalism students, so you know who to hang with so you can get in even quicker. Alisha said you're the editor for the Smallville Scholar. That will help, too. We'll have great fun."

"I'd love that, Paul. I appreciate it. My friend, Linda, is starting there this fall- we're the same age, but she's a year ahead of me- but you'll have been there longer and I'm sure I'll need all the help that I can get."

***

Lois went to the prom with Pete Ross' younger bother, Joe. She had thought about asking Clark, but she knew that coming home took time out of Clark's studies and bus fare cost money, so when Joe asked her she said yes. He worked on the Smallville Scholar with her, and she knew he was a nice guy. Ellen had sent money so that Lois could buy the best dress that Smallville couture had to offer. The prom went smoothly and Lois noted that the punch did not get spiked this year.

Lois traveled to Metropolis to see Linda graduate and spend some time with her mother. Ellen had gone to the treatment center and she now faithfully attended AA meetings and met with a counselor. She was beginning to see that she couldn't let Sam's rejection make her feel unworthy, and that she should not feel guilty about letting Lois and Lucy stay with the Kents. She was now working as a nurse in the treatment center, which constantly kept her in an environment where she was encouraged to avoid alcohol and she could see the affects that it had on alcoholics and their families.

"But, I'm still weak, Lois. I come home at night to this empty house and I am still tempted. I know that may lessen with time, but I have decided to let Lucy stay with the Kents at least another year. She seems to be doing really well in school and I don't want to disrupt that, especially when I'm still not sure I can stay strong."

"Oh, Mom. I'm so happy with the progress you've made."

"I am too. I guess I'll always feel a little guilty and a little jealous, too, that Martha Kent is raising my children, but I am thankful that she is such a good role model for you girls."

"Do you want me to come back to Metropolis?"

"No, Lois. Stay in Smallville with your sister. At least with you around to remind her, I know she won't forget me."

"She won't forget you, Mom. We have pictures of you and Dad in our room and some nights Lucy and I lay there and talk about things we used to do when we lived here. We had good times, Mom, lots of good times and those are the times that I remember. And when I get home, I'm going to tell her how you are helping other sick people. I know she will be as proud of you as I am."

Ellen pulled Lois in for a jug, "Thank you, Lois. I'm so blessed to have a daughter like you."

***

"Lois! It's Alisha."

"Alisha, how you doing?"

"I'm great! I had to call you before my mom tells all of Smallville and you hear it from someone else. I'm pregnant!"

"Alisha, that's great."

"It gets better. Mr. Gramm retired last year—"

"Dry old Mr. Gramm."

"— and Ben has been hired to replace him! And they decided that Smallville schools are getting large enough that they need a part-time counselor in addition to the one that they have, so I have a job too. We're coming home to Smallville, Lois!"

"So you can raise your family in Smallville, like you always wanted. That's wonderful. So when are you due?"

Alisha laughed. "In 36 weeks. We have been hoping to move to Smallville since Ben applied last spring. Once we were pretty sure he was getting hired, well, and then I just couldn't wait to tell everyone."

"Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to tell the Kents before your mom gets to Maisie's."

***

Lois achieved her goal of a summer internship at the Daily Planet.

<I'm mostly a gopher, she e-mailed to Clark, but I just love the bustle of the newsroom. The editor, Perry White, barks orders and people jump, but he's as harmless as a teddy bear. Actually, he would probably appreciate the description, as long as it was put to Elvis' "Won't you be my Teddy Bear?" He is an Elvis fanatic, Clark. He has this clock in his office, and the clock hands are Elvis' legs. And the stories he tells, I swear he must make half of them up. We call him "The Colonel" behind his back. He likes his coffee black and strong- no decaf or it's going to go in the trash- and his donuts sweet. The horn on his golf cart broke, and guess who got to fix it? I don't know how he figured out it was broken. He never has time to play golf.>

***

Lois' senior year flew by. She was again editor of the Smallville Scholar and she was part of the homecoming and prom committees. She had excused herself to anyone asking to escort her by explaining that she was too busy with the organizing. She didn't want her mom to feel like she needed to send money for a dress. Lois planned to wear what she had worn when she went to Clark's senior prom two years ago. She was busy checking that everything was going smoothly when someone covered her eyes with their hands. "Guess who?" a familiar voice asked.

"Clark!" she exclaimed giving him a hug. "What are you doing here?"

"I decided to come myself and make sure you had fun at your senior prom. So quit organizing and dance with me. I still owe you an uninterrupted dance you know."

They danced to two songs. It was the perfect end to the prom. Lois knew that she had done a good job and her fellow students had enjoyed themselves. And it was always wonderful to be held in Clark Kent's arms. She still felt some of the attraction to him that she always had, but after five years, it was obvious that Clark was oblivious to her feelings and Lois wasn't sure how to change that. If she showed Clark how she felt and he rejected her, would it make life awkward in the Kent household? It would be better to try to change the way she felt, she decided.

***

Clark and Ellen Lane both came to Smallville for graduation. Lois was valedictorian, and she had been working for weeks on her closing speech for the graduation. The Kent family waited anxiously as the graduates went one by one to receive their diplomas. "George Kunce…Sherri Lammers…Lois Lane-Kent…" Martha gasped as tears filled her eyes. "Did you know about this, Ellen?"

"Yes, Lois asked and I told her it was her last name and she should do what she wanted."

"Two years ago, another Smallville High graduate stood in this spot and told you that the class would go out into the world and be stronger for having grown up in this community. I certainly know how he felt. Actually, I know exactly what he felt. Both Clark and I were not born in Smallville, but the Kents took us into their home and you took us into your hearts. I don't know what the future holds for this graduating class, but know that their bodies are strong, from the hard work and the good food that is put out on a regular basis. Their minds are strong from a good education and the support of this community. And their hearts are strong. I challenge you, the class of 1999, to take what you have here and share it. Whether you are staying in Smallville, or seeking your future elsewhere, the spirit of Smallville will go with you. Use it to make a difference, no matter how big or how small."

Martha let Ellen kiss and hug her newly graduated daughter before pulling Lois into her arms, "When did you do this?"

Lois laughed, "Actually, I've been Lois Lane-Kent for a month now. Mom said that it didn't bother her. I checked with Clark to see if he thought it would bother you guys. I could have asked you, but I really wanted to surprise you. Clark helped me figure out what I needed to do legally and I drove over to the next county to get the paperwork filled out and my license changed. I knew if I changed it in Smallville, everyone would know about it within the hour! Are you happy?"

"I'm thrilled! Jonathan?"

"I'm speechless. What made you decide to do this?" Jonathan asked.

"I want both of my families to always be a part of me. Now every time I see my name in print, I'll remember who I was and who I am now. I'm really not just Lois Lane any more. Too much Smallville has rubbed off on me."

"Oh, Lois that is so sweet," said Martha giving her another squeeze.

***

Later that evening Lois joined Martha on the porch where she had been resting after feeding her family and cleaning up.

"You're not upset are you?"

"Of course not. I'm so proud of you. I think of you as my daughter anyway."

"You do?"

"Yes. In fact, I didn't know about the name change, but I had already had this cleaned and wrapped for you." She handed Lois a small, flat package. "Open it."

Lois opened the package carefully and lifted the lid. "Oh, Martha." Her voice trembled.

Martha lifted the pearls from the velvet and fastened them around Lois' neck. "These were my mothers. Her mother gave them to her on her wedding day. I wore them when I married Jonathan."

Lois moved to remove the necklace. "Martha, they're lovely, but I can't take them. You should save these for Clark's wife."

Martha stilled her hands. "Lois, my mom wanted them to go to my daughter. You may not be the child of my loins, but you are the child of my heart just like Clark is. You've probably read the poem about how adopted children are not their parents' by birth, but by choice. That's how I feel about Clark and you and Lucy. I thought I could never be happier than the day Clark came into our lives and I became a mother, but having you and Lucy has made me feel even more fulfilled."

"If you're sure, but if you change your mind…"

"If it makes you feel better, you can always loan them to Clark's wife on their wedding day."

"I will, Martha. They can be her something old." Lois' heart twinged thinking of some woman marrying Clark. Please, don't let it be Lana, she thought.

***

Lois and Ellen both started college at Met. U that fall. Ellen was going to add some business and psychology to her nursing degree. She seemed to have found a real purpose working in the treatment center and she wanted to move into a management position. "I've loved nursing for 20 years, but I'm not as young as I used to be and I want to help people in a different way. Maybe sharing my experiences will be helpful to someone else."

***

Lois ran into Paul when she stopped by to see if she would work on the college newspaper. No openings for freshmen, but her credentials looked good, so she should try again next year.

"I warned you," said Paul. "They're heartless."

"You did. I didn't really expect to get accepted, but I was hoping."

"Hey, it's your first year. You need to relax and enjoy it. Besides, I remember telling you I knew all the best places to hang out. Let's go get a coffee."

***

After that, Lois spent a good deal of her free time with Paul. She enjoyed hanging out with him and his friends and hearing about their plans for the future. She remembered when she was afraid to even dream about attending college and now she couldn't wait to be finished and out there joining the workforce. The months at the Daily Planet had shown her that reporting was in her blood. She had no doubt what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Paul and Lois went to the games and cheered the Metropolis Tigers to victory. They attended lectures together. After several weeks, Paul started asking her to attend off-campus events with him. It was after one of these nights that Paul gave Lois her first "real" kiss, as he left her at the door of the Lane's home. After he left, Lois leaned against the door, touching her lips. She had enjoyed the feel of Paul's lips on hers. It was chaste, as far as kisses go, but a lot more than a friendly peck on the lips.

From that night, what had been a fairly casual relationship became more intimate. They spent a lot of time holding hands and sharing quick kisses during school activities, and their off-campus dates were becoming more romantic. And Lois learned to respond to Paul's kisses, wanting to share with him the feelings she experienced as his lips caressed hers.

The break of the holidays cooled their relationship a little. Paul flew home to be with his family, and Lois and Ellen traveled to Smallville to spend Christmas with Lucy and the Kents. They stopped in Kansas City on the way to pick up Clark. He and Lois spent the rest of the trip comparing their respective colleges and classes schedules.

***

"So, what's this I hear about you and my brother-in-law, Lois?" Alisha teased. As Smallville tradition dictated, the town was gathered in the church for the Christmas Eve service.

Lois blushed. "We're dating. It's not that serious, Alisha," she paused tantalizingly, "- yet."

"Yet! But you think-."

"I think there could be something there. But, Alisha, I don't want to push it. I still have three and a half years of college and I'll need to get established in my career at a paper and Paul is going to be busy doing the same thing. But I do enjoy being with him. We're just taking it slow."

"Still, it would be cool if we were really sisters one day."

***

School had been back in session for a week before Paul called her to ask her about attending a basketball game with him. He held out his hand to her when they met in front of the arena and she took it eagerly, lacing her fingers through his. By then end of the evening, she felt like they were back where they had been in November. She agreed to attend a play with him off campus the next Friday.

His kiss when he delivered her to her door that Friday held more passion than any of their other kisses to date. Lois hesitated when she felt the tip of Paul's tongue at her lips, but she parted her lips with a sigh and allowed him entrance. In that moment she didn't care about the future. Being here in Paul's arms was exhilarating and her conscious thoughts were a little muddled. Almost before she was ready, Paul separated them with a groan.

"I need to stop before your mother comes out here and throws cold water on us." Lois giggled and gave him a swift peck before unlocking the door and going in.

***

Lois spent hours getting ready for her Valentine's Day date with Paul. She had already had a manicure and pedicure the day before and she now filled the tub with warm water and added some bubbles. She sighed as she slid down into the warmth and let the water caress her body. It was almost…erotic. She had purchased the perfect dress for the evening. It was a deep red strapless, fitted dress with a short jacket to keep the February evening chill at bay. She was so excited to be spending her first Valentine's Day with a real boyfriend. The chocolate and red roses that had already arrived at her home told her that Paul was going all out. He hadn't mentioned exactly where they were going, but he told her that he had reservations to a very nice restaurant. When the water cooled, she dried herself with a towel and then began to rub in the scented lotion that she had chosen especially for this evening. As she ran her hands over her body, she felt an unfamiliar thrill run through her. She flushed as she realized that she was becoming aroused, which had more to do with the anticipation of the romantic evening ahead than anything she was doing. She stilled her wandering hands and plugged in the blow dryer to start preparing her wet hair for the French roll that she had perfected after days of working at it.

An hour later Lois met her carefully shadowed eyes in the mirror as she fastened Martha's pearls around her neck. Everything was going perfectly. She applied her make up slowly, enjoying the chance to take all the time she wanted rather than hurrying to beat the clock to make it to class on time. Speaking of time, Lois glanced at the clock she had been avoiding. Well, she had plenty of time, but she should begin dressing if she wanted to be ready when Paul arrived. Victoria's Secret had provided her with the undergarments she needed for the red dress. It was far more "adult" than anything that she had ever worn in Smallville, though the short jacket gave an air of modesty to the ensemble.

The look in Paul's eyes when he saw her told her that she had chosen well. He greeted her with a kiss that was just the right preamble to the evening. When they parted, he handed Lois a florist box. "I know I already sent you roses, but your mom said that this would look great with your dress." Lois exclaimed over the wrist corsage as she slipped it onto her arm. Paul turned and offered her his arm. "Shall we go?"

Chez Louie was everything that Lois had heard. The room was full of other couples but the candlelit table for two in the back of the restaurant was very intimate and the low light in the restaurant made them forget the other couples. Only the faint clink of glasses and muted laughter occasionally made it through to their table. Lois didn't have any idea what they talked about. The meal finished with Paul and Lois slowly feeding each other chocolate cheesecake with raspberry drizzle. The waiter collected the check and Paul's credit card and left the table. Paul reached across the table and took Lois' hand in his.

"Lois. I don't want this night to end."

"Mmm. Neither do I," she said dreamily.

"So come back to my apartment. My roommate is staying at his girlfriend's tonight."

Lois' eyes flew to meet Paul's. She saw a spark of desire in them and knew that Paul wasn't asking her over to talk. The curl of desire that she had been aware of all evening washed over her and she nodded. "Okay."

Lois had been to Paul's apartment many times to study or watch TV, but the whole atmosphere was different tonight. Paul took her coat from her and hung it up by the door as she entered.

"Just a second." He hurried into the living area and she heard the sound of a match striking and candlelight flickered around the apartment. Paul turned to her and said, "One more thing." In the kitchen he produced a box of chocolate covered strawberries out of the fridge.

"Ooh, I love those," cooed Lois. Paul took her hand and led her to the sofa.

"Then you should try one." He extended a strawberry to her and her lips closed around it. She laughed as juice dribbled down her chin and she caught it with her hand. "Another?" Lois nodded.

Lois closed her eyes as Paul placed another strawberry at her lips and she accepted it. She felt Paul's lips touch hers as he took the other half of the strawberry from her lips. The curl of desire in her abdomen tightened. She opened her eyes and met his.

"More, please." The small box of strawberries didn't last long. Lois laughed as Paul's tongue chased the last of the juice down her chin to her throat. The mood became even more intimate as his mouth strayed on her neck and his tongue touched to her pulse. Lois' arms around Paul's neck began to play with the hair that curled at his collar. Paul's own hand, that had been resting on her waist, began to move upwards to slip the short jacket from her shoulders. Lois released him to shed the jacket before moving even closer to him and returning her mouth to his. Paul's hands caressed her shoulders and back. Lois shivered as one finger began to trace the line of her dress where it rested on her breast. When Paul's hand moved to cover her entire breast a few minutes later a soft moan escaped her and Paul chuckled. Paul's other hand moved from her back to her neck where he began to play with her pearls. Suddenly through Lois' befuddled brain came Martha's words to her, "You never forget your first time or who you were with, so you need to be sure he's the one you want to remember the rest of your life." And Rachel's small-town way of putting it, "that guy's face in my head the rest of my life. Lois' hand went to his on her breast and she moved it back down to her waist. Despite the way her body was responding to his touch, Lois' doubts persisted. Was Paul the one? Paul's hand had once again drifted to her breast and his mouth left hers to caress her shoulder. Lois placed her hand between them and lightly pushed him away. "Paul—"

Paul's motion stopped and he looked into her eyes. "Paul, I'm sorry, I'm just not sure about this."

Paul reached to take both of her hand in his. "Lois, are you a virgin?" Lois blushed as she nodded. "Yes."

"I thought you might be. Either that or you are very, very shy, but you have spent the last two years in Podunkville. Lois, I really care about you. I'll be gentle, I promise."

"You only have one first time, Paul. As much as I care for you—"

"I care about you too, Lois."

"—I don't love you. At least not yet. But I think I could. I'm just not ready to take this step without there being more than physical attraction and "like" between us."

Paul sighed and dropped her hands as he turned from her. "Lois, I've been very patient with you because I didn't want to ruin our friendship, but I have been sexually active since I was a teenager, and I'm not saying this to pressure you, but I don't want to wait any longer. I need more from a relationship. Did you…misunderstand my meaning when I invited you over tonight? I thought I had made it pretty clear."

"You did. And I thought I did…I'm sorry, I guess I led you on."

Paul chuckled, "Yeah, you did a little. That dress…"

Lois blushed. "I just wanted to look nice for you."

"You did. You do. Especially right now, when you look thoroughly kissed."

"I'm so sorry."

"So am I. Believe me. Well, I guess I should take you home." He helped her with her coat and out the door.

***

His kiss at her door was more of a quick peck. "Look, I'll call you sometime and we'll go to a game or something."

"Okay," Lois whispered, before turning to go into the house.

Surprisingly, Paul did call and ask her to go to a game with him, but there was no hand holding and their interaction was strained and awkward. Lois was not surprised when he didn't call about the next game or school activity. Apparently sex, or the lack thereof, could ruin a perfectly good relationship. And she had enjoyed being with Paul. She had enjoyed kissing him. Though it had not gone "that" far, he was still her first in a lot of ways, and she only regretted that the relationship happened too early in their lives. Perhaps if he had been graduated and she was near the end of her studies…

Still, she knew she had done the right thing when she bumped into her friend, Linda King, during finals. "Lois! Long time no see. How is that two people can attend the same school and hardly ever bump into each other?"

"It's great to see you! How are you finals going?"

"Oh, so-so. Guess what? I'm seeing someone."

"Really? Who?"

"His name's Paul. Actually, I think you know him. He said you guys used to hang out last fall."

"Yes, we did. He's a great guy."

"Well, anyway. We both have jobs in Metropolis for the summer. My lease was a nine-month one and runs out the end of this month, so we're planning to move into together then. It's not really serious, we both want to get established in our careers before we settle down, but it'll be like roommates with benefits. We usually end up spending the night at one or the other of our places anyway."

"That's…nice."

"It works for us. Are you dating any one right now?"

"No, no. I decided that I should concentrate on my studies. There is a lot of competition in our field, especially for jobs in Metropolis, which is where I'd like to work after school, hopefully at the Daily Planet. If I'm aiming that high, I really need to keep my grades up and maybe try to get a few stories published."

"Sounds like a good plan, and you can play the field while you're at it. Lots of cute guys not really looking to get serious yet that'll be happy to escort you to school activities. Hey, what are you doing this summer?"

"I was hoping to get on at the Daily Planet again, but I was told that the only temporary positions were for high school students to intern as it is their way of attracting young people to journalism. Nothing else there seemed to open up, so I applied at a couple of other papers, and I was accepted for a job at the Wichita Eagle filling in as the regular reporters take their summer vacations. It will be varied as I'll jump from section to section, depending on who is out that week, but maybe I'll find out exactly what area of journalism I want to get into."

"That's great. I'll be at the Star, in more of a "gopher" role than anything. It's not the Planet, but it's still a good paper. Well, nice seeing 'ya. Good luck on the rest of your exams."

If the relationship that Linda had described was what Paul was looking for, Lois should feel better about the fact that she had held out for something more. And she did, but she also missed the having an escort to activities, the handholding, and Paul's beautiful kisses.

***

Clark graduated from Kansas State as Lois was finishing her sophomore year at Metropolis University. Clark graduated in the top of his class and he was anxious to follow up on his plans to travel the world. Clark planned to write about the things he saw and sell the articles to any paper that would buy them to build a portfolio that would hopefully, when he was done traveling, land him a job as something more than bottom man on the ladder at a decent paper. Clark's travels disrupted his and Lois' e-mail relationship, but he was great at sending postcards when he was in a town where he could mail something. Clark wasn't sticking to the typical tourist spots, he wanted to really travel the countries and write about things that readers may have never heard about.

Ellen finished her masters in health administration and was promoted within the treatment center. She asked Lucy if she would like to come back to Metropolis and live with her and Lois. Ellen had made Lois promise to keep her accountable and to help her look out for Lucy. "I missed most of your teenage years, Lois, so I've never really reared a teenager. You'll have more experience than I in knowing what to watch out for. And we may have to beat the guys off with a stick. Lucy's not a little girl anymore and she's getting to be quite attractive." Lois and Lucy agreed and they were all happy to have the Lane family back together in their Metropolis home. Jonathan and Martha's "nest" was truly empty now, but they promised that their door would always be open if any of their three children were passing through Smallville.

Lois interned the summer before Lucy's return to Smallville at the Kansas City Dispatch., reporting in the entertainment section. It gave her the opportunity to improve her writing, but she didn't think that she would want to permanently settle into a position as an entertainment reporter.

Martha reported that Clark was currently in Africa. He wrote excitedly about the time that he spent with some of the more primitive tribes.

<It's like being transported back in time! There is so little what we Americans would call technology, but they have technology all their own. They have developed their own tools to improve their lives. They would seem so primitive by our standards, but they are a big advancement to them. And my farm experience came in handy. Livestock are scarce, and one of the cows had a breech presentation. The villagers were real impressed that I knew how to turn the calf and get it out. The milk from that cow would greatly improve the life of the children in the village, and I am so thankful that I was able to help. They have so little, but they always are ready with a smile and a desire to share what they have. I was glad to get back to civilization and a real shower though.>

Lois' articles were often published in the college newspaper during her junior year. She was distinguishing herself in her class and her professors encouraged her that she had real talent. Jonathan and Martha were delighted to share their home with her the summer before her last year when she accepted a temporary post as co-editor of the Smallville Post when the editor was forced to take the summer off for major heart surgery. Lois knew that the spot had originally been offered to Clark, but she was not offended to be second choice. Her co-editor had been with the Post for years and she knew that she would learn a lot about the internal workings of a paper under his instruction. The experience got her promoted to assistant editor of the weekend edition of the Met. U. paper when she returned to school in the fall. It was an unspoken rule that all editorial positions went to graduate students, so she knew that it was a great honor to be chosen to fill that role.

Clark sent her several postcards from different locations in Europe. He was visiting different villages in the Alps and talking to people about their lives, hopes and dreams. A few of his articles made it into some US papers and magazines and Martha proudly sent Lois copies of the clippings Clark had mailed to her. She was glad to see that Clark's plan to gain writing experience was working and, although his style of writing was much more touchy-feely than her own, the articles were well written and thought provoking.

Lois worked especially hard her senior year to get good grades in her classes and she was rewarded with the honor of graduating number one in her class. This, too, would be of great help in getting a good position at a paper.

Met. U. was such a large school that she was only allowed five guests at her graduation. It irked her that her absent father had contacted her to tell her that he planned to attend, meaning that one of the Kents would be left out. Clark was flying home especially to attend her graduation, but when Lois painfully explained the situation, he volunteered to forego the graduation and be at the Metropolis High School gym waiting for her arrival after the graduation. Ellen and Martha had arranged a reception so that Lois' friends and family would have the opportunity to congratulate her.

Norcross and Judd had agreed to return to Metropolis to be the guests of honor at the graduation and to talk about the highlights of their careers as city reporters for the Daily Planet. As she listened to their presentation, she wished for a moment that she had refused to give up Clark's seat to her father. Clark certainly had more right to be there and he would have benefited from and enjoyed the opportunity much more than her father, who she had noticed glancing at his watch more than once. Still, her father had rarely made any effort to support her financially or emotionally, and despite his disapproval of her career choice, he had taken time to come to her graduation. When they arrived at the Met. High gymnasium, he surprised her even more. In front of the lighted gym was a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee with a humongous red bow draped over it. Her father dangled the key in front of her, "Want to take it for a test drive?"

"Dad! This is such a surprise. I never expected…"

"Well my check for my "Abs in a Bottle" formula arrived last week and the first thing I thought of was that my princess needed a graduation gift."

"But, Dad, it's so expensive."

Sam Lane hung his head and said awkwardly, "It's not nearly enough, Lois. I've been a horrible husband and father, and don't expect that to change, but maybe when you drive this car, you will at least know that in my own way I love you and I'm really proud of you."

Tears pricked Lois eyes, "Oh, Daddy—"

"Don't try to say it's okay, Lois. Just say thank you and enjoy it."

"Well, thank you."

"This thing is fully loaded, princess. It has every bell and whistle they offered. It should come in handy while you're traveling around investigating stories."

The silver jeep would stick out like a sore thumb, but she didn't want to hurt her father's feelings.

"Oh, Lois! Look at the license plates!" Lucy exclaimed.

Her father had vanity plates with the letters "LL" installed on the vehicle. Lois couldn't suppress a groan.

"Dad, if you want me to use this on stakeouts, the calling card license plates were probably not a good idea." Of course, the fact that she signed her initials LLK would also create some confusion. Oh well, he had tried hard and she appreciated it.

"Come on, Lois, you and Sam can take it for spin later. Right now you have a lot of people waiting for you in that gym to congratulate you," Ellen said, trying to keep the note of disapproval from her voice. How could Sam Lane think that a fancy car and a pretty speech could possibly make up for the years that he had neglected his daughter? Yet, she couldn't really say that she was sorry. She was such a weak person when she was with Sam and she knew that she and her two daughters were stronger people due to the struggles they had overcome.

Indeed there were a few people waiting in the gym! Apparently, many Smallville residents had chipped in on gas and rode one of the aging yellow school buses all the way to Metropolis. Lois' tears fell as she began to hug the people that greeted her. A glowingly pregnant Alisha, Ben, their young son, Maisie, the Irigs, her co-workers from the Smallville Post, some of her former classmates…and a grinning Clark standing at the back of the crowd waiting for his opportunity to congratulate Lois. As he neared, she flung her arms around him.

"Clark! It has been two whole years since I've seen your face, though I have enjoyed the cards. You're just as good looking as always, and," squeezing him again, " you are looking very buff." Clark grinned happily, returning her hug.

"It's good to be back in the US of A, even if only for a little while. Australia's next on my list. The water shortage is making it virtually impossible to eke out an existence in the desert. It will make a good story."

"Just a wandering man."

"Yep. That's me."

"Don't you ever get lonely?"

"Yeah, I do. I've met so many great people I'll never forget, but most of them I'll never see again. One of these days I'll come back and look for a real job, settle down, maybe, but I don't regret a minute of my time, and I wouldn't trade my memories for anything."

He moved on to allow the rest of the well-wishers access to Lois. Over their hugs, her eyes followed him to where he came to rest against the wall. In a room full of friends and family, he stood out, all alone.

***

"Mr. White. Thank you for agreeing to see me."

"Lois Lane-Kent. I remember you. Well, I remember Lois Lane anyway. And call me Perry. One of our best summer interns as far as I'm concerned. So," he said glancing at the paper on his desk, "I see you've finished college. I'm guessing you're here looking for a job."

"That would be my ideal. At the least, I would appreciate a letter of reference. But I've always wanted to work at the Daily Planet."

Perry grunted as he looked over her resume. "You married? Not that you have to answer that question, according to HR, just wondering at the name change."

"No, I'm not married. I legally changed my name before I finished high school. I wanted my name to reflect where I came from. I'm hoping that my work reflects where I'm going."

"Yes," Perry said shuffling papers. "I looked at some of your work. Not bad. But typical college stuff."

"I've had experience at the Wichita Eagle, the Kansas City Star, and the Smallville Post, though not as a reporter. I worked at the Met. U. paper and was assistant editor of the weekend edition last year and I still graduated at the top of my class."

"Humph," came from Perry as he shuffled through her resume and samples of her work. "Give me one good reason to hire you."

"I'm smart and, as my GPA reflects, I work hard. The Daily Planet is my first choice. I'd rather gopher here than report at any other paper anywhere."

"Where else have you applied?

"I've sent resumes to the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald, and several smaller papers in the mid-west."

"Well, I think I can guarantee that your application at the Kansas City Star will be turned down, because one of my reporters told me yesterday that she has accepted a position there. Which leaves me with a vacancy in my newsroom. Your resume is just one among tens of others just like it that have crossed my desk in the last month. However, because you have worked here previously, I am going to offer you a job."

"Thank you, Mr. White!"

"Now, before you get all excited, you're starting just one step up from gopher. By the time I promote and transfer the rest of my reporters, that is what is gonna be left. You'll be doing research for the other reporters and your writing will be mostly obits and press conferences. Still interested?"

"I told you I was willing to be a gopher if I could work here and I meant it."

"After you've been here a few months- the exact time is up to my discretion and I don't want to hear any whining about it- you will be partnered with one of the senior reporters on big stories. If you are patient and work hard, you'll make your way up to senior reporter yourself. If you're impatient, give me stories that are more speculation than anything and not backed up by facts, you won't be moving anywhere if you even stay on at all. I don't promote people because they have been here more than a year. I promote based upon the number of stories they bring in and how our readers respond to them. I run a respectable newspaper here. I expect good, researched stories, turned in on time. No excuses."

"I promise you won't regret it."

"Make sure I don't."

Working at the Planet was a dream come true, to be sure, but Lois did not always enjoy her assignments. There was nothing interesting about obituaries, and the interesting things she discovered helping the senior reporters research stories was passed off to them leaving her eager to find out what the story was all about. But she really enjoyed the Daily Planet atmosphere. Cat Grant was a character all her own. She looked Lois up and down the first day and said to no one in particular that there must be a shortage of women reporters if Perry had taken to hiring children. Ralph, who thought he was the office Romeo, offered to "show her around", to which Lois replied that she was from Metropolis and was quite capable of finding her way around on her own. Eduardo was an older reporter, and the one that Lois enjoyed doing research for the most. She hoped that when Perry did pair her with a partner that Eduardo would be his first choice. She didn't know how long she could put up with Ralph.

Lois had worked at the Planet for six months when one of the reporters that had been at the London Bureau returned. Planet reporters could be transferred to other Planet locations worldwide and the average length of assignment was two years. Lois arrived one morning to find the pit abuzz with news of Claude Duchet's return. She learned that he was currently discussing story assignments with Perry. Apparently, Claude was almost a roving reporter, working at the Metropolis Daily Planet headquarters for a few months and then transferring to a different bureau. He had been to Japan, the UK, and Australia. He had originally started at the Planet in the Paris office, but had not been back since his first transfer to Metropolis. Lois couldn't help but be very curious about the man who could cause such a stir.

Claude Duchet was more handsome than a man had any right to be. His practiced charm had women of all ages sighing after him. Lois had to admit that she was very flattered when he took her hand and kissed it after Perry introduced them. She couldn't help but be a little attracted to such a handsome, worldly man, but despite the obvious care he took of his appearance, she would guess that he was quite a bit older than she was. Cat Grant caught sight of Lois' flushed cheeks after Claude departed the newsroom, "Oh, been there, done that, sweetie, and he's just as good as they say. But Claude Duchet is a man; I doubt he's interested in shopping in the teen department."

It was when she was doing some research for Eduardo a few months later that she came across some information that she was sure would be her first big story. Some casual questions to Eduardo told her that it was not the angle or subject that he was pursuing, so she felt confident about starting to research the possible story on her own. She worked in the Planet office nights and weekends for two weeks researching her theory and confirming her facts. She had just finished the first rough draft Sunday afternoon when the sound of the elevator doors opening caused her to lift her head. Claude Duchet entered the newsroom heading towards his desk to rouse his computer to life. As he hung his coat on the back of his chair, he caught sight of Lois.

"Ma cherie. What are you doing here on such a lovely day? You should be out enjoying this sun, or perhaps making beautiful love to some handsome young man."

Lois felt her face flush, "I'm just doing a little research on a story."

"Really? I wasn't aware that Perry had you assigned to work on a story this weekend."

"This is something I'm working on my own."

Claude's eyes widened. "Ambitious are you? How about I take a look at it and tell you what I think?"

"Would you? I'd appreciate your opinion. It's still just a rough draft right now."

Claude came over to her desk to read her screen. As he leaned over her shoulder Lois' breath caught at the smell of his cologne. No guy should smell and look as good as Claude Duchet. "This is not bad work, Lois. You're going to be a great reporter someday. But I think I can help you out. See this sentence here? You should- well, move your chair over and let me show you." Claude pulled his own chair besides hers and deftly re-worded her sentence.

"Wow. Claude, it says the same thing, but it reads a whole lot better the way you put it."

"This right here. I think I've got some stuff at my flat that might be useful in backing up that fact. Since you are so busy working today, I'm going to assume you have no plans for dinner. Go home and relax for a minute and put on something comfortable and I'll run by my place, get my file. I'll pick up dinner and meet you at your apartment. Do you like Italian?"

"Sure. I really appreciate your help on this. I can't wait to turn this story in to Perry and see what he thinks."

"No problem, my sweet. I'll meet you at your place in an hour."

Lois went home, showered, and put on some jeans and a loose sweater. She hurriedly cleaned off her coffee table and fluffed the pillows on the loveseats. It was hard to think of such a worldly man as Claude in her little apartment, but she did want to have someone with a practiced eye look over her story. She had even thought about e-mailing it to Clark, but who knew when he would have time to take a look at it? Besides, Claude had many more years of experience in this business than Clark did.

Lois opened her door after checking to ensure that the thump that she heard was Claude. His hands were filled with a bag containing steaming noodles and sauce, a manila folder, and a bottle of wine. Lois quickly took the bag from him.

"Here, let me take that." Claude followed her into the kitchen and set the bag on the counter. "I'll get us something to eat and drink with."

She pulled two plates from the cupboard and rolled two sets of silverware in napkins while Claude eyes looked around her apartment. "Your place suits you."

"It's small, but when I got a job at the Planet, I decided I wanted to get my own place, and I needed something that I could afford." She opened another cupboard and reached for the wineglasses that were on the top shelf- just out of reach, of course. She didn't make a habit of drinking; her mother's alcoholism made her wary, and never drank alone, but she would enjoy a nice glass of excellent wine that Claude had brought.

She felt Claude brush against her as he reached over her head. "Here let me." And he brought down a pair of glasses. Had he pressed against her for a second longer than he needed to? Lois mentally shook her head, remembering Cat's comment about the "teen department." And despite the casual atmosphere, Claude had specifically said that he was bringing over some details that would be helpful to her story. This wasn't a social visit; it was business.

They prepared their plates before going into the living room to sit on the loveseats. Claude opened the wine and poured them both a glass.

"Umm, Claude, this is delicious," said Lois as she put the first bite of pasta into her mouth.

Claude shrugged. "The owner is actually Italian, so considering we are in America, it is decent. Have you ever been to Italy?" Of course, Lois hadn't, so Claude began to tell her of the places he had worked and the details of the cuisine in each city. Lois shared a few experiences from her college life, but knew that she really didn't have the life experience to have anything to talk about that would interest a well-traveled man like Claude. As they finished their meals, Claude took up his wine and turned to her on the loveseat moving his arm to rest against the back of it. "So, we are here to work, tell me a little more about this story? How did you get the idea?"

Lois explained that the idea had come to her as she was working on some research for Eduardo. She reached out to the table and brought the printout of her story between them. "This is the section, I'm struggling with."

Claude scooted closer to reach the section she was pointing at. "Yes, I see what you mean." He set his wine glass on the table and took the pages from her. "If you move this sentence here. It will sound much better. Read it aloud. See how that flows."

Lois read the section and turned to Claude. "You're right. That's the way it should read." She looked up at him and saw him watching her. Before she even had time to process the look I his eyes, Claude almost lunged forward and claimed her lips with his own. Lois was so shocked for a second that she did not even respond. Apparently, Claude understood that as consent and his hand reached under her sweater to fondle her breast. Lois stiffened and reached her hand out to remove his. He caught her wrist.

"Oh, you're not going to be shy now, are you, Lois? Don't pretend that you didn't know what I meant when I offered to come over here and "help" you with your story?"

"No, I didn't…" Claude returned his mouth to hers and kissed her roughly. Lois heart began to pound in her chest, and not with pleasure. Claude's body was pressing her uncomfortably into the arm of the love seat.

"I've seen the way you've looked at me these past months, teasing me. Don't tell me that you don't want this as much as I do, Lois."

"No, I never meant, I admire you, Claude, as a colleague that has earned the respect of his peers for his writing."

"Are you trying to flatter me, sweetheart? Why don't you show me some of that "respect" right now?" Again he roughly kissed her, his one hand retaining possession of her wrist and with his other, he was tracing circles above her knee.

With her free hand she removed his hand, "Really, Claude, I hardly think that this is appropriate. We work together."

Which was exactly why she hadn't already kneed him in the crotch and gotten as far away from him as she could. Claude was a charmer. He would hardly take what he obviously wanted, would he?

Claude's voice was deep as he chuckled, "Lois, this act of playing hard to get is really turning me on. You didn't strike me as the role playing kind of girl, especially not for our first time, but I admit, I'm rather intrigued." His hand crept up her back and he flipped open the clasp of her bra with a practiced hand.

"Claude, please," she pleaded.

He gave a gravelly laugh, "Ah, that's more like it, ma cherie. I knew you'd come around." His hand slid around her side and brushed against her bare breast. Panic started to overtake her.

"Claude, I'm not playing. Stop, please."

Claude's hand stilled on her breast and he pulled back slightly to look at her. "Are you teasing me now?"

"No! I'm not. I don't want this."

"You deny that you've been flirting with me for some time now."

"Yes! I do. I can't think of anything that I have done that would cause you to think that I wanted you to—"

"What, this?" His hand began to massage her breast. Her mind was racing now. If Claude pushed the point, could she really stop him?

"Please, Claude. Don't touch me like that."

"For goodness sakes, Lois. You're acting like a freaking virgin." Lois said nothing but her face flushed red.

"That's it, isn't it? Good Lord, Lois, how does a woman reach your age without ever—"

"Because I'm waiting for the right guy."

"Well, aren't I lucky, because you found him."

"No-" her protest was smothered as lips came down upon her again. Her free hand raised to strike him, but he caught it easily and included it in his grip on her other wrist. His other hand reached for the button on her jeans. Lois began to struggle in earnest.

"Ah, yes, just like that. Don't worry, my sweet, once you've had me, you'll discover that you like it and wonder why you waited so long."

"Please, Claude-" Claude's body moved to cover more of hers. His hips were now half-way over hers and he gave a funny little hunch toward her.

"Oh, yes." His breath was beginning to get heavy. The zip on her jeans was suddenly open and his hand slid under her to lift her towards him and his hips once more thrust toward hers. Oh my word, was he really going to… ? His leg pushed between hers and he settled himself more heavily against her. Oh. Oh my- was that his…his…

The phone rang shrilly, piecing the room. Lois started and the sound broke through her befuddled state and she began to try desperately to get out from underneath Claude's body. "Please, I need to answer the phone. Claude, stop, the phone, please."

"Let it ring, my love, now is the time—"

She finally gained the leverage she needed and she slid out from under him. His passion had caused him to loosen his hold on her wrists and she pulled away easily. She launched herself at the phone. "Yes, Hello?"

"Lois?"

"Clark," she cried. As she said his name, relief rolled over her. She glanced toward Claude who still lay half on the loveseat breathing heavily.

"Lois, you sound frightened. Are you all right?"

"Yes, Yes, I'm fine. Where, where are you calling from?"

"I'm on my way to New Guinea and decided to call you and my folks before I was out of phone contact for a while. Lois, are you sure you're okay? Your heart sounds like it is beating a mile a minute."

"Yes. I just- have some company."

"Oh, I hadn't thought, I mean, I don't want to interrupt anything."

"No, please, I'm so glad you called. Really, really glad. I just can't talk right now."

"Ummn. No problem, and again, I'm so sorry I interrupted."

"It's fine, Clark. Have fun in New Guinea. Call me again the next time you're near a phone. I promise, we'll talk."

"Bye."

"Goodbye, Clark."

Claude was now gathering the pages that had fallen from the coffee table during her flight and stuffing them back into the manila folder. Lois hit the "end" button and then immediately hit the "talk" button.

"Claude, if you don't get out of here this minute, I'm calling 9-1-1."

"As you can clearly see, Lois, I'm leaving. I don't have time for your childish games."

"If you ever come within ten feet of me again outside of the Daily Planet, I swear, I will scream bloody murder, and then I will sue you for sexual harassment."

"Don't worry, I have no intention of getting close to you again, Mademoiselle Ice Maiden. How dare you threaten me? As if anyone would believe your sexual harassment claim. There is a string of women who would laugh at such a thought. They would never believe that I wasted one second of my time with such a…a child. You will regret rejecting me. I am a top reporter at the Daily Planet and you are just a nothing."

He stalked to the door, opening it and slamming it behind him. Lois ran to turn the locks. Her legs were shaking so badly she fell to her knees at the door, tears beginning to stream down her face.

Oh, God. She had almost been raped. If Clark hadn't called at that exact minute her brain might not have ever snapped out of the daze of shock she had been in. Oh, thank God for Clark. She crawled toward the loveseat, unable to find the strength to stand. She picked up the phone from where it had slipped from her fingers and dialed. "Mom? Please, I need you."

"Lois, are you all right?" The only response was a quivering sob. "Lois, I'm coming right over."

The next thing she knew someone was pounding on the door. "Lois, Lois, let me in this minute. What's wrong? You have to let me in." Still shaking, Lois pulled herself to her feet and let her mother in.

"Oh, Mom," she cried falling into Ellen's arms.

"Lois, you're frightening me! Tell me what happened." Lois sobbed out the tale.

"Lois, you should report this."

"Mom, nothing actually happened. He just frightened me."

"I'm so thankful that Clark called when he did."

Lois gave a tearful hiccup. "Trust Clark Kent to rescue me from half-way around the world."

"Claude should answer for what he tried to do. If not to the law, then at least to your employer. He took advantage of the fact that he is your superior."

Lois shook her head. "He shouldn't get away with this, Mom, but it is just my word against his. Claude is a respected journalist, and as he so aptly pointed out, there are dozens of women who would eagerly have taken my place. No one would believe that I wasn't exactly where I had wanted to be. He even accused me of leading him on for some time. Maybe I did. I didn't mean to. I was attracted to him, a little. He's so handsome and charming. Maybe I…"

"Stop right there, Lois. You are the victim here. No means no and it doesn't matter how many notches Claude Duchet has in his bedpost, he had no right to try to take what he wanted by force."

"But I—"

"Lois, maybe you need to take this as a warning."

"What do you mean? Stay away from men?"

Ellen chuckled. "No sweetheart. I was thinking along the lines of self-defense classes. If you had had some training, Claude would not have been able to overpower you so easily—"

"I think that was mostly because I was literally scared stiff."

"—and the ability to defend yourself could come in handy in the line of your investigations. Also, I think that you should talk about this with someone."

"Mom, I don't think—"

"Lois, listen to me. I am not talking to you as your mother right this second. I'm talking to you as a medical professional who has training in psychology. I want you to talk to someone who can help you to look frankly at the situation and see that what almost happened here tonight is not your fault. I have seen people blame themselves into committing suicide for things that they had no control over. And I think that it might also do you some good to talk about men in general. Your father did a real number on me, and I know that, though you may not see it, that has had an impact on you and Lucy. Even tonight, you felt that this was somehow your fault. And Paul—"

"I still feel very guilty for leading him on."

"And you shouldn't. Paul moved on, but you've let what happened affect you. I can suggest a counselor, and then I promise to keep out of it."

"If you really think I should, Mom, I'll look into it. And I'm also going to sign up for those self defense classes you mentioned. You're right, they could come in very handy if I end up fighting some bad guys in the pursuit of a story." Her lame attempt at humor gladdened Ellen's heart. Her little girl was going to be okay. She mentally shuddered. Yes, thank God for Clark Kent.

***

Two things Lois noticed as she stepped off the elevator. One was Perry clapping Claude on the back, "Great story, Duchet. I don't know how you did it, but I'm glad you did. We already started an extra printing because today's paper is selling like hotcakes. I smell a Kerth." The second was that the usual newsroom buzz abruptly stopped at her arrival. That's weird, she thought. Well, she might as well print out the rough draft of her story and ask Perry to look at it. She was *not* going to be including any of the changes that Claude had suggested.

***

"Lois, this is very interesting. It's a good piece. Funny thing is, Claude turned in an almost identical story last night. Copies of the Daily Planet can hardly be kept on the shelf."

"What? But it's my…how did he…" The image of Claude stuffing the fallen papers into the folder flashed through her mind. Why that, that thief! He stole my story. *My* story. The one that was supposed to be my big break. Even if she showed Perry her notes, would he just think that she had been doing research for Claude?

"Lois, around here, we work as a team. If you've been helping Claude with research, I think that's great, but to try to claim his story as your own…"

She had to get out of there before she fell apart. "I'm sorry, Perry, I'm suddenly feeling very ill. I need to-" she waved her hand in the general direction of the bathrooms.

Perry grunted. "I'm sure you do."

An hour later her sobs had subsided to hiccups, and she pulled herself off the cold tile floor to sit on the toilet seat, unrolling the tissue to wipe her face and blow her nose. At that moment, the door opened and she could see two set of legs walk in.

She recognized Cat's voice. "The Ice Maiden, huh? He really called her that?"

"Yes, he said she's been all over him since he got back and when he sealed the deal last night she was as passionless as a shoe!"

What in the- Ice Maiden? Hadn't Claude called her that last night?

"Well, I'm not surprised. I heard she was raised in some little town out in Nowheresville, Kansas. She probably still thinks babies are found under cabbage leaves. I told her the first time I saw her mooning after Claude that he didn't shop in the teen department. What did she expect?"

They were talking about her! That's why the buzz of the newsroom had silenced upon her arrival.

"Claude is way too much of a man to be interested in her. He must have really felt sorry for her having such a huge crush on him to take pity on her and have sex with her."

"Yeah, it's not like he got any pleasure out of it." Lois moaned as the two ladies exited the bathroom. Oh, this was so much worse than a stolen story. This was humiliating. And it was so untrue! Claude was painting himself to be the victim, the suave lover that couldn't stand to break her heart by rejecting her even though he had no feelings for her. Why couldn't she stay in this bathroom forever?

Because. She wasn't scared little Lois Lane, fighting against the world to try to save her sister and hide her mother's sickness. She was Lois Lane-Kent and neither Ellen nor Martha had raised her to back down from a challenge. Lois lifted her chin and exited the bathroom, walking between the two ladies that had been discussing her moments before. Cat had the grace to look ashamed before she glanced away. As Lois neared her desk to take a seat and began on the research Eduardo has left her, she could see Ralph and one of the sports reporters leaning over Claude's desk. Didn't they realize she could hear them?

"You mean she didn't," the next word was whispered, but she could fill in the blank.

Claude laughed harshly, "Not even close. One minute she was begging me and the next minute she was lying there like a block of ice."

"She was probably over "come" by your charms." Neither Lois, whose eyes were closed in embarrassment, or the men completely engaged in their bawdy conversation noticed the man coming towards them walking surprisingly lightly on his feet.

"Not hardly. I've felt more pleasure at my own hands than—"

Perry clapped Claude hard on the shoulder. His voice boomed across the newsroom and he noticed Lois jump slightly. "This is a newsroom, people, not a knitting circle. Get back to your desks and get me some stories. I have blank pages that need to be filled by this afternoon." His tone dropped considerably. "Duchet. Let's talk in my office. I want to discuss your request for a transfer to the Paris office." Lois' heart leapt at his words. Was it possible that after Claude had trashed her reputation, he would just leave, and she wouldn't be forced to face him every day, week in and week out? Oh, she hoped so.

***

Lois dreaded going to work for the next few weeks. She knew that she was the topic of conversation. When she had called her mother for sympathy, Ellen assured her that before she knew it, some other gossip would come along and Claude's story would be yesterday's news and soon forgotten. Unfortunately, Claude was feeding the fire. Lois felt ostracized at work and lonely in her empty apartment. She'd never had a particularly active social life, but she had enjoyed going out with her fellow employees on occasion. The loss left her with too much spare time on her hands and she found herself looking into the self-defense classes that her mother had suggested. She found that a police officer offered classes a few evenings a week through the adult education center. Although she had questioned whether she would have the physical strength to be successful in fending off an attack from a serious predator, she found that she enjoyed the physical activity.

When the classes ended, she talked to the instructor and he recommended that she check into some Tae Kwan Do classes. It would reinforce the techniques that he had taught the class and would also be a great physical activity. Lois had never enjoyed the monotony of the gym, and the counselor that her mother had recommended had been encouraging her to start taking better care of herself. She deserved it. After confessing her guilt that she had not fought harder against Claude or stopped him sooner, the counselor explained that "frozen from fright" actually happened. Lois' mind had been overwhelmed and her flight response had been suppressed. She agreed that Tae Kwan Do classes would help Lois to stay focused in the event that she ever found herself in a similar situation again.

***

A few weeks later, Perry called her into his office. "Duchet is transferring to the Paris branch this weekend."

"Really? It will, ah, be a shame to lose his talents at the Metropolis Daily Planet, but I know he had ties to Paris."

"A shame? I wouldn't go that far. If you repeat this, I'll deny, but I never liked that smooth-talking Frenchman much. He turned in some good work, but he'll always be just an average reporter. I would think that you'd be glad to see him go."

Lois blushed, "Perry—"

"I don't care what went on, Lois. It's none of my business as long as you continue to do your job. Which is actually why I called you in here, not to discuss Claude Duchet. Since Claude is leaving, it means that I have a position open in the city section. You've done a great job with what you have been assigned so far. Are you ready to do some real reporting?"

"All my life."

"The spot's yours then. And if you need help on your articles, come find me." The look he gave her made her think that he had an idea of what had really happened. The fact that he was offering her this position when she hadn't really turned in any stories that would bring her to his attention lent credence to the thought, as well as his next statement. "I didn't get to be editor of the greatest paper in the world because I could yodel, Lois. Now, I expect to see you seated at Claude's desk Monday morning, and I want to see some story ideas on my desk by 9:00 am."

"No problem. Thank you, Perry. I won't disappoint you."

***

There was an increase in the gossip activity when Claude's departure was announced, but for the first time, Lois didn't really care. Perry knew, or at least suspected, the truth. And she, Lois Lane-Kent, had been given the job of her dreams. Now she just had to be the best city reporter Perry ever had.

Lois didn't just have story ideas for Perry at 9:00 on Monday morning; she had a mostly written story. "I just need to double-check some of the facts."

"This is good work, Lois. Get those facts checked and I'll save you some space in tomorrow's paper." Her story wouldn't make it onto the front page, she knew, but it was a big step in the right direction.

Perry hired Jimmy Olsen to replace Lois as research assistant. Lois had been good at researching stories. Jimmy was great. She had looked questioningly at Perry when he announced that he was hiring Jimmy. Lois had seen his resume, which barely filled one page. He had a GED. He didn't have a college degree- too young- but he had the practical experience. Given Jimmy's age, Lois wondered if the records were sealed on where he had gotten some of that experience.

Lois brought in more stories in the next six months than any of the other city reporters. She had a nose for news and could find a front page expose in the most innocent of press conferences. She was surprised, but very pleased when she was asked to speak at Metropolis High about a story she had just finished on the drugs being used at rave parties. Not all the partaking was voluntary and she made sure to point out that if you were going to participate in these parties, despite the facts her story had brought to light, then you should at least keep an eye on your drink at all times. She mentioned her self-defense classes and that being aware of yourself and those around you was just smart thinking in this day and age. To her surprise, after the presentation some of the girls as well as a school counselor approached her to learn more. She referred them to the officer who had provided the classes. She felt some amount of pride that she had inspired them to look into participating in a class.

"Claude's" story won a Kerth. Lois raged for a few days when she heard it was nominated. Then she decided to focus on the good things that had come into her life since Claude. She determined that a story under her own name would make it into the nominations next year.

Within a year, Lois Lane-Kent became a name that was regularly seen on the front page of the Daily Planet. In that time, she had two stories nominated for Kerths and brought home the coveted award for one of them. Although she had not been at the Planet as long as most of the other reporters, she was now considered their senior. This could have made things awkward if Lois had friends among the reporting staff, but though the "Ice Maiden" gossip only arose on occasion, "Mad Dog Lois" was something that she heard on a regular basis. Scaring off the other reporters that Perry had tried to partner her with on occasion did not endear her to her co-workers. Lois was beyond caring what the other reporters thought about her. She was the best in the business because she had earned it, because she was willing to go where they were not, and they knew it. Perry complained about the increase in her insurance premiums, but Lois knew Perry well enough now to see his real concern.

Her social life was not much different. She went out occasionally, even enjoyed a nice kiss every now and then, but most of the men she dated seemed intimidated by her in some way, whether it was her personality, her participation in martial arts, or her all-consuming job. Her work life was very fulfilling, and she had let it overtake any disappointments in her personal life.

Ellen was managing the treatment clinic, Lucy was looking forward to beginning her sophomore year at Metropolis High and Lois was knee deep in a car theft ring story when Clark called to tell Lois that he had decided to leave traveling the world and come back to the US. His voice broke as he told Lois of his latest experiences in Darfur, "There are just so many, so many hurting people and as many as die everyday, they just keep coming. The volunteers work themselves sick, but there is just not enough of anything- food, clothing, or medicines- to even begin to meet the need. For every person saved, so many more die. It is just overwhelming. I have never felt so helpless, like nothing I could do made any difference." Lois had read about Darfur, and had even contributed to charities that were sending support to the victims, but hearing Clark's vivid description of the crisis really moved her.

"Clark, you need to write about this. If for no other reason than for the cleansing it will bring to you to share what you saw. And I imagine that the article would inspire readers to give. This story needs to be told over and over. And you have always been good with making readers feel the emotions of your story, Clark."

"I've written some of it, but it's just random thoughts. I'd need to organize them and do a little research about the actual history of the conflict."

"So come to Metropolis. Our libraries are among the best, and if you needed any help, I bet I could get Jimmy to lend a hand. He's really, really good. Just, if you don't want to know how he obtained the information, don't ask. You can stay with me, so you don't waste money on a hotel."

"I'm staying in Smallville right now. I think I'll write the story here, but I will take you up on that research help. Once I get the basic story put together, I'll come up and polish it up with some additional facts. Maybe I can get it in the Times or US Weekly."

"If not, they're crazy. You're a good writer, Clark. And people need to hear this story."

***

Clark's story had an impact. Organizations that were struggling to help saw a sharp increase in donations upon the publishing of his article. His writing style was so moving that people felt compelled to help. Lex Luthor announced a million-dollar donation from his charitable foundation. Lois got to report on that. Not that there was much of a story there. His PR person gave out a press release and his personal assistant refused all requests for interviews. Lois did not like being shut down, but her attempts to convince his office that she, as the city's top reporter, should be allowed to interview him fell on deaf ears. Little was known of Lex Luthor. Much of what was accepted as fact was unsubstantiated. He had five unauthorized biographies and the biography that his PR people provided was the same one that every reporter had. His name came up a little too often in Lois' investigations, as far as she was concerned, but she had never found anything linking him to the crime, yet he somehow always seemed to benefit from tragedy. Lois made a mental note to spend some time researching him if she encountered a slow day at the Planet, not that that happened very often.

***

She called Clark in Smallville to congratulate him on the success of his story. While very few readers would remember the name "Clark Kent" his story would stay with them, affecting them in subtle ways for the rest of their lives. When she expressed that to Clark, she could hear the embarrassment in his voice as he thanked her.

"So, what now, Clark? You said you're back in the US to stay. What's next for Clark Kent?"

"Actually, I just got news today that I'm accepted into the law school at the University of Missouri."

"Wow! When did that happen?"

"I've been thinking about coming back to the States for a while. School seems like a good place to find my way again."

"It's a good school. Columbia or Kansas City campus?"

"Columbia. I've become very interested in international law and politics, so I will be earning a Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies degree as well as my JD in international law. I'm going to keep up my journalism skills by traveling in the summers and writing stories like I have been doing the last few years."

"Clark Kent, attorney. Well, it has a nice ring to it. I have a hard time seeing you as a lawyer, though. You're far too honest."

"Lawyers get a bad rap, but I'm not looking at practicing law. Writing is what I want to do, but international law and politics affect countries and their governments and having knowledge of those laws will help me to be a better writer."

***

Three years brought two more Kerths to Lois' collection. She was asked to speak at women's and journalism conferences. Perry would never expect her to go farther than she was willing in pursuit of a story, but he was proud and appreciative of the stories and resulting fame that she brought to the Daily Planet. In fact, after disappearing for a month before turning up with a front page story on illegal gun-running in the Congo- having actually gone to the Congo!- and spending in a week in the hospital as a result of her confrontation with the subjects, she had the impression that Perry thought that she sometimes went a little too far. "Dead reporters aren't news for very long, Lois. I'd much rather have you alive and writing stories, than posthumously awarded a Pulitzer." Her sporadic investigations into Lex Luthor had not yet brought any hard facts to light. Her sources spoke of "the Boss" in awed tones, but no one was willing to talk. And none of her investigations tied Lex Luthor to "the Boss". Luthor seemed to be a man who gave generously to charities and the community and just had a knack for business. Lois knew in her gut that there was a story there. She needed to find a way to get close to Lex. Her regular requests for an interview were declined, even when she included a list of her stories and the awards that she had been nominated for. From comments she had heard from her colleagues at the Planet she knew that it wasn't that Lex Luthor didn't want to talk to her personally but that he refused all interviews. Lex Luthor preferred to remain a mystery.

Lucy graduated from Metropolis High and Clark graduated with his masters in mediation and juris doctor. He passed the bar in Missouri, but maintained that he preferred writing to practicing law. "So, I think I'm ready to settle down and get a job at a newspaper. Have you heard of any openings?"

"Rumors here and there."

"Would you mind if I tried for the Planet?"

"The Planet! Well, no, I guess not. But I asked Perry for a raise just the other day when we celebrated my latest big story and he laughed in my face. I got the impression that money is tight, though I certainly do my part to increase circulation."

"Think you can talk Mr. White into at least seeing me? I've got a recommendation from one of my professors that knows Perry. I was hoping that might open the door."

"I'll ask him. If nothing else, you could probably freelance for a while until you find a paper. You have a lot of writing experience, Clark, but to be brutally honest, reporting the news takes more than being able to tell the story. You've got to be able to find the real story behind the story."

"I can learn."

"Sure you can," Lois said encouragingly. "I'll talk to Perry tomorrow."

***

Perry agreed to meet with Clark. "But Lois, I can't hire anybody right now."

"That's okay. Perry. Clark will just appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, and interviewing with you will be a great experience and helpful to him as he looks for a job."

"I have to say, I'm looking forward to meeting one of the Kents of Lane-Kent." Perry had met Ellen Lane at various charitable functions in her role as manager of the treatment clinic. Having some idea of her history because of his relationship with Lois, he held her in high esteem. He was curious about the people who had influenced Lois so greatly that she altered her name to honor them. Every time her stories graced the pages of the Daily Planet, her by-line gave tribute to her parents.

***

"Clark, you've got an interview at the Planet."

"Thanks, Lois. I really appreciate it."

"Perry said to call his secretary tomorrow and set it up. I wanted to tell you to plan to stay at my place. No point wasting money on a hotel when I have a perfectly good spare room. Lucy crashes here on occasion, like when she needs to study and the dorm gets too noisy. She never calls first, but if she shows up, she can always bunk with me."

"I'd appreciate that, Lois. My school loans have to be paid, and I haven't sold any stories lately, so my nest egg is getting a little light. Dad always offers to help, but they don't exactly make a fortune with the farm."

"Clark- we're family. No thanks needed."

***

Lois greeted Clark with a hug. He had declined her offer to pick him up at the airport, and told her that he would just come to her house. Lucy was there, but she had just come by to see Clark and did not plan to stay. They enjoyed an evening around the coffee table eating pizza, playing a few board games, and then settling in to watch a movie. Clark sat on the floor with an arm around each of them, except when he occasionally moved to reach for the popcorn. The credits began to roll and they prepared to stand up. Lois and Clark laughed when they noticed that Lucy had fallen asleep. Lucy woke up and finding them laughing at her, she grabbed a pillow of the sofa and took a swing at them. She missed, but the activity roused her and after hugging them both, she left to drive back to the dorm. Lois turned to Clark, "Well, you know where the bed is, so I'll just head on to my own. I'll be out of the bathroom in ten, and then you can have it. If you're not ready to sleep, feel free to watch some more TV. I've got to be up early for work tomorrow, so I'm going to "hit the hay" to use a Smallville colloquialism."

"Sleep well. Thanks again for the bed."

***

Lois woke a few hours later and groaned. It was only 3:00 am, but with all the soda she had drunk the evening before her full bladder was demanding attention. She hated when she woke up during the night because she had the hardest time getting back to sleep. And some of the methods she employed she could never do with Clark sleeping next door, she thought blushingly. Maybe some warm milk… Dragging herself from the bed, she tiptoed down the hall to take care of her full bladder. As she then snuck towards the kitchen, she noticed the flickering light of the TV. Had Clark accidentally left it on when he went to bed? She crossed the room to flip it off. As she reached for the control on the coffee table, a light snore came from the floor in front of the TV. The first thing she noticed was a sleeping Clark Kent. Then she saw that he had nothing other than a pair of boxer shorts on. The next thing she noticed was that his bare chest was the nicest one she had ever seen. He must spend time at the gym on a pretty regular basis! Her eyes ran over him, ogling him, she admitted to herself. With that thought, she gave herself a mental shake. This was Clark, Lois! She turned and pressed the button on the TV. She turned to tiptoe from the room.

"Lois," came Clark's sleepy voice. Drat! She stopped and turned slowly. Clark had sat up and rubbing his eyes. Then he began to stretch. Aw, don't *do* that, she thought. I don't need to see those muscles flex!

"Clark, I couldn't sleep, so I came out to get some warm milk. I thought you'd be naked- Asleep! I mean asleep. In the spare room."

"I'm sorry. I tried to go to bed, but the noise is just different than at home. I decided to watch TV for a while and try again. Guess I fell asleep."

"Well, since we're both awake, how about I make us both some milk?"

Clark's eyebrow lifted, "Do I want to say yes?"

Lois smiled, "I was just going to stick it in the microwave. I really don't want to have the Metropolis Fire Department out tonight. Although it's a great way to meet cute guys…"

Clark laughed at that. "Why don't I make the milk? That way we don't have to worry about the fire department. It's better made on the stove anyway."

"You're on. Uh, it's a little chilly. I think I'm going to go put my robe on."

When she returned, Clark was slowly stirring the milk. He had obviously found the time to put on a shirt and sweat pants, although he was still without his glasses. "Want some chocolate in yours?"

"Do you have to ask?" She opened the fridge and retrieved the bottle of chocolate syrup.

"I'm sorry if the TV woke you."

"It didn't. I drank too much soda last night." She knew her cheeks flushed and she was glad that the only light was from the bulb above the stove. Clark switched off the burner and quickly poured two mugs of hot chocolate. Lois took a sip of the one he handed to her. "Mmm. This is perfect, Clark. I'm going to take mine back to my room. This should put me right to sleep."

Well, it would have. Except that every time she closed her eyes, she saw Clark's perfect chest. Maybe if just one of her boyfriends looked half that good, she would have been able to ignore Martha's voice in her head. She admitted to herself that she had always felt a little attracted to Clark, although once she had moved to Smallville, seeing him everyday, living in the same house with him, she had become accustomed to being around him and no longer blushed and stammered in his presence. And she had hardly seen him and only heard from him sporadically the last five years. She had long ago decided those feelings were a schoolgirl crush on a boy who was nice to her when she needed a friend most, and locked them away in a mental "not to be opened" box. The rush of- yes, it had to be said- desire she felt when she saw Clark laying there so vulnerable in sleep had released the lock and opened the lid.

She realized that in her fantasies, there was already a "face in her head forever", as Rachel had put it. That face belonged to Clark, and she had never been able to put that aside to let another man's take its place. She had thought that it was a nameless, faceless man that she called into being when she…Lois blushed in the darkness of her room. Suddenly, there was a face and a name, and it had been there in the back of her consciousness all along. Lois groaned, pulling the pillow over her head. She was in some deep trouble. Clark had never, not once, given her a second glance. He had never thought of her that way, probably never would. Did that mean that she was destined to live her life a frustrated virgin? Always alone with only her fantasies to provide some relief? It was so unfair. If she had never met Clark Kent, she would have Paul's face in her mind. And maybe that wouldn't have been so bad. She had liked Paul. She had liked the way that he made her feel. Clark Kent had the perfect life- wonderful parents who believed he could do no wrong, un-tapped writing talent, journalism and law degrees, years traveling the world- why did he have to have her heart as well?

And, of course, the man could cook. She didn't know when she had finally fallen asleep, but she awoke to the delicious smell of coffee and pancakes. Rats. She had been thinking, before her body betrayed her by falling asleep, that she would sneak out of the house early, just leaving Clark a 'Good Luck!" note. Now she had to face him without letting on to the conclusions she had come to in the wee hours of the morning. What time was it anyway? She frowned at the clock. Oh, great! Now she was going to be late to boot, and there was a staff meeting at 8:30. She could hear Perry now, "Glad you could join us, Lois. Did you sleep well?" Cat Grant was sure to input some comment about how one slept better with a partner than alone. Lois made herself get up, gather a work outfit, and dash to the bathroom. She couldn't quite make herself greet Clark with morning breath and sleep-tousled hair. She would have to get over this ridiculous attraction, but it wasn't going to be this morning.

Lois squared her shoulders and walked into the kitchen. "Good morning, Clark. That smells great."

"Good. I figured it was the least I could do since we were up half the night." Lois shot a concerned glance at him. Had he heard her toss and turn after she had gone back to bed? Her bed did creak and groan a little and Clark had exceptionally sharp hearing. His face revealed nothing unusual and she relaxed a little. She headed to the coffee pot to pour herself a cup.

"How many?"

"What?"

"Pancakes. How many?"

"Oh, just two. I've got to eat fast, though. I overslept and I'm already running late. There's a staff meeting this morning. Coffee?" she asked, lifting the pot.

"Sure." He slid his cup towards her. She filled it and then took her own to the table, breathing in the aroma. Just the smell brought her stress level down a notch or two. She started in on the pancakes.

"You're quiet this morning. Is everything okay?"

"Oh, yes, fine, Clark. This is great. I'm a little tired, I guess. And my mind is already starting to go over my plans for the day. You'll be back tonight?" Why, after dreading to see him this morning, was she suddenly loath to let him out of her sight?

"If that's okay."

"Of course, it's okay. Why don't I pick up some Chinese and DVDs on my way home?"

"Sounds great! And I can tell you all about my interview."

***

Of course, she was late to the staff meeting. Perry apologized for the staff meeting interrupting her social life. Lois knew that Perry meant it in jest. He had to maintain the gruff exterior. Cat, of course, answered "What social life? Lois, I'm sure spent all night watching infomercials, looking for her next great story."

"Sorry, I'm late, Perry. I had someone to fix me breakfast this morning and I forgot to allow for extra time." Let Cat Grant chew on that one! After she picked her jaw up off the floor, of course. Lois felt a little guilty for the implication, but Clark would never know, so it wouldn't hurt anything. And the looks on her co-workers' faces were priceless.

***

"Clark Kent? Perry White." Clark shook Perry's hand. He knew that Perry was sizing him up. He wondered if he'd passed or been found wanting. "Professor Carlton called me about you. I haven't seen him in, well," Perry shuffled some papers on his desk,"Ah, yes. Here it is. Law Degree? Not going to practice law?"

"No, I-" The phone rang. Perry argued with the person on the other end for a moment before slamming the phone down.

"Can you believe I had to order a blood pressure monitor?"

"Paava leaves."

"Excuse me?"

"Paava leaves. The Yolongu of New Guinea uses them to bring about a meditative state. Maybe you should try it"

"That's right, you're a world traveler."

"I have some samples of my work."

"All right, let's see 'em." Perry looked through the articles. "Impressive, Kent. I remember this one you wrote on Darfur. Very moving." Perry sat down behind his desk. "Look, you're obviously a very intelligent guy, but this is the Daily Planet. You can't walk in here with no newspaper reporting experience and expect a job. And if you have a degree to practice law, why do you want a reporting job?"

"I'm a good writer and a hard worker—"

"I can see that, Kent, but I just don't have a place for you."

"Thank you, sir. I knew it was a long shot. I appreciate you taking the time to see me."

"Tell you what. You still got some contacts in Darfur?"

"Yes."

"Why don't you write a follow up article? I'll have it printed in a Sunday edition. It's not a job, but it might help see you through until you find one."

"I'd really appreciate that." Clark shook Perry's hand, quickly releasing his grip when Perry winced.

***

Lois entered her apartment, shut the door and leaned against it. Then she began searching through the desk in her entryway. Ah, there they are. With a sigh of relief she lifted her shirt and used the scissors to cut away the binding material. She groaned as she rubbed her aching breasts. Brilliant idea, but she was not anxious to try this disguise again any time soon. She heard a rustling sound and glanced toward the living room. Clark's head was looking over the back of her couch. He lifted an eyebrow at her. Embarrassed, she quickly removed her hands from her chest. "Clark. Sorry. I forgot to ask you what time your interview was."

"This morning. Want some help with that?" he asked indicating the faux mustache and goatee. Lois nodded walking towards him. "Fast or slow?"

"Fast." She squeezed her eyes shut and Clark pulled the offending hair off quickly.

"Ouch! I got a great story, though. Women reporter sticks out like a sore thumb, but derelict teen blends in to background. How'd the interview go?"

"Mr. White said he didn't have a place for me, but he did say if I would do a follow-up on my Darfur story he will put it in the Sunday edition. Do you mind if I crash here a little while longer?"

She desperately wanted him to leave, so she could put her feelings back in the box and lock them away, but she would never turn away a Kent in need. "Like you even have to ask. I could never repay your family for taking me in when I needed somewhere to stay."

"You know we'd do it again in a minute. I just don't want to take advantage, and I didn't know if I might be, uh, in the way. You are still dating Mitchell…"

"It's not that serious. Besides, Mitchell is a hypochondriac. He is my escort to the White Orchid Ball in two weeks, but I probably won't see him after that."

"Alan, the dentist?"

"Lucy says I scared him off dragging him to my Women in Journalism seminar, "Weak Men and the Wise Women Who Love Them'."

Clark wrinkled his nose, "I can see how that could be intimidating."

"So, as you can see, you don't need to worry about 'cramping my style'."

"Well, you deserve a really super man, Lois. I'm sure he'll come along, when the time is right."

"Now you sound like my father. I'm only twenty-six!"

Aaagghhh. Clark Kent was staying and she had to try to sleep knowing that gorgeous hunk was lying next door. Was he wearing the sweats or just the boxers? Lois! Stop thinking about Clark. You can be sure he doesn't think about you that way. She groaned again. Maybe Lucy would come spend the weekend and distract her from her lascivious thoughts of jumping Clark Kent's bones while he slept.

***

Perry was thrilled with her story. "Great work, Lois."

"Thanks, Perry."

"Uh, sorry I couldn't do anything for your friend."

"I really didn't expect you to, Chief, but I know Clark appreciated the opportunity. He's getting started on that Darfur story, too."

"And he's staying with you?"

She nodded. "Until he finishes the story."

"So when you told Cat someone fixed you breakfast—"

"Clark, but Cat doesn't need to know that."

Perry chuckled. "I guess not."

***

Clark brought his story in to Perry. It had taken him longer than he would have liked, but he had wanted to do a good job for Perry."

"Great work, Kent. This will make a great addition to Sunday's paper. Hopefully you'll see some increase in donations as a result."

"I also brought you in some paava leaves."

"Uh, thanks. I'm sure they'll—"

Just then a young man burst into Perry's office, "All right, Chief, I fixed the horn for your golf cart."

"Not now Jimmy."

"The tone's still off, but—"

"Not now Jimmy!" For the first time, Jimmy seemed to realize Clark was there. "Uh, Jimmy Olsen," he offered extending his hand.

"Clark Kent," Clark said taking the proffered hand.

"Kent? As in—"

Lois burst into the room, "Chief, I think there's a story here. I think we should have the crazy guy checked out. You know the one from this morning."

"Lois, can't you see I'm in the middle of something here? You know Clark, of course."

"Clark, hi. I didn't know you were coming in today," she greeted him distractedly, then turned back to Perry. "Chief, he worked on the Messenger—"

"Messenger! Wait a second, what happened to that mood piece I had you working on about the razing of the old theater down on 42nd Street?"

Jimmy slipped out in an effort to avoid his boss' wrath.

"I wasn't in the mood," Lois said dryly.

"Wasn't in the mood- Lois, who do you think assigns stories around here? You or me? When I say I want you on a story—"

Jimmy knocked on the glass. "Phone call, Lois!"

"Gotta go, Chief. See 'ya tonight, Clark."

Perry sighed, "See why my blood pressure is skyrocketing? I swear, if that women wasn't the best investigative reporter I've ever seen, she'd be outta here just for the sake of my health!"

"She is good, isn't she?" Clark said proudly, more of a statement than a question.

"That she is, Clark. But, hey, I've got a paper to run, so—"

"Yeah, I'll see myself out."

***

Lois was arguing loudly on the phone. "No, I don't want to talk to Mr. Luthor's assistant! This is Lois Lane-Kent and I will not be ignored! Tell Mr. Luthor that I would like a one-on-one interview with him. I don't care that he doesn't give interviews. I'm a respectable reporter at the Daily Planet, so some two-bit hack from the DirtDigger!" Clark raised his eyebrow at her. She grinned. "See you tonight," she mouthed. "No, I will not hold- hello? Hello? Why do they ask you to hold if they don't wait for an answer?" she queried to no one in particular. Clark chuckled amazed at the sight of "Mad Dog Lois" in action. What to do with the rest of his afternoon? His feet began walking toward 42nd Street.

***

"This is a helluva story Kent."

"Smooth," said Jimmy, with awe in his voice.

Lois waved her hand dismissively, "Sure if you like that touchy-feely stuff. Just where do you get off stealing my story though?" Her teasing grin at Clark took any sting out of her words.

"I'm impressed, Kent. I didn't see how you could have a law degree and still want to be a reporter, but I can really see your talent and passion in this piece. I still don't have a job for you, but I'd be happy to have you freelance for us, and when a position opens up if you're still interested…"

"Thank you, Mr. White. That's more than I could ask for."

Seems Clark might be in residence in her guestroom a little while longer. And all she wanted was a quiet evening alone with her "Ivory Tower" tapes! Lois mentally whined.

Suddenly a commotion broke out in the newsroom, "The space shuttle's on fire!"

***

"I'll need a task force. There are over a hundred colonists scheduled to be on the next launch. If something is wrong, I need to figure it out and fast. I can't do that alone."

"You can have Jimmy."

"Jimmy's the best, Chief, but we're talking about the space program here. It's a little over his head and definitely outside of his job description. What about Myerson?"

"He's busy."

"Burns?"

"Still in Budapest. What about Ralph?"

"Humph! Not if you want him back in one piece."

"Take Louise."

"Louise?"

"Blonde, glasses, sits across from you at staff meetings?"

"Her name's Louise? Sure, I'll give her a try."

"Be nice, Lois," Perry growled.

Lois just laughed. "Never say that Lois Lane-Kent is not a team player, but don't forget. This is *my* story. My name is going on the byline."

"It's your story, Lois."

***

Clark stopped by the Daily Planet two days later. He and Lois had plans to go to lunch together. Clark had been spending his time looking at apartments. Lois insisted he was more than welcome to stay at her place, but if he was staying in Metropolis long term, Clark knew that he needed his own place. Lois was yelling for Jimmy. A blonde was slamming the door to Perry's office, evidence of tears on her face, "I quit, Perry. If that's what you're looking for, I'm just not Daily Planet material."

"Lois!" Perry bellowed from his office.

"Oh, Jimmy. I need you to look something up for me."

"Now, Lois!"

"You'd better go see what Mr. White wants, Lois," Clark said.

"Clark! It is lunchtime already? Jimmy, tell Clark about the good lunch places around here while I go see what Perry wants."

***

"Louise quit."

"She was hopeless, Perry."

"The last thing I need is you running off my reporters! You asked for a task force, Lois, and I gave you one."

"I'm sorry she couldn't handle it."

"Louise has worked here for a year. She can handle it. She just couldn't handle you."

Lois met his eyes, "Do you want me to go apologize?" she asked sheepishly.

Perry chuckled. "Wouldn't do any good. Besides, if she can't handle you, she'll never be able to handle the pressure of real stories. She'd have made an okay, average reporter, but she's no Lois Lane-Kent."

"So, now what?"

"What do you mean, now what? You still have a story, and you have no help. You'd better get to it!"

She looked out at the newsroom. "Clark."

"What?"

"Clark. Let me have Clark."

"Clark doesn't work for us, Lois."

"So he can freelance. It's not like he's busy. And if I chase him off, it's no skin off your nose."

"Kent, huh?"

"It's just one story, Perry."

"Okay. You got it. Want me to tell him?"

"Oh, no. Let me. If he's going to work for me, he's got to know who's boss from the start." Lois exited the office. Perry grinned. "Well, this should be interesting." He watched as Lois slapped Kent on the arm and practically dragged him to the elevator.

***

"Let's hit it," Lois commanded, slapping Clark on the arm.

Clark put down the phone book he had been perusing in search of lunch options. "Do you mind if I ask where we're going?"

"To interview Samuel Platt. He's convinced the Messenger was sabotaged."

"What about lunch?"

"Lunch can wait, and let's get something straight. I did not work my buns off to become an investigative reporter at the Daily Planet so that I could baby-sit wanna-be newspaper reporters."

"What?"

"Perry wants you to help me with the story. And that's another thing. You are not working with me, you are working for me. You are low man, and I am top banana. And that's the way I like it. Comprende?"

"You like to be on top. Got it."

Lois grabbed his arm and pulled him into the elevator growling. "Don't push it, Kent. You are way out of your league." When the doors closed she burst out laughing. "Clark, Martha would wash your mouth out with soap for that comment!"

Clark looked around the elevator. "I don't see her anywhere. Do you? What was that all about anyway?"

"I have a reputation to maintain. I chew up newbie reporters and spit them out."

"So I am…?"

"We're getting you some newspaper experience. You've always been better at science than I am. You're coming along to interpret Dr. Platt's ramblings."

***

"Dr. Baines seemed helpful."

"When I invited you along, Clark, it wasn't to flirt with the interviewees. I don't trust her." Dr. Platt's story had led them to talk with Dr. Antoinette Baines about the report Dr. Platt said that he had filed. Dr. Baines denied receiving the report.

"Very attractive. Young, for a woman in her position."

"Typical," she scoffed.

"What?"

"Typical male response."

"Lois, I am not your typical male."

"Just because she's- okay looking—"

"Very okay looking."

"—blonde—"

"What's blonde got to do with it?"

"—you automatically assume she's telling the truth."

"And you assume she's not. That's pretty cynical, Lois."

"This is Metropolis, Clark, not Smallville. Everyone has an angle."

***

Lois stood at the coffee machine, filling her cup. Cat whistled. "Who's the new tight end?" Lois looked to where Jimmy was giving Clark a tour of the newsroom.

"Why don't you throw your usual forward pass and find out?" Cat Grant looked at her and removed her jacket revealing some sort of pleather strap ensemble that Lois assumed passed for a top.

Clark and Jimmy must have concluded the tour because Clark came up to get himself a cup as well.

"Catherine Grant. Cat's Corner."

"Oh, I've read you column."

"So my reputation precedes me." She held out her hand to be kissed. Clark shook it instead.

"I know what it's like to be new in town. Perhaps you'd like me to…" she walked her fingers up his chest, "show you around?"

"That's very nice of you, but Lois will probably show me around, Miss Grant."

"Humph! Not like I would! And call me Cat."

"Cat. Maybe when I get settled in…"

She patted his chest as she sashayed away. "It's a date."

"So that's Cat Grant. You've mentioned her."

"Be careful of her Clark. She's just looking to put another notch in her garter belt."

"Have you seen this garter belt?" he teased.

Lois frowned at him and started to comment but her phone rang. "Hey, sit for a minute. I'm going to take this and then we'll go."

"Go? Where?"

Lois picked up her phone. "Lois Lane-Kent, Daily Planet."

Seconds later, Lois hung up her phone disgustedly. "Come on, Clark."

"So where are we going?"

"I don't suppose you know what your measurements are."

"Measurements?"

"Mitchell just cancelled on me for the White Orchid Ball tonight. He has the sniffles."

"He's the hypochondriac?"

"That's the one. So you're taking me."

"What?"

"I mean, I was just wondering if you wanted to- look do you wanna take his place or not?"

"I could go to bed early," he countered with a grin.

Lois slapped his arm, and laughed. "This is the social event of the season, Clark, and you're coming. Just consider it research."

"Research?"

"Yes. I am going to land the first one-on-one interview with Lex Luthor if it kills me."

"Luthor, the philanthropist?"

"Or the root of all evil in Metropolis. Depends on whom you talk to. I tend to go with the latter. Let's go find you a tux."

***

Lois groaned. She was doing that a lot lately. What was she thinking dragging Clark to the White Orchid Ball? More, what was she doing sitting outside the dressing room waiting for him to come out in his tux? She could hear the sound of his shirt rustling and the rasp of his zipper- ooo-kay. Enough, Lois. She stood up to get away from the sounds of Clark's undressing. Hmmn. Should they go with red or black for the cummerbund?

"A-hem."

She turned. Oh, my. "Black, definitely the black."

"What?"

"For your cummerbund." She turned to the clerk. "I'll take him- It! I mean we'll take the tux."

She was in such trouble. The sight of Clark in the tux made her weak in the knees. How was she going to make it through tonight and keep her hands off of him? Funny, now that she knew what- who- she wanted, she didn't think she'd have any trouble expressing her feelings. The problem was going to be suppressing them.

***

Lois let the valet park her car. "If you get so much as a scratch on it, I'll have your job."

"Lois, he parks Porsches and Lamborghinis. He's not going to scratch your aged Jeep," Clark insisted.

"Aged!"

***

Clark hung out with Jimmy while Lois kept an eye out for Luthor. "He's a recluse. Rarely seen in public."

"But he's throwing this big party?"

Jimmy shrugged. "It's tradition."

"Lex Luthor. Why haven't you returned my calls?" Clark felt his heart swell with pride. With a simple statement, Lois had commanded the attention of the entire room, most especially, that of her target, Lex Luthor."

"Lois Lane-Kent. Daily Planet." She held out her hand to shake his. Luthor lifted it to his lips. "I assure you. I'll never make that mistake again. Care to dance?"

He was a good dancer. No, he was a great dancer. Very accomplished . And he reminded Lois of Claude. His practiced charm. The assuredness that she found him attractive just because any woman would love to be in her shoes. "I have had one or two bad experiences with the media."

"Not with me."

"So why don't we make it dinner."

"I've had one or two bad experiences with men," she countered.

He leaned forward, rubbing his face against hers to whisper in her ear. "Not with me," he repeated her words.

Lois shivered and Lex smiled. He probably thought she shivered with attraction, rather from the disgust that she felt.

"Mind if I cut in?"

Clark! "Uh, Lex, this is Clark Kent. He's helping me out on a story right now." The men shook hands. Lois couldn't help but notice that Clark was taller than Lex and, while Lex was very handsome in a suave, sophisticated way, in Lois' book, Clark's rugged good looks outshone Lex's any day.

"My pleasure. If you'll excuse me, Lois?" Luthor made his way across the room to greet another group of his guests.

Lois punched Clark on the shoulder as he took her in his arms. "I don't know whether to thank you or kill you. It's taken me years to get this close."

"How close Lois?" He pulled her to his chest. "This close."

Ah, yes. Just like that. Hold me closer, Clark. No! She had to break the spell. "I always thought line dancing was more your style."

"Actually, I learned ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess who studied in London- where are you going?" Lois had pulled herself out of his arms and turned to cross the room.

"To investigate. I'm an investigative reporter. You should try it sometime." Clark followed Lois as she wove through the guests and entered what was obviously a private office and shut the door.

"Lois, isn't this breaking and entering?"

"I don't plan on breaking anything. Clark, if you want to be a lawyer, fine, but do it on your own time. If you want to be a reporter, help me look around."

"What are we looking for?"

"Something, anything. Lex Luthor is a slimy snake and in three years, I have not been able to lay a single crime at his door. It's driving me crazy." She entered the next room. There had to be something…

Not finding anything, she returned to the room that she had first entered to find Lex and Clark starting at each other. Busted!

"You have a lovely home, Lex. I hope you don't mind us looking around."

Lex turned towards her, breaking his eye contact with Clark. "Not at all. You should see the view from here."

***

Space Station Luthor? Now who do you suppose would benefit from that? Oh, sure, any people on earth who were cured would benefit, but the profits that Luthor would rake in would be innumerable. Why couldn't anyone else see him for what she knew he was?

***

They were walking towards the Planet the next morning when they heard a rumble. "What's happening-" began Lois. The crowd began to murmur and she ran forward to see what was going on. Hands lifted a city worker up to the waiting arms of his co-workers.

The worker pointed at Clark. "That, that man. He saved me."

Lois looked at Clark. "Still pulling rescue stunts, Clark?"

Clark waved his hand. "He's delirious, obviously."

She sent him a glance of disbelief. "Clark, you're a mess," she said patting the dust from his coat. "When you do get a job, be sure to bring an extra set of clothes to work with you, in case you get dirty during the course of the day. That's what I do."

***

"Cat napping?" Lois had noticed that Cat had been all over Clark when Lois exited the elevator.

"She wants me to go to dinner with her," Clark explained.

"And?'

"I don't think she's my type, Lois. Now tell me what you've found on Dr. Platt."

***

Clark sat with her for hours trying to piece together Dr. Platt's report. After her stomach growled for the third time, he volunteered, "I'll go get us some Chinese food."

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

"I'll get an assortment."

The food was delicious. How had Clark found such a great restaurant when he hadn't even been in Metropolis for three weeks? She thought she had been to every Chinese restaurant in the city. Somehow, she must have missed one.

"Remember the first time we had Chinese?"

Lois smiled at him. "Yes. It was the first time we met. And we had those hokey fortunes. And these, look at these. They're written in Chinese. What's with that?"

***

Lois turned her face into Clark's shoulder as he pulled her to him to shield her from the sight of Dr. Platt's still sizzling body. She let herself breathe in his scent for minute. "Clark—"

"We should have stopped it. We should have done something."

"Clark, you can't rescue everyone. The best thing that we can do for him is to prove him right, and save the space station."

***

"So Platt's theory was correct!" Lois gave Clark a quick hug. It won't hurt, she argued with herself. Besides, she reasoned, if she suddenly treated Clark like a stranger, he was going to start wondering what was up.

"So we can write the story?"

"I can write the story. But I might let you help."

"We should go out to dinner to celebrate."

An evening in Clark's company without other people around to ensure she kept her hands to herself? Not a good idea. So why were the next words out of her mouth, "Sure, Clark, that would be- oh, wait. I can't. I'm having dinner with someone else."

"Luthor?"

"Yes."

"Lois, just how far are you willing to go to get this story?"

"Not that it's any concern of yours, Clark, but this is business. It's an interview. And I am not sharing this story. And I have never, never slept with anyone to get a story."

"I didn't mean to imply—"

"Yes, Clark, you did. I thought you knew me better than that."

"I do. Lois, I'm sorry. Are you sure there's a story there? Luthor seems squeaky clean to me."

"Exactly. No one is that good. Not even you, Clark."

***

Lois disgustedly threw her purse on the floor and slammed the door. Clark's head came up over the back of the couch. "Did you get the interview?"

"No. He managed me. I wasted three hours, and I let that, that- louse! kiss me, and I got nothing."

***

"Physical evidence. Perry wants facts and we have to find them."

"I'll call Dr. Baines."

"Clark, Baines thinks you're cute, but she is not going to hand you evidence against her. She's probably involved."

"I'll check anyway."

"Fine. I'll take Jimmy with me."

***

And that's how she ended up tied to a support beam as the chemicals headed towards the drain where they would mix together causing an explosion that would end their lives. Clark had shown up, the door flying off its hinges- another mystery surrounding Clark Kent- but he hadn't thought his "rescue" through and was tied up right beside her. Jimmy had been hit over the head and he was still unconscious. "I'm sorry Clark. I'm sure dying wasn't on your to do list for today."

"It's still isn't. Come on."

"Wait a second! How did you…?"

"Look do you want me to stay here and explain it while we get blown up, or shall we get out of here?"

"Jimmy!"

"I've got him. Let's get out of here." They barely made it out of the building before it exploded. The force of the explosion carried them upwards and then dropped them in a mud puddle.

"Where, what happened?" mumbled Jimmy, beginning to come around.

"Look!" Clark pointed to the sky.

It was Antoinette Baines in her get-away helicopter. It suddenly burst into flames. "Guess she didn't get away, after all."

"Clark, I'll bet they discover that explosion wasn't an accident anymore than the one that landed us," she held up her muddy dripping hands "here was."

***

"They've found the same problem with the colonist launch vehicle. They've installed the correct equipment and are set to launch tomorrow morning." The room erupted in cheers. "It's a no go for you, Lois," Perry spoke in a lowered voice. "No reporters allowed."

"But, Perry, imagine the Daily Planet getting a personal, exclusive account of being on the colonist transport."

"No can do honey. I tried. I can't get you on there. Officially."

"All right. Another time."

"Clark, you'll be glad to know that Dr. Platt's widow and daughter are back on board," Perry told him.

***

"So, are you giving up on being on the shuttle?"

"Not even, Clark. You heard Perry. He can't get me on there officially."

"Right. So—"

"Which means he's giving me permission to get on there unofficially."

"How will you—"

"Ah, ah, ah, Clark. A girl's got to have some secrets."

"Just- be safe, okay? Perry and Mom, not to mention Ellen, would kill me if I let something happened to you."

"I've been taking care of myself for a long time now, Clark. But you can wish me luck." You could kiss me…for luck. Of course, he didn't.

"Clark! In my office. Pronto."

"You'd better go, Clark. The Colonel bellows."

***

"So, Clark, did Lois tell you she scared another of my reporters off?"

"No, but I heard. I happened to be here when—"

Perry cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Not important. But it does leave me with a vacancy in my newsroom and I did promise you a spot. And since you have a front page article- Are you still interested?"

"Of course, I'm interested, but front page article? What front page article?"

Perry smiled and thrust a Daily Planet towards him. "Didn't you take a look at this?"

Clark looked down. Yes, there was Lois' story. "Prometheus Sabotaged" by Lois Lane-Kent and…Clark Kent?

"She shared her byline."

"She did. I was surprised, but she insisted since you saved her life, she couldn't have possibly gotten the story without you. So, are you working for me?"

"Absolutely."

***

Her fake ID guy had very little trouble making her a pass for the shuttle. "What I'm hoping," she explained to him, "is that with a hundred passengers, no one will be watching too closely and I can slip by."

It worked just as well as she had imagined. The attendant never even looked at the pass. Her ID was the same size and felt the same as the others, and after 73 tickets, the novelty was starting to wear off. Once inside the shuttle, Lois broke away from the other passengers to find a place to strap in for the launch. She didn't want to end up finding they were short a seat if she followed the other passengers. She located a fold down seat with the appropriate straps. Hopefully she would be safe here. Except what was that beeping? It looked like… She quickly unbuckled and ran over to the box with the numbers quickly counting down on it. Yep, it looked like a bomb because it was. She began calling for help, but as rockets prepared to fire, she knew that no one would be able to hear her. How could she attract some attention? She grabbed a pair of pliers from a nearby toolbox and began cutting any wires that looked important. The rockets began to die down. Suddenly Clark burst into the room. What was he wearing! Martha would have a fit- right after she stopped laughing. Maybe Clark had watched too many Justice League cartoons with Lucy. Clark walked right past her and grabbed the bomb, not even acknowledging her presence. "Hey, get away from that! What kind of a lunatic are you!" Clark turned toward her as he put the beeping switch into his mouth.

"That is a bomb!" It certainly was, but the explosion was muffled. Clark let out a tremendous burp.

"Excuse me," he apologized. Only Clark would worry about manners at a time like this.

"What *are* you?" She knew this had something to do with Martha and Jonathan's discussions with Clark that always ended abruptly when her presence was noted. Clark just smiled and left the room. She followed him to where the passengers were beginning to de-plane. "There was a bomb," she began to explain. "He…he …he *ate* it!" Clark kneeled down in front of Amy Platt's wheelchair.

"Hi," he said casually, like he ate bombs every day.

"Hi," she replied. "I like your costume."

"Thank you. My mother made it for me. What's your name?" Martha made it for him? What was she thinking? It was so…tight!

"Amy. Amy Platt. Who are you?"

"A friend." So he wasn't going to reveal himself as Clark Kent. Probably a good thing, because she was certain that any one of the scientists on board would love to get him into their lab and dissect him like a frog. Wait- where had she heard that before?

"Can you teach me how to fly?"

Clark began to reply when a voice came over the loudspeaker instructing the passengers to leave the shuttle.

"Why?" Lois asked.

Dr. Platt's widow answered. "Once the thrusters have fired they have to be replaced. By that time, we'll have missed our launch window."

"I guess this is it for Space Station Prometheus," Lois said glumly.

"No," cut in Clark. "There's nothing wrong with this transport vehicle or the station. You only need a way to get there."

"And where will we find a way?"

"Easy," Clark answered smiling confidently. "I'll give you a boost."

"You can do that?"

***

Lois hardly knew where to start. The colonist launch was a great story. But a man who could eat a bomb, lift a shuttle into space, and fly it to the station? That was a really great story. She began jotting things down on paper, but she was still in a state of shock. How had she practically grown up next to Clark Kent and never acknowledged that he could do these things? Looking back, she knew that the signs had been there, if she had put it all together. But she had avoided digging into the oddities surrounding Clark Kent because of her loyalty to his family.

Odder still was the fact that Clark had not addressed her by name. She had figured out that since he did not introduce himself, he wanted to keep his identity private, and he did look very different with his hair gelled back and without the glasses on his face. And that suit! I wonder what size cup Martha sewed in there- do cups come in sizes? She blushed and shook her head. Clark's…attributes were not the story. Not the one Perry wanted anyway. Though she would bet money that several women's magazines might be interested!

Her presence was discovered upon the passenger's departure. Probably, if everyone was not so flustered, she would be looking at trespassing charges, and God knew what else, but they simply insisted that she return with the shuttle back to earth. She wasn't going to argue. It looked like the bigger story was there any way.

"May I offer you a ride?" Clark spoke as she exited the shuttle.

"A ride?"

He nodded. "I can fly you to your home, if you give me directions," he added quickly. Lois was puzzled. Clark knew very well where she lived.

"Uh, no. I mean, yes, I'd like- love!- a ride, but no, not to my home. Take me to the Daily Planet."

"You're a reporter, then." Suddenly it hit her. Clark did not think she recognized him… and he didn't want her to. He must have forgotten, or hoped that she had forgotten, that she had seen him many times without his glasses, fresh out of the shower, in the years she had lived in the Kent home.

"Yes. And I'm going to want an interview with you."

Clark nodded, then picked her up like she weighed nothing and headed in the direction of the Daily Planet.

Why didn't Clark want her to know he was…whatever he was?

***

The whole newsroom watched, open mouthed, as Clark flew her in through the open windows.

"I see it, but I don't believe it," Cat Grant spoke shaking her head. "Lois Lane-Kent *finally* falling for a man. Except, he's not a man. He's an alien."

"I think you owe me an exclusive," Lois spoke at Clark sat her down. "I did see you first."

Clark raised an eyebrow at her, an expression she had often seen on his face. How could he think that I wouldn't recognize him? she thought.

"Is that the rule?"

"Well, no. But I'd appreciate it very much."

Clark chucked and began to drift toward the window.

"Wait! How will I find you?"

He smiled. "I'll be around."

As he continued to fly away, Cat came to stand behind her. "Did you figure out what the "S" stands for?"

Suddenly Clark's comment from the other night flashed through her mind. She had found him. Her "super man" had come along, as Clark had predicted. "Super Man", she spoke. "That's what the "S" stands for."

***

Lois spent all night tossing and turning. Clark had not been home when she got there. All afternoon, as she had typed away trying to tell the story of the colonist launch, she listened to the ladies in the newsroom swoon over Superman. It made her feel sick to listen to them talking about Clark like he was a hunk of meat. She would never…suddenly she was seized with a crazy thought that would not go away. If Clark didn't think that she knew Superman was Clark, wouldn't he think it odd if she was not swooning over him like everyone else? What if…could this be a way for her to show Clark her love without actually sharing her feelings with Clark and taking the chance that he would reject her or that her unreciprocated feelings would ruin their friendship? The idea was ludicrous, but she couldn't make it go away. She kept thinking of stories and plays and legends of people who pretended to be something they were not to gain the love of the man (or woman) they desired. She had suppressed her feelings, and would continue to do so when around Clark. But when she was around Superman, she was going to show Clark all the love that she felt. And maybe he would see that she loved him and come to love her as well. When he loved her too, he would tell her that he was also Superman, the man she loved, and she would tell him that she knew that all along. And they would kiss and he would sweep her up in his arms…Lois smiled dreamily. But until then she had to act normally around Clark, considering they were working together, currently living together, and she would never forgive herself if her feelings caused any uneasiness in her relationship with the Kents.

***

She still had not seen Clark until she bumped into him in the newsroom the next day. "Morning, Lois."

"Clark! Where have you been?" She wasn't just asking to be polite. She really, really wanted to know.

"Around." Not exactly the answer that she was looking for. "I'm sorry, Lois. I should have thought- I should have called to let you know—"

"You don't answer to me, Clark. That's why I gave you a key. Hey! Guess what?"

"What?"

"Well, Superman was in the newsroom and I think I nailed an exclusive with him."

"That's great, Lois. Congratulations."

Well, here goes nothing, she thought. "Clark, you should have seen him! Up close he is the most magnificent figure of a man that I have ever—"

Clark didn't let her finished, "It sounds like he made quite and impression on you."

Lois sighed dreamily. "Hhmmnn. Yes, he did. Why? Are you jealous?"

"Of Superman? Should I be?" Was it possible to be jealous of one's self?

"Of course not, Clark. You mean the world to me." He really did, just not the way he probably had interpreted her comment. "Let's get going."

"Where?"

"Terrorist shooting on Third. Perry said you work here now, so I'm taking you along. But remember, I ask the questions."

***

Perry had Clark working on a story on adoption. That had to be hard on him. Had the Kents really found him on their doorstep? Somehow she doubted it. Surely Clark had to wonder where he came from. Maybe she should try to cheer him up.

She walked over to his desk, "Clark," she began.

Then the elevator doors opened a several men with ear pieces and wearing black suits entered. In the midst of them was a man in tan suit looking decidedly unhappy. He strode in like he owned the place.

Perry moved to confront him. "Nobody comes busting into my newsroom like this."

The man frowned and flashed a piece of paper at him. "Take it up with Washington." Then he began to signal to his men. They headed toward her and one grabbed her arm roughly.

"Wait a minute! Get your hands off me," she protested. Clark immediately moved to her aid, but he was grabbed as well and she heard the sound of a gun cocking.

"Put it away," the leader instructed. "She's just the reporter."

"Right, reporter. As in protected by the Constitution." Lois glared at him.

"Impressive document, the Constitution. It enables the courts to issue warrants, like this one, that says I get what I want."

"No, it doesn't," contested Clark. "For a warrant to be issued you have to prove just cause."

"I have all the cause I need," the man said advancing threateningly toward Clark. "I want Superman." Clark turned to look at her and she could see the panic in his eyes.

"Lois, Clark, in my office now. Let me talk to these goons."

"But, Perry-" Lois began to argue.

"Let's do what he says, Lois. And Perry?"

"Yes, Kent?"

"You might want to have legal take a good look at that warrant."

***

Lois watched the scene in the newsroom through the windows of Perry's office, until something else caught her attention. Clark had been tossing rolled up paper into Perry's wastebasket. Now he tossed a piece in the air and was directing it towards the trash with his breath. Wow! Was there no end to his abilities? She turned towards him. The paper fell like a stone and Clark put his best innocent expression on his face and began to whistle.

Perry entered the room. "Okay, here's the deal. They want you to take a lie detector test—"

"What?"

"Why?" Lois and Clark spoke at once.

"—limited to national security concerns about Superman," Perry continued. "I told them to stuff it. Not my reporters."

"You tell 'em, Perry," Lois encouraged.

"I told them if they were so bound and determined to take your computers and your notes to just get on with it and get the hell out of my newsroom so I could start suing their butts off."

"Perry! They can't take my computer. I have sensitive information on there. Sources! They'll never trust me again if they know that I turned their information over to the government. Everything I've ever done or thought about doing is on that computer! My notes…my novel."

"You talk, they walk. Otherwise they're going to confiscate the whole shebang," Lois looked at Clark.

"No, Lois! I don't want to take a lie detector test."

"Why, Clark? Do you have something to hide?" Clark had that panicked look in his eyes again and she started to feel very sorry for him. But there was as much information on her computer about his identity as anything she could tell the men. And she knew how to fool a lie detector. She promised herself that if she got out of this with her hard drive intact that she would dump her Clark file and ask Jimmy to purge it. If there was a way to completely erase any traces of the file, Jimmy could do it. Why had she foolishly begun that file?! Anyone could have seen it, if they could break her passwords. "Perry, can I talk to Clark alone for a minute."

Perry looked at her oddly, but nodded. "They want a decision ASAP, Lois."

"This will only take a second, Perry." Perry walked out of his office closing the door. Lois turned to Clark. "Look, Clark, there is a lot of personal- very personal stuff- on my computer. I know I can beat the lie detector test. I think you can too."

"I can't believe you'd rather take a lie detector test, subject me to a lie detector test, than take the chance that someone might read your novel!"

How could he think so little of her? Tears came to her eyes and for a second, she wanted to tell him that she was just trying to protect his sorry hide. But she couldn't. "You can beat the lie detector too, Clark. It's not that hard. No machine can actually detect when a person is telling a lie. It is just the opinion of the person operating the machine. Don't try to keep your body from responding. The physical effort will show up on the machine. Instead, intensify your emotions. If you're asked something simple, try to think about an unpleasant situation. They will try to calibrate the machine based on easy questions, so if you can overreact to those, it will mess up the rest of the test. Make movements that they can't see, but that will raise your blood pressure, like wiggling your toes in your shoes." She stepped toward the computer at the podium and typed something. "Here, look at this. It's a book at antipolygraph.com. It has a whole chapter on how to beat a lie detector. Hey, suck your breath in and out really hard and make the needle jump how you want it." She said this in a teasing voice, trying to lighten the situation and maybe, it would give him an idea. If he could manipulate the paper wads, surely he could manipulate the machine. He did seem to relax.

"Okay, Lois. If that is what you feel is best."

"Great! I'm going to go tell Perry our decision. If it makes you better, I'll go first." Maybe that would give Clark time to look over the web site.

***

The men hooked her up to the polygraph machine. "You will answer yes to these first two questions. Is your name Lois Lane?" Idiots, she thought. The first question was supposed to be true. If they calibrated the machine by this question, it was seriously going to screw with their results.

"Yes," she lied.

"And are you also the president of the United States?"

"I have thought about running, but, you know, I'd really rather spend my time tracking down scum like you and making sure the public knows what our government is up to."

"Just answer yes, Miss Lane."

"Yes," she lied again.

"Do have any reason to believe that Superman is an agent of a foreign power?"

"Yeah, sure. And Leprechauns are agents of the IRA."

"Is Superman from another planet?"

"If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, chances are, it's a duck." One of Perry's favorite sayings. The man glared at her. "Well, he looks like a man to me."

"During your time alone with Superman, did he discuss his mission on earth?"

"Mission? No. But if I see him again, I'll ask him. And then you can read it in the Daily Planet along with everyone else."

"Does Superman have telepathic abilities?"

"How would I know?" Oh, he'd better not! He couldn't, or he would know how her heart longed for him, and how thoughts of him filled her mind 24/7.

"Do you have any romantic attachment to Superman?"

"No," she blurted quickly. The machine began beeping wildly. She looked at him sheepishly then said defensively, "Every woman with a pulse is attracted to him. He's a fine figure of a man."

The man snorted and pointed to the door. "You can send Kent in now."

***

Lois waited anxiously for Clark to return. She hoped that things were going okay. She felt guilty for causing him this worry, but she had to keep these men away from her computer. Then the men came bursting out of the room. The leader turned to Clark, who was still strapped to the machine. "I don't need a polygraph, Mr. Kent, to know when I'm being lied to. It's in the eyes." He turned on his heel, and Lois rushed past him and helped Clark remove the band and wires.

"I'm sorry, Clark. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Lois," he said with anger in his voice.

Perry entered. "Lois, Clark, type up your notes and give them to Valdez."

"What? Perry this is my story."

"Lois, right now, you are the story. And in case those goons come back, I want you out of here so they can't serve you a subpoena. Now get."

"I guess I can work from home then?" Clark asked Perry.

"Home? No don't go home. Don't go anywhere they can serve you. Keep your phones on. We'll be in touch."

***

Lucy was at her house when she arrived. Lois rushed past her. "I'm not here, you never saw me. In fact, if anyone calls, don't even admit that I live here. Don't open the door, don't sign anything, don't accept any packages. In fact, it would be better if you went home or back to the dorm for tonight."

"Clark already gave me this lecture."

"Clark? He was here?"

"Yeah. He said he was going to stay with someone from work for a while. Grant or something?"

"Cat Grant!?"

Lucy shrugged. "You two have a fight?"

"No, we did not have a fight! What would we fight about?"

"Cat Grant seems to have struck a nerve." The phone rang.

"I know, I know. You don't live here, I never saw you. Hello?" Lucy answered the phone. She covered the mouthpiece. "It's some old guy with a Southern accent and a real attitude. He says to answer your cell phone." Lois took the phone from her.

"Hi, Perry."

"Lois, you need to come back to work right away."

"What? Why?"

"Clark was right. The warrant's a fake."

***

Lois looked over the paper Perry handed her. "I can't believe it's a fake! We took lie detector tests. Clark didn't want to and I made him, and it was for nothing. Wait a minute, Perry, where's Clark?"

"I still need to talk to him. I called you first."

"Well what are you waiting for! Call him."

Perry dialed the number. "No answer." A few minutes later his phone rang. "Kent? There's been a new development. I'll send Jimmy with a car to pick you up. Where are you?" Lois wondered the same thing. Perry continued, "It sounds like jungle drums."

Lois grabbed the phone from Perry. "Clark, where are you? Quit playing games and get in here."

To her dismay Cat Grant's voice answered, "Sorry, Lois. Clark is a little…tied up right now. But once I find the key to my handcuffs, I'll send him your way."

Lois couldn't stop herself from slamming down the phone. "I'll wait in the conference room," she told Perry. She needed a minute.

***

Too soon, Clark opened the door.

"Well, look what the Cat dragged in."

"You've got the wrong idea, Lois."

"Cat Grant's bedroom has more comings and goings than Metropolis Central Station. I…I just never thought that you would be just another …commuter."

"Just tell me what's going on."

"What's going on is that the warrant's phony."

"Phony?"

Perry entered rubbing his hand tiredly over his head. He nodded. "As lock of Elvis' hair in a souvenir shop. I called my contacts in Washington and they contacted all the alphabet agencies. No one's claiming these guys."

"Then who are they?"

Lois answered, "We don't know, just that they think their job is to hunt down Superman."

"Which is why, boys and girls," Perry interjected, "it's our job to hunt them down first."

***

Lois was typing the story and Clark was sitting next to her editing her printed copy (infuriating!!) when Cat Grant arrived. She leaned over and kissed Clark on the corner of his mouth, like she did it every day.

"Sleep well?" Cat questioned giving Clark a knowing glance.

Clark looked at Lois. "Nothing happened."

"Clark, you can do the horizontal rumba with the entire Met U. cheerleading squad for all I care, just keep your hands off my copy!" She grabbed the print out from him. She could feel tears coming to the surface. She had to get away before she made a fool of herself, but Jimmy came up.

"Hey, CK. It is all over the newsroom. You," he held up one hand, "and the Cat woman," he held up the other then joined his hands. The mental image that flashed through Lois mind made her feel physically sick. She practically ran to refill her coffee. When she returned, Jimmy was sitting in her seat. She glared at him.

"Oh, great piece of journalism there, CK," he said as he stood. He shook Clark's hand with a gleam in his eye. What juicy details had Clark shared with him? She wanted to know, but she also couldn't stand to hear it.

"Sorry to interrupt your male bonding," she interrupted, "but we have a break in the story."

***

Lois pushed open the double door leading back out onto Metropolis Street. "Nothing!" she fumed. Thompson tried to turn the tables on her.

"You know, Lois," Clark said, "I think I'll just go home. I'm not feeling so well."

Lois glanced quickly at him. Was he really not feeling well? "Oh, well, sure Clark. Sometimes you have to put yourself above the story."

"Well, I don't want to leave you in the lurch."

"Don't worry about it. It's not like we're actually a team. Do you need a ride?"

"No, I think I'll walk. Maybe the fresh air will clear my head. I'll see you tonight at home, if I don't see you at the paper later."

"Sure. I'm just going to make a few calls." She patted him on the back. "Feel better."

She pulled her phone from her purse and dialed a familiar number. "Jimmy, get me everything you can find on George Thompson." Then she saw the subject of her conversation standing on the corner to hail a cab. She hung up the phone and began to look for a cab of her own. She had to figure out what Thompson was up to and protect Clark. As she moved to get into the cab, people around her began to exclaim and point. She saw Superman speeding across the sky. "Be careful up there," she whispered to him.

Thompson's cab dropped him off at a warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard. Well, she knew what she would be doing on a dark night in the near future. "Take me back to the Planet," she instructed the cabbie.

***

Clark never came back to the Planet and he wasn't at home either. Her phone rang. Maybe it was him.

"Hello?"

"Lois, it's Martha."

"Martha, it's great to hear from you. But Clark's not here."

"Actually, I was calling to talk to you."

"You were?"

"Clark called this afternoon. He seemed…discouraged, upset…I'm worried about him, Lois."

"Clark will be fine, Martha. It's just difficult beginning a new career."

"I hate to ask you this, Lois, but will you keep an eye on him? I know he's a big boy now, and he doesn't need looking after, but he's still my boy, and he's far from home."

"You know I will, Martha. Hey, maybe I'll have Lucy come over this weekend. We had a really good time together watching movies the other night."

"Thank you, Lois. You don't know how great it feels to know that you are there with him."

***

She heard Clark come in after midnight and start the shower. Had he been at Cat's again? She was finally able to relax and fall asleep to the sound of the falling water.

He was already gone when she woke up, but he had left a note: "Pancakes in the microwave."

***

When she arrived at the Planet, Clark was in front of the microfiche machine. She came up behind him and patted his shoulder, "Feeling better?"

Clark glanced up at her. "Yeah, I'm sorry I wasn't there when you got home last night. I started feeling better and decided to explore Metropolis for a while. How'd it go yesterday after I deserted you?"

"Well, I trailed Thompson to a warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard. Very weird. What did you dig up?"

"Nothing." He was lying. She could see it in his eyes. She looked at the screen that he was trying to close without it being obvious.

"Project Blue Book? Clark, the Air Force got out of the UFO business in 1969. This is old news. Way old news."

"It was just a hunch, Lois."

"Wait a second." She stilled his hand as he moved to shut down the screen. She stared at the picture.

"Some hunch." She pointed, "That guy in the middle is the fake that raided the Planet. Isn't he?"

"Maybe. I don't know. My sight isn't the best." Really?

"Well I have perfect vision. Superman does not see like I do." Obviously! "Jason Trask. That's our man." She slapped him on the chest. "Almost missed that one, rookie." He hadn't though, and she knew it.

***

Perry had Clark in his office, undoubtedly telling him one of his Elvis stories when the call came in. She knocked and opened the door to Perry's office. "It's Thompson. Metropolis Harbor. Coroner's got him." She saw the pain in Clark's face. He probably felt that he should have stopped it, but there was no way that Clark could be every where at once. He couldn't keep bad things from happening anymore than he could solve the conflict in Darfur.

***

Research into Project Blue Book led them to General Newcomb. After he destroyed her recording, he put a plastic card on his desk, turned and pulled a gun out of his cabinet and gave them three seconds to get out of his office. Lois grabbed the card. It looked just like the one Thompson had used to get into the warehouse.

***

Security at the warehouse had changed in the last 40 years. Clark figured out the combination to the new system, and they entered the main warehouse. Lois moved to the file cabinets and started looking through them. She pulled out a picture that looked like jellyfish on toothpicks. "Oh, give me a break. I've seen this movie."

"I don't know, Lois. These look real."

She moved on to another cabinet. "It's got to be a set up."

"What if it's not? What if people really traveled in these things? People from…far away?" He sounded hopeful. She looked at him. Clark wanted to believe. He wanted to feel that he was not alone.

She could understand that. Still. "There might be a story here, Clark, but I don't think its UFOs."

"Well, you were the one who said if it looks like a duck—"

"Do not quote me to myself, Clark. And how did you know I said that?" Clark was slipping. He would not have been able to hear that with human ears. He didn't answer her question and began to physically move her from the cabinet he was looking in. "What are you doing?" she said jerking away from him.

"Well, you said you don't like their pictures, let see what else they have."

"I suppose you think there are UFOs under these tarps. She lifted one. "Clark, this is just some old scrap metal." She started to wander off and then stopped. Clark had pulled the tarp off one of the shapes and began to run his fingers over it like it held all the secrets of the world. His face held a look of wonder. It was…well, she supposed it could be a spaceship. After all, how were they supposed to know what one looked like? Clark stopped and stared at the tapered front of the ship. Lois moved as quietly as she could so that he would not notice her presence. He was so engrossed that he didn't seem to realize she was still there. On the nose of the craft was the stylized "S" he wore on his suit. She barely stopped herself from gasping. Was this Clark's ship? It was a very private moment and she felt guilty watching. She turned to struggle with a drawer on another cabinet. "Krypton" she heard Clark whisper. What was a krypton?

A noise roused her, but it was too late. By the time she got out the words, "Clark, someone's coming," Trask and his men were on them. Oh, this was not good.

***

The next thing she knew she was in a military style airplane flying high above Metropolis. Clark was sitting by her side. He had been so quiet, she was worried about him. She decided to break the silence and try to distract him.

"It's a romance novel." It worked.

"What?" he queried.

"My novel. It's about a woman who dies without ever knowing what it feels like to be truly loved."

"That's not going to happen to you, Lois." His eyes drifted back to the men. What else could she distract him with?

"Okay, I told you. Now you tell me."

He turned to her again. "What?"

"What really happened between you and Cat the other night? Not that I care, but it's probably the best secret you've got going. If we get out of here, you have got to raise your standards."

Jason Trask interrupted them. Drat the man. She wanted to hear Clark deny sleeping with Cat and she desperately wanted to believe him when he said it.

"I suppose you are familiar with the scientific method?"

Apparently Clark was and he rattled off the answer.

Trask smirked. "My theory is that at least one of you knows how to contact the alien, Superman."

"How do you intend to prove that?" Lois shot back.

"I suppose that if you were to become airborne at say, 20 thousand feet without a parachute, that you would put all your efforts into contacting him." The men opened the door. Oh, this did not look good. The men grabbed both her and Clark. "Wait," she cried. "I'll go first—"

"Lois, no," Clark protested.

"—but I think that I deserve one last request." Trask looked askance at her. "I want to kiss Clark goodbye."

Trask nodded and the men holding her released her arms so that she could walk towards Clark. She made her request for two reasons. One, as her lips met his, was that she really did want to kiss Clark before she died. And second, she leaned past Clark's face to his ear, "You take the one on the left." She turned on her heel and put all her body weight into punching Trask in his smug face. Clark started to do as she had commanded, but a second later a gun was fired. Lois was thrown from the plane.

"Clark!' she cried as she fell.

She could hear him call out to her, "Lois!"

She tried to stay calm. She tried to stop the tears streaming down her face. She tried to calm her racing heart. But she was falling faster and faster, and she didn't know where Clark was. "Superman, Help!"

And then he was there, catching her in his arms. "Clark!"

"What?"

"Clark, they still have him."

"Don't worry, I'll go back for him." Superman set her down in an alley near the Daily Planet. "You'll be all right?"

At that moment she noticed the missile headed straight for them. "Lois?" All she could do was point. Clark shot into the air.

The next thing she saw was the missile explode. She burst into tears. Where was Clark? Was he okay? Had he exploded with the missile?

***

Lois stumbled into the newsroom. "Lois," asked Perry in a concerned voice. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"Before or after I was thrown out of the plane?"

"Plane, what plane?"

Then the elevator doors opened. She swore the sun came out and music began to play. "Clark! You're alive." She ran to him and threw herself into his arms. She didn't care if he knew how she felt about him, she just had to feel his arms holding her safe. She ran her hands over his face.

"It would seem so," he joked looking down at her. She turned away from him before he could see the love that she knew was shining in her eyes.

"Clark's alive everybody. And if Clark's alive, that means Superman's alive! This story is getting bigger every minute. Perry, we've got to get back to that warehouse."

***

It was deserted. In a matter of hours, they had completely cleared out the open room. "But it was all here, Perry."

"I believe you, Lois, but your proof has vanished. I can't let you print your story."

Lois arranged a disappointed look on her face. Honestly, if Clark wanted to keep his identity a secret, it was better for all this to have vanished. Except for one thing, Clark's ship. She'd seen him run his hands over it and she knew that with all his heart he longed to know more about his origins and that had just been ripped from him. Clark must have bought her act.

"Lois, I'm sorry," he said sadly. She shook her head.

"Clark, do you realize what we've lost here?"

"Yes, Lois. I do." Oh, Clark. She wanted to pull him into her arms and give him comfort. To kiss his sad eyes. To place her lips on his tight mouth. Couldn't he see that she loved him? Why didn't he see the real Lois?

***

She stayed late at the Planet. She didn't want to go home and face Clark. She couldn't go over to her mother's because Ellen would know something was bothering her, and Lois couldn't take a chance that Ellen would drag something out of her in a weak moment. So she was sitting there, trying to catch Whoppers in her mouth when his voice spoke.

"I hear you've been looking for me."

She almost choked on the Whopper she had just managed to land in her open mouth. She blushed. "All my life." She didn't care if he heard her. She pushed away from her desk. "Everybody's looking for you."

"I know, and I know that you almost died because of me."

"Because of Trask, you mean. But it did make that bungee jump I did last year seem a little tame."

"I'll find that man, and stop him, Lois. I promise."

"You know my name, but I don't know what to call you."

"Well, Superman seems to have caught on."

She laughed. "Where are you from? I mean you're not from Kansas, that's for sure." There. She left the door wide open for him to acknowledge that he was Clark.

He chuckled. "No, I'm not from Kansas. I'm from another planet. A place called Krypton."

The word he had whispered in the warehouse. Okay, Lois, think like a reporter. This was news. Superman was acknowledging that he was, in fact, an alien. "Do you mind if I write this down?"

"No. You did say that I owed you an interview."

"Um, you say that you're from Krypton, but you, uh, seem to have all the…parts of a man." She knew her cheeks were on fire."

"I am a man."

She looked up at him. "I'm really glad you're here." She smiled. "But, uh, why are you here?"

"To help."

"To help? To fight for truth and justice?" Wasn't that what they said on those cartoons? He really hadn't thought this through, had he?

"Truth! And justice. That's good. You can use that." Then he got "that look" on his face.

"What is it?"

"Someone's in trouble."

"Then you'd better go."

"I'll be seeing you," he called down as he flew off.

"Hmph. I better, Superman. It's your turn to do the dishes tonight." Perry was going to have a coronary when she turned this in! She, Lois Lane-Kent, had just gotten the first one-on-one interview with Superman, and she hadn't even had to use her family connections to do it.

***

"Did everyone sleep well? Because I didn't." Perry said without waiting for an answer to his question. "I had the publishers of the Daily Planet calling my house to ask me why we didn't have the definitive story on Superman when he has, literally, fallen into our laps. I assured him that each and every one of my reporters would chip in. Would not rest until we brought in the story. Is that understood?"

"No!" protested Lois. Clark couldn't afford to have the entire staff of the Daily Planet on his tail. He really wasn't that great at this, and glasses and a fancy suit would only fool people for so long. "I don't understand. It's my story. I was the one Superman flew with. I wrote the original piece. I found him."

"Actually, he found you." Here she was trying to protect him and Clark was mocking her!

"Perry this isn't fair. This is my story. It should be my follow up. Those are the rules."

"There are no rules, Lois. Not with a story this big."

"But he's mine!" Cat smirked at her. "My story, I mean."

"No, from now on, Superman is fair game. It's every man for himself." Perry looked at Lois. "Or herself. Now go get me that story!"

The conference room emptied. Lois turned to Clark, who still sat there with a stunned expression on his face.

"I'll find him," she assured Clark.

Clark snorted, "How? He could be anywhere? Mars, the North Pole…"

"I'll find him," she insisted.

"What if he doesn't want to be found?'

"What do you mean?"

"What if all this media circus isn't what he expected?"

"Well, he has no reason to hide. Especially from me." If Clark would just let her in on his secret, this could be so much easier. She could help him maintain his persona as Clark Kent. But he had to trust her, and it seemed he didn't.

Cat approached, having caught the end of their conversation. "Oh, I get it. You and Superman joined the old "Mile High Club" up there on the space station. What was it like doing it at zero gravity?" Could Clark get any redder?

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, don't worry, Lois. Your secret is safe with me. No one would believe it anyway- Ice Maiden." Now Lois was red. "What?" Lois fumed at Clark when he looked at her. She spun away. She had work to do.

***

"Think, people," Perry challenged. "What would draw Superman out? Use your instincts. Beat the bushes. I don't care how, just get me this Superman story!"

Lois pushed back her chair. "So, what do we have?" Clark asked.

"We? There is no we. This is my story."

"How do you know I don't have the inside track here?"

"You? Have you even met him? Superman is my story!" She ran out of the room, but not before she saw Cat making her way toward Clark.

Lois had decided that listening to the police scanner was the best way to find Superman. Besides, since she could see Clark sitting at his desk across from her, Superman was obviously not going to make an appearance any time soon. In the meantime, she combed the internet for Superman references and pictures. She had to know what people were thinking. If any of it was correct or even close, she had to be able to refute it. Wait! She turned up the scanner. There was a call about a jumper. She grabbed her satchel and hurried towards the elevator. Clark would most likely be along in a minute- or less.

When she arrived at the address, a man stood on the ledge high above the crowd. He waved to them. Some of them waved back. Lois looked at them with disgust. If he was going to jump, he should just get on with it. Superman arrived and grabbed the would-be jumper by the arm. Immediately the man turned and began to follow the police towards the stairwell. Lois saw Clark take to the sky again. She ran towards a taxi. "Follow him! And step on it."

By the time she arrived to where the sirens were blaring, it was all over, and there was Clark, now dressed in street clothes. "Lois, you should have seen it! Superman caught that woman in mid-air." Was he bragging?! He continued, "She's okay. She left in the ambulance a minute ago. You should have been here."

"That's great, Clark, really great."

"I'd better phone it in." Clark began to flip open his cell phone.

"No!" Lois laid her hands on his stopping his actions. Clark couldn't report on his own activities! Someone was bound to realize Clark Kent wasn't actually there and put two and two together. "Clark, if you phone it in, they'll just re-write you. Best thing to do is get to the Planet as fast as possible and start typing. Hey, take my cab. Go on."

"Lois, I appreciate it. I owe you one." Yes he did, and he didn't even know it. The second Clark was out of sight, Lois pulled her cell phone from her purse, speed dialed the Planet, and quickly filled Doris in on the story. She was saving Clark. So why did she feel so guilty? She tossed and turned all night.

***

His eyes accused her as he threw the paper on her desk. "Superman Averts Double Suicide- by Lois Lane-Kent? First of all—"

"Clark, don't even start. You got what you deserved. I know it's tough, but one day you'll thank me."

"Thank you?"

"See? You're welcome. Never, never let go of a story. Trust no one. Period."

"But, Lois, you're my family! Of course I trusted you!" But he didn't really, did he? How could he believe that she had stolen his story out of spite?

"This is Metropolis, Clark, not Smallville. Consider this a life lesson." She patted his chest. "No charge."

Clark looked furious, but he couldn't seem to find the words to say. He walked away. Her heart broke. Had her motives been entirely altruistic? He was in her house. He was in her head- all the time. And he was at her work. She could not get away from the sight and thought of him. She just needed some time alone, to get way from him. And he was everywhere. Superman memorabilia was beginning to pop up, constantly reminding her of him. She headed towards the ladies room. He couldn't follow her in there.

While she was gone, Perry had taken a call about a bomb in the Carlin Building- and Perry sent Clark! She hailed a cab and headed over there as fast as she could harass the taxi driver to do so. She arrived in time to see Superman enter the building before it exploded. Clark! But there he was, his cape singed, but obviously all right. Ow! Her head ached. The explosion had popped her ear drums. Well, she was here. She might as well look around. She talked to a few people trying to find out if anyone had seen anything, whether it was something to do with the explosion or with Superman. No one had seen any more than she did. She wasn't sure how much time had passed when she caught sight of Clark talking to one of the inspectors. She made her way over to them. "What have we got?"

Clark retorted, "What do you mean "we"?" He started to look at her with scornful eyes, but then his expression changed. "Lois, you have a cut on your forehead!" That would be why her head was pounding.

"It's nothing. If it was serious, I would have noticed it by now."

"Do you guys want to hear this or not?" the inspector addressed the arguing couple.

Lois turned to him, "Yes."

"Off the record, I believe the explosion was radio controlled. Also, we found video cameras mounted in the lobby that were not part of the security system. The managers have both denied having additional cameras installed. We think the two are connected."

"So, you're saying that someone placed the bomb, watched Superman enter the building, then detonated the explosives?"

"That's my theory, but it's too early to confirm that." The inspector turned away from them.

Someone wanted Clark dead. No, someone wanted Superman dead.

"I can't believe it. That poor man."

"What man?" asked Clark.

"Superman." She saw surprise in Clark's eyes. "He comes here to help, and now this. Can you imagine how he must feel, Clark?"

Clark let out a huge sigh, "I think so."

"It doesn't make any sense. Who would want to kill Superman?" Who would gain from Clark's death? Of course, they thought they were gunning for Superman. They didn't know that he had a family and people who loved him. She had to find out who was behind this and keep Clark and the Kents safe from them.

***

Clark was checking on the jumpers' backgrounds when he received a phone call from the ER doctor who had treated both jumpers.

"So, what have we got?" she asked taking a seat on his desk.

He looked at her with accusation in his eyes. "Trust no one, Lois. I'm quoting directly here."

"And I told you not to quote me to myself. Spill it."

He did. She would have to cure him of that- with any one but her of course- or he would get stories stolen on a regular basis. "Both jumpers have been released. Jules Johnson almost immediately. They don't think he ever meant to jump. He was just trying to attract attention. Monique Kahn, on the other hand, was hysterical. It turns out, she's afraid of heights."

"Pretty strange phobia for someone who jumped from a thirty story building."

"I thought so. While she was sedated she kept mumbling something about a test."

"A test? What kind of test? A test of courage? Anything else?"

"No, that's it." A test. Was someone trying to test Superman?

One of the couriers arrived with a print out for Clark. It was the background on Jules Johnson and Monique Kahn. "They both worked at Lex Corp," she noted.

"Them and about another million people in Metropolis. Don't turn this into your expose on Lex Luthor."

Could Lex be testing Superman to find out how much of a threat he was to Luthor's empire? Would he be satisfied now, or would the tests continue?

***

Perry was still growling about the Superman story. Lois had noted a drop in the number of Superman sightings the last three days. While Clark refused to listen to her explain her theory of who was behind the tests, maybe he did believe that someone was testing him and was making himself scarce.

"Jimmy? Didn't you say the other day that you had an idea about finding Superman?" They were sitting in the lunch room. She and Clark were enjoying her famous tuna salad.

"Well, I figured that if Superman really is an alien, he had to travel here in some type of ship. Track down the ship and find Superman."

"Oh." Well that was out since Trask's bunch had Clark's ship. Still, she wanted Perry to believe that she was actively trying to track down the story. She headed to her desk and picked up the phone. "Operator, get me the EPRAD Tracking Station in Fairbanks, Alaska."

***

Clark was out again that evening. Maybe he was out being Superman. Maybe he was just trying to give her some space. She wasn't sure if he had forgiven her for "stealing" his story yet. The doorbell rang. It was a courier from the Planet. "This arrived for you. Perry said to bring it over."

It was a roughly drawn map, with an X marking a spot labeled "Superman's Spaceship". Her heart raced with excitement. Since everything was gone when they had returned to the Bessolo Boulevard warehouse, she had no idea what had happened to Clark's ship. Could someone in Jason Trask's command be giving her a clue? Her first impulse was to call Clark, but if it turned out to be a false lead, it would crush him. She thought again of his face as he had run his hands reverently over the ship. Maybe if she found Clark's ship for him, he would look differently at her. Or it could be a trap…? Lois shook her head to clear the warning from her thoughts. She had to check on this for Clark. She rushed to change into some old clothes. She was not going to wear her best clothes to go trudging through the sewage reclamation plant.

***

Lois approached Clark's desk. Noses wrinkled as she passed, but she didn't care. Cat and Jimmy stood by Clark. Jimmy turned as she approached, "What happened to you?"

"Oh, you're referring to the odor? Or perhaps the matter on my clothes that I don't even want to know what it is? Well you know what? After hours of trudging through the frogs, and the mud, and the… things, I think I have a perfect right to be a little disheveled. Do did you know that it is possible to get completely turned around in the Metropolis Waste Reclamation Facility? And did you know that there are billions of mosquitoes there? I do! Because I met them! But I suppose my little trip wasn't a complete waste of time. I did find this!" She pulled the Godzilla doll with the "S" on his chest out of the garbage bag she was carrying. Cat and Jimmy snickered. Clark had the grace to look ashamed. "I'm going home. Don't expect to see me before tomorrow. Any of you," she emphasized with a glare at Clark.

***

After a shower to get rid of the grime, Lois tried to relax in her bubble bath. She couldn't stop crying. Why had Clark done this? She loved him and she was trying to help him. She had hidden what she knew from everyone, and respected his right to hide the truth of his identity even from her. Why did love have to hurt so badly?

After she refreshed the cold water with warm for the second time and her tears had subsided to sniffles, she realized that Clark had had to do this. She had embarrassed him in front of the whole newsroom by stealing his story. And whatever her motives, she had stolen it. Clark needed to prove to her and to them that he would not be made a fool of. She certainly wasn't enjoying the consequences. Even the oatmeal bath soap she had used had not completely taken the sting from the many mosquito bites. But Clark had no way of knowing that she had taken the story from him to protect him. In retrospect, she knew that her motives weren't completely unselfish, but they hadn't been completely selfish either.

***

She sat on the loveseat flipping through channels, dressed in her Smallville High sweatshirt and flannel pajama bottoms. A knock came from her front door and the locks turned. Clark. She turned towards the door. "I made it clear I didn't want to see you, Clark."

Clark looked at her sheepishly. "I got the message."

"So did I," she whispered, her voice thick with tears.

Clark was instantly at her side wrapping his strong arms around her. "I'm sorry, Lois."

"No, it's okay, Clark. I was mad at first, but after I thought about it. I understand. I stole your story. You had to be sure that I, and the other Planet employees, knew that you wouldn't let me get away with it."

"Why did you?" she could hear the hurt in his voice. She had never intended to hurt him.

She gave a wail and cried, "I stole it. I have never stolen a story before in my life! How could I do that?" She turned to look up into his face. "It's him. It's Superman. Ever since he held me in his arms, I knew there was this connection between us. I felt like he belonged to me."

Clark smiled fondly at her. Did her words not sink in at all? "Lois, will you let me show you something?"

"Like what?"

He shook his head, standing up from the loveseat. "Ah, ah, ah. My secret. I'll tell you when we get there."

"Do I have to change? I was getting really comfortable."

"What you're wearing is fine. You won't be gone long."

"Okay." She took his hand. "Lay on, Macduff." Clark squeezed her fingers and she knew that he had forgiven her, as she had forgiven him.

***

Clark covered her eyes as he led her from the taxi. "No peeking, Lois." Lois pretended to pout.

"Clark, you know I hate surprises."

"I think you'll like this one." She heard a key turn in a lock and Clark took her hand again. "Watch your step," he cautioned.

"That would be easier to do if I could see." Then Clark removed his hand.

"Open your eyes, Lois."

What was this place? Everything was covered in an inch of dust. In the fading light, she finally made out a staircase that she would be hesitant to put her full weight upon going down to an open room. She saw some cabinets overhanging a sink, and the doors appeared to be falling off their hinges. She could hear the ancient refrigerator that stood in the corner humming loudly. An old electrical wire spool was tipped on its side, serving as a table for the stacks of newspapers and tiles that littered the entire room. Some of the walls were flaking white paint. Other were a drab grey and showed signs of badly patched cracks. "Where am I?"

"My new apartment."

Lois was appalled. "Clark, it's a mess! It's horrible. You can't stay here. You can stay at my place as long as it takes to find something."

"Lois, when I first came to Metropolis, I told you that I didn't want to cramp your style. Not in your personal life, and not at the Planet either. Spending so much time together has put a strain on our relationship, and I hate it."

"I do too."

"Besides, it really won't take me that long to fix this up. Think how much fun you had decorating your own apartment. This will be my first time. It'll be fun. And I work fast." That was true. It might take him a few hours to do what would take any other person days or weeks to accomplish. She nodded, looking around the room.

"Okay. But if you need any help, or any ideas of where to shop for furniture…"

"I promise, you'll be the first person I call. Are we okay now, Lois?"

"We were never really not okay, Clark, but yeah, we're okay. I'm going to miss waking up to a hot breakfast though."

"Well, I'll just have to stop by some morning and surprise- oops, I forgot. You hate surprises."

"You're not wiggling out of it that easy, Kent."

***

"I'm really glad that Helene and Alan got back together. I know that forty to fifty percent all marriages end in divorce, but they really seem to love each other," Clark commented as they were driving home from their final interview with the Morrises.

"Your mom and dad are still together. That gives us hope. But I did worry there that he had just run off and left Helene."

"It's so sad that Alan felt like he had to become invisible to be visible again."

"I'm glad that he finally realized that Helene loved the man under the suit." Would he catch her double meaning? "I guess, in a way, we all wear disguises."

"Well, uh—"

"I mean, don't you? In order to get to really know someone, you have to let them see you for what you really are. And that's very scary." So scary that she "disguised" her feelings for Clark by openly chasing Superman, because she was afraid that if Clark knew how he felt about her he would tell her that he didn't feel the same way.

"I guess. Where are we going?"

"Well, I'm going home. I have to get dressed."

"Oh? Hot date?"

"Uh-huh."

"With who? Do I know him?"

"Superman." Clark eyebrows raised above his glasses. Okay, so he didn't know that he was taking her out, but she had her savings. Hopefully it would be enough to win the bid for a date with Superman at the charity event to support the Metropolis School for the Blind.

***

Even Cat was there. It looked like there would be a lot of competitive bidding. The chairwoman called the meeting to order and began the biding with Lex Luthor. "Here he is ladies, the man voted world's most eligible bachelor, and he is the fourth richest man in the world."

"Third," Luthor interjected.

"Excuse me, the third richest man in the world."

I wonder who he killed to pull that off, thought Lois. She was going to bid on Lex as well as Superman, but she hoped she didn't win. She just wanted to get a chance to interview Lex, and since she had canceled their lunch date when she was fighting with Clark last week, she needed to get back into Lex's good graces if that were ever going to happen. "One thousand," she called out. She found herself standing next to Cat Grant. "Couldn't you afford a whole dress?" she scoffed.

"Less is more, Lois." She looked disdainfully at Lois' modest black dress. "Well, sometimes." Good. The bidding had gone way past her limit while she exchanged insults with Cat. There he was! Clark in his Superman suit entered the room. Poor Clark, he looked so uncomfortable. She knew that the notoriety that he had gained with his Superman persona was not something that he had been prepared to deal with. At the Metropolis Man of the Year ceremony, he had held his stomach, almost as if her were physically sick from nervousness. She had wanted so badly to hug him. But he had been improving lately. The bidding began.

"Fifteen hundred," she bid.

"Two thousand," called Cat.

"Twenty-five hundred," she parried.

"Five thousand," came the bid from across the room.

"Six," bid Cat confidently. That put him out of her league.

"Okay, Cat, you made your point. Now butt out!"

"What's wrong, Lois? Too rich for your blood?" While they were fussing, the bidding had gone even higher.

"Nine thousand," Cat called.

"Nine thousand going once, nine thousand going twice-" It wasn't fair! Cat already had been where Lois only dreamed with Clark and now she wanted to sink her claws into Superman. Somebody, anybody bid! She mentally pleaded to the room.

"Fifty thousand dollars." Lois stiffened as she heard the voice. It couldn't be. When she had wished anybody else to bid, she hadn't meant this. The only thing worse than Cat getting the date with Superman would be—

"Sold! To Miss…" the auctioneer checked the list, "Lana Lang." Yep. It was her.

Well, Clark had to walk right past her to get to Lana. Surely he would at least acknowledge her presence! He didn't. He walked past, drawn to Lana like a moth to flame. Just like he always had. And Lana kissed him!

Lois headed across the room and poured herself a glass of wine. Lex followed her. "Good evening, Lois."

Well, maybe the night wouldn't be a complete loss. "I'm sorry I had to cancel our lunch, Lex. Something came up."

"I thought you might like to reschedule." It was a statement, not a question. Lex Luthor couldn't imagine any woman not wanting to be with him.

Lois looked across the room at Superman. Lana was laughing up at him.

"Yes, Lex. I would like that very much."

"So would I. Call my assistant tomorrow and she'll set something up."

***

She was on her fourth glass when Clark arrived. "Date with Superman, huh?"

She glared at him. "What are you doing here?"

"I filed the Morris story. You are very welcome."

"Mmmn," was her only comment as she took another sip. She set her glass down. "I was saving for Tahiti. But a date with Superman. That would have been a real adventure. Oh, Clark," she moaned. "He doesn't even know I'm alive. Maybe it was stupid of me to think that he cared."

"It's not so stupid, Lois. Come on, I'm taking you home."

***

Clark fixed her some strong, hot coffee, while she dressed for bed. He placed two aspirin and some water on the bed table. "For when you wake up tomorrow," he explained. "You going to be okay?

"Don't worry, Clark. I'm not turning into my mother. I rarely drink at all. Tonight was…extenuating circumstances."

He nodded. "Well, call me if you need anything."

***

He tapped on her window the next evening right before she started to get ready for bed. She hurried to the window to let him in. "Superman!"

"I'm sorry to bother you, but I wanted to say, wanted to tell you…" he paused awkwardly. "Lois," he began again. "You don't have to bid for my attention."

"Oh, you saw me there. I didn't think that you noticed. I thought that I was just another face in the crowd."

"You will always be special to me, Lois." Her eyes flew to his face. Could he be realizing that he had feelings for her too? When Henry Barnes, the gold bandit, had locked her in at Fort Metropolis, Superman had carried her when she was perfectly capable of walking, holding her like he would never let her go.

"I will?" she asked hopefully

"Yes. You're the first person that ever interviewed me. Um, will you let me show you something?" His words echoed those of just a few weeks ago when he had showed her his new apartment.

"Sure."

"Then close your eyes and hold on tight." He picked her up as if she weighed nothing, and then they were airborne. Her eyes flew open.

"Superman!"

"Close your eyes, Lois. We're not there yet." She left her eyes open just a slit and watched as Metropolis fell away and they rose above the clouds.

"Okay, now open your eyes. The rest of the way, I mean." She should have known that he would know she was cheating. She opened her eyes wide and looked around. Fluffy white clouds as far as she could see and Clark's strong arms holding her. She couldn't imagine a more perfect moment.

"I remembered…I thought that you would like to fly." Tears stung her eyes. "Invisible or fly?" she had asked Clark, and she had told him that she wanted to fly with Superman. Maybe he didn't love her like she loved him, but he did love her and was showing her by granting her wish.

"Thank you," she whispered. Thank you for the most beautiful experience of her life.

***

Perry liked their conjoined writing so much he announced that he would be making them partners.

"Full time?" queried Lois.

"No, no," Perry assured. "You don't want too much of a good thing. Only when the time is right, and only on special stories." He walked off, whistling to himself.

"So, partner, which sounds better? Lane-Kent and Kent or Kent and Lane-Kent?"

"Too many Kents," she grumbled. "I should have never changed my name."

Clark laughed.

"When we are partnered," she emphasized 'when', "Lane-Kent and Kent sounds the best."

"Are you sure that is not just because that puts your name first?"

"I was here first, Clark."

"Well, fortunately for you, I agree. Lane-Kent and Kent sounds the best."

***

The West River area was ablaze. Buildings seemed to be spontaneously combusting every few hours. Of course, arson was suspected, but the police had no leads. Clark called in sick- big surprise- and Superman had been busy all day helping the Metropolis Fire Department keep the hungry flames under control. This was a job for…Lois Lane-Kent. The Metro Gang controlled the West River and Bobby Bigmouth indicated that they ran the gang out of their legitimate business, an exclusive club, also located in the West River.

Lois pretended to be bored as she looked around the club. Johnny Taylor's voice broke into her perusal. "Hey, you! With the legs. The long legs." Lois came forward with a sultry walk. "Babycakes, you're in." Well, now she was the new chorus girl at the Metro Club.

***

Clark vehemently protested her research methods. Fortunately Perry backed her up, but he did caution her to be careful. Meanwhile, she had another story to cover, one of Lex Luthor's press conferences. Her sources claimed that coercion was used to pressure the city counsel to approve his latest project.

"The West River area has been a blight on our fair city for too long," Lex spoke eloquently. "Schools, shops, restaurants, theaters, offices, apartments. A self-contained community. A bright new jewel in Metropolis' crown."

"Mr. Luthor," asked on the Star's reporters, "Aren't you worried about making such a large investment in the West River area at this time, with the fires?"

"With Lex Harbor, I believe that we can take the West River back from the gangs and the criminal element who are not being controlled by the Metropolis Police Department, even with the help of Superman. Good day." And he exited the room.

He was so dirty! Lois just knew it. The fires, which were being attributed to a gang called "The Toasters", were making people eager to see change. And who better than the third richest man in the world to step in and bring about that change? Of course, he was going to make a tidy profit.

***

Lois had finished dressing herself in the most embarrassing costume, although it fit her mood. She was certainly feeling chicken! She peered out at the audience of the Metro club. What was Clark doing here? And why was he wearing a mustache and goatee? He passed the curtain she was standing behind and she grabbed him and pulled him next to her.

"What are you doing here, Clark? This is my story."

"I'm here to back you up."

"I don't need back up. I've been doing this job for years before you showed up."

"What, this job?" He fluffed the feathers on her chicken costume and barely controlled his laughter.

"Oh, stick around, Clark. You might be surprised. I'm good at this."

"I just might at that."

Someone pounded on the door.

"Get out of here," Lois hissed. "I've got to go."

"No problem. I think I'll go see if they serve chicken in this joint," he teased with a cheeky grin.

***

The Toasters ruined her debut, not that she really cared. Clark saved Toni Taylor from the fire, and as a reward, she gave him a job. The main singer refused to come back because she was afraid of the Toasters and Lois volunteered to take her place. At least maybe then she could avoid anymore farm animal costumes. As she came out on to stage singing, she looked towards Clark at the bar. He had a look of surprise on his face. If only he knew that the emotion she put into the words came from her feelings for him. She forced herself to break eye contact and look around the room. Lex Luthor! She almost lost her place in the song. What if he exposed her cover? And why was he sitting with Toni Taylor? But he smiled widely and threw a rose on stage as she finished the song.

***

Lois took the first opportunity she had to pull Clark into the storage closet. "Did you see him?"

"Luthor?"

"No, the Easter Bunny! Yes, Luthor. Maybe he's involved with the Toasters."

"Lois, that's crazy. Why would he be involved with a gang?"

"He could get West River property at a bargain if people feel compelled to sell."

"Luthor has more money than he knows what to do with. He makes like five thousand dollars a minute. He could buy the West River ten times over before he felt the hurt of it. He wouldn't waste his time."

"Well, what is he doing here?"

"The Metro Club is just the kind of place that attracts clientele of Luthor's ilk. You don't suspect all the other patrons of wrongdoing, I hope."

"I have to get ready for my next song." She pulled open the door to find Toni Taylor standing there.

"Interesting place for a bartender. Run out of olives?" the blonde asked.

Clark grabbed Lois' arms. It looked rougher than it actually was.

"Here she is. This is your leak. She's a reporter at the Daily Planet."

"Good work. Why don't you throw her out with the rest of the trash?"

Clark lifted her over his shoulder, carrying her fireman style. This did give her another perspective on those "buns of steel". Once they exited the building, she said. "You can put me down now, Clark."

"No, they're still watching."

"You could have pretended that we were sharing some fleeting moment of passion, but you didn't think of that did you?"

"You and me?" the incredulous look on his face pierced her heart.

"They wouldn't know we are…friends."

"Well, then I'll remember it the next time. I'm going to throw you in this garbage bin."

"What! No, you're not. Just put me down. I'll leave."

He heaved her over his shoulder and into the rotting vegetables. "Sorry, got to make this look good, or we'll both get thrown out." He gave her a regretful look. "And stay out!" he said loudly. Infuriating!

***

Lois stomped into Clark's apartment. "I can't believe you threw me in the trash!"

"I had to Lois. I'm sorry."

"You did not have to!"

"Look, now that your cover is blown, Toni will stop looking for a leak. My cover is intact, which means that we may both still get the story. Sometimes on a team, a person carrying the ball may get hemmed in and she has to pass the ball to another member of the team who is in a better position to score." A knock came from his door. "You have to go. She's here?"

"She who?"

"Toni. She wanted to come by and I said she could."

"Because you're in a better position to score. I get it."

"It's for the story, Lois. Now hide! I'll find someway to distract her so that you can sneak out."

***

Lois sat on her couch in her favorite sweatshirt and flannel pants replaying the events in Clark's apartment. Why did he have to kiss her? Pull Toni Taylor into his arms and kiss her? It had taken Lois a few seconds to realize that Clark was motioning Lois to leave. She had turned to look one more time and Clark's hand movement had grown more insistent. She went to her freezer and grabbed the ice cream. She needed some chocolate comfort. There was a knock at her door. Who could that be? She opened her door and saw Lex Luthor standing there, still clothed in the tuxedo he had worn earlier at the club.

"Let's do it." He sang snapping his fingers. It! What was he talking about?

"Excuse me?"

"Let's do it, let's fall in love. My song request for the evening."

"Oh. I think my singing career is over."

"It was passionate, sultry, and seductive. Exactly as I imagined you would be." He eyed the tub of ice cream still in her arms. "Got an extra spoon?"

"Oh, sure. Come in." Why did Lex Luthor want to come to her small apartment and eat ice cream out of the tub? "By the way, thanks for not blowing my cover."

"No problem."

She couldn't resist, "Lex, what were you doing at the Metro Club?"

"I was meeting with the new leader of the Metro Gang. She suggested a partnership of sorts. I refused, of course. But I wanted to warn you that I think she's hiding something. If anyone had something to gain from the Toaster's razing of the West River, it's her."

"Thanks, Lex. I'll look into it." She walked towards the door effectively closing her meeting with him. He took the hint and gracefully exited her apartment.

Was he for real? Or just trying to take the heat off himself? Well, if Toni was behind the Toasters, there was only one way to find out. She put her clothes back on and headed over to Clark's. She would follow Toni when she left and see for herself what Ms. Taylor was up to.

***

Unfortunately, the Toasters turned the tables on Toni, and tied her up in a clothes warehouse. It was morning before they left and Lois was able to escape. She could not reach the police on her cell phone so she hurried to Clark's to tell him about the situation. "I'm headed to the police station. They need to know what they are up against. You cover the fires and…be careful out there, Clark. I'll meet you back at the Planet." She knew that the moment she left, he would be donning the cape and heading out to help with the blazing West River.

Superman blew in a nearby thunderstorm to put out the fires. Lois could hardly grasp the fact. She knew Clark was strong, but controlling the weather? Was there any limit to what he was capable of?

***

"So- did Mom tell you that Lana Lang is living in Metropolis?" They had decided to catch some lunch at a local deli near the Planet.

"No. Why?"

"Well, I read Cat's write up of Superman's date for that charity auction and saw that Lana had won the bid."

"You never mentioned it."

"Well, I'm mentioning it now. I looked her up."

"You did."

"For old times sake. She hasn't been in Metropolis very long—"

"Neither have you," she interrupted.

"But I thought I could show her around a little. Make her feel welcome."

"I'll never understand what you see in her Clark. How many times has she dumped you?"

"We were just kids, Lois. It wasn't a 'together forever' kind of a relationship."

"So, you're what? Friends? Dating?"

"What's wrong with that? It's really nice to be with someone from Smallville. I am really enjoying my life and job here, but I've been away from home and it's just nice to have someone to talk to about it."

What about me, Clark? You could have talked to me. She knew that he sometimes got lonely, and she made an effort to spend time with him, even outside of work. Apparently, it was just another area in which she wasn't enough for him.

***

"Clark, I just talked to Martha—"

"I just got off the phone with Dad. They seem pretty upset."

"Why would the EPA be interested in Wayne?"

"The government should not be able to just come in and start tearing up people's private property without proven facts."

"Is this Clark Kent the lawyer talking? I don't get to see him very often."

"No, this is just Clark Kent, Smallville farm boy, but what they are doing does sound fishy to me."

"Fishy? Now there's some legalese."

"We should write a story about this. Not necessarily about Wayne, but about government agencies flexing their muscles just because they can."

"That's a great idea, Clark. Let's run it by Perry."

***

But Perry thought that they should go to Smallville and investigate. "Sounds like a story to me. I'm seeing a Daily Planet special feature 'The Poisoning of America's Heartland'. Private property rights versus the public good."

"But this is Smallville! Nothing happens in Smallville. That's what makes it…Smallville," Lois protested.

"That's probably what that first reporter at Love Canal said too, and didn't he win a Pulitzer Prize for that story?"

"Well, if I get to visit family and Smallville on the Planet's dollar it's your loss, I guess. Come on Clark. We're going home for the weekend."

***

They stopped at Wayne's before going to the Kents. Lois was aghast at the destruction. While manicured lawns weren't common in Smallville, Wayne had always tended his flowerbeds with great care in memory of his wife. Now there were tire tracks running through them, with crushed blossoms strewn around. Even if there was some sort of problem, they had no right to just trample on a man's memories like this.

"Sorry, off limits to the public," called a woman as she hurried up to them.

"We're not the public, we're the press," retorted Lois.

"The EPA has already issued a statement to the local paper."

"We're from the Daily Planet," explained Clark.

She looked surprised, "Why is a paper like yours interested in Smallville?"

"Why is the EPA? It's called the Daily Planet because we cover the world," Lois answered.

"Well, I'm Carol Sherman. What you're seeing is an ecological risk assessment. The owner has used a lot of pesticides, and we're trying to determine the risk to the community. There's possible seepage into the local groundwater. Public safety. There's no big story here."

"We'll need to talk to the owner," countered Lois.

"Mr. Irig? He's been given relocation money. I'm not sure where he went," Ms. Sherman answered.

"Well, I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll find that information somewhere. We'll check back."

She and Clark headed back to the rental car. "So what do you think?" Clark asked.

"Clark, is my memory faulty, or has Wayne always been a big supporter of sustainable farming? He went out of his way to avoid using chemicals."

"That's the way I remember it too. I don't think both our memories could be faulty."

***

Jonathan and Martha greeted them with hugs. "We're so happy to see you both! It's almost like old times."

"It is so great to see you too. Phone calls just aren't the same. And Clark reminded me on the way down that it's the Corn Festival this weekend," Lois said as she hugged them back.

"That's right! There'll be the corn pageant, corn husking, corn-o-rama, canned corn, creamed corn, corn-on-the-cob-" Jonathan began.

"Enough with the corn, "Lois groaned. "I'm anxious to get to town and see everyone. Besides, Clark and I need to ask around and see if anyone knows where Wayne went when they kicked- of course I mean 'relocated'- him off his farm."

***

The town was buzzing with activity, balloons and streamers everywhere, and the band playing. The carnival was busy, as were the booths where Smallville citizens were selling their homemade goods. Lois had turned to look at one of the booths when she heard Clark call, "Rachel?" and turned to see Rachel Harris throwing herself into Clark's arms.

"Clark!" Clark swung her around. "Hey, don't let this uniform fool you. I can still tush-push and two-step better than anyone in this town."

"I'm sure you can," Clark laughed.

"I'll show you tomorrow night- old times' sake. Lois! You're here too. It's great to see you again."

Lois moved forward for a hug as well. "Rachel! Or, I guess its Sheriff Harris now."

Rachel blushed. "Yep. Hey, I was just reminding Clark about the dance tomorrow night. You coming?"

"Wouldn't miss it. I'd forgotten that the Corn Festival was this weekend, so I didn't pack anything to wear."

"Not a problem," Martha said as she met up with them. "You still have a few clothes at the house, including the dress you wore for the dancing at Alisha's wedding.

"I doubt it would still fit, Martha," Lois laughed.

"Lois, you haven't gained an ounce since high school," Rachel assured her.

Lois blushed, but she was proud of the way she had maintained her weight, "No, but the pounds have moved around a little."

"I bet it will just look even better on you. You can borrow my boots," offered Martha.

"See, Lois, it's settled. I'll see you and Clark tomorrow night. Ah, there's my radio," Rachel said looking down at her hip. "Duty calls. I'll see you later. We need to catch up, Lois."

***

"Ooh!" moaned Lois. "I should not have eaten three hotdogs, but they're just so good. Why do hot dogs taste so much better at fairs and carnivals than when you make them yourself? Oh! I almost forgot. Martha, we're expecting a fax."

"You should probably check the paper then."

"Uh, I'm gonna take Clark out to the barn. There's…something I need some help with," said Jonathan,

"Fine, Jonathan. I'll just help Lois get settled in."

***

Martha sat on the bed while Lois began to unpack her things and hang them in the closet.

"So, how's Metropolis, Lois?"

"I'll always love Smallville, Martha, but Metropolis is just home to me."

"Nothing wrong with that. How do you think Clark is doing?"

"Okay. I know he misses you guys, and Smallville. Martha, did you know Clark is dating Lana again?"

"He mentioned it. Why?"

"I just can't understand what he sees in her. She's always just used him until something better, at least something she thought was better, came along. Why can't he see that?"

"That was so long ago, Lois. People do change."

"And people stay the same. I just don't want to see Clark get hurt."

"He's a man now, honey, and neither one of us can control his actions."

"You don't like her either!"

"I didn't say—"

A shout from the barn interrupted them. "Martha!"

Martha stood. "I'd better go see what Jonathan wants."

***

Lois stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Martha and Jonathan all but carrying Clark back to the farmhouse. What in the world! Nothing could hurt Superman. What was going on? She snuck out to the top of the stairs, listening. She heard Clark protest that he was fine, then a pop and Martha's exclamation. She had to see for herself that he was all right. She made sure that she made some noise as she came down the stairs. "I, uh, thought that I heard the fax," she used as an excuse and headed towards the machine, all the while trying to keep an eye on Clark. She picked the fax up from the machine. Jimmy had sent them a list of all the EPA clean up sites. She took the fax into the kitchen. "It came in, Clark, the EPA list, and guess what? Smallville isn't on it." Clark nodded weakly. He was so white! "Clark, you look horrible."

"It's my allergies." Clark did not have allergies!

"I didn't remember—"

"Adult onset," Martha rushed in with an excuse.

Lois rubbed Clark's shoulder. "Well, I'm going to get right on this. You get better."

There was no point in her staying, she thought, as she returned to her bedroom. It had always been like this. They called her family, but she wasn't really. She wasn't "in" on the secret. At least now she knew what the secret was.

***

She and Clark returned to the Irig's the next morning. Clark drove, but he still looked horrible. Lois felt his forehead. It was cool to the touch. "You feel normal to me, Clark."

"I am normal," he protested turning from her hand.

"So everything's okay?"

"Everything's okay."

He obviously didn't intend to talk so she said, "Then let's go."

***

Ms. Sherman was good. She was ready with permits and authorizations, and even a list she claimed was an updated version of the one that Jimmy had sent.

"We still need to talk to Mr. Irig," stated Lois.

"I don't know where he is. He probably went to a hotel," Ms. Sherman said.

"Well, you obviously failed to notice that Smallville's Corn Festival is going on. The hotels have been booked for months," Lois said.

"The government has pull." Yes, Ms. Sherman was quite good.

***

They decided to eat lunch at Maisie's.

"So in twenty years there have been no permits and no citations issued on the Irig property. Ouch!"

"Clark, are you okay?"

"I'm bleeding!" His eyes were panicked. She felt a little panic as well. Not only was Clark sick, he was vulnerable.

"Haven't you ever had a paper cut before? Put it in your mouth and suck on it." She was interrupted by her ringing cell phone. "Hello?"

"This is Wayne Irig."

"Wayne!" How did he get this number?

"I just wanted to call and let you know that I'm somewhere outside of Salt Lake City."

"Salt Lake City?"

"I just got in my Winnebago and decided to visit my sister. I've been [on] the road so long, I hardly know where I'm at." He sounded different, wrong.

"Wayne, I'm going to put you on with Clark." She handed Clark her phone.

"Hello, Wayne. Can I have a number that I can call you back at?" He paused while Wayne answered.

"Wayne, are you okay? Wait, Wayne-" Clark returned the phone to her. "He hung up!"

"Salt Lake City? Doesn't Wayne's sister live in Tennessee?"

Clark nodded, "And as far as I know, he has only one sister."

***

Yep, the dress still fit, and, as Martha predicted, it was snug in all the right places.

"Wow, Lois, you look great." She smiled widely at Clark. He didn't mean it the way she wanted him to, but it was still nice to hear. He held out his arm to her, "Shall we?"

After they danced for a few minutes, Clark commented, "You're better at this than I remember."

"I took lessons. Some friends of mine convinced me it was a great way to meet guys."

"Was it?"

"Define guys." Clark laughed. At least he seemed to be feeling better.

They had the greatest time wandering around the carnival. She ate fresh cotton candy and her favorite, a caramel apple. As they walked past the high-striker where the barker calling "Ring the bell, win a prize." she said, "Let's make this a night to remember," and handed the man a ticket. She had seen Clark's disappointment earlier in the day when the indicator had only gone to "Wimpy."

"Aw, no," he protested.

"Come on, Clark! Win me a prize." Clark took the mallet and swung. The indicator went up to "Hercules".

"Can I try that again?" he asked digging in his own pocket for a ticket. This time the indicator went all the way to "Atlas."

Lois handed him another ticket. "Here you go, try again. Third time's a charm."

It was, and the look of triumph on Clark's face when the bell run for "Superman", was worth any price.

She gave him a big hug. "You did it!"

The vendor shoved a stuffed bear and Superman doll in her face. "Your choice."

She almost reached for the Superman, but then decided that was exactly what Clark expected her to do. She chose the bear instead.

***

She had to update Perry on the story.

"Lois, is that you?"

"Something tells me we have a big one here, Chief. There is definitely something not right."

"Uh, Lois, hold on a minute." She hated to be put on hold.

"Lois, you and Kent, you discussed this and he's with you?"

"Actually, Clark's allergies are acting up. They're real bad this time of year, you know." She wandered into the kitchen.

"I see. Uh, Lois, let me get back to you on this." She ended the call, and then noticed Clark sitting at the kitchen table with the phone to his ear. "Who were you—"

"Talking to." She finished for him. He hung up with a very guilty expression on his face. Lois sat down across from him. "Clark, I think we need to talk."

"Lois, I-" Clark began to protest.

"Clark, you are my partner, and more importantly, my friend. If there is a good reason that we need to kill this story, I'll back you up one hundred percent. Is there a reason?"

Clark sighed. "No, Lois, no reason." Obviously, he wasn't going to tell her. Well, she would just have to find out on her own.

"Let's go check out Wayne's place again."

***

A great plan, up until they were captured and escorted to the military type tent that seemed to be the headquarters of the operation. As they were hauled unceremoniously from the van, she began to protest and struggle. Then she saw him.

"Trask. What are you doing in Smallville?"

"Now here I was, wondering the same thing about you," he answered.

"Our newspaper sent us here about an EPA clean up," Clark was quick to explain.

"You're not here about the environment any more than I am. You know it and I know it," Trask said.

"What have you done with Wayne Irig?" Lois asked.

"Let him go. You see, small town ties mean a lot. Any other man would have given up his contact in a minute, but this man took sodium pentothal, a couple of broken fingers and would not talk. Then it came to me. Let him go." Ms. Sherman was approaching.

"You're not as smart as you think you are. I knew she was a fake all along," Lois mocked, nodding at Ms. Sherman.

"Really? How?" questioned Trask.

"To competent for the government. How'd you get into this, Sherman? Did they recruit you? Did they tell you you'd be working for the government?"

"Get her out of my sight!" commanded Trask and his goons began to drag her away.

No! Lois mind screamed. They were separating her from Clark. Clark needed her to protect him. He wasn't invulnerable right now. How much had Trask figured out? If he was in Smallville, he had to be close.

"Lois!" she heard Clark cry, just before she was dragged into another tent.

***

She heard the sound of doors slamming and a vehicle driving away. Had Trask taken Clark somewhere?

Ms. Sherman entered the tent. "He wants you to help with the equipment," she excused the guard.

She began to gather files and stuff them in a briefcase.

"You know Trask is going to kill me, right? That will make you an accessory to murder." Ms. Sherman stopped stuffing. "Please, you have to let me go. Can't you see Trask is using you? He's going to disappear and leave you holding the bag. A bag with two dead reporters in it."

"If I let you go, will you keep me out of the story?"

"As long as you tell me what you know."

"He has your friend's parents. He's going to make it look like a fire." She cut the restraints from Lois hands.

"And Clark?"

"He thinks Kent can contact Superman." Good, that meant that Trask still hadn't figured it out. She needed to make sure it stayed that way. Ms. Sherman continued. "He found this rock that he thinks can kill him."

"Can it?" Lois asked in panic.

"I doubt it, but Trask seems very sure that it can."

Lois spotted a phone. "Is this still connected?" Ms. Sherman nodded.

Lois dialed the Smallville Police Station. "This is Lois Lane-Kent. Put me through to Sheriff Harris. Now!" After she argued for a few minutes with the operator, she finally was patched through to Rachel. "Rachel! It's Lois. There's this guy named Trask and he has the Kents. He's going to try to kill them."

"We were headed to Irig's."

"No! That's where I am and everyone's gone. They're headed to the Kents."

She begged and pleaded until one of Rachel's officers agreed to pick her up at the Irig's and take her to the Kents. Rachel was right in front of them. She arrived to see Clark in the lake standing over Trask with his fist drawn back. But it wasn't in Clark to kill, and he dropped his fist and began to walk away. "Clark!" she screamed when she saw Trask bring up a gun to bear on Clark's back. She cried out when the blast came. But the shirt with the spreading blood red stain did not belong to Clark. Trask's face had a look of surprise on it as his body sank into the lake. Lois flung herself at Clark and hugged him as if she would never let go. When she finally released him, she saw Rachel's pinched face as she leaned against her car. Lois had to go to her. "Rachel, will you be okay?"

Rachel looked up at her. "They never tell you that it's like this. What it feels like when you kill someone."

Lois decided to forget that Rachel's men were standing around them and she pulled her into a hug. "I'm sorry."

Rachel shook her head. "I'm glad I could do it. I'm glad that my training made me shoot before I could even think about the consequences. I would have never forgiven myself if Clark had been killed."

Lois squeezed her tighter and said in a whisper. "Thank you, Rachel. If you ever breathe a word of this to anyone, especially the Kents, I'll deny it, but Clark, he's the one, Rachel. He may never look at me, but his face is the face I want in my head." Rachel's arms tightened around her in acknowledgement, and they stood there together, tears running down their faces as they watched Clark hug his parents over and over.

***

"And in the end, Jason Trask's obsession with a mystical rock caused him to confuse one reporter with the object of his fixation, Superman. He came to see this strange visitor from another planet where he was not, and to see adversaries where there were none. It was a mistake that for Jason Trask would prove fatal."

Perry laid her story down. "I've been in the newspaper business for thirty-five years and this is the damndest thing I ever heard."

"You should have been there, Perry. This guy was so far around the bend that he started beating on Clark to get to Superman!" She had to remove any doubts from Perry's mind. He *had* been in the newspaper business for thirty-five years and he was sharp as a tack.

"Well, I'm sure glad you came out on top, Clark." He believed her. Lois let out the breath she had been holding. "Now this rock, the one that Trask thought could hurt Superman, what's it called?"

"Called? You want a name? No one can even find it. Even the sample that Wayne sent to the lab is missing." She wished she had killed the story! "I don't think it ever existed anywhere but in Trask's mind."

"Even so, this story would sing a lot sweeter if it had a name."

"Well, Trask thought it came from the same planet as Superman. What about Kryptonium?"

"Sounds good to me," agreed Perry.

"Wait," protested Clark. "It's supposed to be a meteorite, right? That would make it Kryptonite?"

Well, she supposed that Clark had the right to call it anything he wanted, but for Perry's sake she still argued, "You are always editing my copy!"

Clark grinned, "Okay, Lois, next time you fight the bad guys, and I'll write the story."

She laughed, the asked seriously, "Clark, now that you're away from those allergens and recovered from your fight with Trask, how are you feeling?"

"I feel…super." He grinned happily at her.

***

She was getting ready for bed that night when it hit her. She had been trying so hard to protect Clark, to protect his identity. Now Superman needed her protection as well. The fact that Kryptonite really existed had to remain a secret at all costs.

***

Lois struggled to emerge from the depths of slumber. Finally, she sat up. Big mistake. She clutched her aching head and moaned. Then she realized that she was not in her own bed. Where was she? She squinted one eye open to look around. Clark's. "Clark?" she called.

Clark appeared in the doorway, with the oddest expression on his face, almost as if he wanted to be anywhere but here.

"Oh, Clark," she moaned lying back down. "Thank you. I'm so sorry. This is the second time in the last six months you've had to take care of me. I don't even remember drinking. Honestly, I really don't drink like this very often."

"You're…not drunk, Lois." Clark sounded very uncomfortable.

"Clark Kent, I think I know what a hangover feels like. Exactly how it felt when you had to put me to bed after that charity auction fiasco. My head is pounding, I'm nauseated, and don't you have any curtains for those windows?"

"Lois, what's the last thing you remember?"

"I was with Lex. He was acting really strangely. He fell asleep."

"I don't think I need to know that much detail, Lois!"

"In the chair, Clark."

"Do you remember being at the Planet?"

"I remember hearing Elvis' 'Burning Love' coming from Perry's office. And I couldn't get into the copier room…"

Clark looked even more uncomfortable. "Lois, I'm going to get you some coffee and aspirin for that headache. I'll be right back."

"Thanks, Clark." She should get up and try to make herself look a little more presentable. If she looked half as bad as she felt…"Clark, what am I wearing?"

Clark came back in with coffee, aspirin, and a paper in hand. "Uh, I need to talk to you about that." He handed her the coffee and aspirin. She took both eagerly and swallowed the aspirin. He slowly set the paper in front of her. What the- There were *hearts* where there should be "A's" in the heading "Daily Planet", and the title of the top news story was "Couple Reunited! Love Wins Out!" and some soppy story about a couple that met on a train thirty years ago and had now been reunited. It wasn't that it was a bad story, as a human-interest story *not* on the front page, but the writing was so sloppy. How had Perry let this get through?

"How did this happen, Clark? Where was Perry?"

"Something happened, Lois. I'm not sure what. The entire newsroom just suddenly became sort of—lovesick, I guess."

"The *entire* newsroom?"

Clark blushed. "Yes."

"Even me?"

He got even redder. "Yes."

"Oh, no," she groaned. "What did I do?"

"You don't remember?" Obviously, the last thing he wanted to do was give an accounting of her actions.

"No, I—. Oh, no, I didn't really do the dance of the seven veils, did I?"

He nodded. "All seven."

"What else?"

"Nothing, really. You were just very—affectionate."

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, Clark. Was it just you or was there anyone else that I—"

"I think just me. Of course, you had dinner with Luthor last night. He showed up at the Planet to confirm your plans, but it didn't look to me like you were- overly affectionate- towards him. No more than normal, anyway."

"I'm so sorry, Clark. I'm so…ashamed. But, why you?" she had to try to rescue this situation if she could.

Clark shrugged.

"Wait a second! What about you?"

"Me?"

"Yes, you said the entire newsroom was affected. What did you do?"

"I-, I-, uh, Lana's out of town, so I guess either it didn't affect me or it just wore off."

"And you weren't attracted to anyone else?"

"No," he said hesitantly. "Why?"

"Well, it seems to me that maybe we weren't attracted to people that we would normally find attractive." Things were starting to come back now; she could use this to her advantage and, if she could make him believe it, continue to keep her feelings for Clark a secret. "Like, why was Cat attracted to a balding copy guy? He is certainly the complete opposite of what she usually goes for- tall, dark, gorgeous, and most of all, successful. And Perry? Perry loves Alice. I can hardly believe that he could even find another woman attractive, but Rehalia? There are no similarities between her and Alice at all."

"I see what you mean. You could be onto something here."

"And instead of falling for Superman or Lex, I was infatuated with you," she finished triumphantly. He was buying it!

He nodded, thoughtfully. "So, we still need to figure out what caused it. It seems to have, ah, worn off now, but was there a motive? Why the Daily Planet?"

"We need to back track and figure out when the affects started."

"Well, we were in Perry's office when the film crew came in to set up for that Exclusive perfume demonstration. We couldn't get any work done, so I suggested we get some lunch—"

"After you and Jimmy sat on my desk and drooled over the models for two hours."

"We didn't drool."

"You were drooling. Anyway we went to lunch. You had the steak sandwich with fries."

"And you had the Chinese chicken salad. Then we came back to the Planet."

"Nothing funny so far. But that's when things start getting fuzzy for me."

"We came back to the Planet. We came down from the elevator, and this demonstrator sprayed us with this perfume. It was awful."

"Eau de Sweat Socks. I remember that now."

"Right. So we both went back to our own desks. About an hour later, you…uh."

"I what? This part I don't remember."

"You came on to me," he said in a rush.

"So whatever happened, probably happened around lunch."

"Right. So where do we start?"

"Let's go back to where we had lunch and ask around and see if they had any complaints. Your steak sandwich looked good. I'm going to try that this time."

Ten thirty was early for lunch, but since they had skipped breakfast, that wasn't a problem. They casually questioned the servers, but didn't get the feeling that anything unusual had gone on. Lois and Clark headed to the Planet. The newsroom was practically empty. Apparently, several had called in sick. Lois wondered if it was from hangover-like symptoms or embarrassment. Perry was beside himself. Rehalia and her husband were suing for sexual harassment and Alice had refused to let him in the house. Jimmy was grieving the loss of his model, not that he ever had her. He had a stack of pictures and he was showing them to anyone that would give him the time of day. Lois wondered if this "love potion" whatever it was had completely worn off for Jimmy. Clark, of course, took pity on him and listened to him as he explained each photo. Then Clark stopped him. "Hey, Jimmy, can I have this one?"

"Why do you want a picture of my April?"

"Actually, Lois, Perry, and I are in the background, and it's not a bad shot. I might want to blow it up. Do you still have the original?"

"Sure, Clark. I'll e-mail it right over to you." At least Clark had distracted him.

"What's with the photo?" Lois asked Clark as Jimmy hurried over to his desk.

"It's taken right when we came out of the elevator after lunch. I thought there might be some clues in the background."

"That's a great idea, Clark." They both hurried over to Clark's desk.

"Coming your way, CK," Jimmy called over the newsroom.

Clark brought the picture up on his computer and enlarged it.

"Clark, who's that?" Lois pointed.

Clark looked over the top of his glasses at the picture. "I don't know, but the perfume bottle in her hand is not anything like the one Exclusive is marketed in."

"So what was she doing here?"

Jimmy was now standing behind them. Clark turned to him, "Jimmy, go down to the news stand and pick me up some of the glamour magazines."

"Sure thing, CK." Clark turned back to Lois.

"Let's see if we can figure out who this is."

Clark quickly found Miranda's picture in the magazines. An Internet search gave them the location of her business, which was located in Metropolis. Having been embarrassed by her actions, Lois left tact at the door and immediately began quizzing Miranda on the perfume, which Miranda said she called "Revenge" but refused to reveal anything about the formula or the long-term affects of the perfume.

"Well, she's not going to say anything," grumbled Lois to Clark as they left.

"She doesn't need to," Clark said pulling a bottle out of his pocket and dangling it in front of her.

"You didn't!"

"Well, it's like you said Lois, this stuff is dangerous. People acting on impulses with no thought of the consequences…"

"I'm so proud! I must be rubbing off on you."

"Let's get this stuff to STAR Labs and see what they can tell us."

Throughout the day, Lois remembered more of her actions while under the influence of the pheromone. She could hardly believe that she had acted like that! It was a good thing Clark wasn't attracted to her and was such a gentleman—wasn't it? Her head said emphatically "yes", but her heart wished that he had been attracted to her too. Maybe then her fantasies would be memories. And the only thing she would have regretted was knowing that he would have regretted it when he recovered from the musk. Amazingly, while she had told Clark he looked like Superman, she hadn't revealed that she knew that he was Superman. Was that because she had buried that secret so far down that even the pheromones didn't reveal it or was it because she wasn't attracted to Superman as Superman, the guy who flies and saves people? As she had told Lex, her heart did beat for only one man. He happened to also be Superman, but it was Clark Kent that she loved. She shook her head. That would keep her therapist busy for a while—if she could have talked about this with her.

Speaking of Lex, he had acted so strangely. At first she thought he was drunk, but he denied drinking before she arrived, and he hadn't drank that much while she was there. Had he been sprayed with the pheromone when he visited her at the Planet? Lois didn't like Lex, but she wanted to see how far he would take their "relationship". The interview of a lifetime really wasn't a good excuse anymore, because it was very obvious that Lex Luthor did not intend to give her one. But it did her ego a world of good to be seen on the arm of the third richest man in the world. Lex had never asked for more than a little of her time and a few platonic kisses, so she didn't see any harm in it, and maybe he would eventually let something slip, she justified to herself.

STAR Labs confirmed that the perfume removed inhibitions, although it was clothed in more scientific terms. They were poring over the report when Lex came into the newsroom. Twice in one week! This had to be a first. He made a beeline for Lois' desk.

"My darling! I was aching to see you again." His usual platonic kiss on her cheek landed on her lips and it was not platonic. Lois pushed him away gently.

"Lex! What a surprise. I didn't expect to see you today."

"I couldn't stand another minute without seeing you."

"Lex, I think you've been exposed to a pheromone. You should go home and sleep it off."

"Are you coming?" Actually, it wasn't said with a leer, but with a tender, loving, longing look.

"No, Lex. I have to work. We have to figure out why a lady named Miranda sprayed the newsroom with pheromones."

"Miranda? She wants me to love her, Lois. But I love only you."

"Lex, you know Miranda?"

"No longer, my love."

"Do you know anything about the pheromones?"

"She said she would have her revenge on all of Metropolis. But I had to reject her Lois!"

"Of course you did, Lex," she assured him. Over his head she met Clark's gaze and she rolled her eyes.

"Lex, what did Miranda mean about having revenge on Metropolis?"

Lex shook his head and the glazed look in his eyes seemed to clear. "Superman! I need to contact Superman."

"Why?"

"I think Miranda is going to release the 100% solution on all of Metropolis by spraying it in place of the Malathion that the city intends to spray today."

"Malathion?" she questioned.

"For the fruit flies," Clark cut in. "Perry assigned the story to me before all of this started. I didn't get very far, but I did learn that the city was going to spray a chemical to kill the fruit flies that have been plaguing the city. The spraying starts today at 1:00."

"Clark! That's only an hour from now. You stop her. I'm going to make sure that Lex gets home all right."

Lex's glazed look was back. "She sprayed me with it Lois. One hundred percent. I'll always love you, Lois."

"Lex," Lois was getting exasperated now. "Where's Nigel?"

"Why do we need Nigel?"

"You need to sleep this off. Come on, Lex. I'm sure Nigel is waiting downstairs in the limo.

Clark laughed as Lex followed after Lois like a friendly puppy.

***

Superman saved the day. He exposed Miranda to her own solution and talked her into bringing the plane back to the airport. Clark arrived just in time to get the story. Lois snorted, but she did not begrudge him the story. If she had acted half as bad as Lex was behaving, he deserved it.

STAR Labs conclusive report stated that the solution used in the newsroom was temporary, but that tests on the hundred percent solution were inconclusive, though it was supposed that the affects could possibly be long term in some species.

***

She just needed to get away for a little while. Lex had recovered somewhat from his exposure to the pheromone. He could carry on a sensible conversation but at times he still waxed eloquent concerning her face or hands, or last night, her body. She didn't want to hear it, not from him. She was feeling the strain of working close to Clark every day and constantly having to monitor her actions and reactions. Perry had kept his word to only pair them on big stories, but Clark was still there. And since there hadn't been any big stories, no need to dangle above the jaws of death, she had also not seen him as Superman. He was still seeing Lana. He had asked her about double dating with them one Friday night, but she wasn't sure who to double date with. Lex preferred to dine in his own home, and she wasn't seeing anyone else right now. Not that her "relationship" with Lex was exclusive, just that since Clark had come to Metropolis, she had not met anyone she liked enough to ask on a date and no one had asked her either.

She softened her refusal with a promise that the three of them would get together for a casual lunch "sometime". Yes, it was all just weighing her down. And that was why she made herself reservations at the Lexor Hotel for the weekend. She wanted to be waited on, pamper herself, and just forget for a little while. She had intended to get a suite, but the receptionist had talked her into the much larger, more opulent honeymoon suite. Since the suites were all previously reserved, she could get the honeymoon suite for the same price. She had already gone shopping for a comfortable, yet sexy nightgown, chocolate, some good reading, chocolate, a few DVDs that she could watch on the large screen TV, chocolate, snacks, and oh, did she mention, chocolate? Calories were off topic and not to be thought of.

So that was why Lois was turning off her computer at 4:59 and getting ready to head out the door. She pulled her overnight bag out from under her desk and began to head for the elevators.

"Going somewhere, Lois?" asked Clark as she passed his desk. Perry, Jimmy, and Cat were also at Clark's desk. Rats. She should have figured out some other way to get to the stairs. Too bad she couldn't fly or float like *some* people. Her hesitation to answer had been noted and now four pairs of eyes were regarding her curiously

"Yes, I am," she answered reluctantly.

"Where?" asked Clark.

"Not to be rude, Clark, but I don't answer to you."

Clark got that "ah-hah" look on his face. "You've got a scoop."

"I do not have a scoop."

Jimmy shook his head, "Yeah, you do. I've seen that look in your eyes before. It's the revolution in South America, isn't it?"

"What look?" asked Lois

Cat ignored her, "Bet it's the riots in Miami."

"Five bucks?" offered Jimmy.

"You're on," Cat accepted.

"Lois, if you're taking a trip, you know I need to clear it with the budget office first," scolded Perry.

"I am not taking a trip!"

"Then what's with the bag?" asked Clark.

"Not that it is the business of any of yours, but I do have a personal life."

"You're spending the night with Lex!" squealed Cat.

"I am not! And if I were, I wouldn't advertise it. Look, if you must know, I am on my way to check into the Lexor Hotel for a weekend of pure relaxation… period. No pressure, no deadlines, no riots."

Perry looked askance at her. "Do you want to see my reservation?" she growled. She dug in her satchel and pulled out the confirmation, handing it to Perry. Clark read over his shoulder.

"The honeymoon suite?"

Lois grabbed the paper back from Perry. "Satisfied?"

"Lois Lane in the honeymoon suite," said Cat thoughtfully.

"Stranger things have happened," put in Jimmy. "Although, not lately…"

"Well, if you guys are through interrogating me, I'll be going." Lois spun on her heel, picking up her overnight bag again, and stalking out to meet the limousine she had ordered.

***

The check in went unbelievably smoothly. Maybe that was because she was checking in at 5:45 in the afternoon, but the staff was very professional and by 6:15 she was alone in her suite with the promise of dinner to arrive in 15 minutes. She sank into the cushions of the couch. This was exactly what she had needed.

While eating her dinner, she flipped through the TV channels and, not finding anything on that she wanted to watch, removed one of the DVDs from her bag and put it in. It was a light-hearted romantic comedy, which was, thankfully, more comedy than romance. She had finished an entire bag of pretzels as she watched. For a moment she felt guilty, but she reminded herself that she had determined to forget calories this weekend.

After the movie, she decided to try out the tub. It was meant for two, so the tub was perfect to really sink down into. She tuned to the easy listening station, started the water, and added bubble bath. She sat her bag filled with snacks and reading materials at the side of the tub. She turned off the lights and left the room lit only by the faux candlelight from the battery-powered, wax pillar candle the hotel provided. She slipped off her robe and let it drop to the floor as she stepped into the steaming tub. She sank back against the headrest and sighed. She had to get one of these. If she ever had her own house, a whirlpool tub would be at the top of her list of things to buy. Her eyes closed as she let the churning water wash over her.

She wasn't sure how much time had passed when her cell phone rang, disturbing the peacefulness of the moment. She debated whether to answer it or not, but what if it was Bobby Bigmouth? Or her mom, or Lucy? Groaning, she reached for the phone in her satchel with dripping, soapy fingers.

"Yes?" she answered.

"Working hard, Lois?" Couldn't she get away from him anywhere?

"No, Clark. I'm relaxing."

"Yeah, right. How's the view?"

"The view? Actually, I haven't looked out the window." She had forgotten that the room boasted an impressive view of the Metropolis skyline. She looked over to the windows. "It's wonderful. It's…"

She could see directly into the offices of the building next to her. The lights came on in one of the offices and three men entered. Two of the men exchanged packages and began to look through them. Lois reached back into her satchel to bring out her binoculars.

"Lois?"

"It's wonderful."

"Lois, are you okay?"

"Fine." Lois set the binoculars on the edge of the tub and groped around in her satchel for her camera without taking her eyes off the men. Splash! There went her binoculars. Oh, well, it could have been her phone.

"What was that?"

Lois grunted as she tried to focus the camera and hang onto the phone at the same time.

"Lois?"

Where were her binoculars? She began fishing around in the water. She moaned as she found them and brought them up to her face. Water sloshed in the lenses.

"Sorry, Lois, you had intimated that you were going to be alone. I'll just hang up now."

"What! No, Clark. I'm in the Jacuzzi."

"And you're really taking the whole weekend off?"

"That's right." She sat the binoculars down and reached for the camera again.

"Well, congratulations, Lois. I didn't think you had it in you."

Suddenly, she was very frustrated trying to juggle the binoculars, camera, and phone. "I'm hanging up now, Clark. I'm going back to relaxing." She hit "end", and put the phone back in her satchel. Through the window she watched as one of the men pointed to a date on the wall calendar. The tall, thin one in the business suit shook his head. Lois thought she recognized him, but couldn't place him. The short stocky one got right in his face and "Tall Ones" shoulders slumped as he nodded. "Stocky" looked triumphant and Lois watched as the men turned off the lights and exited the office. Throughout the scene she had kept her camera clicking. She had to get to the Planet first thing tomorrow and get these pictures blown up so she could figure out who these guys were.

***

"Jimmy!" Lois called as she exited the elevator.

"Lois- you said you were taking the weekend off."

"I am. I'm just taking a break from taking a break. Can you blow these up for me?" She handed him her camera.

"Sure. I'll e-mail them to you and then get started on the prints."

"Bring them into Perry's office," she said as she headed that way.

"Lois! Thought you were taking the weekend off?"

"Well, Perry, I intended to. And believe me, I am going to want my vacation day back if this ends up being a story. Jimmy's getting some pictures off my camera for me. He's going to bring in some blow-ups. See, last night while I was relaxing, I saw these three guys meeting. One of them looked really familiar to me. I'm hoping you'll recognize him."

"Well, I might, Lois. But that's really more Cat's department. She has a thing for names and faces. Cat!" he called before Lois could stop him.

"Perry!" protested Lois.

Cat slunk into the office. "Lois, back so soon. Did you get lonely?"

"No, I did not get lonely!"

"Cat, Lois has some pictures I want you to look at. Jimmy!"

"They're coming Chief," Jimmy called. "I'm just printing the last one."

"Clark, you might as well come in and take a look as well."

"Thank Chief. Why don't you just invite the whole newsroom?" said Lois angrily.

"Now, Lois, if this is a story and it's your weekend off…"

"It's still *my* story, Perry!"

Jimmy entered with the prints and began to hang them on the tack board.

"That's Congressman Harrington!" said Cat with surprise.

"I knew I knew who that was." Lois looked closer. The envelope handed by Harrington to "Stocky" had "Top Secret" prominently displayed in red on the cover. The envelope "Stocky" was handing to the congressman had a few large bills exposed as Harrington held it open to check its contents.

"Ian Harrington is the Chairman of the House Defense Committee," Perry stated.

"And the most sexy man in Washington," put in Cat.

"Did you just hear that or is that a product of your personal 'investigations'?" Lois asked.

Perry ignored them and pointed to "Stocky" and the big, silent one. "Who are these two goons?"

"I'm on it, Chief," called Jimmy as he exited the room.

***

Jimmy's research didn't turn up anything on the identity of the other two men, but he did find that the offices were rented by Apocalypse Consulting. Jimmy could find no bank accounts or transactions for the company. Apocalypse moved into the offices a couple months prior and paid off a five year lease on the offices in advance.

"Chief-" Lois began.

"Let me take a wild guess- you want the Daily Planet to put you up in the Honeymoon Suite until we figure out exactly what's going on in Apocalypse Consulting."

"Exactly," Lois confirmed.

"We're talking a major surveillance operation here."

"Perry, this is major. A Washington VIP is selling—"

"*May* be," emphasized Perry.

"*May* be selling highly classified information," amended Lois.

Perry's brow furrowed in thought. Lois held her breath. Finally he agreed, "Okay, you guys have got three nights."

"Guys?" Lois queried.

"You and Clark."

"Did you say Clark? This is my story!"

"I heard him say Clark," the man in question said with a grin.

"He definitely said Clark," put in Jimmy.

"Definitely," confirmed Cat, and she didn't look happy about it.

"Chief, I am not sharing that suite with Clark."

"And just how are you going to manage 'round the clock surveillance' all by yourself?"

"Well, I…well-" Lois stammered.

"Exactly," said Perry. "Besides, your cover will be more believable if you check in as a couple."

"It would be business, Lois. Strictly business," comforted Clark.

"That's the deal, Lois. Take it or leave it." Perry was putting his foot down. Lois' shoulders slumped in defeat. This weekend would be the worst of her life. Not only was she not relaxing, not only was she not getting away from Clark, she would be spending the weekend in his company. Spending the weekend alone with him. In the honeymoon suite. Why me? she moaned to herself. Then she realized that her boss and colleagues were waiting for a response from her. "Just don't try anything funny, Kent," she muttered.

***

Lois sat in the bathroom stall, trying to calm herself and stem the flood of tears that threatened to fall. How could her plans have gotten so screwed up? She looked down at her left hand, now sporting a plain yellow gold band. Perry had pulled the rings out of the safe in his office. Apparently, reporters acting as husband and wife were not completely unheard in the Planet's history. The ring was a little big, but she didn't think it would slide off. She didn't want to spend time with Clark right now. She just didn't. She allowed herself to wallow for a few minutes, before squaring her shoulders and wiping her eyes. She was a professional. She could do this. And Perry better believe that when this story was over, she was going to finish her vacation.

***

"I'm sorry, Lana." Clark was talking on the phone as she went to his desk to let him know that the limousine Perry had hired was there.

"Yes, I know we had planned this evening some time ago, but something has come up." Clark looked up at her.

"Limo's here," she mouthed.

He held up a finger, signaling that he would be one minute. "Lana, it's my job. It's part of being with me."

As Lois walked away as fast she could without it appearing that way, she heard Clark say, "I know. I love you, too. Bye, Lana." It was going to be a long weekend.

***

She and Clark had goofed around with the bellboy as he had videotaped Clark pretending to struggle to carry Lois over the threshold. Lois' lunge for the bellboy was not entirely faked. She did not appreciate his lecherous grin as he was probably imagining what would take place in the honeymoon suite this weekend. Clark caught her and prevented her from tearing the video camera from his hands. "She's a little shy," he explained.

"She'll get over it," the bellboy assured, wiggling his eyebrows at Clark.

Deciding not to risk inciting Lois' wrath further, Clark tipped the bellboy and sent him out the door. Clark turned to Lois, "Let's get that equipment Jimmy packed for us set up, so we can get the story, and go home."

"I take it Lana was not thrilled to have her plans canceled."

"Not one bit. She had to get the tickets well in advance, so she is pretty miffed with me right now."

They worked together in companionable silence as they set up the equipment.

"What now?" Clark asked when they finished.

"Now we wait for them to show up."

"And if they don't?"

"Don't worry, they will. They made it real clear on the calendar."

"So…what do you want to do until then."

"Well, my plans have gone up in smoke, unless you want to watch Ivory Tower and eat chocolate until you're sick?"

"Not particularly," Clark said dryly.

"I didn't think so. So I ran home and re-packed. I put in some games. How does "Old Maid" sound?"

***

Nothing seemed to be happening and the conversations the microphone picked up were from inside the hotel and weren't anything that she or Clark should listen in on. Lois yawned and stretched, "Okay. I'm going to bed. You've got first shift. Wake me when our friends across the way show up."

Clark turned and looked at her, "Wait a minute. Aren't you forgetting something?"

"What?"

"Why do you get the bed?"

"Because it's my story!"

Clark pulled a coin from his pocket. "So, we flip for the bed."

"How about I get the bed, I lend you a pillow."

"How about we alternate nights?" Oh, no, no. She was not going to have to pass Clark's delicious sleeping body every time she had to get up and pee during the night. Since he didn't seem to have that point of view concerning her, let him be the one that had to make the trip past the bed to bathroom.

"How about we don't?"

"It's a really big bed. We could share." Say yes, her mind screamed at her, but she was afraid to be that close to him, under those circumstances. Why? It was what she wanted, wasn't it? Figuring out her feelings was going to be more time on the couch with her therapist.

"How about we alternate nights?" she said quickly before she could change her mind.

Clark grinned at her. "Deal."

***

Lois was settling into the satin sheets when she heard Clark's voice. "Goodnight, Lois." She frowned and snuggled deeper into the bed. "Lois? Goodnight." She was not going to answer him! This wasn't a Walton's Mountain episode. "Good Ni-i-i-i —ght, Lois."

"Oh, good night, Clark," she called with a huff.

***

Clark awakened her with a shake. "They're back." Lois started to sit up and then remembered what she was wearing, or rather, wasn't wearing.

"I'll be just a sec."

"Lois, what are you- didn't you pack something to sleep in?" So he noticed!

"Clark, these are *satin* sheets. You can't get the full effect if you're wearing a lot of clothes." There. Let him process that. It would serve him right if it gave him even a moment's concern, for all the time that she had spent thinking about his naked body. Down, girl!

***

She put on her pajama bottoms and an oversized sweatshirt. She shuffled into the living room, yawning. Clark was at the window, watching through her brand new binoculars. "Turn that up," she said pointing to the microphone. Clark held the binoculars out to her. She took them and began to watch. The conversation just made her more confused. "Stocky" was talking about some sort of test and it looked like Harrington was trying to back out. "Stocky" grabbed the congressman by the collar and pushed him up against the wall. "Silent One" dragged "Stocky back. Harrington straightened up, and visibly drew himself together.

"Clark, what would you say if I said that I don't have a clue what they're talking about, but that, whatever it is, it's even bigger than I originally thought."

"I'd say you're absolutely right."

***

Lois spent just a few seconds in front of the mirror checking her appearance before heading out to the living room. She didn't want to look like she just crawled out of bed, but she didn't want to look like she had spent a lot of time trying to look good either. Clark wasn't on the sofa and she looked around for him. He was on the far side of the couch doing push-ups. So he does work out, she thought. She had wondered if he worked out or if his muscles were all a product of his special genetics. Before her evil mind could calculate the logistics of maneuvering her body between his and the floor, he caught sight of her and sat up.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"

"I slept okay. You?"

"I'll sleep better when it's my turn on the bed tonight." He grinned at her. Then he stood. "I ordered breakfast." As he finished speaking, a knock came at the door. "And there it is."

***

When they arrived at the Planet, Perry had been able to identify "Stocky" as Thaddeus Roarke. International arms dealer, electronic weapons system analyst, entrepreneur, and general bad boy.

"You're right, Lois. This could be even bigger than we thought. Arms dealer bribing a House Defense Committee member." Clark's face was grim.

***

Lois could not believe it. She was having a great time. She had thought that she wanted to get away from Clark. Instead, trapped with him in the honeymoon suite, she was spending time with him and remembering why she liked him so much. Sure, Clark was gorgeous, but it wasn't his looks that attracted her to him, although they didn't hurt. The amazing thing was that she was relaxing as they played through the collection of games she had brought. Clark shook his head as she crowed triumphantly about her Scrabble score. "There is no such word as chumpy, Lois"

"Of course there is. Somebody's a chump. Therefore, he's chumpy."

"Try again."

"Are you challenging me?"

"You bet your sweet chumpy I am."

Lois laughed. It had been a long time since she felt this free and happy.

"Lois, you are the most competitive person I've ever met. What is it about you that makes you need to win all the time?"

"I don't need to win all the time."

Now they were playing Trivial Pursuit. Clark had raided her stash of snacks and, turning his nose up at the chocolate, was busy eating the potato chips. As Clark held the card in his hand, she couldn't help but notice how good the wedding ring looked on his finger. If only it was real, her heart longed. But she pushed the thought away. They were having such a good time and she wanted to keep it that way.

"What was the name of Eddie Murphy's suave alter ego in the Nutty Professor?'

"Oooh, ooh, I know this one."

"Tick Tock, Lois."

"I know it!" she insisted.

"Time's up! It was Buddy Love."

"I knew that, Clark, you should have given me another second."

"You're right, Lois. You don't need to win all the time."

She threw a pillow at him. It was good to have her best friend back.

***

In preparation for the hoped for evening activities, Lois and Clark were adding a scope to the camera on the tripod. Suddenly, Clark threw the tripod on the bed, covered it with the red satin sheet and threw her on the bed, coming to rest on top of her. Before she could form a conscious thought, his lips were on hers. Her body began to sing as his lips explored hers. Then he was gone. She lay there for a second with her eyes closed, before she opened them to see him looking down at her.

"Sorry. The maid…"

"It's fine. You're just lucky I was so surprised I didn't try out any of my Tae Kwan Do moves on you. Doesn't anybody knock around here? This *is* honeymoon suite." Her body was once again tense, and her heart aching.

***

They stood together watching the men in the office. They were temporarily shut out when Roarke closed the blinds in order to show Harrington a video. He said it was a computer model. A computer model of what? Then the blinds were opened again and Harrington was protesting "Millions of people." As the three left the offices, the fax machine came to life. "It's from Jimmy," Clark called across the room. "I'm just going to go down to the store in the lobby for a minute. I'll be right back." He waved dismissively at her.

***

She had seen the "Silent One" leave the key to the file cabinet in his jacket pocket and he had left his jacket in the office. She was pretty sure that she could get into the office and she had her pocket scanner with her. If she worked quickly, she might be able to get some information copied from the files before the men returned. She easily foiled the lock on the office door using her credit card, retrieved the key and opened the file drawer. She quickly located the file that the men had been looking through earlier and started scanning as fast as she could. She only had a few pages completed when she heard sounds of movement from the hall. She quickly returned everything to its place and hid in a closet. Hopefully, "Silent One" would not suddenly feel the need to hang his coat up in here. Then she heard a fire alarm ring and the sound of water falling. She could hear the men calling to each other as they hurried out the door. Thanking whatever gods had provided a way for her to escape, she covered her head with her hands and dashed through the shower. Minutes later she was barging through the door of the honeymoon suite. Clark was still sitting where she had left him, perusing the fax Jimmy had sent, but he looked up as she entered.

"Lois! What happened?" referring to her sopping wet state.

"I don't know! Did you see it?"

"See what?"

"Never mind, we can catch it on replay." Lois moved to the video camera and hit rewind. "Here, watch this!" They fast-forwarded through the scene from earlier where Harrington and Roarke were arguing and Lois hit play. They watched on re-play as the three left the office, and then—nothing.

"Clark! When did this thing stop recording?"

"I guess I must have accidentally hit it when I saw the fax coming in. Sorry."

"You're gonna be. I'm going to take a warm shower, and, since you messed up the surveillance, I am pulling rank and taking the bed again tonight." She flounced out of the living area into the bedroom.

"Good night, Lois," Clark chuckled.

***

"After last night's fire drill, Roarke and Bart drove to Pier 31 and went into a warehouse. They were still there this morning when I left to come back here. Warehouse leased to… Apocalypse Consulting," Jimmy shared his adventures of last night.

"My source says that what we're dealing with here is an experimental coastal defense network. A couple of years ago, the Navy began lobbying for their own version of a Star Wars system. Several proposals were made; the Navy picked Shock Wave. Roarke's system was runner-up," shared Perry.

"And so Roarke is trying to get Harrington to reverse the vote," Lois stated.

"Whose system is Shock Wave?" asked Clark.

"Luthor Technologies," said Perry.

Luthor again! Were there no pies the man didn't have his finger in?

***

The beautiful suite had been ransacked. Shelves and knick-knacks overturned and broken. The seats of the couch had been slashed. Their surveillance equipment was twisted and smashed. Lois headed into the bedroom to check in there. She returned with a frown on her face. "Roarke knows we're on to him."

"Worse than that, he's destroyed all our evidence that we hadn't already taken to the Planet."

"What about the offices?" Lois turned away, trying to look natural, but she knew that if he thought she wasn't looking, he would be free to use his special vision.

Sure enough, he lowered his glasses, looking across to the newly abandoned offices. "I'll bet he's cleared them out as well."

"Clark, we have to find him. That man is capable of anything."

"How'd he find us anyway?" They both looked around until they spotted her credit card pinned to the door with a knife.

"I was wondering where that was. I'm sorry, Clark."

"We'll find him, Lois," Clark assured her.

"We have to, Clark."

***

So why did she decide to investigate the warehouse by herself? Clark would have gone with her if she had asked. She should have at least told him. But she didn't. And now she was tied next to Congressman Harrington, who was annoying her with his doomsday prophecies. She pulled and struggled against the ropes holding them, but she wasn't making any progress. Clark came running up to them. Well, she might not have told him where she was going, but he knew her well enough to know where to look. That meant something didn't it? Clark snapped the ropes, surprising her, since it was a display of his powers while dressed as Clark. He must think that she couldn't see him. Harrington certainly didn't. Clark nodded to him.

"Is he all right?"

"I think he's in shock. Oh, and he never meant for this to happen."

"For what to happen?"

Now she could hear a rumble and looked in the direction Harrington was staring.

"That, I think. Clark!" A towering wall of water was rushing toward them. She was no expert, but even she could tell that that much water coming that fast would overtake a good portion of Metropolis, if not cover it completely.

Clark shoved her and Harrington in the opposite direction of the water. "Run!" he shouted. She didn't look back. She had no idea how even Superman could deal with the mighty wave crashing towards them, but she wasn't going to distract him by sticking around. She was going to run for her life!

When she finally stopped running, she turned to see the wave still heading towards them, but then suddenly folding to turn in on itself. The wall of water disappeared from sight. How had he done it? How had he known what to do? Clark never ceased to amaze her. It took more than powers to be Superman; he had to have an incredible knowledge of how the world around him worked. She shook her head in amazement.

***

Lois was lounging in the quickly re-arranged bedroom of the honeymoon suite. She had to say the bed was as comfortable as ever. She looked over at the phone and couldn't resist. She dialed Clark's number before she could change her mind.

"Hello?" Clark answered.

"Good night, John Boy," she teased.

"Lois?"

"You'll never guess where I am— our former love nest."

"The Honeymoon Suite?"

"Just the management's way of apologizing for any inconvenience suffered during our stay."

"So how come you're there? I was the one who never got to use the bed, even though it *was* my turn."

"Hey, I was the one who got my weekend of relaxation interrupted by this story."

Clark laughed. "Goodnight, Lois."

"Good night, Clark." She smiled as she hung up the phone. No, the weekend hadn't gone entirely as she had planned. And it had not been relaxing by any means. But she had enjoyed spending time with Clark, playing games with him, talking, and remembering all the reasons why her foolish heart had chosen to love him.

***

But of course, her feeling of contentment couldn't last long. Just this morning, she had been bewailing the lack of news to report on. Now the news had come that an asteroid seventeen miles across was barreling towards them- and only Superman had any hope of stopping it. Why hadn't she held her tongue? Lois sighed. She knew it was not her complaining that had brought this new trial, but she might not be quite so quick to wish for the next big story next time. If there was a next time. She had no idea how Clark expected to stop the asteroid. It was traveling thirty thousand miles per hour. *Could* Clark stop something that big traveling that fast? She was very frightened for him. Her mind wandered to thoughts of soldiers who were leaving for war and how they often seduced their honeys by telling them that they might never return. For a long minute, she was tempted to go to Clark and tell him of her feelings and beg him not to leave without showing her how it really felt to love someone, and to let her love him too. Then she realized he had Lana for that. She was just his…partner.

***

Why they let her through the barricade she didn't know. The rest of the press stood several feet from Superman taking their pictures and hoping to catch a statement for their readers and viewers. Maybe it was because of the number of stories that she and Clark had given on Superman. She didn't care. She couldn't be there for Clark last night, but she would be there for Superman this morning. She had to be strong, had to show him that she believed in him…and not let him see her doubts and fear.

"How are you feeling?" she asked him.

"This *will* work, Lois."

"Why are you so sure?"

Superman shrugged his shoulders, but she heard the strain in his voice as he said, "Because it has to."

She squared her shoulders. He was trying to be so brave. She would show him that she was brave too.

"Power of positive thinking, huh?"

"Lois, how are you feeling?"

She looked deep into his worried eyes. "I'm fine," she said firmly. "I believe in you. I know that you can do this." Superman touched his hand to her cheek and returned her searing look.

"I'll be back. We'll go flying together."

"I'll be waiting."

She didn't care. She didn't care who was watching or if Clark would take offense. If the love of her life was going off to save the world and might possibly never return, she was going to at least give him one last kiss. She took his face between her hands, raised her lips to his, and invoked the memory of every great kiss that she ever had into caressing Clark's lips. "For luck," she whispered in explanation when she ran out of air and broke the kiss. Hey, it worked for Leia in Star Wars. Wait…very bad parallel. Didn't Leia end up being Luke Skywalker's sister? At least Clark had not pulled away. Superman touched her cheek in a goodbye and walked towards the officials waiting with air tanks and last minute instructions. She thought he gave some sort of statement to the press just before he lifted off. She didn't know. To her, it wasn't invulnerable Superman that was flying off to save the world, it was Clark Kent, the man she loved—and might never see again.

***

Somehow, she ended up back at the Planet watching the TV coverage. She hardly kept herself from crying out when Superman impacted with the asteroid. She finally allowed herself to cry when the reporter announced that communication was lost. Other people in the newsroom were also crying, so she felt safe that no one would think anything unusual about it, if they even noticed. If they expected some brave, emphatic statement from her that Superman was fine, they would be sadly disappointed.

***

All day and into the night the news was filled with the fact that there had been no communication from Superman. Lois didn't know when she finally fell asleep, but she awakened to the insistent ringing of her phone.

"Hello?" Her voice cracked as she answered.

"Lois Lane-Kent? Did I wake you up?" came an amused voice over the line.

She was awake now, "Who is this?" she demanded.

"Ah, now that's the Lois I know. This is your friendly Metropolis Police Department calling. I think I have something- or should I say someone- that would interest you." She recognized the voice now. It was Inspector Henderson.

"What are you talking about?"

"Your partner is in the Lost and Found. Perhaps you would like to come and claim him?"

"What? What do you mean Lost and Found?"

"He showed up this morning at the Fifth Street Mission and seems to have no clue who he is. Of course, we recognized him, so we figured the best thing to do would be to call you or somebody else from the Planet to come and pick him up. The boys and I decided it should be you."

"I'm on my way." She slammed the phone down almost before Henderson finished his amused explanation.

Clark was okay. She sobbed in relief. All right, he wasn't okay, okay, but he was alive. How could Superman not know who he was? Did he not want to admit he was Superman or did Clark really not remember who he was?

***

He was in one of the interrogation rooms talking to a Dr. McCorkle when Lois arrived. Henderson let Dr. McCorkle know that Lois was there. The doctor exited the room and came to speak with Lois. She extended her hand.

"Doctor Jerri McCorkle." Lois shook the proffered hand.

"Henderson told me that Clark doesn't know who he is. What could have caused this?"

"Several possibilities. I'd guess anxiety caused by this asteroid could be a factor. On the other hand, these cases are often triggered by some kind of physical trauma."

"He did get hit by a car two days ago." Lois knew very well that the car had not actually hit Clark, but she didn't want people to think that Clark's amnesia was caused by anxiety- that was just so unlike Clark- and she certainly didn't want them to know that the physical trauma was an asteroid the size of Metropolis!

"I'm pretty sure he hit his head. I told him he should go to the emergency room, but he insisted he was okay. He seemed okay to me, so I let it go. Next time, I'm not taking 'No' for an answer."

"It could be a delayed reaction from the car accident. Physically, he's fine. Whether he's going to regain his memory immediately, I don't know. Based on the battery of questions we ask, it seems Clark suffers from what we call the 'Superman Complex'."

"What?" Had he said something about being Superman? Maybe he had forgotten he was Clark, and thought he was only Superman. At least it didn't look like anyone believed him, if that was what had happened.

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is that he's a chronic do-gooder who thinks he can handle anything. This kind of setback can be very frustrating."

"What should I do for him?"

"Clark needs to be surrounded by familiar people, and do familiar things. It will come back to him in time. Be patient with him."

"I can take Clark to the Planet where he can talk to his friends, and I'll call his parents so that they can come. I know they'll be here just as soon as they can. I should have called them already, but I was just trying to get here as fast as possible."

***

Lois tried to reach the Kents, but the phone just rang and rang. Maybe they had seen the asteroid coverage and were already on their way. The news was still reporting that Superman was missing in action. She decided to take Clark to the Planet. She showed him his desk and suggested that he try a donut. Then she dug around in his desk for a pair of his glasses. The ones he had on would protect his secret identity, but he would look more like Clark with his own glasses on.

"So…we work together?"

"Yes. I've worked at the Planet for several years. You started last year. Perry teams us together on big stories."

"So, we're partners?"

"Sometimes. Actually, we've known each other for a long time. Your parents took me in when my mother couldn't take care of us."

"Us?"

"Me and my sister, Lucy."

Perry with Jimmy in tow came to Clark's desk, "Perry White, son. Sorry to hear about what happened. This is Jimmy Olsen."

Jimmy waved his hand in greeting, "Hi, Clark. Actually, I always call you 'C.K.'."

"Now, how are you feeling? Up to going to a news conference?" asked Perry.

"I think so. I'm fine, except my memory is like a blank slate."

"Well, something's cooking at EPRAD. I need you to go check it out, Lois, and take Clark with you. Maybe some reporting work will jog his memory. Clark, why don't you go check out your locker, see if you got a change of clothes? Jimmy will show you."

***

Jimmy brought Clark back to Lois' desk. Jimmy shook his head chuckling. "I just rescued him from the Cat. She was telling him that they have something going. Now I know they had that one wild night, but she was really putting the moves on him. You might want to straighten him out." Lois nodded and turned to Clark.

"There's nothing going on between you and Cat Grant, except in her head. Actually, you have a girlfriend, Lana. I don't know her number, but when I get you back to your place, I'll look around and see if I can find it. Otherwise, I'll call Smallville and get the number from the Langs. I'm sure Lana must be wondering where you are."

***

The news from EPRAD was not good. There was still a large portion of the asteroid on a collision course with earth. They were all waiting and hoping to hear from Superman. Lois sighed. Could Clark even be Superman? Would he remember how? He couldn't be too "super" right now. He had sneezed on the way here. She couldn't remember ever hearing him sneeze before, even after he had got the soaking of his life in the pond when he fought with Trask while exposed to the Kryptonite. Should she tell him, revealing that she knew? If it came down to it, she would tell him. But they still had a little time. It would better if it came back to him on his own. She should take him to his apartment. And she needed to get in touch with Lana. Lana deserved to know what was going on. Did Lana know that Clark was Superman? If so, she had to be going crazy with worry.

***

"Go ahead. It's your place." Lois ushered Clark into his own apartment. Clark looked around. "Does this look familiar?"

"No, maybe— I don't know." Clark began to wander around the apartment. He picked up his old football.

"You played in high school. You were the star quarterback your senior year."

Clark picked up a picture of Jonathan and Martha. "My parents?"

Lois nodded. "Yes. I tried to get in touch with them but they didn't answer. Phones are overloaded all over the country. Or maybe they just weren't home."

"It's so weird. The world may be coming to an end, and I don't even know what I missed." He looked so forlorn that Lois threw caution aside and put her arms around him and squeezed tight.

"You've been around the world. You have a family who loves you. You haven't missed anything important."

"And we are friends, right?"

"The very best."

"Are we… more than friends?"

She would have given anything to be able to say yes. Or to push her conscience aside and say yes, even knowing it wasn't true. If the world was ending, would it matter that she had lied to him if it gave them time to be together? Rather than affirm or deny, she sidestepped the question. "We're partners. We work closely together."

"How close?"

Please stop, Clark! She wouldn't be able to do the right thing for much longer. "We're practically family."

"I bet you're a great reporter."

Lois smiled. "See? Your memory's already starting to come back. Look, your machine's flashing. Someone called. Maybe it's your mom and dad." Clark just looked at the flashing light.

"Clark?"

"It just seems weird. Someone left me a message. Maybe they wanted to let me know they were okay. Maybe they were worried about me. And I don't even remember them."

"Do you want me to-?" Clark nodded.

Lois hit "play" and Lana's nauseatingly nasal voice came from the machine. "Clark? I've been trying to reach you, but I haven't caught you. Since I can't seem to get a hold of you, I wanted to let you know I'm going home. If this is it, I want to be with my family. I hope I see you again, Clark, but if I don't, well, it's been fun. I love you. Bye." That coward! Clark needed her, and where was she? If she really loved Clark, why hadn't she come to the apartment and waited for him to come back so that they could be there together? Or driven home to Smallville together, if she wanted to see her parents. Lois could almost see red. If Clark belonged to her, she would take better care of him. Still, the last thing Clark needed right now was to see that anger. He might not remember Lana, but he surely knew someone who claimed they loved him had just abandoned him.

"I'm sorry, Clark. I guess everyone wants to be close to family right now."

"Even you? You're stuck here with me."

"Clark, I am exactly where I want to be. And I'm sure we'll locate your parents soon. Look, I have a spare room. You've stayed there before. Let's go to my house, snuggle up with a good movie and see what tomorrow brings."

"I don't want to intrude. I can stay here."

"Clark, just because you can't remember your friends doesn't mean that you have to be alone right now. Unless you particularly want to stay here, I'd rather we just went to my place."

Clark looked around the room, and shrugged. "I don't remember this place. A movie sounds like fun. I hope you have popcorn."

***

When they got to work the next morning, everyone was talking about Jimmy finding a piece of Superman's uniform. Lois was very upset with herself for not finding the information about the meteor coming down in Metropolis, but she had been so wrapped up in Clark's problems that she had not had time to focus on Superman's problems. She should have found the pieces of his uniform and gotten rid of them before anyone else found them. Now they knew that Superman was back on earth and it looked like he was ignoring their need for his help. Perry was counting on her to track Superman down. Well, she would just have to pretend, just like always, that she did not know that Clark was Superman and follow leads just like it was any other investigation. She just had to make sure that she got there first so she could cover up anything that would reveal Superman's identity.

Today was a day that called for coffee, real coffee, not decaf and why not go all out and have sugar and whole cream as well? She stood at the coffee machine, slowly stirring the contents of her cup when she noticed that Clark was watching her.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

Clark smiled. "I was just wondering how we met. Did we like each other right away?"

Lois smiled back, remembering. "Yes, I think we did. I was only thirteen and I was mad at the world. You were fifteen, and so self-assured. You had the most wonderful parents and I was jealous."

"I hope I'll get to meet them."

"We'll find them, Clark."

"And Superman? Will we find him as well?"

"Yes. I promise you, Clark, we will find Superman. And in plenty of time. Superman has never let me down before, and he won't fail me now."

"Hey, I think I remember something!"

"Really? What?"

"You don't usually drink real coffee with real milk with real sugar."

"See! Your memory will be back in no time."

Jimmy came running up to them. "Lois! Perry says since my first long-shot paid off, I can try another one. He said to take Clark with me."

"Really? I-" her phone rang. "Just a second, Jimmy. Hello, Lois Lane-Kent."

"Hello, my love."

"Lex! How are you?" She really should have called him. "I'm sorry, I haven't called. I've been busy—"

"Looking after Clark, I know." Yes, he would know. "I really need to see you, though, my dear."

"Well, I- you know what? Jimmy is going to take Clark on a story, so I do have a few minutes. I'll be right there."

"Mrs. Cox will let you in."

"Bye, Lex." She cradled the phone. "Jimmy, make sure you bring Clark back here when you're done. I'm going to see Lex. I'll be back." She grabbed her satchel and headed towards the elevator.

Lois did not like Mrs. Cox. The reason was that the feeling was very obviously mutual. Mrs. Cox treated Lois like it was nauseating for her to be in the same room with Lois. Looking down her surgically perfect nose, she said, "Ms. Lane-Kent, if you will follow me. Mr. Luthor wishes to show you something." Something that Mrs. Cox did not approve of her viewing, apparently. Mrs. Cox showed her to an elevator. She pulled a key from the ring at her waist, and inserted it into a lock. A panel opened and Mrs. Cox moved to block Lois' view as she punched in a series of numbers. She closed the panel and removed her key. The elevator began to move downward. The indicator stopped at the "B" for basement, but the elevator continued to slide downward. It finally stopped, and the doors opened.

"Ah, there she is." Lex came forward and kissed Lois' cheek. "My day is so much brighter already."

"Lex, where are we?"

"You are standing precisely five hundred meters below Metropolis street level. Surrounded by sixteen inch reinforced concrete walls. I originally designed it to survive a nuclear attack."

"A bunker?" Lois looked around. Its white walls and fluorescent lighting made it seem sterile and cold. On the walls were schematic drawings of a complete underground city. She shivered.

"I prefer to think of it as an 'Ark.' I have room for two hundred people. Supplies to last three years and tools and implements for farming and manufacture when we re-emerge."

"Re-emerge?"

"After the asteroid."

"So…you want me to write about this place to let people know about its existence?"

"The survival of a species does not depend on the survival of all its members. I have room for only two hundred and each have been carefully chosen to provide a genetically superior 'stock', as it were, for the human race to continue from."

"Like breeding cattle?"

"That's a very crude way of putting it, my dear, but yes, in a way."

"Why am I here?"

Luthor stopped outside a door, punched a code into the key pad on the wall, and then pushed the door open. He motioned for Lois to enter before him. She stepped inside and stopped in shock. It was her apartment, down to the minutest detail. Even the windows were there. She walked forward and raised the curtain. The scene was exactly what she would see from her own window, lit by the glow of back lighting.

"The computer is even programmed to simulate rain on some days, so your view will change slightly from day to day."

"Lex, I'm confused. What is this?"

"I'm offering you a chance, Lois, to be a passenger on this ark, to be my special guest on mankind's next great adventure."

"I'm on your list of…stock?" She was feeling decidedly uncomfortable.

"You are the most important part. You are my love. And, I must admit, three years will be a long time without 'companionship'. A ruler needs a queen by his side, to be his support, to…bear his children[.]" She felt like she was going to throw up. She looked swiftly around. Yep, her bathroom was there too. This was the closest Lex had ever come to pressuring her to make their relationship sexual. For the first time she was thankful that Miranda had sprayed Lex with the hundred percent solution. The new Lex wanted only to love her, and was willing to wait in hopes that she would one day return his love. The old, ruthless Lex…she shuddered. He might not have asked. He might have trapped her here and not even Superman would have been able to rescue her.

"Think about it. I'll await your decision." He turned and left her standing there in her "apartment". She was tempted. For a teeny-tiny moment. She didn't want to die. But she wasn't going to die. Clark was going to come through for them. And if she did die, she wanted to be with Clark, not trapped in this humongous concrete casket with the genetic elite.

She hurried down the hall after Lex. He turned when he heard her footsteps.

"Would you like me to send someone to pack your personal belongings? We can go to my suite and have a drink."

"No. I've got a partner who needs me. There's the Kents and my mom and sister. And I'm not giving up on Superman either. I can't stay here."

"Lois, mass panic is not a pretty sight. Even if you survived the asteroid, you might not survive the 'activities' that would follow. Rioting and looting. I don't want you to suffer through that, my love."

"You're very sweet, Lex, and I appreciate your…thinking of me. If what the asteroid does is destroy the world as we know it, I have to be there to see what takes its place. It may be the best comeback in history. Either way, I want to see it happen. The not knowing would kill me."

"I'll be waiting in hopes that you will change your mind." He motioned toward the elevator. "I have things to see to. Mrs. Cox will see you up." Mrs. Cox emerged out of nowhere. She and Lois entered the elevator. It began to rise upward. Suddenly Mrs. Cox punched the "stop" button with great force.

"I can't stand you. You've ruined him," she hissed. "I can't believe that you just rejected his offer."

"I-I-," Lois stammered.

"He loves you, he's a great man. Was a great man, but you've made him weak. I promise you this, Ms. Lane-Kent, if we get out of this, you will pay for what you've done to him." She pushed the "up" button again. When the elevator reached the main floor, she said, "I trust that you can see yourself out."

***

Lois went back to the Planet. Clark had returned with Jimmy.

"A psychic?" she questioned. "You thought a psychic might know where Superman was?"

"She seemed convinced he was very close," said Clark. Lois smiled to her self. That psychic didn't know how right she was. The elevator dinged and she looked up. "Martha! Jonathan!" she cried, rushing forward to hug them. "I tried and tried to reach you."

"It took us two days to get here. Then we had to walk from the train station. We figured that it would be easier to get directions to the Planet than to Clark Kent's apartment."

"These city people," Jonathan said shaking his head, "don't know how to keep their head in a crisis."

"Speaking of crisis, I need to talk to you guys. Let's go into the conference room." She ushered them forward and shut the door. "I'm sure you're wondering why Clark didn't greet you. Clark has amnesia. He doesn't remember anything," she paused meaningfully, "anything at all."

"Oh," said Martha, wide-eyed.

"That's…real bad news, Lois," said Jonathan sadly.

A knock came from the door and Clark stuck his head in. "Um, Perry said my parents were here?"

Lois went to him and took his hand. "Clark, these are you parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent."

"Hello, I'm… sorry I don't remember you."

"Oh, honey," Martha was teary-eyed, "that's all right. We are just so relieved that you're okay."

Considering he had amnesia, most people would find that statement unusual, but Lois knew that Martha was just grateful that Clark had survived his encounter with Nightfall. She needed to provide an opportunity for Clark's parents to tell him about Superman without her there.

"Jonathan, why don't you and Martha take Clark back to his place. You remember where it is, Clark?"

"I think so."

"Good. Perry wants me to help Jimmy on his Superman story."

Lois sat at her desk looking at the front page of what could be the final edition of the Daily Planet. The title read "Superman Came Home: Where is he now?" by Lois Lane-Kent and James Olson. Perry came up to her desk. She looked up at him, "It just doesn't look right without Clark's name next to mine."

"Jimmy's a good kid, Lois. Thanks for sharing your by-line."

"He earned it. I should have checked out that meteorite. And as long as we know Superman got back to Earth, there's still hope."

"You don't have to be here now. It's your choice. Go be with him."

"Him?"

Perry looked at her reproachfully. "I'm not blind, Lois. Go spend some time with Clark and his parents."

"I should protest and claim that I'm a reporter and I should stay until the last hurrah, but I do want to check on them. I'll be back, Perry."

"Maybe he's the lucky one. If he doesn't remember the way it was, maybe he won't miss it."

"I doubt it, Perry. If you never got to experience…anything, you would still miss it."

"Maybe you're right. We'll we've still got a paper to run. Go check on the Kents and then get out there. Man on the street interviews and all that."

***

As Lois approached Clark's apartment, she heard Clark cry out and then a big thud. As she passed the alley, Clark came crawling out of the pile of black trash bags. She hid a smile. Martha did tend to get right to the point.

"Clark, what are you doing here?"

"I live here."

"I meant in the alley."

"Taking out the trash. Any news on Superman yet?"

"Not yet."

"What if he's confused like me, and he wants to help, but he can't? Maybe he's…afraid."

"Clark, Superman wants to help and he will."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Clark, I know Superman."

"I want to know him, too. So I could believe that. Tell me about him."

"Superman is the kind of man who makes things happen. Sure, he's great looking and he's good, but what you notice most about him is how you can count on him. He's a lot like you, Clark. I remember the first time…" she started to tell him about some of her encounters with Superman, but she had lost him.

"Are you remembering something, Clark?"

"Yeah, I think I am." As he pulled himself up straighter she knew Superman was back! Now she just had to leave so that he could go do his thing, but not without one last hug, just in case. She threw herself at him and squeezed. "I'm so happy for you Clark. I better go. Perry wants me to get some "man on the street" interviews."

"I'll see you at the Planet later."

***

By the time she made it back to the Planet, the TV reporters were exclaiming about how the asteroid appeared to have altered course.

"See! I told you Superman would come through for us!"

Clark rushed in after her. "Did I miss something?"

"Only Superman saving the world." Perry and Jimmy shook his hand and slapped him on the back, glad to have their friend back. Lois couldn't resist another hug. "I knew a bump on the head couldn't slow you down long. What was the first thing that you remembered?"

"Superman. Everything you told me made it feel like I knew him."

"Superman. What he must have gone through, huh? I wish that he had come to me, that I could have been there for him."

"I'm sure that if he knew that, he would be…touched, Lois."

***

Lois sighed as she sank into her tub. It had been a nightmare, but it had been nice to be there for Clark when he needed her. It had felt…right.

It was the next evening when she heard a tap on her window. She had not seen Clark all day. Perry had urged him to take the day off and rest after the recovery of his memory. "Don't want to do too much too soon and have a relapse." Clark insisted that he would be fine, but Perry said, "Son, that's what sick days are for. You earn them, whether you take them or not, and I'm telling you to take one." Clark gave in.

Lois rushed to the window. "Superman!"

"Lois, you look surprised to see me."

"Is something wrong?"

"No. Have you forgotten? I promised to take you flying. I'm here to fulfill that promise."

"I hadn't really forgotten, but I didn't know when to expect you. Where are we going?"

"I am going to let you decide. I'll just provide the flight."

"And the company?"

Clark looked pleased. "Yes. If that's what you want."

"Then let's go to an island, sit in the sand, watch the sun go down, and listen to the waves. Recovering from thinking that the world is coming to an end requires some relaxation, even for you."

"You'd better wear a coat then, because I'll be flying faster if we're going any distance."

Lois had no idea where he took them. She didn't even care. They lay down beside each other on the sun-warmed sand and listened to the waves as they swept onto the shore. They could watch the gulls performing their acrobatic stunts in the sky. They didn't speak, just let the sun and the peacefulness wash over them. The sun began to slip lower on the horizon and the sky was filled with pinks, and reds, and corals. Eventually the colors faded and the full moon shone down on the water, creating a beautiful white path stretching from the beach to it's round, white fullness. Clark stirred and sat up. "I'd better get you home. You have to work tomorrow."

"Okay," she sighed.

Clark glanced out at the water. "It is beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"I'm so glad that I was able to help, to keep places like this in existence."

"Me too."

He turned back towards her. "You never gave up on me, did you?"

"Never. I never will."

"Why?"

"Superman is more than just a fancy suit and amazing abilities. It's the idea of Superman. Someone to believe in. Someone to build a few hopes around. Metropolis- the *world*- needs Superman. To make the world a better place. To make us a better people."

"That's a lot for me to live up to, Lois."

"No, it's a lot for us to live up to."

He stood to his feet, held out a hand to her and pulled her up. "It's time for all good little reporters to be in bed, not philosophizing the intricate details of life. Ready?"

She put her arms around his neck. "Ready."

***

The newsroom staff were huddled around the television watching the plight of the Paris bound 797 that had been unable to activate its landing gear. The plane carrying 130 people was going to attempt a crash landing. Out of the corner of her eye, Lois saw Clark enter the newsroom. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Serious situation at Orly. A plane with no landing gear is about to attempt a landing," replied Perry.

Clark swiftly turned and punched the elevator call. "Rats! I just remembered I left my notes in the taxi. I'm going to see if it's still waiting out front." Well, that's good, thought Lois. So far Superman had kept to Metropolis, but there was certainly no reason that he couldn't help out elsewhere if he heard of an emergency.

"This just in. Superman, the famed Man of Steel from Metropolis, is flying alongside the stricken airliner."

The newsroom cheered. Except for Clark. What?

"What?" said Clark echoing her thought. If Clark was still here, how could Superman be in Paris?

***

Clark was absent the rest of the day. Lois would have given anything to know where he had gone and what he was thinking. She kept running different scenarios in her mind. Maybe she was wrong, maybe Clark wasn't Superman. But no, she was certain that she had caught glimpses of him using his powers as Clark, hadn't she? Superman had somehow split himself in two so that he could be both Superman and Clark full time. But how would he do that? Superman had a twin. No, she was sure that the Kents had only one son, Clark. Where had this other Superman come from?

***

She wanted to press Clark for answers, but knew that she had to tread carefully here. Clark might be feeling as confused as she was if the look on his face yesterday was any indication. She had to inspire some sort of a response in him. She waited at the newsstand until she saw him coming and picked up one of the European papers with Superman's picture boldly displayed on the front. When he spotted her, he walked towards her.

"Look at this. In the last thirty- six hours Superman's saved an airplane in Paris, righted a sinking ship in Rio, rescued a busload of school children in Surinam- never once talking to the press or even sticking around to see how things came out."

"And your point is?"

"It's been three days since Superman has even been seen in Metropolis. Don't you find that just the tiniest bit odd?"

"You know, Lois, Metropolis doesn't own Superman. Maybe he's on vacation, maybe he's… I don't know."

The confused, frustrated look on his face told Lois what she needed to know. He didn't know any more about this Superman than she did and he wanted to. They walked into the elevator and pushed the button to go up to the newsroom.

"Why is he gallivanting all over the world? I left messages for him to call me with every correspondent and news bureau of ours worldwide. Nothing."

"You did?"

"Yes. I thought, well, I thought that Metropolis was his home. Unselfishly speaking, I suppose he should belong to the world. But he's always been in Metropolis, hasn't he?"

"Metropolis is his home. He said as much."

"So any theories as to why he is so busy everywhere else?"

"No, I guess nothing has really been going on in Metropolis, so he—"

Jimmy came up, interrupting him, "CK, here's those picture that you asked for."

"Thanks, Jimmy" Clark took the picture from him.

"What are those?" Lois asked peering over his shoulder.

"Well, I didn't get to see the whole rescue, so I got some pictures." Clark had pulled down his glasses and was looking intently at the prints. Well, that answered one question. Clark still had his powers. A loud boom was heard and the windows of the Planet shook.

"Wow!" exclaimed Lois. "He doesn't usually fly this close."

"He?"

"Superman. Didn't you hear that?"

"Oh, I didn't realize- uh, I need to go return a library book. See you later." Was it going to be a Superman showdown? Lois wished with all her heart she could be there, but where would the supermen meet? They could be literally anywhere in the galaxy.

"Lois! Robbery and hostage situation at the Metropolis Merchant's Bank. Shake a leg," Perry bellowed over the buzz of the newsroom. Lois had tossed all night trying to figure out the supermen mystery. Well, maybe a story would clear her head. "On it, Chief," she called grabbing her satchel and heading for the elevator.

"Hey! How about some coffee here?" Perry was in a commanding mood today.

"I don't do coffee. It's not in the job description. Read the manual, Gramps."

"Who is that kid? Hey, you!" Perry took off after the new copy boy, Jack. Lois smiled and shook her head. Only Clark would befriend the guy who robbed his house, find him a place to stay, and get him a job. She had to figure out what was going on.

When Lois got there, the crisis seemed to be over. She spotted a policeman who seemed to be filling out paperwork. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet. What happened?"

The man looked up. "Tense stand-off until Superman got here."

This was bigger news than she had thought. "He's here? In Metropolis?"

The policeman nodded towards a police wagon. "He's over there."

Lois instantly spun and made her way towards the wagon. Before she reached it, the apparent perpetrator broke free of the two police officers holding him and began to run. She gasped as Superman dived after the man, caught him, and threw him the twenty feet into the wagon. That was just something that she could not see Clark doing.

"Superman?"

He turned and looked at her. Looking into his eyes, she couldn't see any sign of recognition. "Yes?"

"It's me, Lois."

An amused look crossed his face. "Lois, huh?" He looked her up and down before he rose into the sky and flew off. He was checking me out! she thought. Definitely not Clark.

Clark was at her desk when she got back to the Planet. "Clark, we have to talk. There's something wrong with Superman! I just saw him toss this robbery suspect into a police van from twenty feet away. Knocked the guy out cold. I don't think that Superman would do that. It's like he's not himself or something."

Clark eyes sparked with excitement, "You saw him? Here? In Metropolis."

"Yes. Perry sent me out to cover a hostage situation at the Merchants Bank. It was over by the time I got there, but the perp tried to make a run for it. Superman caught him. I talked to him, Clark, and it was like he didn't even recognize me. And he smirked at me! Superman doesn't smirk, at least not at me."

"Smirked?"

"I wish I could talk to him and find out what's wrong."

"Me too." So maybe Clark had not caught up with Superman2 earlier. He looked worried.

"Clark," she put his hand over his. "It'll be okay. We, you and I, we'll figure this out and get Superman back to normal." He didn't look convinced, but he nodded and went back to his desk.

"Ms. Lane-Kent?"

Lois turned to see a messenger boy standing there.

"Yes?"

"Sign here, please." He handed her his clipboard and a letter. She signed quickly, handing the clipboard back to the messenger. She sat the envelope down on her desk. He just stood there. When she looked pointedly at him, the boy explained, "I'm supposed to wait for an answer."

"Really? Well, I guess I should open this now, then." She grabbed her letter opener out of her desk organizer, otherwise known as a coffee cup, and slit the envelope. She unfolded the note and read:

"Dear Lois, Please forgive me my behavior today. I have something I want to talk to you about. May I see you tonight? I could be at your place at nine. Please say yes. Yours, Superman."

It wasn't Clark's handwriting. Similar, but it didn't have the look of Clark's sure hand. She looked back at the messenger. "Tell Superman the answer's yes." She deliberately left the letter open on her desk as she went to fill her coffee cup. Hopefully Clark's curiosity would get the better of him.

***

Lois rushed around her apartment. Why she was trying to make everything look nice for this Superman look-alike she didn't know, but being busy was keeping her curiosity at bay for the moment. She had opened the window in preparation for his arrival. She was getting the chilled sparkling grape juice out of the fridge when she heard the whoosh of his arrival. She turned and smiled at him, "Would you like something to drink?"

"Drink? I guess so." She poured the juice into the waiting glass.

"Here you go," she said handling the glass to him. She lifted her own to her lips.

"You look really hot." Lois gasped and choked on her drink. "Can we sit on the couch?" he asked.

"Sure." She headed toward the loveseat and sat down beside him. He sat the juice on the coffee table, faked a yawn, stretching his arms, and settled one of them around her shoulders. Her mouth twitched on a smile. It was such a high school-like move.

"Is this okay?" he asked a worried look on his face.

"It's fine. Superman, was there a reason that you wanted to see me tonight?"

He turned towards her with an earnest look on his face. "Do you like me?"

"Of course I do. I am concerned about your behavior lately."

"Why? I haven't done anything wrong."

"No, but that man you threw in the police wagon could have been hurt badly."

"Might is right."

"What? No—"

He interrupted her, "How about a kiss?" Before she could answer him, Superman2 grabbed her by the shoulders and roughly pushed his lips on hers. Lois tried to push away, but he held her tight. I underestimated him, Lois thought. I was judging him by Clark. She tried to decide what Tae Kwan Do move to use that would gain her the advantage over his immense strength. Her front door burst open.

"Am I interrupting?" Clark! He must have read Superman2's note.

Clark's entrance startled Superman2 and she escaped his grasp to stand by Clark.

"Go away," demanded Superman2 petulantly.

"I think Lois would like me to stay," Clark said firmly.

"Yes, I do. Please!"

Superman2 got off the couch and walked menacingly toward Clark. Clark took a step forward in front of Lois. Superman2 lifted his hand to grab or strike Clark and Clark grabbed his wrist. Superman2 looked surprised when he did not instantly overcome Clark. He yanked his arm away and looked at Clark. Clark's chin rose a notch and Superman2 nodded and looked at Lois.

"I guess I'll be going then. It's almost my bedtime anyway." He looked at Clark. "I will see you again."

Lois moved to collapse on the couch. "Thank you, Clark, for being there, but you must be out of your mind!" If the other Superman had not known that Clark Kent was Superman before, he surely did now.

"Are you all right? Did he hurt you?" Lois shook her head.

"Not exactly. He kissed me."

"Superman kissed you?"

"Clark, I've kissed Superman before. I know what it feels like. That was *not* Superman."

"Then who was it?"

Lois looked up at him. "I don't know, Clark. But we have to find out."

"It's late."

"First thing tomorrow, Clark. We can't allow him to undo all the good that Superman has done. He said 'might is right'. He scares me, Clark."

***

Another restless night. Would she always spend her nights fretting over Clark? I bet Lana is sleeping a soundly as a baby, she thought grumpily as she gave up and turned on her computer. She might as well get started.

***

When Clark arrived at the Planet, she had a theory.

"A clone?" he said skeptically.

"Yes, it's so obvious. There's no technology in the world that could produce a robot like that. And if Superman had a twin, I think he would have said something. No, someone has cloned Superman. Made an exact genetic copy."

"Is that even possible? I didn't think that science had gotten much beyond cloning human cells."

"I found an article last night from the Metropolis Science Magazine by this scientist named Fabian Leek. He made it sound like it could be done."

***

"You see, my dear Ms. Lane, its child's play to clone individual cells. As simple and natural as the reproductive act itself." Dr. Leek leered at her. Lois frowned at him.

"Your article said entire human beings could be cloned."

"Yes, but I was young and, unfortunately, overly optimistic. It's taken me thirty years to finally be able to clone a frog. The process is much more difficult than I imagined. We're years away from successfully applying the technique to human beings."

Clark picked up a jar. A dead, dried frog clinked against the glass. "I guess the process isn't exactly foolproof," referring the extra legs of the specimen.

"No, not yet." Dr. Leek turned to Lois, "I would however, be very honored to take you to dinner, Ms. Lane. We could discuss the miracles of life in more, shall we say, tangible terms." The man wasn't very subtle was he? Well, he wasn't Superman2. She could handle this one.

"I have a better idea," she said in a sexy voice.

"Yes?"

"Why don't you go home, change into something more comfortable," she drew circles on his chest with her finger, "pack an overnight bag and then come back here…" she paused dramatically before continuing in a normal tone, "and take all these poor frogs and release them in the nearest lily pond." Lois turned and stalked out the door, though she did not resist swaying her hips slightly. Clark shrugged his shoulders in sympathy at the doctor and followed Lois out the door.

Lois was steaming by the time Clark caught up with her at the Jeep. "That guy is a piece of work. He completely backtracked on all of his recent research."

"But Lois, Superman is invulnerable. In order to even begin to make a clone, they would have to have used cells from Superman's body."

Lois shook her head stubbornly. "I don't know, Clark. But somebody figured it out. And we're going to figure out who. Wait! Where are you going?" Clark had turned abruptly and was heading away from the Jeep.

"To find someone who might be able to help. You start working on this angle. I'll meet you back at the Planet."

***

She found it. There were so many articles about Superman in the Planet archives, but fortunately it had happened early in Clark's Superman career. She was printing out the article when Clark entered from the elevator.

"Clark! I found it. 'Superman Donates Lock of Hair to Charity'." She thrust the paper at him. "Look."

"I remember now. You're amazing, Lois." She blushed happily. "Does the article mention who bought it?"

"Yes, a Mrs. Doyle Alexander. *But* it was stolen from her home the very next day. The police never found the thief. They didn't even get any leads."

"Well, now we know how they cloned Superman, we just need to figure who."

"And why."

***

Clark had gone to get some lunch, so she wasn't surprised when Superman showed up at her desk a few minutes later. Still, it didn't hurt to be a little cautious.

"Superman, is it really you?" She looked into his eyes. He looked at her with the same fondness that she was accustomed to from Clark.

"In the flesh. I've been trying to get the lowdown on this imposter. I want to show you something. Come with me?"

She put her arms around his neck, "Anywhere."

But it wasn't Clark. How had she made that mistake? She was sure that she would have known Clark anywhere, but when they landed her grabbed her wrists, produced a rope from nowhere and tied her up. They were in some sort of western movie set. He used his heat vision to light one of the piles of wood. He set a brand in the fire in imitation of an old western movie.

"What…what are you doing?"

He chuckled. "You want to belong to Superman. I can mark you as mine for the rest of your life." He lifted the brand menacingly.

"No! I'm not an animal. I'm a human being. I don't know who raised you, but they forgot to teach you the value of human life. People matter, Superman. All life is precious. You can't just—"

Superman- Clark- landed with a thud. "Let her go."

Superman2 threw the brand back into the fire and reached towards her, snapping the ropes that bound her in an instant.

"I never wanted to hurt you, Lois," he said earnestly. "But the only way I could guarantee Superman would fight me was to make him think your life was in danger."

"If you don't want to hurt me, then, please, don't hurt him."

Superman2's eyes lit up with new knowledge. Then he shook his head. "His time is past. I have to fight him." He dashed through a swinging door.

Clark reached her in the next second, "Are you okay?"

"Yes," she said, rubbing her wrists. He started to turn away. She reached out and grasped his arm. "Please, be careful. Don't underestimate him like I did." His eyes met hers and he nodded before turning to follow Superman2 into the building. In a moment she heard the sounds of glass breaking. She entered the swinging doors and saw one of the Supermen send the other sliding across the top of the bar.

"This town isn't big enough for the both of us. Let's take this outside." The other one nodded. "Stay here," he said pointing at Lois. That would be the Clark one. And he should know better. She hurried outside where they were facing each other like old western gunslingers.

Heat vision came from one of the supermen's eyes. The other returned fire. She still could not tell which was which. The heat sizzled and popped as they each struggled to overcome the other.

"Don't you understand? This is a fight neither of us can win!" That would be Clark, the Superman closest to her. It seemed hours dragged by before Superman2's heat vision seemed to grow fainter. Finally, Superman2's heat rays slipped. Clark's vision hit him in the chest and Superman2 fell to the ground. Clark immediately rushed to his side.

"Go ahead. Finish me off. Might is right. Only the strong survive."

"I don't want to hurt you. We have so much in common. You and I… we're brothers."

"I don't understand. Don't you know that I would always challenge your rule?"

"I don't want to rule. I want to be respected, yes. But you earn that respect by caring for others, not overpowering them."

Superman2 staggered to his feet. He appeared to lose his balance and Clark steadied him. "Are you all right?"

"I'm dying."

Clark shook his head. "No."

"Maybe it's for the best. If I'm not real, if I was created just to do my father's bidding, to kill you, then there's nothing left to live for anyway."

"Of course there is! We'll find a way to fix you. STAR Labs—"

Superman2 held up his hand to silence Clark. "I have something to do. Will you wait here for me here?"

Clark nodded as Superman2 flew away. Clark turned to Lois. "Didn't I ask you to stay in the building?"

"No, you told me. You should know by now I don't often do as I'm told."

Clark snorted. "That's for sure. Well, let me take you back to the Planet."

"But—"

"Lois. I'm asking you. Please." Lois nodded and put her arms around his neck.

"Okay."

***

Lois had never seen Clark look as weary as he looked when he entered the newsroom a few hours later. He made his way to her desk.

"Superman just left. He told me what happened, but he didn't stick around."

"What did he say?"

"Just that the clone Superman was gone. Permanently. And that the lock of hair had been destroyed so that no one could try to clone Superman again." He looked so sad. He sat down beside her and she covered his hand with her own.

"It might have been kind of nice. You know, to have two of them. Superman would have a brother; someone to talk to, share with who could truly understand."

"We all need that."

"Yes." Lois wanted to do something to lighten the mood. "Although—"

"What?"

"We're talking about companionship for Superman, right?"

"Right," he said cautiously.

"No problem, then. I'm available." She made a funny face at Clark and he laughed. Her heart lifted at the sound. He would be okay.

***

Perry was in a dark mood when they got to the Planet the next day. "Budget cuts, people. You've each gotten a memo on the changes. Please actually read it," he said giving Lois a meaningful glance, "and follow it. Circulation is down and our advertising space is not selling."

Lois picked up the memo and read aloud, "'No business lunches, no payments for sources, no cabs- Perry!" she looked up at him. "We might as well hang up our word processors."

"We'll adjust. Hopefully it's only temporary," Clark said helpfully.

"Any more surprises?" she asked Perry.

He looked down unable to meet her eyes. "They're talking layoffs."

"What! Perry, they can't!"

He looked at her now, "All I know is if we don't find ways to save money around here, we're gonna be out of business."

"We were told that last week's payroll problem was a clerical error. Was it?"

Perry shook his head. "I don't know, Lois. All I know was that I was told to cut expenses in any way possible. And if that doesn't take care of it, jobs will be cut." Perry turned and walked into his office. He shut the door firmly and it was evident to all that he was not going to discuss it further.

Job cuts. Lois looked around the room. Jack and Clark hadn't been there very long. Jobs like Jimmy's could easily be cut. Then Cat, Eduardo, Steve—maybe they would cut some of the reporters to save money. She honestly was not worried about her own job. It might be arrogant of her, but as a multiple Kerth award winner, she was the best reporter the Planet had. But that didn't mean that she wanted any of her fellow co-workers to lose their jobs.

***

Lex smiled sweetly at her as he handed her a glass of champagne. In the background, a violinist played her favorite classical tune. Lois shook her head. "Lex, what am I going to do with you? When you said Italian, I had no idea you meant *in* Italy"

"My favorite restaurant is in Milano. Why shouldn't I take you there, if I can?"

"The food was wonderful. It must be nice to have unlimited funds."

"Being the third richest man in the world does have its advantages."

"Hmm." They sat in silence, listening to the music. Lois' mind wandered back to the Planet. Why was it failing? She knew that she was bringing in as good stories as ever, great ones, even, when she and Clark partnered up. Why weren't people buying the Planet? Why were the advertisers placing their ads elsewhere?

"I don't know when I've had better garlic chicken. Perhaps I should steal their chef."

"Mmm."

"This violin music is beautiful. I must be sure to add a nice tip to her fee," Lex tried again.

"Mmm."

"Did you know, Shakespeare didn't write Romeo and Juliet. It turns out that it was actually written by Dr. Seuss."

"Mmm- what?" Had he been talking?

Lex sighed. "Am I boring you, Lois?" Lois turned on the seat to face him.

"No, Lex. Of course not. I'm sorry. All I can think about is the Planet. Did you see the paper this morning?"

"The one with the headline 'Financial Woes Mount'?"

"Yes. The Planet is losing business. The expense accounts have already been cut and Perry says that jobs may be next. I'm worried about my friends. Clark and Jack haven't worked there for very long. Jimmy has been there a while, but if they want to cut jobs, his could be considered expendable."

"Lois, my sweet, I can't stand to see you worried."

"It's okay, Lex." She covered his hand with her own. "I'm sorry to spoil our evening. I'm sure it will work itself out."

"What bothers you bothers me. I'll just have to do something about it."

"There's nothing you can do, Lex. I looked into our advertisers a little this afternoon. None of our Lex Corp. accounts have left, just almost everyone else." She smiled at him in reassurance.

"Lois, my dear, you forget those unlimited funds we were talking about just a few minutes ago. I'll simply buy the Planet and then you won't have to worry anymore."

"You could do that?"

"I not only can, but I will. You surely know that I would do anything for you, Lois."

"Lex, I'm grateful, but I worry that is the pheromones still talking. I wouldn't want to take advantage of you."

"I wish you would," he looked at her soulfully.

"Lex—"

He waved his hand, "I'm not pressuring you, darling."

She squeezed his hand. "That's sweet of you, Lex." She felt a twinge of guilt. Honestly, she liked having a handsome, eligible man seek her out and pay attention to her, but perhaps he was starting to read too much into their relationship. This was the second time that he had hinted that he wanted more.

***

Perry pulled open the door of his office and entered the newsroom in a hurry, "I just got a call from upstairs to expect an announcement any time." As if on cue, the elevator doors opened and Lex, along with Nigel, Mrs. Cox and several important looking men in suits emerged. Lex leaned against the rail, then raised one hand for silence.

"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lex Luthor. I, no less than you, have been greatly distressed by the sea of troubles that has mired Metropolis' one great newspaper. I don't know why your advertisers have deserted you and circulation is down. I don't know why the banks have shut off your credit lines. I do know that problems such as these can be solved with strong leadership and fiscal responsibility. Therefore, I have taken the one step that would guarantee the future well-being of this newspaper: I bought it." The room erupted in cheers. Lois looked down at her desk guiltily. "Today begins a new era. I promise you no interference, only a few minor modifications, and no layoffs." The cheers began anew.

Lex made his way down the stairs shaking hands and patting backs of enthusiastic employees that rushed to greet him. He made his way to Lois' desk. "Better now, darling?"

"Lex, I told you that you didn't need to—"

"It was my pleasure. And if you remember, I told you a long time ago that pursuit of pleasure was what I live for."

Lois' mind flashed back to that long ago dinner when she was trying to get an interview with Lex, when she was sure that he was dirty. It seemed so long ago. When had her opinion of him changed? More importantly, what about him made her think he had changed? Perhaps his behavior towards her was influenced by the pheromone solution, but had the rest of his life really changed?

"Well, thank you, Lex. I hope that it will be a good investment."

***

Lois passed Perry the next morning as she entered the newsroom. He was carrying his Elvis picture under one arm and muttering to himself. "Perry, Is everything all right?"

"No, everything is not all right."

"Where are you going?"

"Home. If you have any problems, take 'em up with our new owner and his new Supervising Editor-In-Chief." Perry entered the elevator and angrily punched the "door close" button. What was going on? Jimmy passed her carrying a full box.

"Jimmy, what are you doing?"

"Cleaning out my desk."

"What? Why?"

"Jack and I get to keep our jobs, but we've been 'reassigned'. We report downstairs to the printing plant tomorrow. I'm having a tough time thinking of this as a lateral career move." The elevator returned and Jimmy stepped into it. "Hope I see you around, Lois, but if not, it's been fun."

"But-" the elevator doors closed. She turned back to the newsroom to see Clark barreling out of Perry's office. He threw a sheet of paper on his desk and stood there, arms crossed, with an angry look on his face. Lois hurried to him. "Clark, what's wrong?"

"Luthor just killed my story, that's what's wrong."

"Well, I'm sure-" she started to excuse Lex.

"I'm seeing a real conflict of interest here, Lois. My story is about the excessive rate hikes at Metropolis Electric. Lex says the story is too controversial. I find it very interesting that he is on the board of Metropolis Electric and refuses to run a story about what he termed 'necessary' rate increases."

"Well, Lex is new at this, Clark. I'll talk to him." She patted Clark's arm and headed into Perry's office.

"Lois. Just the woman I wanted to see." Lex stepped forward to kiss her cheek.

Lois accepted the kiss but asked, "Lex, what's going on? Did you fire Perry? He said something about a new editor-in-chief."

"Of course not. I just hired another fellow to work with him. Take some of the load off."

"But, Lex, Perry wants the load. He won't accept this. He'll quit."

"I sincerely hope not. It would be a great loss to the paper. Unless you would like his job? I could make it happen."

"No! Lex, I don't want Perry's job!"

"I will talk to him and apologize. I can find other work for Chip."

"What about Jimmy and Jack?"

"Even though I have purchased the Planet, some changes will need to be made. I ensured that Jimmy and had Jack jobs since I knew that you were worried about them. Those positions were open and that need was more pressing than those here in the newsroom. I'll have then back up here as soon as humanly possible. I promise. Lois, I'm working to save the Daily Planet. Give me a chance. Trust me. Everything will turn out fine. I'm no saint, Lois. I've done questionable things in pursuing success. Unfortunately, that's the nature of big business. Sometimes, out of jealousy or frustration, I've…over-reacted. But, I swear to you, I've changed. I no longer want to hurt anyone. I want to be the kind of man you want in your life in whatever capacity you'll have me."

"Lex—"

He held up his hand to stop her, "Now's not the time to discuss this, Lois. Just assure your friends I'm not the devil."

***

Lois exited the office and went to Clark's desk. "It's going to work out fine, Clark. Just give it time. Lex will turn things around."

Clark looked grim. "I hope so, Lois. For all our sakes."

The mood in the newsroom was changed. Perry had returned after he cooled off, but he wasn't happy with the changes that Lex had made and his attitude was rubbing off on the Planet employees. Lois didn't know what to do to help the situation. If only Perry wasn't so resistant to change. Change was supposed to be good for you, right? Clark passed by her desk. "Hey, Lois. I'm taking Jack and Jimmy to lunch. Wanna come?"

She looked up at him. "I better stay and work on this story. Some other time. Tell them hi for me."

"Sure. Well, their lunch hour is pretty strict, so I better get going."

She watched as Clark exited the newsroom. She knew that he was not very happy with the changes at the Planet either, but he had apparently decided to bide his time. She stood to her feet to go refill her coffee cup when the whole building shook with great force.

"What was that?" Her fellow employees all looked at each other in fear. Fire alarms began going off. Perry came rushing out of his office. "Get everybody out. Use the stairs, not the elevator."

"What's going on, Perry?" Lois asked as he passed her.

"Some sort of explosion in the print room. Management just said to evacuate the building until they could figure out what happened."

"Perry! Jimmy and Jack work there and Clark was just heading that way!"

"Let's get out of here now. We can't do anyone any good staying here."

The Planet employees stood around the entrance. Then the employees of the print room began to come through the doors. They were covered in ink and smelled of smoke. Eager hands reached to help them through the crowd to sit on the curbs. "What's going on? Have you seen Jimmy Olsen, Jack or Clark Kent?" Lois questioned. They just shook their heads as they coughed trying to clear their lungs. Then she saw Superman exit the building carrying someone. The wailing of ambulance sirens could be heard. "Lois!" Superman called catching sight of her.

She rushed to his side. "Jimmy! Is he okay?" Jimmy was also covered in ink and was bleeding from a cut on his forehead. His arm hung in an odd angle.

Superman laid him gently on the sidewalk. "Can you stay with him until the paramedics get here? I have to go back in and see if there is anyone else—"

"Yes! Go."

Lois smoothed back Jimmy's hair looking down at his still face. What in the world had happened? Jimmy groaned as he started to come around. "Jimmy! It's Lois. What happened?"

"Don't know. Explosion. Fire. And Superman was there."

"What kind of explosion?" If there was a fire, this was really serious. There were numerous chemicals in the print room, each one a potential explosion if exposed to heat.

"I don't know." He started to struggle to sit up.

"No, stay," she said pushing on his shoulder. "The paramedics will be here in a moment. You need to be checked out. You were unconscious and it looks like your arm may be broken. You said Superman was there?"

"Yeah, he just came out of nowhere. If he hadn't, "Jimmy shivered, "the whole place could have blown up. He put the fire out almost before it started."

"Do you know where Jack is?"

"I had just spotted Clark and was punching out for lunch. I don't know if Jack had seen us yet or where he was when the explosion happened."

A paramedic approached them. "Need some help?"

"Yes. This is Jimmy Olsen. Superman brought him out. He was unconscious for a few minutes, but he seems pretty coherent now. Also, there's something wrong with his arm."

Another paramedic came towards them with a gurney. "Looks like it's your lucky day, son. You get to ride in the ambulance." They began to lift Jimmy onto the gurney.

"Jimmy, you'll be okay?" she asked. Jimmy nodded.

"I'm going to try to find out about Clark and Jack."

The fire department was pulling up and men were piling off of the truck and heading into the building. Superman appeared with another person in his arms. One of the firemen took his load and headed towards an ambulance. Superman ran back into the building followed by more firemen. Lois hurried over to the ambulance. This person had burns on his face and hands, but Lois could tell that it wasn't Jack. "Have you seen Jack?" she asked. The paramedic gently pushed her out of the way. "Ma'am, you need to get out of our way and let us work. We need to get this man to the burn unit right away."

Lois nodded and turned looking at the scene around her. Medical personnel scurried around checking on the ink and smoke stained people, offering water or oxygen to those that needed it. She saw firemen coming out of the building with more victims. Even to her inexperienced eyes, she could tell that these had suffered far more injury than the man who Superman had brought out moments before. They must be getting closer to the source of the explosion. Then she saw Superman carrying another victim. She ran to him. Superman laid the body on a waiting gurney and covered the face. Oh, God. Then he saw her standing there. "It's Jack." His voice broke.

"Oh, Cl- Superman. I'm so sorry." She felt the tears well up in her own eyes. Clark would take this very hard.

"I need to go back in. There are still more—"

She laid her hand on his spandex clad arm. "I'll stay with him."

She sat on the curb by the gurney and watched as more victims were brought out. She could hear the firemen exclaiming how Superman's quick action in putting out the fire had saved the lives of many in the print room, and probably kept the whole building from being demolished. Three more sheet clad bodies joined Jack's on the sidewalk, but most of the remaining injured were placed in ambulances heading for Metropolis' emergency rooms. Superman finally exited the building and approached the fire chief. "I think that's everyone,' he said grimly.

The fire chief shook Superman's hand, clasping his arm, "Thanks, Superman. You saved a lot of lives today." Superman's gaze ran over the sheet-covered bodies.

"I wish I could have done more."

"They were killed immediately in the explosion, Superman. There is no way, no way at all that you could have prevented that." Superman nodded resignedly. Oh, Clark, Lois' heart cried to him. After looking one more time around the chaos he flew away. Minutes later Clark appeared at her side. His face was lined with worry. Lois put her arms around him. "Oh, Clark."

He placed an arm around her shoulder and hugged her to his chest. "Superman told me about Jack." She was glad that he had said the hard words. Even though she knew that he already knew Jack's fate, technically Clark Kent did not know and she did not want to be the one to say it. "Jimmy?" he asked.

Lois stepped back loosening her hold but not entirely releasing him. "The ambulance was taking him to the hospital. He was talking and trying to sit up very shortly after Superman brought him out. What happened, Clark?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't know. The forensics team will be here soon. They should be able to tell us something by tomorrow."

The newsroom was oddly quiet the next morning. The death of the print room employees saddened all of them, but Jack had been working with them in this very newsroom only days before. He was one of their own, a young man, full of potential snuffed out before his time. She knew that Clark had gone with the social worker to talk to Jack's brother Danny. The forensics team determined that explosives had been placed in a lunch box and had exploded, scattering the nearest printing machine in every direction. The casualties had been caused by the flying debris. The search for the person responsible was ongoing, but the police weren't releasing any details of the investigation. The only good thing that she could find about the whole situation was that Clark had seemed to take the fire chief's words to heart. He could not have prevented the deaths, had not even been in the print room when it happened. He had done all that he could.

***

And life went on. Within a few weeks, Jimmy was back, and in the newsroom where he belonged, Eduardo and Steve reporting the news, Cat keeping tabs on the Metropolis celebrities, Ralph hitting on everything female. She looked over at Clark. He was sitting at his desk with a frown on his face as he played with something in his hands. She got up from her seat and approached his desk. "What's that?"

He looked up guiltily and his hands stilled. It was a blue velvet covered box.

"Lana's been pressing me to take the next step in our relationship. I guess Jack's death had made me see how fragile life is, how short. We're not assured of a tomorrow." He flipped the lid of the box open and handed it to her. The blue velvet nestled a beautiful pear cut diamond. Lois eyes flew to Clark's.

"You're going to propose?"

He nodded. "I don't know why I haven't already done so. She wants us to move in together. I know it seems silly in this day and age, but I'm not really okay with that. Not for me. I think that if we're ready to make that kind of commitment, we should go all the way, make it official."

Lois closed the box with a snap, handing it back to him. "Clark, can we go somewhere and talk."

Clark looked surprised. Apparently this was not the reaction he had been expecting, but he agreed.

"Sure, Lois." He stood and pulled his suit coat from the back of his chair, putting the jewelry box in the pocket. "Let's pick up sandwiches and take them to the park."

They ate their sandwiches, both deep in thought. Lois broke the silence. "Do you love her, Clark?"

"Lana? Of course I do. Lana and I have been going out forever. She's always been there for me. Lana and I have similar backgrounds. We're a good pair. When I moved to Metropolis, I told my dad that I wanted to meet someone, raise a family, settle down. I didn't even think that person would be someone from Smallville, but it just works. Lois, when I thought about losing my job at the Planet and then when we lost Jack, I realized something. I realized I could lose all that and still go on, but I wanted someone to come home to at night, somewhere I could leave my cares at the door, someone to belong to."

"Are you sure that Lana is that person, Clark? I realize that you have known her a long time, but Lana has always seemed to be constantly looking for something, someone, better. You may love her, but are you *in* love with her? When we lost Jack, I think that we all realized just how short life can be. It made us take a good look at ourselves and decide what the really important things in life were. I realized that seeing you every morning, working with you, being with you was what I really wanted out of life. Clark, I love you."

"I love you too. That's why I guess I thought you would be happy for me."

"No, Clark. I'm in love with you."

He looked at her in surprise.

"Didn't you know, Clark?"

"We're family, Lois. I just don't think of you that way, romantically. I love you like a sister."

How could the words 'I love you' hurt so badly? Tears were stinging at her eyes.

"We're best friends. If you want to belong to someone, Clark, belong to me."

"There are things about me that you don't know, Lois, that you may never know."

"I don't care! I know *you*, the real you, better than anyone. You may not be in love with me, but a lot of marriages start out with less than we have. I love you enough for both of us!"

Clark shook his head. "It doesn't work like that."

"Please, don't marry, Lana. If you loved her with all your heart, I swear, I would do my best to support you, to be happy for you, but if you're just doing this because you don't want to be alone—"

"What about you and Lex? Aren't you dating him?"

Lois looked away. "I- yes, I guess. It started out as an investigation, but then he got sprayed with the pheromones and he fixated on me and I guess I felt sorry for him. I'm fond of him, in a way, but I realized after he bought the Planet that somehow along the way, I had dropped my investigation. Lex says he has changed, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't take a closer look at his past." She looked back up at him. "Just promise me you'll talk to your parents about this first?"

"How do you know I haven't already?"

She smiled sadly at him. "I told you, I know you. I can tell." She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Please tell Perry I wasn't feeling well and went home."

***

She sat on her loveseat, staring at nothing until the daylight faded and she was left in the dark. Then she put on her sweatshirt and flannel pajama bottoms, crawled into bed and pulled the covers over her head. In less than twelve hours, she had to get up, get ready for work, and face the world as if her heart wasn't a numb, cold stone in her chest.

***

"Are you sure you should be here today, honey? You look awful."

"Thanks, Perry," Lois said sarcastically.

"You could go back home and try again tomorrow. I don't need my reporters getting sick."

"I'm fine, Chief. Where's Clark?"

"Clark asked for a few days off to go home and see his folks. I told him to go for it. I think we all want to reconnect with our family and friends after Jack's passing."

"Oh. He didn't say anything."

"Well if you're here you might as well start on the investigation into the bomb in the print room. We still don't know how it got there or who may have put it there."

"Who would have anything to gain from bombing the Planet? If it were a disgruntled employee, they would have made some sort of statement. I know not everyone has been happy with Lex's management, but Lex hasn't mentioned anyone making threats."

"That's a good start, Lois. And … go home early."

Lois picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.

"Mrs. Cox? Lois Lane-Kent. I need to make an appointment to talk to Lex about the bombing at the Planet."

"Mr. Luthor is a very busy man."

"I'm sure he'll see me."

'Unfortunately, Mr. Luthor has left word that you should have access to him. Will 11:00 work for you?"

"Yes. That will be fine."

"I'll let Mr. Luthor know to expect you."

Lois wrinkled her nose as she hung up. Mrs. Cox certainly wasn't her biggest fan. She had made it more than clear that she didn't think that Lois was good enough for Lex. Lois didn't think that Nigel liked her either, although he was far better at hiding his feelings, but sometimes she caught him staring at her as if he wished she would spontaneously combust. He seemed to find her presence in Lex's life annoying.

***

"Lex, can you tell me anything about the bombing? Had you received any threats, even had anyone seem particularly upset with your management?"

"Well, I don't think that very many at the Planet were particularly in favor of the changes that I made, some were even outspoken in their disapproval, but no one person more than others."

"Do you know of any reason that someone might want to destroy the Planet?"

"I don't want to point fingers, my dear. Disgruntled employees, rival newspapers, business acquaintances jealous of my success- there are any number of people who could have some motive to try to hurt me."

"Who would stand to gain if Superman had been unable to put out the fire and the building had been severely damaged?"

"No one that I can think of."

"Hmm. Thanks for the interview, Lex. I know that you don't normally allow them."

"Anything for you, darling."

"Lex, I don't want to hurt you, but I think that you are reading more into our relationship than I am comfortable with. I view you as a friend. As an interesting companion. A stimulating conversationalist. But I am not interested in a romantic relationship with you. I'm sorry if that hurts you, Lex, but lately you've been hinting that you want more, so I felt that I should set the record straight."

"I'm very sorry to hear you say that. You surely know that my feelings for you are strong."

"That's just the pheromones talking, Lex. Perhaps if we spent less time together, your…attachment to me would wear off."

"It hurts that you think so little of me."

"I'm sorry, but I think it would be for the best."

"It pains me to hear you say that, Lois. Nigel will show you out." Lex abruptly left the room.

Nigel appeared in the doorway. "So we are to lose your presence around here, Ms. Lane-Kent?"

"Don't pretend you're disappointed, Nigel."

"On the contrary. You have distracted Lex from his business long enough. He is better off without you. Let me show you out."

***

When Clark returned after his vacation, he made his way to Lois' desk. "Can I talk to you in the conference room for a minute?" She nodded, stood and made her way into the conference room. Clark shut the door and closed the blinds. "I wanted you to know that I am not going to ask Lana to marry me, at least not now. I talked to my parents as you suggested, and they helped me to see that marriage is not something that I should feel pressured into. Marriage is a decision that we should come to together. I talked to Lana last night and told her that I was happy with our relationship the way it is. If she isn't, then maybe we're not meant to be."

"I'm…sorry." She was sorry that the situation had caused him pain.

"I also thought about what you said about Luthor. I know you no longer believe that he is the root of all evil in Metropolis, but maybe we could investigate him together."

"I told Lex that my feelings for him were completely platonic."

"How did he take it?"

"He walked out on me. I think I made Nigel and Mrs. Cox very happy though."

He laughed. They fell into silence. She studied him. He almost seemed to be waiting for something.

"I'm not going to take it back."

"What?"

"You thought that I would take it back, what I said about my feelings for you. Well, I'm not going to. I can't help the way I feel, and I'm glad that I don't have to hide it any more. Don't worry, I promise not to chase you like Cat did when you first started."

"I wasn't worried about that."

"So…friends?"

"Friends. And partners. We're going to work together to find the real story of Lex Luthor."

"Perry has me working on the bombing right now. I've hit a snag though. The police won't talk to me."

"I have a contact in the police department. I'll give him a call."

"Thanks, Clark."

Well, he hadn't dragged her into his arms and kissed her senseless, but at least he wasn't going to pretend that she didn't exist.

***

The police weren't very helpful. Anything they did know, they weren't willing to release to the press. Lois and Clark were brainstorming trying to come with a reason for the tragedy.

"What if Superman hadn't gotten there when he did? What if the Planet had actually been destroyed? Maybe that was the plan," puzzled Lois.

"Right. If the fire had spread, the chemicals would have exploded. The entire building could have come down."

"What changes would that have brought about?"

"There would be no Daily Planet, even if that was temporary. The employees would have lost heir jobs. Lex would have lost his investment."

"Would a rival have done this to harm Lex?"

Lois shook her head. "It's so confusing. I can't seem to make sense of it. Let's start with the effects of the worst case scenario and go from there."

"Let's see if Jimmy can help us. I'm sure Jack's death hit him pretty hard. This will give him something else to focus on."

***

"I've discovered that there were two policies on the Planet. The policy that the board had was still providing coverage and Luthor had added the Planet to his businesses covered under his policy as well. Even after the repairs were made to the print room, Lex took home a tidy profit," Clark said.

"That's not illegal," said Lois.

"No, but it could be motive. The Daily Planet got to upgrade its print room for free."

"It could be something, I guess. Have you been able to get any more information from the police?" asked Lois.

"Not yet. I'm planning to go down and talk to them in person if I can get away this afternoon."

"Good. I'm looking into the sale of the Planet. I still don't understand why the Board would suddenly decide to sell to a private company. I know we were going through a rough spot financially, but that comes and goes. The Board has been through that storm before."

"Could they have had some incentive to sell?"

"Good, Clark! I hadn't thought of that."

Their relationship was not the easy camaraderie that they had previously enjoyed, but they cared too much about each other to let Lois' declaration ruin their friendship. What she missed most was the physical contact. She used to touch Clark on the arm or chest, and he would lay his hand on her shoulder as he read her computer screen or place his hand on the small of her back indicating that she should precede him out the door or up the stairs. He never touched her now. And the only time she had touched him he had quickly moved out of her reach, so she now just kept her hands to herself.

***

Clark came back from the police station very upset. He sat down at his desk and leaned across it to talk to her.

"My contact says that, off the record, the explosives were found in Jack's lunchbox. They found explosives and instructions on how to make a bomb in his apartment. Since he was killed in the explosion they're hoping to keep it quiet until they need to release the information. But, Lois, why would Jack have brought his lunch box that day? We were going out for lunch."

"What if he set it to go off while he was gone, but it malfunctioned and exploded early?"

"Why would he want to plant a bomb anyway? He had a job, people who trusted him. Life was looking up for him for the first time in a long time."

"Then he was framed. Who would want to frame him? And why? I talked to Lex. He said that no one profited from the explosion."

Clark shook his head. The whole thing didn't make sense.

***

Jimmy came bounding to their desks when he got in Monday morning. "You guys will want to hear this. I went with a buddy of mine to visit his brother in juvie yesterday."

Lois interrupted, "Juvie?"

"Yeah. Juvenile Detention. Anyway, so this guy says that he overheard some stuff. They brought in a kid last week — he was bragging about how he and his brother pulled this frame-up. You know, planted incriminating evidence in some guy's crib."

"What kind of evidence?" asked Lois.

"Explosives," said Jimmy with a satisfied look on his face. "It was Jack. This guy, Pete Black, and his brother, John, were paid to plant the explosives and literature that was found in Jack's apartment."

"Anything about who hired them?" asked Clark.

"Just that it was someone important, and they got paid a ton of money. He called him "The Boss". Seems, though, that Pete was scared to death. His brother went missing and Pete purposely got caught breaking into an electronics store so that he would go to juvie. He thinks he may stay out of The Boss' reach there."

Lois' eyes lit up. "When I was doing research several years ago, I ran into several people who talked of someone called The Boss that ran all the organized crime in Metropolis. I thought it might be Lex, but I never found any connection."

"Jimmy, let's you and I take a trip to the Juvenile Detention Facility and see if we can talk to Pete Black. Maybe we can convince him to talk."

"Sure thing, C.K."

***

"Clark!" Jimmy said, bursting on to the scene. "I talked to one of the corner markets that used to advertise in the Planet. I asked the owner why he switched to advertising in the Star. He said that he has an agency that places ads for him. Guess who owns it? LexComm. He said that the agency told him that he could get a much larger ad in the Star for half the price. So, I called the Star and pretended to be looking for advertising space. They quoted me the exact same rates as the Planet. So I asked if they ever had any half-off specials and they said no."

"So how did LexComm give the market such a good deal?" Clark asked.

"Jimmy?" prompted Lois.

"I, uh, *happened* to see some expense vouchers for LexComm. LexComm paid full price for the advertising space in the Star. They were selling it to companies at a lower price."

"Does Lex have any financial ties to the Star?" asked Clark.

"Nope," confirmed Jimmy. "Preston Carpenter holds the controlling interest at the Star, and Luthor is not the type to share the stage with anyone."

"So there's no logical way that Luthor Industries would recoup that money." stated Lois.

"So Luthor was causing the Planet to lose money, and then he bought it?" asked Clark. "Why would he do that?"

Lois blushed, "I thought he had bought the Planet because of me. Now I wonder if the purchase had been in the works all along."

"We need to find out why the board decided to sell to LexCorp. What made them give up on the Planet and decide that leaving was better than sticking around?" decided Clark.

***

Cat wolf-whistled at Lois when she entered the Daily Planet after her weekend off. Lois looked at her curiously.

"What?"

"I didn't think you had it in you, Lois, but maybe I underestimated you."

"What do you mean?"

Jimmy walked past carrying a paper. "Wow, Lois. I didn't realize you'd look that good in a bathing suit."

"How good? I don't know what you two are talking about."

Jimmy unfolded the paper displaying the cover of the National Whisper with the caption "Lois Captures Lex Luthor" across the top. Lois grabbed the paper. "What is this?" The picture showed her, or rather someone who looked very like her, grabbing Lex Luthor's arm as they ran through the surf together.

Lois shook her head, "That's not me."

"It sure looks like you," stated Cat.

"I thought you were over Lex Luthor, Lois," said Jimmy.

"There was never anything to get over. That's not me. This says I was in Bermuda with Lex this weekend. *I* spent the weekend at home doing some cleaning."

"Right," drawled Cat.

Clark walked up to the group.

"It's not me," she insisted. "Look," she said pulling her blouse off her shoulder. "No tan line. If I had spent the weekend in Bermuda, I would have a tan line."

"Not if you were topless," put in Jimmy.

"I was not topless!"

"Or if you and Lex spent more time in bed than in the sun," teased Cat.

"I was not topless, I was not with Lex! I wasn't there. Besides I burn first before I tan. Tell them, Clark."

Clark was staring at her shoulder. "Clark? Tell them I always burn before I tan."

Clark looked up seeming to mentally shake the glaze from his eyes. "That's true," Clark confirmed.

"Whoever that is, it isn't me. Now aren't there any stories that we should be working on instead of discussing my love life?"

"You'd have to have one first," smirked Cat as she sauntered off.

Too true, thought Lois. "So what's up in Metropolis?" she asked Clark. Where was his mind this morning?

"Superman's popularity is down in the polls," offered Jimmy, handing her another paper, this one the Metropolis Star.

"Do you ever read the Daily Planet?" muttered Lois.

"Twenty percent of the people in Metropolis are anti-Superman," Jimmy said.

"That's ridiculous," scoffed Lois.

"What's really weird is when they asked why they didn't like Superman, half the people couldn't even give a specific reason," Clark said, joining the conversation.

"I swear, we're witnessing the dumbing down of America. People with opinions who have no idea why they even have an opinion. Anything on that *other* investigation that I should know about?" Lois asked.

"Plenty. From what Pete told us when Jimmy and I visited him, I was able to locate John Black where he was hiding out and asked him about doing a job for me. John Black'll do just about anything he's paid to do: break in, plant explosives, anything. He even gave me a number to call for a reference. I believe you are familiar with a Mrs. Cox? And it's all recorded," Clark said waving a mini recorder.

"We've got him!" Lois exclaimed.

"No, we have Mrs. Cox. And frankly, I'd rather let her go and hope she leads us to the bigger fish. I mean, why would Mrs. Cox want to blow up the Planet?" asked Clark.

"To annoy me?" Lois guessed. "She doesn't like me very much."

"No, Pete said it was The Boss, remember?" said Jimmy.

"There's something else, Lois," Clark said. "I don't know if you realize it or not, but we have nowhere to print anything that we do find. Luthor is not going to allow us to print anything in his paper."

Lois nodded, "And we can't go to the police because we don't know who might also be working for him. We don't want to arouse his suspicion. We'll have to wait until we have something big enough the law can't sweep it under the rug."

Perry approached them from his office. "A plastic surgeon, a Dr. Heller, has been murdered. I want you two to look into it," he said indicating Lois and Clark. "And, as long as you're here, you might as well know about this too." Perry raised his voice to address the newsroom. "All right everybody, gather 'round. I have an announcement to make. As you know, we've all been through some difficult times recently with the loss of our fellow employees and our new owner feels that counseling should be available to anyone that feels in need of it. So, as of today the Daily Planet has its own staff psychologist. Many of you might be familiar with this woman from her syndicated column we've been running 'Healing the Inner Self'."

Just then a beautiful brunette walked into the newsroom. "Ah, folks, this is Dr. Arianna Carlin that I was just telling you about."

"I'm looking forward to meeting all of you over the next several days. Please feel free to drop in to my office any time," she greeted the crowd.

"Okay people, we got blank pages to fill," Perry ended the meeting and the staff, including her partner, wandered off.

Dr. Carlin caught Lois' arm. "Miss Lane-Kent. I'm especially looking forward to meeting with you," said Dr. Carlin in a confidential tone.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Dr. Carlin, but I have my own therapist. She's a *real* doctor."

"Oh, I'm a *real* doctor too, Miss Lane-Kent."

"If you'll excuse me, I have a story to investigate. A murdered plastic surgeon. Perhaps you knew him?" she said waspishly.

Dr. Carlin was not fazed. "I don't believe in surgically altering one's appearance Miss Lane-Kent."

Lois snorted. Dr. Carlin's good looks *were* too good to be true. She stalked off to find Clark so they could head out to look into Dr. Heller's murder.

***

Lois and Clark decided to start with a visit to the alley where Dr. Heller's body had been found. As they turned into an alley, Lois spotted some graffiti spray painted on the wall. It was an acrostic that read "Superman Tyranny over People." She hated to see anyone express feelings of hatred toward Superman; how much more must it hurt Clark? She kicked a near by soda can in frustration. "Idiots. Don't they know that Superman is here to help?"

"I'm not sure idiots is the right word, Lois. They were clever enough to create an acrostic."

Lois gave him a disgusted look. "I don't care how artistic they are. They're still idiots."

She preceded him into the alley, stopping at the dumpster surrounded by police tape. "I guess this must be it. It's ironic isn't it? Someone whose work it was to make people beautiful ends up in a dumpster."

The dumpster moved slightly and a rustling sound came from behind it. "Excuse me-" Lois began, but the apparently homeless man took one look at her and took off running.

"Hey! Wait!" called Clark. He took off after the man, and when Lois caught up around the corner, Clark was holding him by the arm.

The man was insisting, "Look, mister! I don't know nothing!"

"About what?" Clark asked. A determined look crossed the man's face and he visibly snapped his mouth shut. "I think some money would be a good idea about now," Clark said to Lois.

"Me? Where's your wallet?"

"My hands are full." He turned to address the man he was still holding by the arm. "Look. We're reporters. We just want to know if you can tell us anything about the body that was found in that alley." Lois unhappily extended a twenty towards him. The man reached for it and she pulled it back.

"*After* you tell us what you know," she explained.

"I saw two guys dumping a body. Heard one of them call the other Harry. Except when they were leaving, I saw it wasn't guys. It was chicks."

"Did you get a good look at either one of them?" Clark asked

The man lunged for the twenty and when he was successful, he began to take off calling, "Yeah. It was her!" He nodded towards Lois as he ran off.

"Lois, you certainly have had a busy weekend! First you spent the weekend in Bermuda and then you took time to murder Dr. Heller last night."

"Funny, Clark Kent. He's probably just trying to throw us off track."

***

When they got back to the Planet, there was a huge bouquet of red roses on Lois' desk. She figured there were at least two dozen. Curious, Lois pulled the card out and opened it.

Lois,

The weekend was more than I ever dreamed. I know you wanted to keep our reconciliation quiet, but I couldn't resist expressing my love in a more subtle way than we did this weekend.

Love, Lex.

What was going on? Lois reached for the phone and dialed a number she hadn't called in weeks.

"Mrs. Cox? This is Lois Lane-Kent. I really need to talk to Lex."

"Lois. I'm sure that Mr. Luthor had no interest in speaking to you. If you recall, you ended your relationship. You no longer have unlimited access to him."

"Perhaps Lex does not agree with you. I just received flowers from him and I wanted to call and thank him."

"Perhaps the florist delivered them to you by mistake."

"The card is addressed to me."

"And you're the only Lois in this town? Excuse me." The phone was abruptly put on hold.

Then, "Miss Lane-Kent. Nigel St. John. I'm afraid this was my error. Mr. Luthor had requested the bouquet to be ordered some weeks ago and I neglected to cancel the delivery. You can throw them in the garbage if they're offensive to you."

"No, they're beautiful. Thank you for explaining. If Lex happens to bring them up, would you tell him that I said so?" She knew Nigel would not.

"Certainly," he lied.

Lois hung up. She wasn't quite sure what to make of it. The roses could have been pre-ordered she supposed, but what about Lex's note?

***

Lois came back from lunch an hour late, but she was practically dancing. She came over to Clark's desk, and held out her cell phone as if it were a microphone. "Mr. Simon Truesdale, former Daily Planet board member, has had a sudden attack of conscience. He's now willing to confess to receiving a substantial cash 'inducement' I think he called it to support the sale of the Planet to Lex Luthor." She turned the microphone to herself.

"Miss Lane-Kent, any particular reason for this sudden attack of conscience?"

She stopped and flipped the cell phone open, showing it to Clark. "It might be related to a certain phone recording he's hoping his wife never receives."

"Great work, Lois! How did you manage that?"

"I was eating my lunch, minding my own business—"

"Yeah, right!"

"—when I noticed one of the former board members in a lip lock with a young …female…certainly too young to be the woman he has previously introduced to me as his wife. I happened to catch the scene on my cell phone. When they got ready to leave, I slipped into the booth and asked him to take a look at pictures of my latest investigation."

"So we have proof that the board members were pressured to sell, and that they accepted an additional sum above what they would have received from the sale and what would be reported to the IRS as income. That still just gets us the board members on suspicion of tax evasion."

"Not exactly *just* that."

"What do you mean?"

"The board accepted the bribes before I mentioned the Planet's money troubles to Lex. This proves that he intended to purchase the Planet all along." It was a blessed relief to her. "But to what purpose?"

Clark shook his head. "I guess we have to keep digging."

***

The atmosphere in the Planet as she exited the elevator the next morning immediately flashed her back to the first morning after Claude stole her story. Even Jimmy greeted her with a disgruntled, "I just want you to know, what you did took a lot of guts," as he walked past her. She looked after him in confusion, then turned to see Perry and Arianna Carlin bearing down on her.

"Lois, what in San Hill was that stunt you pulled last night!? The publishers have been all over me this morning like a bad rash!"

"What are you talking about, Chief?" she asked confused.

"I'm talking about your virtuoso performance on the late news! If you want to tell people your opinions, you might consider giving the editorial page of the *Daily Planet* a try!"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Perry. I wasn't on the news."

"Are you saying you weren't at that anti-Superman demonstration last night?" questioned Arianna Carlin.

"Of course not! I refuse to give those anti-Superman idiots the time of day. They're—"

Perry interrupted her venting. "Come with me." He led Lois into the conference room. He pointed the remote at the television. On the screen, the image of Lois at the demonstration flickered. "I've always been concerned about Superman. Why is he so secretive? What's he got to hide? I'm really not comfortable having him in Metropolis," came out of her mouth. The caption at the bottom of the screen read, "Lois Lane, Daily Planet Reporter". Perry stopped the recording.

"That's *not* me!" Lois insisted.

"Now I could be wrong, I've only worked with you for five years, but if that's not you, I'm seeing double," Perry said with a worried look on his face.

"I'm starting to feel that way too. Lex and the National Whisper seem to think I was in Bermuda this weekend. The homeless guy Clark and I talked to thinks I was in an alleyway killing Dr. Heller Sunday night, and now," she pointed to the screen, "Metropolis thinks I was at a Superman demonstration last night." Suddenly what she said seemed to actually sink in, "Perry, could I have a double? Someone cloned *Superman*, what if they decided to clone me as well?"

"Well, I'd say it was pretty farfetched, but things do just seem to—"

Jimmy banged on the door. "Phone call from upstairs for you, Chief."

"Uh, excuse me, Lois, I got to take this. See if you can think of a more plausible explanation, okay?"

"Perry!"

***

Lois fell into the nearest chair. Perry didn't seem to believe her! What in the world could she have ever done to make him think that she would ever say anything negative about Superman? Tears stung her eyes, but at the same time she felt like she was overreacting. The idea that someone would clone Superman was believable because, well, he was Superman. The idea that someone would go to the expense to clone a non-superpowered human being was pretty far fetched. The conference room door opened and Clark entered. She jumped up. "Clark, I swear to you. I wouldn't ever say things like that about Superman."

Clark held up his hand. "I believe you, Lois, but this is becoming a little more than coincidental."

"I suggested to Perry that maybe I have a clone, but he looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Could I just not remember doing these things? How could that be? How could I not remember being in Bermuda with Lex? I can't imagine I wouldn't remember…he implied…" she blushed. "And certainly I would remember murdering someone! Why would I murder a plastic surgeon—"

Perry's entrance cut off her babbling.

"I have an announcement to make. You guys are gonna want to hear this."

They followed him out into the newsroom. "If I can have your attention," Perry began. "I have just been informed that the Planet is for sale. For now, we will continue as we have been, but you need to know in case you choose to look for…other employment."

"What? Why?" asked Lois, confused. Their investigations revealed that Lex had gone to some extensive expense to purchase the Planet.

"According to Luthor, he no longer needs it."

"Those were his words, he doesn't *need* it anymore?"

"Exactly."

Hmmn. Lois frowned as she walked back to her desk. She didn't notice that Clark followed her until she sat down in her chair.

"What are you thinking, Lois?"

"It's a crazy thought."

"Some of your best stories come from crazy thoughts."

"Well, what if Luthor bought the Planet, actually bribed the board members to sell him the Planet, in order to…impress me? Now he knows there's no future there, he literally doesn't need it anymore."

"But earlier, you said that Luthor thinks you were in Bermuda with him this weekend?" Clark's look was very speculative.

"Yes, it's the oddest thing. Lex sent me roses saying that he enjoyed our weekend together. I called to tell him not to send me flowers and that I wasn't anywhere near him this weekend, but all I got was Mrs. Cox and Nigel."

"So if for some reason, Luthor thinks he has you, he wouldn't need the Planet anymore either."

"I hadn't thought of it that way. This is confusing, Clark. I really think I might have a double."

Clark shrugged. "They do say that everyone has a look-alike out there."

"Well, mine seems to have no morals and is determined to ruin my reputation."

Two men wearing police uniforms approached Lois' desk. "Miss Lane-Kent?"

"Yes?"

"Detective Ryder, Metropolis PD," he said flashing his badge at her. "You want to tell us where you were last night around one o'clock?"

"I was home asleep. Why?"

"Can anyone verify that?"

"No. I…no."

"What's this all about, Detective?" asked Clark.

"At one a.m. last night a guard was assaulted outside Metropolis Bank by a woman he's identified as Miss Lane-Kent."

"That's ridiculous," fumed Lois.

"This picture was taken by a security camera in the bank." The picture he held up plainly showed her stuffing bills into a cloth bag. "Half a million in bills, gold, jewelry, and bearer bonds were stolen."

"But it wasn't me!"

"Miss Lane-Kent, you're under arrest for assault, breaking and entering and bank robbery." Not very gently he pulled her out of her chair, placed her hands behind her and began to place his handcuffs around her wrists.

Clark held up a hand, "Officer, aren't you jumping the gun here?"

"How so? The camera shows Miss Lane-Kent robbing the bank. I'm arresting her."

"Why wouldn't I wear a mask?" insisted Lois.

The officer shrugged, "Maybe you didn't want to mess up your make-up." He began to lead her towards the elevators.

Clark ran over to his desk and grabbed his suit coat. "I'm coming with you."

***

As they entered the police station, two policemen were dragging an angry demonstrator past the doors. The demonstrator wore a T-Shirt with Clark's "S" with a big red circle around it and a slash through it. "Idiots!" muttered Lois. As Lois was taken into an interrogation room, Detective Ryder placed his hand on Clark's chest. "This is as far as you go, Mr. Kent. Unless you're Miss Lane-Kent's lawyer?" Clark's eyes flew to Lois'. She was acting very brave, but he could see the fear. "One of them," Clark said. He knew that the Planet's counsel would be along soon. Until then, at least he could sit with Lois, and maybe keep her from offending any of the police. Hopefully, he wouldn't be questioned concerning his status with the New Troy Bar Association.

***

The Planet had sent over her bail money and Lois was free to go until her hearing. Lois was fuming as they left the station, "There's someone running around out there who looks like me that's trying to ruin my life! Can't they see that some strange things have been happening? I'm arrested for a crime I didn't commit. People are suddenly at each other's throats over Superman. A plastic surgeon is murdered. I don't think a patient would be so unhappy with their tummy tuck they'd kill their doctor."

"So where should we start?"

"Okay. If there's a woman out there who looks like me- and there is because there's no other rational explanation so don't bother arguing with me- she must have had plastic surgery. And what famous plastic surgeon has been in the news?"

"Dr. Heller."

"According to that homeless guy, the doctor was murdered by someone looking exactly like me, so maybe it would be a good idea to stop by the dead doctor's office and see who some of his last patients were."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"Um, Clark, thank you for staying with me. I would have been fine, but I'm glad you were with me."

***

Lois wasn't able to get anywhere with the receptionist in Dr. Heller's office, and she was too frustrated with the current events in her life to be patient, so Lois tricked her into a closet and locked the door.

When Clark looked at her disapprovingly Lois said, "I don't have time to be nice, Clark. Someone is framing me for *murder*, not to mention bank robbery."

Lois hurried to the files that the receptionist had been packing and began flipping through them. "This one's marked 'Year to Date'."

She opened the file and began reading, "Female, my height and weight…Clark, this was Dr. Heller's last operation. Performed the week before he was killed."

Clark leaned over to see the page she was pointing at. "Full facial reconstructive surgery. No patient name…"

"Maybe there's a record of who paid for it. I'd like to know who is setting me up." Lois flipped through the pages. "Here it is! ACL Corporation. Do we know any ACL Corporation?"

Clark shook his head. "It doesn't sound familiar. Let's get back to the Planet and see what Jimmy can dig up. Um…are you going to leave her in there?" he asked referring to the receptionist pounding on the locked door.

"Of course not. *You're* going to let her out once I have a head start."

Clark laughed. "You'd better get going then."

***

Lois called Jimmy on her way out of the building. If anyone could find out who and what ACL Corporation was, it would be Jimmy.

Clark caught up with her. "Uh, Lois, I forgot, I had an appointment this afternoon. I have to go. You can get back to the Planet okay?"

"What? You're leaving me?"

"I'm sorry, Lois. I—"

"I'm just giving you a hard time. Go on."

***

When she arrived back at the Planet, alarms were ringing and employees were barreling through the revolving doors. As she entered, Lois caught sight of her own image in the glass out of the side of her eye. Then she realized that was not what she was wearing. It was *her*! The double she knew existed. She breathed a sigh of relief even as she continued the doors' revolution and followed her double out. She *knew* she hadn't done those things, but it was great to have proof.

Her double hurried to a Lexus that was obviously waiting for her. As the double reached for the door, Lois grabbed her arm and spun the woman around to face her. It was incredible. This … person really did look just like her. The door to the Lexus opened and before Lois could react she felt the press of a gun barrel in her ribs. She looked over her shoulder to see Arianna Carlin. "Lois… you don't seem to be yourself today, gassing the Planet and all. I think you had better come for a ride with me." With her double blocking any chance she had to run, Lois got into the car.

When the car stopped and her double opened the door to step out, Lois saw that they were at Lex Towers. Arianna motioned with the gun, "Out." Lois followed her double into the building and into the elevator. Arianna pushed the button to close the doors and selected a floor.

"Are you going to tell me why you have a double of me and why you are kidnapping me?" Lois asked.

Arianna didn't answer. The elevator stopped and she was directed into down a hall into a room. There was a couch, a chair and a large fish tank full of saltwater fish. "Sit," Arianna commanded. She pulled on a pair of gloves and pulled a gun out of her purse. "You see, Clark will testify at your trial that you lured Superman here and this gun you purchased will do the job."

"What! I didn't purchase a gun and I won't lure Superman here," Lois yelled.

"The gun store has video proving you did. You will, of course, insist that you were framed, but the report I've placed in your file at the Planet will show that I was very worried about your actions of late and if you continue to refuse help, I expect a breakdown to occur in the near future. This will explain why you killed Superman."

"Nothing can kill Superman."

"Really? Weren't you the one who named…Kryptonite?" Arianna pulled out the chamber and showed her the green, glowing bullets.

"No!" Lois cried. "I won't call for him. You can't make me."

"I don't need you." She picked up the phone and dialed a number then handed the phone to Lois' double. "You know what to do."

"Yes. Get me Clark Kent's desk," the double said in Lois voice.

"What are you doing?" asked Lois. She was ignored.

"Clark, I'm at Lex Towers. I think I may have found a bomb. Can you have Superman come right away?"

Lois started to call out, but a needle pricked her neck and she lost consciousness.

***

Something wet was dribbling on her face. She shook her head, willing it to go away so that she could continue to sleep.

"Lois?" The voice was so weak she almost couldn't hear it. "Lois, please, I need you to wake up."

An adrenaline rush of fear brought her upright on the couch. The heavy gun fell out of her hands onto the floor. Her bleary eyes focused on Superman curled up in a ball clutching his shoulder. There was a wet patch of blood spreading over the expensive rug.

"Superman!" Lois rushed to his side.

"Lois, you need to—"

Lois reached out and picked up the phone. "I'll call an ambulance."

"No there's not time. You have to get the bullet out."

"Me? I'm not a doctor. I don't know anything about bullet wounds."

"Please, Lois. It hurts!"

Her eyes met his, which were so full of pain. She nodded. "Okay." She looked around. How would she get the Kryptonite out? It didn't help that her vision was blurring with tears. She had to help Clark or he would die. She spotted a letter opener setting on the desk. Maybe this would work. As she rose and walked to the table, she couldn't help the sob that jerked her shoulders. She knew she had to be strong for Clark and she cursed herself for giving into her emotions, but she seemed unable to stop the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. She picked up the letter opener and returned to kneel by Clark. She lay the letter opener down and reached out to inspect the wound. Clark's hand touched her face and his thumb rubbed against her cheekbone. Her eyes flew to his.

"It'll be okay, Lois." It had been so long since he had touched her. Another flood of emotion threatened to overcome her. She looked down at his face. She could see the pain, but she could see his great strength as well.

She straightened her shoulders. "Okay. You…You'll have to hold still, no matter what, or I'll just make this worse."

Clark nodded and his hand fell back down to his side. Lois reached down and tore his suit around the bullet hole. She wished she had something to sterilize the area with, but Clark already seemed to be weakening even more. There just wasn't time. She had to act. Steeling herself, she grabbed the blade and inserted it in the wound. At first all she felt was soft flesh, but as she dug a little deeper, the letter opener hit something hard. "Okay, I've found it. I've got to be very careful. We don't want any of the Kryptonite to break off in there." She tried to block Clark's muffled cries as she wedged the letter opener deeper searching for the end of the bullet. Fortunately, the bullet seemed inclined to follow the path it had entered through. Once she got the letter opener underneath the bullet and lifted, the Kryptonite slid out. She watched in amazement as the wound immediately began to heal and close.

"Get it away from me…please."

Lois grabbed the Kryptonite and got as far away from where he lay as she could. "Will you be okay?"

"Yes." He began to struggle to his feet.

"What do I do with this?"

"Drop it in the Bermuda Triangle for all I care, just keep it away from me."

"Where do you think you are going?" Lois asked in disbelief.

"I have to stop her."

"You're too weak."

Clark just looked at her.

"All right then, go. Just please, be careful."

***

Lois dropped the Kryptonite off at her apartment and then hurried to the Planet. Perry made his way to her the second he saw her exit the elevators. "Lois! Clark said you called about a bomb in Lex Towers."

"There was no bomb and that wasn't me, Perry."

"Lois—"

"Superman can back me up on this one, Perry. There really is a double. She's also the one that was here earlier. What happened?"

"She gassed us all."

"Jimmy did you find out anything about ACL corporation?" Lois grabbed Jimmy as he rushed by.

"Way ahead of you there, Lois. See, I bought Arianna Carlin's book for my mother. I was going to have her sign it. I happened to notice the dedication. 'To my true love, ACL'. I ran Arianna Carlin through a computer search and came up with Arianna Carlin Luthor."

"Luthor!"

"Yep. They're divorced now, but at one time, our Planet psychiatrist was Lex Luthor's wife."

"I want to see that book!"

She started to follow Jimmy. "Uh, Lois?" Perry spoke up.

"I'll get the story to you ASAP, Perry." She caught up with Jimmy. "Is Clark back yet."

"Nope." Jimmy handed her Dr. Carlin's book and pointed out the dedication. Lois flipped it shut to read the cover. "Hidden Secrets of Subliminal Persuasion?" Suddenly something clicked in Lois head. She ran into Dr. Carlin's office and began looking at her works in progress. Jimmy and Perry followed her in.

"Lois, what…" began Perry.

"Clark said it was an acrostic. Dr. Carlin's book is on subliminal messaging. Look at this, Perry." She took a red pen from the desk and circled the first letter of every paragraph on the rough draft of Arianna's column. The letters formed together to say "Superman is Evil". Lois quickly found other columns and marked them up. It was no coincidence. Dr. Carlin was sending derisive messages about Superman to her readers.

Perry shook his head. "I can't wait to read that story."

***

Lois took a break from typing her story when Clark returned. She, Perry, and Jimmy gathered to hear him tell how Superman had caught the two women trying to flee in a tanker after their Lexus had been wrecked.

"Clark, did Superman say why Dr. Carlin went to so much trouble to kill Superman, to make it look like I had killed Superman?"

Clark shook his head. "She was in such a state at the police station that the psychiatrist gave her a sedative. Then she started rambling about how your rejection of Luthor had changed him and how they had to make Lex think you were back with him, how Superman was Lex's nemesis and she had to bring Superman down. I couldn't follow her thinking. I guess Dr. Carlin is the one who needs to see a therapist."

***

Lois finished typing the story. It made sense, as long as one did not wonder why Arianna Carlin Luthor thought she could kill Superman. She tapped her desk with a pencil as she stared at her screen.

"What's the matter?" asked Clark coming to stand behind her.

"There's something about Superman that I didn't put in the story and I'm not sure if I should. It's kind of personal."

Clark laid a hand on her shoulder. She barely kept herself from jumping in surprise. "Lois, you've got great reporter instincts. Trust them."

Lois reached for her mouse slowly, not wanting to dislodge his hand. She clicked the 'send' button. Clark's hand patted her shoulder and then he walked away. So his caress in Lex Towers as Superman wasn't an isolated incident. Clark had forgiven her for her declaration. And his hand had lingered on her shoulder just now. He knew her feelings, and wouldn't play with her emotions. Did he care, just a little? Or was he just trying to show his appreciation to her for saving his life and keeping Kryptonite a secret once again? But he could have said something to her as Superman if that was the case. Her heart skipped a beat and she smiled. Maybe…

As Lois stood to turn off her computer and head for home, Perry approached her desk. "Ah, Lois, with all that has gone on, now that Dr. Carlin and her double are in police custody, maybe you should take some of that vacation time you have saved up."

"Thanks, Perry. I think I will. I'm thinking…a cruise to Bermuda might be just the thing. The National Whisper made it look like I had so much fun there, maybe I should go and check it out." She sat back down in her chair and reached for the yellow pages and began to flip through them as she picked up the phone. "Global Vacations? This is Lois Lane-Kent. I'd like to book a reservation on the next cruise going to Bermuda."

Perry walked away shaking his head. Lois looked across at Clark. He was grinning from ear to ear. Did he wink at her?!

***

"The nominations for the Kerth Investigative Journalism prize are in and I'm proud to announce that one of our own has received the nod, so I want a big round of applause for Clark Kent!" Perry announced proudly.

Clark? Lois' cheeks flushed in embarrassment. She had been two seconds from standing up from her desk to accept the congratulations of her editor and co-workers. How arrogant was she? She had just expected that the nomination would go to her, or at the least, to one of the stories she and Clark had worked on together.

Clark looked a little embarrassed as he was slapped on the back, hugged, and even kissed on the lips, by Cat Grant, of course. He tried to casually wipe the bright red lipstick off. His eyes eventually swung to her.

"Congratulations, Clark," she managed to say.

As the congratulations died down, Perry continued. "I think you've got a real shot at winning. That retirement home scandal you uncovered was top grade journalism."

He was nominated for a Kerth for his story on the old folk's home! They had certainly had some much better stories than that, and, hello, what about the biggest story of all time, Superman? Then she caught sight of Clark's happy face and her jealousy died a quick death. She had three Kerths on her shelf at home and Clark was a great writer. She couldn't assume that she would win every year.

The crowd gathered around Clark dissipated and he came to stand by her desk. He looked very awkward and unsure of himself now that he stood in front of her.

"Did you already have your dress picked out?"

Lois blushed. "I…I'm sure I'll find something else to wear it to."

"Why don't you wear it to the award ceremony?"

"Only the nominees are invited."

"And their dates."

"Yes…" What was he getting at?

"So…come with me. As my date."

"As friends?"

"No, not as a friend."

Her eyes flew to his. "Then as what?" She couldn't stand it if she misunderstood what he seemed to be trying to say.

"As my date. And after…"

"Yes?"

"I want to talk. But I want to get it all straight in my head first." His hand reached out and touched her cheek in the same gesture that Superman had used before she dug the bullet out of his shoulder. "So, will you be my date?"

"I'd be honored." Her heart was singing happily and she knew some of it was spilling onto her face. Suddenly she didn't know whether to look at Clark or to turn away and hide her face. Was she hoping for too much? Was she reading too much into his simple invitation? If she had been nominated, she would have asked him to be her date, and she wouldn't have considered it to be any more than an evening shared with her partner. But he had said not as a friend. Maybe he meant just as a work partner? Or did he really mean …as more? She was full of questions, but he had specifically said that he still needed to get everything straight in his own head. If he was really considering what her heart hoped he was, she was not going to screw it up by pressing him further.

"I'll pick you up at 7:00." He smiled at her and his actions seemed a little disjointed as he turned and then walked over to his desk and sat down. Did he already regret asking her?

***

Her inner turmoil had hardly allowed her a good night's sleep. She couldn't talk to her mother, Lucy or Martha about this. If Clark did mean this as a date-date, there were so many people that could be hurt if things did not work out between them. You're jumping the gun here, Lois! she admonished herself. He asked you to a work function and you're freaking out like he asked you to ma…be his girlfriend.

***

When she got to work, Perry told her that Clark was taking a few days off but had specified that he would be back for the award dinner. Okay…but where had he gone? Was he hiding from her? If he didn't want to go with her anymore, she wished he would just say so! But he had said he had to get what he wanted to talk about straight in his head, she encouraged herself. Wait, what if he wanted to tell her he was leaving again? She was going to go completely insane before she saw him again!

***

"Clark! We weren't expecting you. It's so great to see you." His mom greeted him with a hug. "Your dad's painting the barn."

"Not anymore. I startled him then caught him when he fell off the ladder."

Martha gasped.

"He's fine. Anyway, once I deposited him to solid ground, I finished the barn. I left him cleaning up the brushes. You know I hate that part, super-speed or not."

Martha laughed. "Imagine what it is like for those of us without super-speed, Clark. I noticed you brought a bag with you. Are you staying a while?"

"A few days. I needed to think, and then I want to talk to you and dad about something."

"It sounds serious. Is everything okay?"

"It will be, I think. Mom, just…let me work it out, okay? I promise if I need advice, I'll ask for it."

"Okay," Martha promised with confused look on her face.

***

He helped with the chores. He ate meals with them. He took long walks. He stayed in his room for hours. She even found him in Lucy and Lois' room once. What was up with her son? She had promised to leave him alone, but she was afraid something was very wrong.

***

"Mom, Dad, thanks for …letting me be. I'm sure I've worried you, but I needed to think this through before I talked to…anyone."

"Of course, honey"

"No problem, son," his parents assured him in unison.

"First, I probably should have told you right away. I was nominated for a Kerth."

"Clark! Congratulations, that's great!" exclaimed Martha. Jonathan sat in silence waiting for his son to continue.

"The award dinner is only open to nominees and their dates. I…asked Lois."

"That's nice, Clark. I'm glad you have family there to go with you."

"Martha, let the boy talk."

"Actually, that's exactly what I want to talk to you about. I didn't ask Lois because she was family. I asked her because…because I…because my feelings have …changed, I guess."

His parents looked at him. "Changed, how?" finally asked Martha.

"Lois isn't my sister."

"No," said Jonathan slowly.

"I don't understand," said Martha.

Jonathan laughed. "Martha, who'd have thought *you* wouldn't catch on?"

What Clark was saying finally began to sink in. "Are you saying…?" she asked Clark.

"I asked Lois to go with me as my date. And I told her it was a date, not as friends. Remember when I came to talk to you about Lana? I told you that Lois wanted me to talk about it with you before I proposed. What I didn't tell you is that Lois confessed that her feelings towards me weren't entirely familial. Actually, she said she was in love with me. I was shocked. I don't know why. I've always admired Lois. Loved her even. I just never thought about her that way. She was my family, my best friend, my work partner… I told her I just didn't feel that way about her. Things were a little strained at first, but we got past it. Except that it was there in the back of my mind and I started to notice things I hadn't before."

"Like, Lois is a very beautiful, desirable woman?" offered Jonathan.

Clark nodded. "Yes. And she's …complicated, uncompromising, pig-headed… and brilliant. I felt so guilty at first. I put distance between us. I didn't touch her even in friendship any more. But…I was fascinated. I began to see all these little things about her I'd never noticed before. How helpful she is to Jimmy, how much she loves Perry, the way she closes her eyes and sniffs her coffee before she takes the first sip, the way she looks in that red suit…" He blushed and Jonathan chuckled. "My options were to tell her that my feelings have changed or leave Metropolis because I can't stand things the way they are any more. When I was shot with the Kryptonite bullet I realized that life can change so fast, and what we could have could be lost in an instant. The biggest problem with Lois and I getting involved is that if things don't work out, you guys, Lucy, even people at work will be hurt. I needed time to think and I've decided that it's worth the risk. I don't want to miss out on the greatest love of my life just because I'm afraid of what *might* happen. So, I'm not asking for your blessing, but I wanted you to know that things were going to be different."

Jonathan patted Clark on the back and Martha sniffled. "Oh, Clark. That's just the sweetest thing I've ever heard. I told Lois long ago she was the daughter of my heart. I'm just going to believe that things will work out."

Clark looked very relieved. "I was afraid you might be upset. It might make things a little awkward for a while. Please don't say anything to Lois. I need to talk to her myself. And even if we get the Lois-Clark thing worked out, there's still Superman. We've hid the truth from her for fourteen years. That might be a little hard to forgive."

The fact was the very thought made Superman shake in his red boots. How do you tell someone you love that you've been lying to them for as long as you've known them? Lois had said she loved him, was in love with him, but would that love survive when she learned the truth? She had always seemed to be attracted to Superman, so Clark wasn't really worried that she would be disgusted by the fact he was an alien. When she found out that Clark, and the couple she considered her second set of parents, had never been truly honest with her, would her love die? So did he tell her right away, or should he wait and see if there was even a relationship there? Then if he did believe there could be the ever after kind of love between them, did he tell her then or wait until the bond between them was even stronger? "What a tangled web," he muttered to himself as he flew towards Metropolis.

***

Lois called in sick the day of the award ceremony. She wasn't sure if Perry believed her or not, but she was sick. Sick with worry, sick with fatigue. Sure, she could have used a vacation day, but then she would have had to put in for it ahead of time and put up with the inquiries of where she was going like she had when she had tried to spend the weekend in the honeymoon suite. She was going to spend all day at a spa and try to clear her mind. If she was going to get the opportunity to be Clark's date, she was going to make it the best date he'd ever had.

She had bought a different dress. The one she had originally purchased "just in case" was black and the kind of dress that commanded attention. She wanted to wear something more subtle. It was Clark's night and she wanted the spotlight to be on him. So this one was burgundy and rather plain, although the cut flattered her nicely.

Now all she had to do was try to relax!

***

She had been ready for half and hour when she heard his knock at her door. She had been restlessly flipping through TV channels trying to keep her mind distracted. She rose, took a deep breath, crossed the room, and opened her door. Her breath caught. He looked so handsome in a tux.

"You look beautiful," he said. "Burgundy is my favorite color on you."

"Thank you," she stammered in surprise. He had a favorite color on her? That had to mean that he had noticed what she wore.

"I have a limo waiting for us downstairs. I thought we should arrive in style."

She exited her apartment and turned the key in all the locks before they both turned to leave the building.

The ride was quiet, but the silence was not oppressive as she had feared. It was more of an anticipatory silence, both lost in their own thoughts, and fears, of what the evening would hold.

As they exited the car, Clark offered her his arm, "Shall we go in?"

She happily caught hold of his arm and entered with him. They found their table near the front of the room. A waiter brought them water and took their drink order. Clark fumbled with this water glass.

"Are you nervous?" she asked him.

He met her eyes. "Yeah."

She decided to be brave. She slid her hand across the table and laid it on his. "It's no big deal. They call your name, you go up there, take the plaque and thank Perry and the Daily Planet for the opportunity, blah, blah, blah."

He looked confused for a second, then he smiled. "That's not what I was nervous about, but thanks for the tip. I had totally forgotten I might need to make a speech." He turned his hand and grasped hers for a second, squeezing it before he released it so that she could lean back in her chair.

"You're gonna win," she assured him.

"Were you nervous your first time?"

She almost choked on her water. "What?"

"When you were nominated the first time, were you nervous?"

"Oh, yes. I brought my mom with me. And Perry was there…I wonder where he is?"

Clark nodded past her, "I see him over there swapping Elvis stories with one of the other editors. He'll probably make his way over here by the time they serve dinner. But, I like this. I'm glad we have a little time alone."

She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face, and his face also relaxed and smiled back.

***

After the dinner, the awards ceremony began. The biographies of the nominees were read. Perry read Clark's in his gravelly voice including little bits of humor with his anecdotes of working with Clark. The audience clapped as he finished, and the master of ceremonies took the stand.

"Well, we sure hope that Mr. Kent won't feel the sudden urge to run off right now, Mr. White…because Clark Kent is the winner of this year's Kerth award!"

Lois jumped to her feet laughing and clapping for Clark. He stood up much slower. "I told you that you would win, Clark." He smiled over at her and then turned his smile to the crowd. He pushed back his chair and made his way to the platform and accepted the award.

"Wow!" The audience laughed. "I never expected to even be nominated so soon, but to win this award…wow! Uh, I want to thank the owners of the Daily Planet; my editor, Perry White, for giving me a chance to work at the greatest newspaper on earth; and my lovely and talented partner, Lois Lane-Kent, for letting me have the opportunity to work with her and learn from the best. And thank you to the selection committee for bestowing this award on me."

Clark shook the master of ceremonies hand again and made his way back to the table. Perry clapped him on the back, "Son, I feel just like Colonel Parker did when Elvis signed that first RCA record deal. Your speech was great."

"Well, then thank Lois. She gave me some pointers." He smiled down at her.

She rose to her feet and gave him a congratulatory hug, "You did fine."

"Next year we'll win one together, I promise." He couldn't actually make that promise, she knew, but she understood what he was trying to say.

They sat back down and Clark leaned over to her, "How much longer do we have to stay?"

"As long as you want. The ceremony's over and people will start leaving soon."

"Then let's be the first."

They stood to their feet and made their excuses to Perry. As they left the auditorium Lois asked, "So, how did I rate as your date for the evening?"

"A-plus, but the evening isn't over yet."

"It's not?"

"No, I still want to have that talk with you."

"Right." *The* talk. From his behavior tonight, she didn't get the impression that he was leaving her, but she wasn't sure.

"So let's go back to my apartment. I bought some cheesecake just for you."

He held his hand out and Lois laced her fingers through his and groaned, "I'm stuffed."

"It's chocolate."

"Let's go!"

***

They finished the entire cheesecake. Clark seemed reluctant to begin the conversation and Lois didn't want to start it because she was afraid how it would end.

"So, I guess I should talk."

Lois turned to him and nodded, afraid to say anything. Just get it over with, she cried silently.

"I went home and talked to my parents."

"You did?" She wasn't sure what she expected him to say but this wasn't it.

He nodded. "I wanted to tell them about us…if there is an us, I mean. Oh, I'm totally botching this."

"I'm not in a hurry, Clark."

"Okay. Deep breath. When you told me about your feelings that day, I was caught off guard. I don't know why, but I just had never thought about you that way. And suddenly there was this beautiful, wonderful woman that wanted me to be part of her life, her personal life, not just as a friend. I was confused at first, I pushed you away, but I couldn't push the thoughts away. You've become my best friend. I can't imagine my life without you. I always felt like I could tell you anything …almost anything. I started watching you and I just became fascinated. When I was… something happened and I realized how fragile our lives are. There are no assurances of the future, and I don't want to lose out on what could be the best thing that ever happened to me because I am afraid of losing our friendship. I've always admired you, Lois. You're so strong, so ready to take on a world full of injustices. I realized that you're exactly the kind of woman that I always wanted, but didn't really think I'd ever find. I almost settled for Lana because she was convenient. But I don't want to settle, Lois. I want to explore this…thing between us. I want it more than anything."

Lois tears spilled over, "So do I, Clark."

"There's things about me that you don't know, but I want to share them with you."

"I want to hear them, when you're ready."

Clark shook his head. "You were right. You really do know the real me. Most people would immediately insist that I tell them."

"You're not ready to tell me yet, and that's good enough for me. As long as it's not that you married that Nigerian princess…"

Clark laughed. "No. It's not that."

They sat together in silence for a while, each just enjoying being with the other. Some noise in the alley startled them and then Lois said. "I should be getting home, I guess."

Clark nodded. "I'll call you a cab." He dialed the number and spoke into the phone briefly. After he disconnected, he turned to her. "I want to take you on a real date next weekend. The kind where I pick you up and we have dinner and a movie together and I take you home."

"I'd like that."

They talked about what movie and where to eat for the few minutes it took for the cab to arrive and beep outside his window. Clark walked with her to the door and when Lois reached to open it he caught her hand. "Lois, may I kiss you?"

She nodded and raised her face. He hesitated only a second before joining her lips with his. It was a sweet kiss, an exploration, with a hint of passion underneath the surface. Clark chuckled as he broke the kiss.

"What?" she asked. It was a beautiful kiss, what was funny about it?

"I'm definitely not feeling brotherly toward you. I think it's a good thing we didn't ever try this when we were younger."

She smiled, "I wouldn't have minded." She turned, pulled open the door, and left him standing there with his mouth open.

THE END

Comments can be sent to prov2727@mail.com. I look forward to reading your thoughts as I work on the sequel, Love Survives.