By Lynn Baldwin (LBALD@aol.com)
Summary: Dan Scardino gets shot, and unless Clark can intervene, Lois will be next.
Clark looked up from his computer screen at the sound of approaching footsteps. "So, Lois, how was your date with Scardino?" he asked sarcastically.
"Good morning to you too, Clark," Lois answered as she strode into the newsroom. She started to walk towards her desk, then changed her mind and spun around abruptly on one heel. She came to a stop in front of Clark's desk. "And how do you know I went out with Dan anyway? Did you follow me last night?" Her tone matched her angry glare.
Clark gazed at the woman he loved, the same woman who could infuriate him like no other. She was physically so close - close enough so that he could reach out and touch the sleeve of her brown and gold plaid suit - but emotionally so distant. He knew that the emotional distance was partially his fault. He still didn't feel comfortable letting Lois in on his secret, and his alter-ego was definitely coming between them.
He'd been flying around Metropolis last night, trying to work things out with Lois in his mind. He'd found himself over her apartment building at the worst possible moment - just in time to see Scardino kiss Lois good night on her doorstep. Although the kiss they'd shared hadn't been nearly as passionate as the recent kiss between Lois and Clark, it was enough to keep Clark awake for most of the night.
"Clark?" Lois insisted, bringing him back from his thoughts, "Answer my question."
"No, Lois, I wasn't following you," Clark answered, "I just don't understand what you see in Scardino."
Lois tossed her brown hair as she replied. "Well Clark, it's easy. *He* doesn't disappear every time I have something to say. *He's* always there when I need him."
"That's right, beautiful," came the cocky voice of Dan Scardino as he walked towards Lois. He strolled over to where Lois stood, then took her hand in his and raised it to his mouth. "How'd you sleep last night?"
Clark rolled his eyes. Lois looked slightly embarrassed as she pulled her hand away from Scardino's grip.
"What are *you* doing here, Scardino? Don't you have anything better to do?" demanded Clark, not bothering to hide his extreme annoyance.
"Morning, Clarkie." Scardino said with a smug smile. "As a matter of fact, I do have something better to do. It's called catching crooks."
"Ready, Lois?" Scardino continued, dismissing Clark.
Lois picked up her notebook and started to follow Scardino. "Lois," Clark asked, getting up out of his desk, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Don't worry, Clark. She'll be safe with me." Scardino pulled back his leather jacket to reveal a gun holster, which he patted affectionately. Lois and Scardino started towards the elevator.
"I'm coming with you," Clark said, following in their footsteps.
"Clark," Lois said, with more dismay in her tone than she actually felt. She'd never admit it, but she was glad that Clark was tagging along. For some strange reason, she always felt safe whenever he was around. Besides, she really didn't want to be alone with Scardino. She just didn't know how to break things off with him - or how to get things back on the right track with Clark.
Once the trio was inside of Scardino's Corvette, he explained the situation. He had received a hot tip that Intergang was using a dry cleaners as a front for Intergang operations, and that they were planning something big.
"What exactly are they up to, Scardino?" Clark asked.
"Sorry, folks, that's classified government information. It's on a need-to-know basis, and right know *you* don't need to know." He swiveled around in his seat and looked at Clark for his reaction.
Clark stared back. "So what are you going to do, just walk right in and accuse them of belonging to Intergang?"
"Oh ye of little faith," Scardino replied, "Don't forget. I'm an expert." He turned around in his seat and met Clark's gaze once more. He pointed to a bag sitting on the floor. Clark quickly scanned the bag with his x-ray vision. It was filled with rolled-up, wrinkled Hawaiian shirts and other assorted dirty clothes. "I've got a plan. Don't you worry."
Clark was suddenly pitched forward as the car abruptly swerved. "Maybe you should keep your eyes on the road while you're driving" he smugly suggested to Scardino, "I mean, I realize you're an expert and everything, but…"
"Stop it, both of you," Lois commanded. She surely would have continued, if they hadn't arrived at their destination. Scardino pulled up in front of a non-descript building and parked the car. Lois bit her tongue and followed him in exiting the car, with Clark right behind her.
Once inside, Scardino approached the counter with the bag. Lois and Clark stayed slightly back as he'd instructed. A balding paunch-bellied man stood behind the counter. "Help you?" he grunted.
Clark gazed out the front door in boredom as Scardino slowly started to remove the articles of clothing from the bag. "Let me see, I've got five shirts, two pairs of shorts, three pairs of pants… and ta-da…" Scardino reached into his pants pocket and produced an envelope, "a search warrant."
With a speed that belied his appearance, the man behind the counter bent over slightly, then stood up with a gun in his hand. Clark spun around, apprised the situation, then put up his hands in surrender. He motioned for Lois to do the same. Scardino, however, was not so compliant. In a matter of seconds, he reached for his own gun, pointed the barrel… then toppled over backwards before he had time to fire.
"You shot him!" cried Lois, rushing over to Scardino, who was sprawled out on the floor, unconscious.
"Not another move, lady," the gunman ordered. "I'd hate to shoot anyone as pretty as you, but believe me, I'd do it."
"Oh, yeah?" Lois retorted, taking a step forward.
In that instant, Clark noticed the slight motion of the man's finger on the trigger. With a burst of super-speed, he leapt in front of Lois, extending hi s arms in both directions to better shield her.
The gunman reacted instantaneously, rapidly firing a round of bullets in Clark's direction. They bounced off of his chest and rolled to the ground. Behind Clark, Lois squatted down, covered her eyes and screamed.
The gunman looked at Clark with amazement, then turn and fled into a back room, screaming something about "those damned bullet-proof vests." Clark started to go after him, but stopped when he felt Lois tugging on the back of his jacket. "Clark, Clark, what happened? Are you hurt badly?"
Clark turned around and grasped Lois' hand in his. "I'm fine. How are you?"
"But, how…he shot you…how come…?" Lois stuttered, looking from Clark to Scardino, who still hadn't moved. Clark followed her gaze, and quickly gave Scardino the one-over with his x-ray vision. He found the bullet lodged inside of his thigh. Satisfied that Scardino was not seriously injured, Clark turned his full attention back to Lois.
"He'll be fine, Lois." Clark said.
"But what about you?" Lois looked from Clark's face to his torn shirt. Tiny patches of blue showed through the six holes in his shirt. "I know you don't own a bullet-proof vest." She brushed her hand against Clark's chest.
"To tell you the truth, Lois…" Clark started to say, looking into Lois' eyes.
Lois met Clark's earnest gaze. "Yes, Clark, *please* tell me the truth. I need to know."
"As I was saying, " Clark said, as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt, revealing to Lois his biggest secret, "I've never had much use for a bullet-proof vest."
Lois' eyes reflected a mixture of awe, anger and adoration. As she continued to look at Clark, her gaze softened until it showed the one emotion she felt most strongly: love. "Thank you for telling me, Clark," Lois said softly, as she rested her head against the S on Clark's chest.
Clark held her tightly in reply.