Nightmare on Hyperion Avenue

By Karen Ward <>

Rated PG-13

Submitted July 1999

Summary: Jaxon escapes from the Metropolis Asylum for the Criminally Insane, planning on taking revenge on the pesky reporters who put him there. But there's much more to the sinister plot to destroy Lois and Clark than even he knows. This story has many twists and turns, and — despite some serious subject matter — it's well-written and definitely worth a read!


First of all, I'd like to extend a warm thank you to my story editor, Irene Dutch, for selflessly donating her time to root through this fic for rough spots. It meant more to me than words can say.

I'd also like to extend a special thank you to anonymous5658, without whose support and encouragement I doubt I would have ever managed to finish this fic. She graciously took the time to read this monster not just once, but *two* times, pointing out to me more typos than I thought a single person was capable of.

Another extra special editorial thanks goes out to Rachel T who also allowed herself to be victim to this story and volunteered to edit it even though she'd already read it. Thanks so much, Rachel!

Despite all the wonderful editors I had, including the many members of the Loiscla Fanfic Discussion List, I must add that the blame for any remaining typos, unresolved issues, or confusing passages, belongs solely to me.

In continuity, this story takes place after my other fanfic 'Tomorrow's Past', which I wrote in response to being very disappointed with the series finale of my favorite television show. However, it isn't necessary to read 'Tomorrow's Past' to understand this story. All you need to know is that Lois and Clark are still under the impression that they are "biologically incompatible for reproduction".

Being familiar with the episode 'Virtually Destroyed' might (it's debatable <g>) make this story easier to follow.

Finally, if you find anything in this story to be racist or prejudicial, or just outright offensive, I assure you that I did not do it on purpose! As a friend pointed out to me recently, life is way too short to go out of my way to offend perfect strangers. If you do have a bone of contention concerning this story, or anything contained within it, don't hesitate to let me know. Any such error was likely due to my naivete and I'm always glad to be enlightened.


Before you begin this story, you should be warned that it deals with very serious subject matter. It contains a huge WHAM; however, you can rest assured that I did everything within my power to set things right.

This story is for my mother, the strongest person I know.

Now that you've made it through the longest foreword known to humankind, congratulations! You get to read this beast! ;)

* denotes emphasis

** denotes sounds



**Swoosh!** A well-aimed gust of wind caused the basketball to veer left and align itself with the hoop at Centennial Park.

"Yes! Another three-pointer!" Ted Rickman, the Daily Planet's newest college intern and Clark Kent's recently adopted protege, exclaimed. "That's three in row, Clark. That makes it 15 to 6."

Clark picked up the basketball and tossed it back to Ted.

"Are you sure you can take any more?" Ted continued. "Maybe you'd better forfeit before the score gets too embarrassing. I wouldn't want you to go home and not be able to look your wife in the eye, now would I, Kent?" Ted's eyes twinkled with mischief as he casually tucked the basketball under his arm.

"Are you kidding? Of course you would! But I'll have to forfeit anyway." Clark eyed the sky, noting that twilight wouldn't be upon them for at least another hour. "It's getting too dark to play."

"Yeah, sure, Kent. Whatever you say … " Ted was skeptical of Clark's excuse. Though he'd detected humor in Clark's voice, he'd been playing the best basketball of his life; surely Clark was too embarrassed to keep playing.

"Seriously," Clark added, "Lois and I have a double date with the Whites tonight, and I don't want to be late for dinner with the boss." Clark glanced at his watch. "I'd better get going."

"A double date with the Whites? Why? Are you and Lois looking for a raise?" Ted needled.

"No," Clark laughed. "But I wouldn't be surprised if that was on Lois's agenda too. They're attempting a reconciliation and Lois has this notion that we should be their mediators, so to speak, to make sure that things run smoothly. At least, that's what she says … "

"Oh, I see. And what do you think her real motives are?"

"Well … you know Lois … " Clark grinned.

"Ah, yes, I do. You think she's just being nosy?"

"Well … " Clark adjusted his glasses reflexively. "Between you, me and the fence post, yep."

Ted laughed. "She must be really something to be dragging you away from the TV tonight. I can't believe you're going to miss the Metros versus Bills football game. You love the Bills — almost as much as I do!"

"She's something, alright." Clark chuckled.

"What's so funny?"

"I was just thinking … " Clark hesitated, uncomfortable with revealing the direction his thoughts had gone.


"Well … "

"Come on, Clark, you've got to tell me now. I can tell by the glint in your eye that it's something good."

"I probably shouldn't say this, but … let's just say that, in other areas, she'll more than compensate me for missing the football game."

Ted laughed. "I'm sure she will, Clark. I'm sure she will."


That evening, a lean figure loomed in the second-story window of his one-room apartment. The meager glow of street lights seeped through the slit between the curtains, forming a thin slice of light on the wall across from the window. Every now and then the light would brighten and slide up the wall while a set of headlights passed by on the street below.

A pair of binoculars rested at the figure's side in his right hand, while his left hand reached to clear the drapes from his line of sight. The expanding opening between the curtains allowed a stream of streetlight to sweep across the man's front, illuminating the red and blue logo dominating the front of his t-shirt, and glinting off the locks of blond hair that framed his forehead. He raised the binoculars to his eyes and focused them on an upstairs bedroom of the brownstone at 348 Hyperion Avenue. The straight line of his lips transformed into a satisfied smile as he realized that his timing was perfect. It was one of the rare occasions that the couple across the street had left the drapes drawn, providing a clear view through the patio door leading to the upstairs master bedroom. He watched an attractive young brunette hustle around the room in a revealing black slip. She dug into her closet, yanked out a short burgundy kimono, scurried over to a full-length mirror and held it up in front of her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and flung the satin dress onto the heap of clothing strewn beside the mirror as she scampered back to the closet to find another outfit.


"Lois, aren't you ready yet?"

Clark Kent, one half of the hottest reporting team in Metropolis, stood at the base of the staircase, hands cupped around his mouth, shouting to his wife in the upstairs bedroom. "If you don't hurry up, we'll be late. The reservations are for seven-thirty. We have five minutes. What's taking you so long anyway?"

"Hold your horses, Clark, I'm coming!" Lois Lane, ace reporter and the other half of the hottest team in town, hollered back. She lifted a shiny, burgundy kimono in front of her slender figure and considered her reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of their closet door. She looked pensive for a moment before she scowled at her image and threw the dress aside.

"Lois, if I hold my horses any longer they're going to … let's just say my horses are getting *very* impatient!"

"Well, tell your horses that if they keep up their patience, I'll make sure it's worth their wait!"

"That would be fine with me except it's not just my horses that are getting impatient. If we keep Perry and Alice waiting any longer they're going to think we stood them up." Clark approached the mirror by the vestibule and adjusted his crimson tie. "When people are attempting a reconciliation," he shouted toward the ceiling, "the last thing they need is for us to cause them stress by being late for dinner."

"I know! I'm coming!"

Clark ran his hands down the front of his charcoal suit, smoothing wrinkles. For what seemed like the millionth time, he pushed back the sleeve covering his watch and grimaced when he saw the time. Curious as to what was keeping his wife, he drew his glasses down to the tip of his nose and his x-ray vision began to penetrate the ceiling into the bedroom.

"What do you think you're doing, Mr. Kent?!"

The sound of Lois's voice from the bottom of the stairwell startled Clark, causing his glasses to slip further down his nose before he could clumsily shove them back into place. "Uh … I was just … uh … " He felt as if he'd been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, except he hadn't been reaching for cookies. He realized, however, that Lois had no reason to believe that his motives were purely innocent.

Clark relaxed and gave up on his explanation when he noticed the corner of his wife's mouth twitch, betraying her mock seriousness.

"Don't worry, Kent, I'll let you get away with it this time. But if I ever catch you doing that again, I'll just have to give you some strict lessons on respecting other people's privacy."

"If they're anything like the lessons I gave you on self confidence, I'll be looking forward to it."

Lois chuckled as she retrieved her jacket from its hook by the door. "Oh, they'll be a lot more rigorous and intensive than that!" She grinned when she turned and saw his eyes wide in appreciation of her knee length, black, satin dress.

"You look … wow!" Clark managed.

She adjusted one of the spaghetti straps with her right hand as she held her jacket to him with the other. "I take it you think it was worth the wait then?"

Clark's gaze didn't waver as he nodded his agreement. Upon recovering his wits, he accepted her jacket and slipped it over her shoulders.

"It was awfully nice of Perry and Alice to invite us to dinner," he said, changing the topic in order to keep his mind off what he'd rather be doing with his wife at the moment. "I just hope we get back in time to catch the Metros' game tonight. They're playing the Bills, you know."

"Are you kidding?! Of course I know. You've only spent the last week talking about this 'big game'."

"Yeah, well, it *is* a big game. The winner makes the playoffs and I'm really pulling for the Bills. Not that I have anything against the Metros, it's just that I've always sort of liked the Bills for some reason and … "

Lois grabbed his arm and began hauling him outside. "Honey, you're babbling. That's my job. Besides, you can rant about football all you want with … what's-his-name?"


"Right. You can rant all you want to Ted at the office tomorrow, but right now, we're late for dinner with our boss so I think we should be going."

Clark stopped just short of the door, also halting Lois who had a firm grip on his forearm. "Hey, I've been ready for over half an hour … and you got home before I did. Who's the one who spent over an hour doing who-knows-what when she looked beautiful to begin with, huh?" Clark teased.

"Well, if I could get ready at superspeed I'd have been ready a long time ago too." Smiling, Lois turned to Clark and began poking his chest to emphasize her point. "But I'm just a measly little human being. I have to do things at regular speed."

"That's no excuse." A sly grin crept onto Clark's face as he opened the front door for his wife. "I offered to help you get dressed but no-o, you wouldn't let me, would you?"

"If I recall correctly, your offer was to help me get undressed. And it's not that I didn't appreciate your offer, but you know very well that if I'd let you, we'd have never made it out the door tonight."


Wheeling a large metal cart, a nurse rumbled down one of the halls of the Metropolis Asylum for the Criminally Insane. She reached the end of the hall and turned to face a thick, cast iron door. With her eyes trained on the keypad next to the door, she began to punch in a series of numbers. After a succession of clicks and a giant clang, she heaved the heavy door open. Inside the padded room, a small man was huddled in the corner. His hands were at his head, each clasping a clump of unruly brown hair. His chin rested on his knees as he stared blankly at his feet. He remained completely still when the nurse wheeled the shiny silver pushcart in, and didn't flinch when she began to croon, "Hello there, Jaxon. How are you today? You're looking well. You'll never guess what we've got for you today."

Jaxon's blank expression didn't waver as the nurse continued to address him.

"The doctor thought it might be helpful to get you playing with computers again, so he got you this." The nurse gestured to the contents of the metal cart that now sat in the center of the room.

"Pretty neat, huh, Jaxon? How would you like to try out your new computer?"

Jaxon remained motionless in the corner while the nurse removed the safety cover on an outlet and inserted a plug that ran from the cart. She pushed a red switch on the power bar and the monitor sprang to life.

"There we go, that should do it. It'll just take a second to load and that should give us time to get you in a chair and ready to go."

The nurse retrieved a wooden chair from one side of the room, and Jaxon from the other. Once Jaxon was settled in the chair in front of the computer, she began to guide his unresponsive hands across the keyboard.

"There are lots of fun games you can play on the computer … there we go. Tetris. Why don't we give that a try?"

Sparks began to fly from the processor as Jaxon's fingers passed over the keys. A violent electrical shock sent the nurse sprawling to the floor, unconscious. Jaxon's fingers remained fixed on the keyboard and his attention on the monitor as electricity assaulted the computer. Jaxon's mouth formed a sneer until the current of electricity finally ceased. He began to chuckle as he rose from the chair and knelt over the fallen nurse to feel for a pulse. Soon roaring laughter echoed though the room and he turned back to the computer.


" … and then the King said, 'You Hound Dog, you! If that's what you wanted, you should have just said so!'"

Clark and Alice chuckled at the conclusion of Perry's latest Elvis tale, while Lois, after coercing her lips into a small smile, fixed her husband with her best 'I-need-to-get-out-of-here' stare. Although Lois enjoyed her boss's company, she thought she'd more than met her quota of Elvis yarns for the day.

Unfortunately for Lois, Perry interrupted before Clark could register her silent plea. "So are you two up for some dessert? I sure am!"

"Uh … I don't know, Perry. I'm pretty beat," Lois responded, trying to sound sincere. "It's been a lovely evening but I really think Clark and I should get going."

Then, to Lois's great relief, she noticed Clark's face take on a familiar far-off look. Recognizing the chance to not have to sit through another dose of Elvis stories, she pounced on it.

"Don't you think so, Clark? You look beat yourself. We should get going."

"Uh … yeah." Clark forced a yawn. "I'm wiped. We'd better be going." Clark pulled his wallet out of his pocket and slapped a few bills on the table. "That should cover dinner."

Clark and Lois pushed their chairs out and stood up before Perry and Alice could protest.

"We're sorry to leave so abruptly, but Lois and I really have to be getting to bed. We'll see you at the office tomorrow, Perry." Clark turned to Alice, "And thank you for such a lovely evening, Alice."

Lois was barely able to say, "Bye, guys," before Clark grabbed the crook of her arm and bolted for the door.

After regarding the young couples' rapidly retreating forms, Alice turned to Perry to inquire about his star reporters' hasty exit. "What was that all about? Do they do that often?"

"Alice, Honey, Lois and Clark are still newlyweds. Don't you remember what that was like?"

Alice grinned sheepishly at her ex-husband as realization dawned. "I sure do. Say, Hound Dog, why don't we follow the younger ones' example and turn in early ourselves?"

Perry grinned back as he stared into Alice's sparkling eyes. His gaze remained solid as he shouted, "Waiter! Check please!"


Outside the restaurant, Lois and Clark sprinted down the street, veered into a secluded alley and stopped.

"Wha … what is it? What … did you hear?" Lois gasped for breath.

It's an alarm at the Metropolis Asylum. I should check it out. I'll meet you at home, okay, Hon'?"

Lois nodded and spoke between breaths. "Okay."

Clark gave Lois a peck on the forehead, spun into the suit, and leapt into the air.


Lois eased her Jeep to a stop at the curb in front of her brownstone and opened the door to get out. As she approached the door, the sudden sensation of her nerves prickling into rapt attention stopped her momentarily. Her subconscious was invaded by the familiar feeling of uneasiness that told her something was up. She looked around the street, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

"Hmph." She shrugged if off and went inside.


From the second floor of 343 Hyperion Avenue, a blond man watched a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee come to a halt in front of one of the brownstones across the street. Once again, his eyes tracked the movements of an attractive brunette. From his darkened apartment, he watched her as she approached her front door and sighed when the young woman suddenly stopped, crinkled her brow, and gazed around the street.

He smiled at the satisfaction of knowing that Lois couldn't possibly guess what was about to happen to her.


After changing out of her evening wear and into a comfortable pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, Lois flopped down on the living room couch and clicked on the T.V. She spent a few moments surfing the channels before she settled on the Buffalo versus Metropolis football game. She didn't really want to watch it, but somehow, it made her feel closer to Clark. At times like this she looked for anything that would make being alone a little easier to bear.

Halfway through the second quarter, as she was about to doze off, a news update startled her back to full consciousness.

"This just in." The voice of the anchorman droned from the television. "A nurse is in critical condition after a convict by the name of Jaxon Xavier escaped from the Metropolis Asylum for the Criminally Insane tonight."

Lois gasped. "How? … " Reflexively, she began running scenarios through her mind as to how Jaxon, in his comatose state, could have regained consciousness and escaped.

"As of this moment," the voice continued in the background, "Metropolis Police are not sure as to how Xavier escaped from the asylum, but reports suggest that the building's security systems were breached through a computer terminal. Superman … "

Lois perked up at the mention of her husband.

" … arrived moments after the Asylum security discovered Xavier's empty cell, but was unable to immediately locate the villain. At this hour, Xavier remains at large and police are warning people to be on the lookout. He is not to be approached and should be considered extremely dangerous. If you should spot him, please notify the proper authorities immediately. Stay tuned to LNN for further updates on this matter."

The football game reclaimed the screen as LNN's news logo faded from view. Knowing that her Superman was on the case, Jaxon's escape didn't cause her much worry, so she refocused her attention on the football game.

"Since when did you start watching football?" Clark's teasing voice was accompanied by a gust of cool evening breeze and the rattle of the window being shut.

"Well, I figured one of us had to watch it and since you weren't here. Did you find Jaxon?"

Superman approached the couch and, after a brief red and blue whirlwind in the living room, Clark sat down beside Lois.

"Actually, no." Clark rested his elbows on his knees and wrung his hands in his lap. He stared at the floor as he muttered, "I scoured the city but I couldn't find him anywhere."

Noticing Clark's distress, Lois laid a comforting hand between his shoulder blades.

"Honey, it's okay. You'll find him. Actually, *we'll* find him. It'll make a great story to figure out how he recovered his mind from the virtual world."

"Yeah … sure. With all the people in Metropolis it's worse than … trying to find a needle in a haystack," Clark mumbled as he continued to gaze at his hands.

"Clark, what's wrong? You're usually a little more optimistic than this."

Clark turned to face Lois, opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, and decided to say, "No … it's nothing."

"Clark." Lois sat facing her husband and grasped his hands in hers, forcing him to give her his full attention. "I know you better than that. Something's wrong and you're going to tell me what it is. Now, talk."

"Well … " Clark paused. "I guess I'm just worried about Jaxon's escape. He … he could come after you again." Clark lowered his stare to his and Lois's intertwined hands.

"That's not it." Lois withdrew her right hand and used it to nudge Clark's chin upward, urging him to make eye contact with her again.

Clark met her gaze, sucked in his breath and slowly released it again. "Sometimes I think … " Clark wasn't sure that this was a feeling he should share with Lois. He *was* sure that she wouldn't like what she was about to hear.

"What is it?" Lois persisted.

Once again diverting his eyes from Lois's, Clark decided to take the plunge. "Sometimes I think you would have been better off marrying Lex." Clark looked up to gauge Lois's reaction.

Lois's jaw dropped as anger began to stir within her. "Clark, that is the most incredibly stupid thing I have ever heard you say! And considering some of the stupid things you've said — "

"What do you mean, 'stupid things' I've said?" Clark pulled away as Lois's words cut into him.

"Does 'Cheese of the Month Club' ring any bells?"

"Oh." Clark felt hard-pressed to argue with that.

"Clark, after all we've been through, how can you say I'd be better off with Lex, of all people?" Lois was thoroughly appalled.

"Well, think about it, Lois. In the past two years, we've uncovered two of Lex Luthor's illegitimate sons, and who knows how many more there are?" Clark looked away because he knew he couldn't face Lois when he uttered his next words. "At least we know you would have been able to have children with him."

Clark was surprised when his statement was met with silence. However, he knew he'd crossed the line when he looked up to see Lois's horrified expression.

"Look, Lois, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I was just … "

"You were what? Feeling sorry for yourself?" The rage began to bubble inside Lois, threatening to spill over.

"Hey! You have no right to be upset! *You* were the one who asked what I was feeling. You practically forced it out of me!"

"I have no right to be upset?!" Lois blurted in disbelief. "My husband tells me that we shouldn't have gotten married and *I* have no right to be upset?!" By now, Lois had risen from the couch and was stampeding the room, waving her arms about in fury.

"No, Lois. That's not what I meant."

Lois stopped and faced Clark, who was still sitting on the couch. "Well, what *did* you mean?"

"I … I don't know," Clark mumbled.

"Well, let me know when you figure it out!" With that, Lois stormed up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door with enough force to rival that of Superman.

After the bang of the door, Clark was left in an unsettling silence. His gaze remained fixed on the staircase where he'd last seen his wife's retreating form. After a moment, he dropped his face into his hands and groaned in frustration.

Upstairs, Lois had sprawled out on her bed. Her face was buried in a pillow, smothering her sobs.


Through his binoculars, the blond man watched in smug satisfaction as Lois stormed into her room, slammed the door and flopped down on the bed. He was sure that she and Clark had been fighting. As usual, he hadn't been able to see into the living room. That view was blocked by hedges. However, the hedges didn't block the glow of light emanating from the living room window. There were shadows moving about the room and he was positive that there had been two people in that room, arguing.

By the manner in which Lois had entered the bedroom he knew that something had angered her. He assumed it had been Clark. He hadn't seen Clark come home, but that didn't surprise him. Somehow, he rarely saw Clark come home. He figured that the Kents must have a hidden entrance somewhere.

Anyhow, that didn't matter now. Lois and Clark had just had some sort of argument, and, obviously, Lois had been deeply hurt by it. He smiled again. This would be the perfect opportunity. He had to take it.


Somewhere, deep in the shadows of Metropolis, Jaxon Xavier crouched behind a dumpster in a dark alley, struggling to find his breath. He still bore the same vacant grin he'd had when he escaped the asylum. It was cemented to his face.

After hacking into the Asylum's security system through the computer terminal the unsuspecting nurse had provided, Jaxon had known it would only be a matter of time before his absence would be detected. He also knew that it wouldn't be much longer before the big Boy Scout in blue would be scouring the city for him, not to mention a couple of nosy reporters. He'd have to do something about those three …


Lost somewhere between sleep and consciousness, Lois rolled over in bed to face her husband's empty side. She made a little groan and snuggled the side of her face further in her pillow. Suddenly, the whine of the alarm clock shattered Lois's restless semi-slumber.

"Shut it off, Clark," she moaned into her pillow.

When the awful shriek continued, she forced her eyes open. She promptly pressed them shut again when she saw that Clark wasn't there, that he never had been. The memories from last night's confrontation came flooding back to her and stripped her of any inclination to get out of bed. However, she forced her body up and off the mattress and eventually made her way to the bathroom and into the shower.

After pulling on a white short-sleeve blouse and a brown business skirt with matching blazer, she began to trudge down the stairs but stopped dead at the sight of her husband floating over the couch. He was asleep, but it didn't seem to be doing him any good. Occasionally, he would stop tossing and turning to mumble something incoherent. Then he would start flopping around again, almost like a fish caught in a net, only the net was suspended four feet over the living room sofa.


Dressed as Superman, Clark stood alone in the dark forest. The mist was thick and it engulfed him, threatening to swallow him whole. A breeze tugged gently at his cape. He could hear the distant howl of wolves.

He was looking for something, but he couldn't remember what it was.

No, he was beginning to remember now. It wasn't something; it was someone. But who? He was sure it was a woman. He'd been searching his whole life for her, yet somehow he knew that the search was futile because even when he found her, he could never have her.






Clark spun around to find the cause of the noise. The dried leaves and twigs that peppered the forest floor had crunched under someone's footsteps. His eyes widened.

*She* was there.

Her slim figure emerged from the fog and she walked steadily toward him. A slight gust of wind tussled her short, chestnut hair. She gazed at him with all the love and longing of her being. But he could see something else in her eyes. It was regret, and maybe even a bit of hurt.

"Lois! There you are," he spoke. "I've been looking for you."

"I know, Clark … I know." Her voice was low and dreary.

She continued to move closer and stopped only inches away. She reached for his hands and clutched them. Her hands felt almost as icy as her expression had suddenly turned.

"Clark, there's something I have to tell you." Her lips formed the words carefully while her eyes seemed to plead with his for understanding.

"What is it, Lois?" Clark asked tentatively. He was becoming wary of Lois's behavior.

She spoke quietly, yet confidently, as if she'd memorized what she was about to say, but didn't really want to say it. "We've made a terrible mistake."

"I know, Lois. Last night I said some things I shouldn't have and I'm sorry — "

"No, Clark. You were right."

" — that I said them but I wasn't in the best mood and … what did you say?" Clark thought she'd said that he was right, but this was Lois who was talking. She never said that. Especially referring to the subject that he thought she was referring to.

"I said you were right, Clark." Her eyes held his solidly as she spoke.

"I … I don't think I understand." Clark was terrified of what he was about to hear. But he knew he wouldn't be able to disagree with her.

"I'd be better off with someone else." Her voice was shaking, but she continued nonetheless. "We have no right to be together. We should .. . we should get a divorce."

There was silence. Even the wolves had ceased their howling as Lois and Clark searched each other's eyes. It was Clark who broke the moment by releasing her hands and looking down.

Clark was in despair. He knew that she hadn't wanted to say it, and furthermore, she didn't want to go through with her suggestion. But he also knew he had no right to stop her. The longer they stayed together, the more she was torn apart by the fact that, because of him, she would never be able to bear children. He could never do that to her, and it broke his heart to think that he almost had.

"I know, Lois. I'm … I'm an … alien. I was wrong to think that I had a place here, that we could have a life together. I should never have dragged you into this. I'm so sorry if I've hurt you … can you ever forgive me?"

"I'm afraid she can't, Kent," an arrogant voice called out from the haze. "The hurt you've caused her is unforgivable."

Clark thought the voice was familiar. He squinted to see who it was, but he couldn't make out the approaching figure.

"You've hurt her more than any other man. More than Claude, more than even me."

The voice was unmistakable, and the figure descended from the fog.

"Luthor! What are you doing here?" Clark stepped defensively in front of Lois, blocking her from Lex Luthor's path.

"It's okay, Clark." Lois moved to Clark's side and touched his arm. "I asked him to come."

"You?!" Clark was dumbfounded.

"Yes, me." Lois left Clark's side, went to Luthor's, and took his hand in hers.

"But why?" Clark was horrified at how warmly Lois seemed to be regarding his enemy.

"You said it yourself, Clark. You said I'd be better off with Lex." Lex and Lois turned from Clark and began walking back into the mist.

"Yeah, but I didn't mean it. I was just trying to prove a point!" Clark pleaded with her. "Come back, Lois! Please! You're making a mistake!"

Clark's cries fell on deaf ears as the retreating pair was engulfed by the mist.


"NO!! Please, Lois, don't go!! NOOOOO!!!" he screamed.

Clark was facing Lois, who was still watching from the middle of the stairwell, when his eyes shot open. Their eyes locked momentarily, and in that instant, Lois's heart ached with pity as she could see all the hurt and pain that was burning inside of him. More than anything she wanted to rush to him, to take him in her arms and tell him that everything was all right, but her pride wouldn't let her. Instead, Clark watched as she fixed her face with a stern look, marched down the remaining stairs and retreated into the kitchen without saying a word.

Slowly, Clark floated himself back down to the sofa. He sat up and took a deep breath. His emotions were a mixture of relief and pain. He was glad that it had only been a dream and hadn't actually happened. Yet, from that dream, he'd realized something. He was going to have to talk to Lois today. Nothing in the world scared him more than what he had to say to her. He knew that he had promised never to do it again, but he had no choice. He could almost hear his heart begin to break.


"Hey, C.K.!" Jimmy Olsen's cheery voice met Clark as he made his way down the ramp of the Daily Planet newsroom, forty-five minutes late for work.

Clark was preoccupied as he negotiated a path to his desk with Jimmy close on his heels.

"Hi, Jimmy." The words barely escaped Clark's lips.

Immediately after the morning's silent, yet eventful encounter with Lois, Clark's superhearing had tuned into a neighbor's radio broadcasting the report of a serious traffic accident. What had started as a simple fender-bender on the downtown expressway had quickly escalated into a twelve car pile-up. The accident left many people trapped and injured inside their cars. Luckily, it had been morning rush hour and the cars were barely at a crawling pace when the accident had occurred, but even that pace was enough to cause substantial damage. Clark had arrived about 10 minutes after the accident — too slow according to his standards — and managed to free seven people from their vehicles. Rescue workers had already retrieved six people and had been working on the rest by the time Superman was on the scene. Some had suffered severe, yet non-life-threatening, injuries, while others had only superficial wounds. It was the one fatality that tore at Clark's heart.

Long ago he had come to terms with the fact that there would be times when he would be a nanosecond too late, or that he couldn't be in several places at once, but this time it had gotten to him.

There had been a four month old baby in one of the cars. The child's parents had survived. They each had experienced some lacerations and a couple of broken bones, but they had survived. The driver of a Ford pick-up truck had rode up on a guard rail, trying to avoid the imminent collision, and landed upside down on the back half of a sedan. Strapped in a car seat in the back, the poor infant had not stood a chance.

"Whoa! Earth to Clark." Jimmy noticed Clark's 'absence' and became concerned for his friend. "What's up, C.K.? You have a rough night? You don't look so good."

"Ah … yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Lois said you went to cover that big accident downtown. It must have been pretty gruesome, huh?"

Clark had stopped listening to Jimmy at the mention of his wife's name. He hadn't dared to look in the direction of her desk when he came in. He didn't think he could handle seeing her yet. It was scary enough just *thinking* about what things were going to be like with her today.

"Uh … C.K.?"

"Oh … uh … yeah, Jimmy. It was pretty gruesome. Actually, speaking of the accident, I really have to do the write up for it … "

"Hey! Have you seen the Chief today? He's in the best mood!"


"And it looks like I'd better get a move on before his mood changes! See ya around, C.K."

Jimmy winked before he took off toward the Chief's office, and Clark sent out a silent thanks to Perry White for providing him with a means of escape. He really didn't feel like dealing with Jimmy's exuberance today. He had enough to deal with already.

So he turned his mind back to his impending confrontation with Lois. He figured the sooner he got 'it' over with, the less it would hurt both of them.

He couldn't do it now, though. The middle of a busy newsroom was not the best place to discuss an Earth-shattering event in their personal lives, even if the entire newsroom was bound to hear about it soon enough. He'd have to find a time when he and Lois could steal a few moments alone. However unlikely that may prove to be, it would have to wait until then. So, for the time being, Clark switched on his computer and began typing up the report of the morning's accident.

"Hey, Clark! That was some game last night, huh?"

Clark swiveled in his chair to find the owner of the animated voice.

It was Ted Rickman, the handsome young intern from Metropolis University who, as he had the night before, regularly joined Clark in a friendly game of one-on-one. In the month Ted had been at the Planet, he and Clark had become good friends. Because Clark was "such a good people person", as the Chief had put it, he had been assigned to show the young man around during his first week. In the beginning, Ted had seemed a little awed, and maybe a bit intimidated to have the famous reporter, Clark Kent, as his tutor. But once he had been subject to Clark's friendly personality, Ted's shyness had soon faded. In fact, he and Clark had soon discovered they had a lot in common. Football in particular. They were both the only Bills fans in Metropolis … or so they joked.

"Actually, I missed it."

"Oh, Clark! You missed the greatest game of the century! The Bills were down by five with three seconds left and … "

Clark tuned out Ted's voice when he remembered who *had* been watching it. 'That was odd', Clark reflected on catching his wife watching the game, 'Lois hates football.' For some reason, totally beyond him, she had been watching it anyway. Maybe his enthusiasm for the sport had been rubbing off on her somehow. He quickly dismissed that idea. Lois was her own person and if she didn't like something, that was it. She didn't like it. It didn't matter who you were, there was no influencing that woman on her tastes. Clark knew that better than anyone. And that was one of the many things that he loved about her, her individuality. It was also one of the things he'd miss about her …

" … and then Jones intercepted the pass and ran 57 yards for a touchdown! It was awesome, Clark! I can't believe you missed it!"

"I wish I hadn't," Clark ruefully admitted.

"What were you doing anyway? You've been looking forward to the game all week. There would've had to be some kind of international crisis to tear you from the tube last night!"

"Something like that." Clark's eyes seemed to be focusing on nothing in particular.

Being somewhat more attentive to Clark's body language than Jimmy had been, Ted decided that Clark probably wanted to be left alone. "Well, I guess I'd better be getting back to work. I can hear about a dozen people calling 'Copyboy' right now. I'll see you later, Clark."

"Sure, Ted." Clark returned to Earth long enough to smile at his friend before he went on his way.

And then it happened. He hadn't meant to, but as he was turning back toward his computer, Clark's eyes had accidentally spotted *her* desk. Sure enough, she was there, working away at what was bound to be her next Kerth Award winning story, if not Pulitzer.

She would type for a few minutes, scrunch her eyebrows, and begin leafing through one of the files she had strewn on her desk before going back to the keyboard for a few more minutes. Clark couldn't help but watch as she went through that routine a few times. It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece. Half of the time you had no idea what was going on, and you were sure that she didn't either, but the other half was simply amazing as she put all the pieces together, weaving them into an ingenious piece of writing.

It wasn't long, however, before Lois's 'radar' kicked in and she diverted her attention from her work to see who was watching her. 'It's amazing how she does that,' Clark thought. And to his utter dismay, Clark inadvertently smiled when her eyes met his. He hadn't meant to do it; it was just a reflex. What really caught him off-guard, though, was when she smiled back. He certainly wasn't expecting that! Lois didn't forget arguments like last night's in less than twenty-four hours. It was unheard of! Besides, he couldn't have her forgiving him that fast. It would make 'it' way too difficult for him, not that it wasn't already. So, before he could get himself into any more trouble, he turned back to his monitor to continue to work on the accident story.

It took a couple of seconds before Clark could collect himself enough to resume writing, but his fingers eventually found their way back to the keyboard, and he returned to his morning task. Which will soon be an afternoon task if I don't get a move on, Clark noticed as he glanced at the clock in the upper right corner of his monitor.

His resolve to finish his story quickly vanished when he felt a pair of hands come to rest on his shoulders. He didn't have to look to see whose hands they were; only one person's touch could send shockwaves pulsing through his body like that.

She leaned over and spoke softly into his ear, "Hey there. Pretty rough morning, huh?"

"Uh … yeah." Clark almost choked on the words, his throat was so dry. His mind was racing in circles. He wanted to turn and take her in his arms and hold her for the rest of his life. He wanted to tell her about the accident this morning, and how it had hurt so much to not have been able to save that helpless little baby. But he knew that he couldn't. He knew that was another thing he was going to have to get used to living without.

"Clark," Lois maneuvered herself around his chair, pushed the keyboard out of the way, and sat down on his desk so she could face him, "about last night … "

"Lois, I — "

"No, Clark. Let me go first. I really need to say this to you."

Knowing that there was nothing anyone, not even Superman — especially not Superman — could do when Lois wanted to be heard, Clark just nodded, and she continued in a quiet voice.

"All morning I've been thinking about last night, Clark, and … and I'm sorry. I was really insensitive and … well, I shouldn't have been. I know how much you want a family, and how hard it must be for you considering our … situation. And knowing you, the hardest part is probably that you think that you're somehow robbing me of something by being with me … something that I didn't even think I wanted until I met you. I just want you to know that, no matter what you may think, just being with you has given me more than I ever imagined I could have. Clark, I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love you … never thought anyone could love me as much as you do. And I won't let anything, or anyone, ever take that away from me. Do you hear me, Clark Kent?" Lois's serious tone began to wane as a smile crept onto her face. "You are stuck with me for the rest of your life whether you like it or not!"

And that was that. Once again, Lois had stopped him before he could do the most idiotic thing he could ever have imagined doing. Only once, just after Lois's supposed abduction by aliens orchestrated by Bob Fences, did Clark catch her off guard by breaking up with her for "her own good". That hadn't lasted, however. From then on, Lois's 'radar' seemed to also be able to detect whenever he was getting noble on her, and she would squelch his worries about how being with him was unfair to her even before he knew he was having them. Knowing this, all Clark could do was chuckle.

"What's so funny, Mister? You shouldn't be laughing. *The* Lois Lane — better known as Mad Dog — just apologized to you, Clark Kent. This is a momentous event. You shouldn't be laughing. You should be on your knees, kissing my feet, and thanking me for my selfless act of kindness."

Clark's grin widened. Without a word, he got down on his knees, gently took her left foot that dangled about four inches above the floor, and removed her plain black pump. With the whole newsroom watching, having noticed Clark's strange actions, he leaned forward and gently touched his lips to the top of Lois's nylon-clad foot. Before Lois could catch her breath, he looked up into her wide eyes and declared with absolute sincerity, "Thank you, Lois."

Not really knowing what was going on, as usual, but being absolutely enthralled by Clark's performance, the entire newsroom erupted into a thunderous ovation.

Still entranced by Clark's strange yet wholehearted expression of gratitude, Lois didn't even noticed the commotion that had suddenly spread through the newsroom, and was almost oblivious even to Perry White when he emerged from his office in a huff.

"What in Sam Hill is going on out here?! Why aren't you all working on your assignments? This is a newspaper, people, not a Broadway performance! Now get to work!"

At the sound of the Chief's voice Clark quickly rose to his feet and Lois hopped off his desk, both feigning innocence, yet barely noticing their boss's presence in light of each other's. As soon as the occupants of the newsroom seemed to be returning to their respective tasks and the Chief had safely retreated to his office, Lois grabbed the lapels of Clark's jacket and kissed him hard on the lips. Before Clark had a chance to register this turn of events and make his contribution, his wife broke off the kiss and winked at him.

"Mr. Kent, for that little display just now, you're going to get a *very* special treat as soon as we get home!" With that, Lois strode back to her desk and sat down to work, only briefly glancing back at her grinning husband to give him a seductive smile and a wink.

Clark returned his focus to the write-up of this morning's accident with a grin on his face.

Throughout the whole exhibition, there was one person in the back of the newsroom who wasn't cheering. One person who found the whole display utterly revolting. These recent events weren't going to help his plan. It wasn't going to be as easy as he thought it was. But before he could start devising the necessary alterations to his schemes, someone shouted "Copyboy!" from deep within the newly resumed bustle of the newsroom.


Clark hit the 'return' key on his keyboard, sending his latest piece to his boss's office.

After Perry had reappeared from his office to instruct Lois and Clark that their next assignment was to cover Jaxon Xavier's escape, Clark had finally been able to finish and polish up the accident story.

Now he could focus his attention on locating his partner who, as expected, was still seated at her desk, examining the contents of one of the file folders piled on top of it. Clark pushed himself to his feet, approached his wife, and leaned on the front portion of the chest-height partition that surrounded the front and left sides of her desk. "What are you working on?"

"Huh?" Deep in thought, Lois was startled by her husband's voice. "Oh, I'm just doing a background check on the nurse that was in the room when Jaxon escaped. I thought there might be a connection there, but there doesn't seem to be, at least not that I can see."

"Maybe we should be checking the computer for connections … it might have been sent by an accomplice, or programmed to short out when the nurse pressed a certain key."

"Here you go, partner." Lois pulled a file from the pile on her desk and handed it to Clark. "This is a list of all the companies and stores that provide the Asylum with their computers and all the other electronic equipment they have there."

Clark held up the folder and smiled. "Always one step ahead of me."

"I know," Lois smiled back. "Someone has to be."

Clark's smile faded slightly as he allowed himself to get lost in Lois's gaze for moment. Finally, he forced himself to notice the other files stacked on his wife's desk. "What are all these?"

"Information about guards, prisoners, nurses, doctors, and anyone else at the asylum who might have connections to Jaxon, or to computers in general."

"I see you've had a busy morning."

"Actually, Ted got these for me. He's been very helpful around here."

Clark grinned. "He must have had a good teacher."

"Which means his teacher's teacher must have been even better." Lois winked. "And being the great teacher that I am, I instruct you to get to work." She handed him a small stack of files from those on her desk. "See what you can find in these."

"Yes, Ma'am."



"What?" Lois looked up from her file to see what Clark was exclaiming over.

After dividing up the files, they had relocated to the conference room where there was more desk space to spread out their information. After an hour of perusing the files and ruminating on the various ideas they had bounced off each other, Clark pointed to a sheet of paper from the file he was looking at. "You know that little computer store downtown, the one that supplied some of the computers at the asylum, including the one that Jaxon used to breach the security system?"

"Helen's Computer Depot? It supplies computers to a lot of schools, corporate businesses, and some other large institutions."

"That's the one. Anyway, the owner, Helen Carter, went to Metropolis University."

"Yeah … so did I."

"She went at the same time she'd been dating Lex Luthor."

"So … "

"So … she dropped out before she was finished. Do you know why?"

"Clark, I'm not the one with x-ray vision … " Lois eyed the file under Clark's hands.

"Sorry. She dropped out after her freshman year when she found out she was pregnant. I guess she didn't have the means to support herself through college and raise a child at the same time."

"And this is important how exactly?"

"Her child is the same age as Jaxon … *exactly* the same age."

"It could be a coincidence."

"It could, but this article," Clark gestured to a piece of newsprint in the file in front of him, "is from an edition of the campus newspaper printed while she was there." Clark held up the article for Lois to read the headline and raised his eyebrows.

"'The Hottest Couple on Campus'. Obviously this was before I got there to teach them what *real* news is."

Clark turned the article around to read an excerpt, "' … and the handsome, young, millionaire, Lex Luthor, has found interest in a striking freshman from right here at Met. U. by the name of' — "

"Helen Carter," Lois finished for him.

"Uh-huh. You know what they say about too many coincidences … "

"It means it's not a coincidence."

"Exactly. It says here," Clark gestured to another sheet of paper in front of him, "that her son, Jack Carter, died of SIDS when he was three months old. The official birth certificate listed the father as John Smith."

"Ha!" Lois snorted in disbelief. "She might as well have listed him as John F. Kennedy! It'd be more believable!"

"Apparently, she was so broken up about her son's death that she moved to Switzerland to live a life of luxurious seclusion. This was around the same time that she ran into a rather substantial inheritance. None of her friends or family heard from her again until she came back to Metropolis five years ago and set up her computer business. That was also around the same time that Jaxon Xavier turned up at Lex Labs, working on a new computer program for Luthor. He was fired shortly after for 'reasons unspecified' and opened up his Virtual Reality Center, which, by the way, purchased it's computer equipment from Helen's Computer Depot."

"This whole story reeks of Lex to me."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That Lex had a little too good of a time at one of those wild college parties and got his girlfriend pregnant. Then, being the irresponsible creep that he was, he paid her off to say that the child was someone else's. After all, he couldn't bear having his image tainted. Of course, paying her off was probably his last resort after trying to force her to abort the child. Then, I imagine that, if she knew Lex at all, Ms. Carter decided it would be safer to raise her child as far away from him as she could. So she faked her child's death and moved to Switzerland. And when she came back to Metropolis, she set up her little computer business, and shortly after that, a little business for her son. Is that what you're thinking?"

Clark nodded.

"Then I guess I am thinking what you're thinking," Lois assented.

"Unfortunately, all these coincidences mean nothing unless we find concrete proof."

"And if there is any, we'll find it."

"I don't know about you, Lois, but I just got the sudden urge to go computer shopping. Maybe we should pay a visit to Helen's Computer Depot?"

Lois rose from her seat at the table. "Sounds like a plan to me."


"May I help you, Ma'am?" a young man asked Lois as she browsed the 'Entertainment Software' aisle of Helen's Computer Depot.

"Actually, yes. My husband's birthday is coming up and, well … he's just a little kid at heart and he loves to play video games. There was one in particular that he wanted, but I can't remember the name of it now . .." Lois let her voice trail off as she placed a finger to her chin and tried with all her might to look like she was struggling to remember something. "Doom-something was the name of it, I think."

Meanwhile, Clark was roaming the 'Educational Software' section. Finally coming to a stop at the end of the aisle, he picked up a box containing the latest CD-ROM version of 'Jeopardy!' and held up. Looking very much like he was inspecting the description written on the back of the package, Clark lowered his glasses slightly, looked through the box, and focused his vision behind a door marked 'Employees Only'.

Meanwhile, Lois continued to distract the employee.

"What kind of computer do you have, Ma'am?"

"It's an IBM, I think. I don't know. It's got this little rainbow-like symbol on it that looks kind of like an apple with a bite out of it."

"Then it's probably an Apple."

"No, it starts with an 'M' … MacDonald … MacIntyre … "


"That's it!"

"Well, then we'll have to look over here."

While the patient employee led her down the aisle to where the Macintosh games were located, Lois snuck a glance at her husband two rows over and whispered, "Find anything yet?"

Clark pushed his glasses back into place, turned to his wife, shook his head and shrugged. Placing the box back in its spot on the shelf, Clark turned and began moving towards the exit.


"What was that?" The employee turned back to Lois.

"Um … uh … ham! I just remembered that I was supposed to get ham at the supermarket but I forget. I'd better get there before it closes!" Lois spun on her heels and bolted for the door.

"But the supermarket … "

Lois's figure disappeared out the door.

" … doesn't close for another two hours." The employee shook his head and went to wait on another customer.


Lois exited the store only seconds after her husband and found him waiting for her just outside.

"'A little kid at heart?' And I 'love video games?'"

"Well, you're definitely still a kid at heart, Boy Scout. And I'm sure I've seen you playing games on your computer when you were supposed to be working on your copy. I just embellished the truth a little."

Clark gave her a disbelieving look.

"Okay then, next time you can provide the cover while I x-ray the office."

Clark chuckled, put his arm around his wife and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Lois finally gave up on her serious face and allowed herself a snicker. "So you didn't find anything at all?"

"Nope. I x-rayed every square inch of her office, but there was nothing that could incriminate Helen Carter in Jaxon's escape, and even less that could connect her to Lex Luthor." Clark touched the small of his wife's back guiding her towards the Jeep. "You know, Lois, it always amazes me how well you do that airhead bit … "

"Watch it, Buster!" Lois warned.

"Hey, it was a compliment. It must be really hard for a genius, such as yourself, to pretend to be such a ditz."

"Well, if I really was a genius, I'd know where to find some concrete evidence to connect Ms. Carter to either Lex or Jaxon. There had to be something in that office that we could use."

"I did get her home address. Did you know she sublets an apartment across the street from us?"

Lois stopped in front of her Jeep and turned to Clark with a mischievous glint in her eye. "Was she in her office when you x-rayed it?"

"Yeah … " Clark was speculative of the look on his partner's face.

"Did she look busy … like she was going to be there for a while?"

"Yes … wait a minute, Lois." Clark eyed her suspiciously while she turned away from him, walked around the Jeep, and got into the driver's seat. Warily, Clark opened the passenger side door and got in with her. "Lois, just what, exactly, do you have in mind here?"

She just turned and smiled at him after she stuck the key in the ignition and turned it on. But Clark didn't need an answer.

"Lois, we are not going to break into this woman's house just for a story, even if we do think she's Jaxon's mother."

"It's not like we've never done it before." Lois pulled away from the curb and merged with the late afternoon rush hour traffic.


"And we wouldn't get caught, not with Superman on the lookout."


"I know, I know. It's a bad idea. But you can't blame a girl for trying. Besides, I have other ideas about what we can do with our time this evening."

Clark quirked an eyebrow at the hint of suggestion in her voice and smiled as he relaxed into his seat. "Just don't forget to pick up the ham on the way home."


The skyscrapers cast long shadows over Metropolis, warning the city of the evening's approaching darkness. The same shadows also provided cover for a young man in a long, black trench coat as he scurried down the street, periodically checking over his shoulder.

He sported a Metros' baseball cap with the peak pulled low to shield his face from the passing public. When he spotted the female half of a particular reporting team, he froze in his tracks and hurriedly took refuge behind a newsstand. She was exiting Helen's Computer Depot — his destination — to meet her male companion waiting by the door. He watched them walk down the street and load into a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. He breathed a sigh of relief when the vehicle pulled away from the curb and disappeared into a line of traffic.

Pushing through the front door of Helen's Computer Depot, the man's eyes lit up at the sight of the single story electronics store laden with the latest in computer technology. There were shelves upon shelves of various computer paraphernalia. Everything from the machines themselves, to cartoon-themed mouse pads, multicolored printer paper, and geometrically-designed storage containers for floppy disks and CD's. In the far right corner, a twenty-seven inch television was mounted to the ceiling displaying the twenty-four hour news coverage of LNN. Below the TV, and immediately to the left, was an door marked "Employees Only". The man browsed the room, attempting to look inconspicuous while he waited for the employee on duty to either exit the room, or become occupied by another customer.

He became anxious as the seconds ticked by, stretching into minutes before another customer finally came in. When the man was sure that the employees was immersed in showing the customer the latest edition of the Pentium processor, he headed straight for the door marked "Employees Only".

"Excuse me, Sir." A thin, young man in a business suit emerged from the stock room and blocked his entrance to the door. "You can't go in there."

"Uh … " the man was tempted to chew him out for his obvious ignorance, but thought better of creating a scene. "I'm sorry, Sir. I'm looking for Helen Carter. I thought she'd be in there."

"Oh. Is she expecting you?"

"Well … no. But I'm sure she'd like to see me. Could you get her for me, please?"

The employee began eying the man speculatively. "Do I know you?"

"No, I don't think so. I … " his words trailed off as he followed the other man's attention which had been diverted to the television overhead.

Jaxon Xavier's face appeared in a box in the corner of the screen as the anchorman spoke stoically, " … as of this hour, the escaped inmate remains at large. The Metropolis Police Department has asked this station to advise viewers to be on the lookout for this man. If you have any information concerning his whereabouts, please notify the authorities immediately. Do not approach him if … "

The employee looked at the man and then back at the face in the upper right corner of the monitor. Before he had a chance to consider his options, the man turned and bolted out the front door, and back into the alley from which he had come.


The evening's twilight was barely noticeable above the glow of the world's largest city as Lois and Clark made their way, hand in hand, up the front steps to the entrance of their brownstone.

"Well, this has been one of the most emotionally demanding twenty four hours I've ever had." Clark smiled ruefully at his wife as the pair entered their house and began shedding their coats.

"Well, don't plan on having any more emotionally demanding days for a long time, okay?"

"Don't worry, I won't!"

"However … " Lois let her voice trail off and grinned wickedly at her husband. Facing him, she placed a hand on each of his shoulders and began to gently knead his deltoid muscles.

Clark leaned closer, his warm breath caressing her lips, and whispered, "However?"

Lois answered him with her lips on his, but broke off the kiss before it could escalate and continued in a low voice, "However, I don't think you should rule out physically demanding."

Clark pushed off his wife's brown jacket and, once again, his mouth met hers, this time hungrily.

Clark enveloped Lois in his arms as she moved her own arms to encircle his neck, each trying to pull the other closer. As their tongues thrust in and out and swept around each other's mouths, Lois ran a hand through her husband's thick black hair while the other remained wrapped around his neck.

Clark's hands roamed over Lois's back, longing to feel the silkiness of her skin, rather than that of her blouse. His hands soon slid their way down her back, under the waist of her skirt, until he could feel the small bump of her tail bone. Lois shivered as Clark's touch grazed the sensitive area, sending a wave of pleasure coursing through her body. He then drew his palms across her waist, up her sides, and toward the front of her torso where the buttons of her blouse were located. As Clark fumbled with the top buttons, Lois slid her hands under Clark's blazer and attempted to push it from his shoulders. Clark dragged his eager hands from their task to allow the jacket to fall to the floor. Immediately, Lois began tugging at Clark's tie and soon it joined his blazer in a heap by their feet. Clark moved his lips down to her chin and began to blaze a trail of open-mouthed kisses along her jaw, eventually making his way to her neck. Lois tilted her head to give him better access and moaned with barely suppressed desire.

"Mmm … Clark. I'd pick this over breaking and entering any day."

Clark grunted his agreement as his lips moved back up their original path until they returned to hers, mercilessly. Again, Clark reached for the buttons near the collar of Lois's blouse and had opened the first three before he suddenly stopped and reluctantly drew his lips from hers.

"What is it?" Lois asked, slightly dazed and disheveled.

Apparently not hearing his wife's question, Clark continued to superhear the police bulletin that had caught his attention.

Knowing Clark would answer her when he was finished listening, Lois didn't prod.

A moment later, Clark's focus returned to the woman in front of him and he regretfully began to explain. "It's Jaxon. He was spotted in Helen's Computer Depot downtown a few minutes ago. I'd better — "

Lois cut him off by landing a short, but thorough, kiss on his lips. "Go, Clark. But be careful."

"Don't worry, Honey."

Before Lois could tell him to hurry back, a gust of wind swept through the living room, rustling various light-weight objects, including Lois's hair and partially-opened blouse.

Feeling utterly disappointed at her husband's need for departure, yet excited at the prospect of having one less crazed lunatic to worry about, Lois straightened her clothing, smoothed her hair, and headed back toward the door to return to Helen's Computer Depot. She couldn't wait to fit this into her and Clark's story. However, she barely had her hand on the doorknob when the phone interrupted her exit. She contemplated letting the answering machine take the call before she finally decided to get it. She mumbled a few obscenities about being subject to Clark's unerring conscience and its effect on her as she grabbed the receiver.


"Hi Lois! It's Ted. Is Clark there?" the voice spoke from the other end of the line.

"No, Ted, I'm sorry. He just stepped out. Would you like me to leave him a message?"

"No, that's okay, Lois. I'll try again later. Thanks! I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye, Ted."

For some reason, a sliver of apprehension had begun to embed itself in Lois as she replaced the phone in its cradle. She immediately shook the feeling off and started heading back toward the door again. This time she had almost made her way though the vestibule before she paused, looked down, and took in her apparel. Realizing her capacity for frequently finding herself in the jaws of death, she decided that her short sleeved blouse, tight knee-length skirt and black pumps were not suitable attire for fighting bad guys and went upstairs to find something a little more appropriate for the occasion.

As Lois descended the stairs after changing into a pair of slacks, a mini T-shirt and sneakers, the doorbell rang.

"Ugh! I'll never get out of here!" she grumbled to herself.

When she peered through the peep-hole and found Ted Rickman on the other side, the uneasy feeling came flooding back to her. Not having any logical reason to substantiate feeling this unsettled, Lois ignored her instinct and opened the door.

"Hi Lo — "

"Hi Ted! I was just on my way out. What can I do for you? Can it wait until tomorrow?" Lois was doing her best to be polite considering she was anxious to get Ted on his way and out of her hair.

"Actually, I was just wondering if I could borrow some sugar."

"Sugar?" Lois was surprised at this and took a beat to digest it. She thought people only borrowed sugar from their neighbors in those family sitcoms on television.

"Yeah. I had just started whipping up some batter to bake a cake when I realized that I didn't have enough sugar and you know how frustrating that can be."

"Yeah, sure." Lois smiled to herself knowing full well that she couldn't remember the last time she had actually attempted to bake a cake, if ever. But, being in a hurry to get downtown, she didn't feel the urge to share this information with Ted. "Let me go see if I can find some. I didn't realize that you bake," Lois stated as she led the way to the kitchen.

"Oh, yes! Please don't tell anyone though. If the guys at the office found out I'd never hear the end of it."

"Okay," Lois chuckled. "My lips are sealed."

Lois entered the kitchen with Ted close on her heels and moved over to the cupboard where the sugar was kept. With her back to her guest, she opened the cupboard and reached up toward the sack of sugar sitting on the second shelf. As her hands reached their destination she felt something cold and sharp press against the front of her neck. She froze as she immediately recognized the familiar sensation. It wasn't the first time she'd been held at knife-point.


With a whoosh, Superman landed in front of Helen's Computer Depot in downtown Metropolis. He entered the store and immediately strode over to a nearby police officer who was questioning one of the employees.

"Which way did he go?" Clark interrupted in his patented Superman voice.

"The employee who recognized him said he ran out the door and turned right. And a few other witnesses said they saw someone running in the general direction of Hob's Bay."

"Thanks, officer." Superman launched into the air toward Hob's Bay.

He soared over the all too familiar section of the city, x-raying every decrepit building and alley. He even looked underground in the abandoned subway tunnels that hadn't caved in during the various encounters he'd had there with other members of the Luthor family. Surprisingly, it took barely five minutes of searching before he spotted a familiar figure negotiating a corner at an all-out sprint in one of the alleyways below. He hesitated as he was about to swoop down to intercept Jaxon. An odd sensation began to nag at his consciousness. Deep in the pit of his stomach he could feel that something wasn't right. It had almost been too easy to find Jaxon. He quickly scanned the immediate area but didn't detect any danger so he shrugged it off and dove into the alley below.


"If you so much as breathe the name Superman … well, you're a brilliant woman, I'm sure you get the picture."

Lois shuddered at the mixture of sarcasm and iciness in Ted's voice. Unfortunately, the subtle movement caused Ted to increase the pressure he used to press the edge of his weapon to Lois's neck. One of Ted's arms gripped Lois's waist, while the other held the knife to her throat. Lois could feel that the blade was very close to breaking her skin and squeezed her eyes shut, willing her husband to hear her silent cry for help.

"Oh, Lois, don't be frightened. I'm not going to hurt you. That's not part of the plan."

"Plan?" Lois choked out.

"Tsk tsk. I can't tell you, Lois. Then it wouldn't be any fun."

Lois's voice threatened to crack, but she kept it steady as she spoke her next words. "Well … if you're not going to hurt me, then why have you got a knife to my throat? Don't you think you're contradicting yourself here?"

"Oh, Lois. Don't you understand? This is the only way. I'm not blind, I've seen you and your husband together, and I just didn't think you'd submit willingly."

Though Lois was ravaged with terror, and she was pretty sure she knew what the answer would be, she forced her lips to form the question. "Su- … submit to what?"


Jaxon's lungs burned as he approach the corner of the alley between Seventh and Lincoln, but he knew he had to get away quickly. The Big Blue Boy Scout was bound to be after him by now. He stole a backward glance as he rounded the corner but was knocked out cold when he collided, head-on, with the Man of Steel.

Clark bent down and scooped up Jaxon's unconscious body, a little smug at how easy it had been to catch him, and took off toward the closest police precinct.


"Now listen, Lois." Ted's grip on Lois didn't flinch as he spoke. "You can make this easy on yourself and do as I tell you, or you can put up a fight and make it very painful. It's your choice." Ted slowly released his hold on her waist, but kept the knife firm on her neck. "Turn around, slowly."

Lois began to turn, giving the appearance of compliance, but suddenly grabbed Ted's knife-wielding hand. Unfortunately, she had underestimated Ted's quickness and, before she could twist his arm into hyperextension and knee him in the groin, he had backhanded her across the face with enough force to knock her to the kitchen floor.

Lois supported herself with one elbow and, partially out of shock from Ted's agile, yet powerful, movement, and partially because of the pain that now radiated down the left side of her face, she touched her cheek. She was surprised that she didn't find any traces of blood when she pulled her hand back, but could tell from the resonating numbness that she would definitely have a shiner. This guy was obviously stronger than he looked. Either that, or well-trained in hand to hand combat.

"Get up, Lois!"

Lois's head shot up toward her captor when his icy voice interrupted her thought. She tentatively slid herself along the floor to the nearby counter and, using it more for emotional than physical support, lifted herself into a standing position. Lois's lips were pursed tightly but her mind screamed, "Clark, I need you!"

Keeping the blade directed at her, Ted took two steps toward her.

"Now, take your shirt off," Ted ordered.

"I don't think so! I'm a — " Lois cut her protests off abruptly when Ted took a relentless grip of Lois's right wrist with his empty hand and lifted his weapon in a threatening manner.

"I don't think you're in any position to argue here, Lois. Now do as I say!" Ted dropped her hand and took half of a step back to watch.

Lois tried to swallow but her esophagus refused to comply. She could see the menace lurking in Ted's eyes and knew that her customary verbal barb wasn't going to help her out of this situation any better than her physical prowess had. Not in one piece, at least. But she wasn't sure she could live with herself if she didn't try.

She closed her eyes, focusing all of her energy on Clark. She knew he would rescue her. He had to. It was the only way she could think of surviving her current predicament. In a whisper so quiet that Ted couldn't even detect from mere inches away, Lois declared, "I love you, Clark," and aimed a swift kick at Ted's knife-wielding hand.


Superman was still battling the sinking feeling in his gut when he landed at the main entrance to M.P.D.'s west precinct and deposited the now-conscious Jaxon Xavier into the custody of a police officer. Anxious to get home to Lois, and see to her safety, Clark turned to leave.

"Superman! Wait!"

Clark briefly considered pretending not to hear the detective's call, but his conscience got the better of him and he turned back.

"Superman, I'm Detective Williamson. May I ask you a few questions about your encounter with Jaxon Xavier before you go?"

"Uh … " Clark couldn't come up with a substantial reason to refuse the detective. "Sure, officer."


Ted deftly caught Lois's ankle and jerked it up, causing her to tumble backwards, hitting her head solidly on the counter on the way down.

"When will you ever learn, Lois? You aren't going to outwit me. You might as well just lie back and enjoy yourself. It'll be much less painful for you that way."

Lois struggled to sit up and rubbed the back of her head wearily as her vision began to swim. "I'll … never … never let you … " Lois lost her battle with the enveloping darkness before she could finish her declaration.

"Yes, you will, Lois. Yes, you will." Ted quickly went to work on shredding Lois's clothes. He slashed the buttons from her blouse, and eagerly spread it open. Using his blade to outline the lattice trim of Lois's brassiere as he admired her stark beauty. "Nice … very nice."


Relieved that Detective Williamson hadn't kept him more than ten minutes at the police station, Clark soared over Metropolis, eager to reach his Hyperion Avenue home. He was about to alight in an alley two blocks from his house when the fire of gunshots distracted him. He groaned in frustration before reluctantly taking off in the direction of the sound. He was anxious to see to his wife's well-being, but couldn't bring himself to ignore the urgent call of the gunfire.


Lois wasn't sure where she was. She was engulfed by a fog so thick it nearly cut off her air supply. She couldn't breathe, and the more she tried the harder it became. She was searching, hoping, praying for a refuge from the mire she was in. As she searched desperately for the light of day, she thought she heard someone groan, and struggled to locate the source of the noise.

"Oh, Lois … "

There it was again. It was a man, and it almost sounded to her as if he was in pain. Maybe it was Clark. She had to help him; she had to get out of this fog and see if Clark was all right.

"Lois," she heard the voice moan again, louder this time as the fog began to lift.

Reality came flooding back mercilessly as she felt the cold linoleum against her back. She heard someone panting against her neck and instantly knew that it wasn't Clark above her. She felt hot flesh pressing against her in places that, since she'd been married, only Clark had touched.

Her eyes shot open and met the clouded, dark eyes of Ted Rickman. In that second, the events of the evening came flooding back to her. She was about to make a move to escape, but the numbing pain that shot from wrists up to her shoulders kept her from moving. Her arms had been tied behind her back and were trapped beneath their combined weight.

She noticed that Ted, though looking directly at her, was too engrossed to realize that she had awakened. She covertly glanced around, noting they were still in the kitchen. She saw Ted's abandoned weapon on the counter began calculating how long it would take for him to reach it once he finally realized she was awake.

Considering that her hands were tied behind her back, and that Ted Rickman had the advantage of being on top, she didn't think she'd be successful in putting up a physical resistance.

What if she called for Clark? Maybe, just maybe, he'd be in the vicinity, and would come to her rescue before her captor could find his weapon. Before she could deliberate further on the matter, Ted realized she had regained consciousness.

"Ah, Lois. I'm glad you seem to have decided to join the land of the living. However, I can assure you that it won't be for long."

Lois saw the coldness in Ted's gaze and knew, without a doubt, that he had every intention of making sure that she didn't survive to make him pay for what he'd done to her.

Ted noticed her eye the knife on the counter. "Tsk, tsk, Lois. Don't you be getting any ideas, now. You know it's no use. You'd only make things more painful for yourself."

Lois knew that she had to make her move now, before Ted had the blade back in his possession. She closed her eyes and began to focus all of her inner strength on the only person she could think to get her out of this, the only person she'd ever let herself depend on for help.

Willing him to hear her plea, "Help, Superman!" she screamed desperately.


After breaking up a gang shootout in Suicide Slum, Clark landed in an alley near his Hyperion home. Being careful not to be seen, he spun into his street clothes. As he emerged from the alley, approached the front steps and dug into the pocket of his blazer for his house keys, his earlier uneasiness came rushing back in full force.

Then he heard the scream.

Without a second thought, Clark sped through the vestibule, grabbed the handle and ripped the front door from its hinges. He was at the source of the scream in less than a second, but found himself frozen again by what he saw.

Ted Rickman's head snapped up when Clark burst into the kitchen. The young intern was straddled over Lois's near-naked body. He hurriedly zipped up the fly to his jeans, rose to his feet, and grabbed the knife from the counter as Clark approached him.

Tears of relief began to streak down Lois's cheeks when she saw that Clark had arrived.

But, when Clark's glance met her eyes, he saw a fear like none he had ever seen before. In that instant, all the blood in Clark's body rushed to his head and, before he knew what he was doing, he had evaded Ted Rickman's attack, single-handedly hoisted him by the neck, and slammed him against the wall.

Seconds ticked by and Clark didn't notice the clink of the knife hitting the floor upon dropping out of Ted's listless hand. He was oblivious to the light shade of blue that was coloring his captive's face. He barely even heard his wife's pleas.

"Clark! Stop! You're killing him!"

Lois could scarcely recognize the face of her own husband as he choked the life out of her assailer. Although she had to admit that she wouldn't mind seeing Ted Rickman dead, she knew she didn't want her husband to be his murderer. She was sure that Clark would never forgive himself for violating the very thing that he stood for, life.

"Clark, please!" Lois pleaded earnestly. "I hate the guy as much as you do … more, actually … but you don't want to do this!"

As Lois's words registered in his mind, Clark's firm grip of Ted's throat gradually relented enough to allow Ted to gasp for breath. He glanced at the knife on the floor, and let go of Ted completely when he bent to retrieve it.

Ted slumped to the floor, still struggling to regain his breath.

Clark knelt beside Lois, who had managed to recover a sitting position, and quickly cut through the ropes binding her arms behind her back. He didn't say a word.

Lois was relieved to have her arms free, and began flexing them in an attempt to get the circulation going. Before she could rid the numbing sensations from her arms, Clark had gathered her clothes and was knelt beside her, helping her to dress the best he could with what remained of her clothing.

She could tell by Clark's rigid movements that he was just barely containing the ire simmering inside him. He had a very slim hold on his self control and Lois was loathe to test it.

Clark replaced the weapon on the counter and turned back to Ted, hauling him up by the arm, heedless to Ted's moan of pain when he nearly wrenched Ted's arm from its socket.

When Clark finally spoke, his glare remained fixed on Ted and his voice held the rage that was etched on his face.

"Call the police, Lois."

As Lois scrambled to her feet, afraid that her husband might not hold his restraint much longer, she was momentarily stalled by wave of dizziness that accompanied a searing pain in the back of her skull. When the disorientation passed, she hurried to grab the cordless phone from the counter and dial 911.


A heavy sigh escaped Clark's lips as he sat, restless, in Metro General's waiting room.

While the police had been questioning Clark, Lois had been supplied with ice packs for the back of her head and left cheek and, not undeterred by the investigating officer's urging to take her time, had also answered her share of questions. Soon Lois had been ushered to a waiting ambulance where Clark sat silently beside her, holding her hand during the ride to the hospital.

Clark had been reluctant to leave her side once they reached the hospital, but Lois had reassured him that she'd be fine on her own while the doctor examined her.

Now, Clark slumped back into the seat as he reflected on the millions of questions that the police had just bombarded him with, particularly the one about explaining how one of the double doors inside the vestibule had been ripped off its hinges. "It's amazing what adrenalin can do to a person," he had told them.

His responses to their questions, however, were the least of his worries. How was he ever going to live with himself? Lois had been raped, and he had been unable to rescue her. He wasn't sure that he could ever face her again. But, despite the overwhelming magnitude of his failure, he knew he couldn't bear to be anywhere but by her side.

"Mr. Kent?"

Lost in self-condemnation, Clark was heedless to the nurse's voice calling to him.

How could he have let it happen? He'd known something had been terribly wrong, but he'd ignored his instincts in pursuit of Jaxon Xavier. Sure, he'd had a personal vendetta to settle with Jaxon, but the last thing he had ever wanted to do was to settle it at Lois's expense. How could she ever forgive him?

"Mr. Kent?!"

The nurse's voice finally startled Clark from his thoughts. "Yes?"

"The doctor is finished examining your wife. Would you like to see her now?"

"Oh." Clark realized that the nurse must have been standing before him for a few minutes now. "Yes. I'm sorry. I was a little preoccupied."

"That's okay, Mr. Kent. Considering the circumstances, that's perfectly understandable."

Clark managed a small smile for the sincere nurse before he lifted himself from the chair and followed the nurse down the hall.

"She's right in there, Mr. Kent." The nurse pointed to a door to Clark's right. "Go on in," she said politely before slipping way, sensing the couple's need for privacy.

He approached Lois's door cautiously, almost afraid of what he'd find on the other side. The door was ajar, and he knocked lightly. When there was no answer, he poked his head in. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of his wife sound asleep. He carefully pushed the door open and approached her bed. His heart nearly stopped at what he saw there.

Lois's beautiful face was marred by an ugly bruise on her left cheek. She looked dreadfully pale, and her expression was contorted in anguish. Clark's heart sank when he thought to himself, once again, that he could have — *should* have — prevented all the pain Lois had suffered in the past few hours. How could he have been so ignorant?

He nearly lost his resolve to face her as he took in her weary pallor. However, as he was about to turn to leave, Lois stirred and her eyes fluttered open.

"Clark?" Lois asked groggily.

"Yes, Honey? I'm here."

Lois blinked as her cloudy mind began to clear. "Hi."

"Hi." Clark wasn't sure what else to say.

"Sit down." Lois patted the bed beside her as she dragged herself into a sitting position.

Clark perched himself on the bed beside her, keeping a careful distance for fear of crowding her. "So, what'd the doctor say?"

"She said, other than a few bumps and bruises, I'm basically okay. I've got a mild concussion so she wants to keep an eye on it overnight, just in case."

"Oh … " Clark's mind tried furiously to think of the right thing to say. He desperately wanted to take her in his arms and hold onto her for dear life, but after what had happened that night, he didn't think Lois would want him to touch her. Besides, he'd just failed her in the worst possible way. Even if she did let him hold her, he didn't deserve the luxury of her embrace. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Hmm … did you file the story on Jaxon yet?"

"Huh?" Clark hadn't been expecting that. "No, not yet."

"I'd really appreciate it if you would. I don't want to have any catching up to do when I go back to work."

Clark searched her face and voice carefully, but found no trace of teasing there. He didn't know what he'd expected, but that was the last thing he thought she would request.

"Honey, are you sure that's — "

"Yes, Clark, I'm sure. You caught him. I don't want another newspaper scooping us when we've got the inside track on his capture."

"I … okay," Clark didn't think now would be a good time to argue with his wife.

"Okay, I'll see you later."

"Wha - … you mean, you want me to write it up now?"

"Yeah, now, Clark. If you wait any longer, either we'll get scooped, or Perry will assign it to another reporter. Personally, I don't think another reporter could do it justice."

"But, Lois, I … " Clark took in the drawn expression on Lois's face and opted, once again, not to argue. "Alright. I'll be back as soon as I'm done."

"Actually, don't bother, Clark. It's late and I'll probably be asleep. You might as well go home and get a good rest yourself."

"But, Honey — "

"I'll be fine, Clark. I'll see you tomorrow, okay? When you come to pick me up?"

Clark looked sadly into his wife's eyes and saw something there he'd thought never to see her direct at him again. Distrust.

"Clark?" Lois prodded when he didn't immediately answer.

"Okay," Clark choked. "I'll see you tomorrow." Clark had to muster all of his strength to hold back the urge to lean over and kiss her before he got up and left the room.


The tears began to flow even before her husband had fully disappeared out the door. Lois had expected that it might happen, but nothing prepared her for the brunt of it.

There was no question that Clark would be disgusted by what Ted Rickman had done to her, but to see that wary look on his face … There was no doubt that she repulsed him. She'd seen the horror the second she'd looked into his eyes, and, faster than she'd ever thought possible, she began resurrecting the emotional walls her husband had so patiently torn down.

It was Clark's facial expression, however, that told the depth of his distaste. Throughout his entire visit, Clark had not touched her — not even once! Usually he was very tactile with her, touching her shoulder or the small of her back, and taking her hand in his every chance he could get. In the brief time he'd been in her hospital room, he hadn't so much as laid a finger on her.

It wasn't fair! Why did this have to happen to her and Clark when their life together was just beginning? How would they ever get through this? How could Clark even look at her again? How could she face him? How could she face herself?

Drawing her knees to her chest, Lois lost herself in a vortex of self loathing as sobs wracked her body.


When Lois's eyes cracked open the next morning, the bright sunshine stabbed into her skull, reminding her exactly where she was and why she was there. When she turned from the blinding light of the window, she spotted a vase of red roses on the stand beside her bed. Curious, she carefully raised herself into a sitting position, fighting off the wave of dizziness and nausea that assaulted her, and reached for the card that sat next to the flowers.

Tears of relief stung her eyes when she read the note. "I love you," it said simply in the easily recognizable scrawl that was her husband's.

Of course he still loved her. He wasn't capable of any other emotion — not where she was concerned, at least.

"What in the world got into me?" Lois reflected on her state of mind the night before. After all they'd been through, Lois knew that Clark would never turn her away after something like this. That wasn't his style.

"Then why was he so distant last night?" she wondered to herself.

And then it hit her! He was feeling guilty about what Ted Rickman had done to her. He'd most likely convinced himself that it was somehow his fault for not being able to save her from being raped. That attitude was more characteristic of the Clark she knew.

Satisfied that she had her husband figured out, Lois returned to berating herself for almost falling into a trap of self-pity. How could she have let herself do that? If she allowed herself to fall victim to the dark emotions last night's tragedy had evoked, then she would be letting Ted Rickman get the best of her. As far as she was concerned, there wouldn't be much point in surviving the incident if she couldn't put it behind her.

So, she shoved her emotions to the side and focused her attention on finding a way to convince her husband that Ted Rickman's actions weren't his fault. But, before she could get very far, there was a soft knock at her door.

"Come in," she answered.

Dr. Diann Wilson, Lois's physician, pushed the door open and approached the bed where Lois was sitting. "How are you feeling today?"

"Well, my head hurts a bit, but I'm okay other than that."

"I can't say that I'm surprised. You have a nasty goose egg there."

Lois stifled a small chuckle, "Yeah, I do."

"Do you mind if I take a look?"

"No, go ahead."

Lois leaned forward to let the doctor inspect the back of her skull.

Applying gentle pressure, Dr. Wilson carefully palpated the bump on her patient's head. "Well, it appears that the swelling has gone down some. I think it's safe to let you go home."

"That's good, because I told my husband he was going to have to pick me up today."

The doctor noticed the roses sitting on the night table. "Are those from him?" Dr. Wilson gestured to the flowers.

"Yeah," Lois smiled.

The doctor smiled in return, and after a brief pause said, "You're a very lucky woman, you know."

Lois's gaze turned wistful, "I know."


Clark arrived at the hospital an hour later, encouraged to see Lois up and around.

She met him in the hall as he was on his way to her room. "Hi, Clark!" she said brightly, flashing him a smile.

Clark smiled back reflexively and, before he could dwell on his wife's transformed demeanor, she pulled him down for a sound kiss on the lips.

"How are you?" Lois asked.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Clark was more than a little confused at Lois's chipper mood.

Lois laughed as she hooked her arm through his and began leading him back to her room. "I'm feeling much better, thanks. I can't wait to get home and get back into the swing of things."

Clark couldn't help but chuckle, his wife's bubbly countenance rubbing off on him. "You've been away from work for half a day, Lois. I hardly think that would qualify you as being 'out of the swing of things'."

They arrived at Lois's room where she took the bag of clothing Clark had brought along and began to get dressed.

"That's half a day that I could have spent tracking down more evidence against Helen Carter. I've still got a funny feeling about her, you know. Oh, and I read your piece on Jaxon's capture in the paper this morning. It was good. Not perfect, but you still blew the competition out of the water with you quotes from Superman. Anyhow, that's not what I was talking about."

Clark, by now lost on Lois's tangent, couldn't remember what she was talking about to begin with. "Huh?"

"When I said I wanted to get back on track, I wasn't talking about work. I was talking about us." Lois, now fully clothed, was searching for something in the bag Clark had brought her, "Did you bring a brush?"

At Lois's words, Clark's face turned serious again. "Lois," Clark started, but a knock at the door halted him from speaking any further.

Dr. Wilson entered Lois's room. "Oh, hi, Mr. Kent. I see you made it on time. It's a good thing too, because your wife was about ready to leave without you."

"Good morning, Dr. Wilson," Clark smiled reluctantly, disappointed at the interruption.

"Anyhow, I just wanted to remind Lois that she's to come straight back here should she experience any further nausea or dizziness, and that I expect to see her next week for a check-up. You won't let her forget that, now will you, Mr. Kent?"

Clark smiled again, this time genuinely as he couldn't help but be infused with the doctor's cheerfulness. "No, of course not."

"Alright, guys. That's enough," Lois mocked. "I'm ready to go, so let's get outta here, Clark. No offense, Dr. Wilson."

"None taken," she guffawed, before turning serious again. "Don't forget to — "

"I know, I'll come back if I don't feel well."

"Good. And next week — "

"I'll come in for a check-up. I won't forget."

"I'm not worried about you forgetting, Lois." Dr. Wilson gave Lois a reprimanding stare.

"I'll be here."

Dr. Wilson turned her look to Clark.

"She'll be here, doctor. I won't let her … 'forget'."

After exchanging thanks and goodbyes with her doctor, Lois grabbed her husband's hand and led him out to the Jeep.

The ride was silent as Clark drove them back to their Hyperion home. Lois wanted to wait until they were home and relatively settled before she set out to broach the subject of last night's events. So she sat placidly, having nudged Clark's right hand from the steering wheel and taken it in hers.

Clark, on the other hand, wasn't sure what to think. His wife had undergone such a drastic change in mood from last night, and he wasn't completely sure that the way she was acting right now wasn't just a front. Afraid to risk an emotional outbreak, at least until they got home, Clark said nothing either.

They arrived at the brownstone shortly thereafter, and remained silent as they entered their home.

Clark finally turned to Lois as they hung up their jackets. "Hi. Welcome home," he said softly, not sure what else to say, and managing a slight smile for her benefit.

"Hi," she matched his smile with one of greater magnitude.

"You feeling okay?" Clark had no idea what else to ask, he just knew he had to be strong for his wife. Right now wasn't the time to let his worries bubble up the forefront.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Lois maintained her smile.

The urge to enfold her in his arms overwhelmed Clark, and he reached for her.

The unexpected feel of her husband's strong arms enveloping her caused a tightness to begin welling in her throat. She wasn't going to let it get to her, though. No, she was going to move past her hurt so she could assuage Clark of his.

But, when she felt a single wet tear drop onto her neck, all her resolve to be strong vanished and she soon found herself crying openly in her husband's arms. "Oh, Clark … "

A mixture of relief and guilt swept over Clark as he breathed in the sweet floral scent of Lois's hair, and he was helpless to prevent the lone tear that slipped down his cheek. He was relieved that she was alive, safe, and in his arms again, yet guilt stricken that he had been too late to save her from such a violation. He continued to deplore himself for ignoring his instincts when he should know by now that they were usually dead on where Lois was concerned. He would never be able to bear the thought that he could have prevented the tears that she now shed onto his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Lois. I'm so sorry … "


Neither of them were sure how long they had been standing just inside the threshold of their home, holding each other. Eventually, keeping one arm around Clark's neck and the other around his waist, Lois pulled away enough to look at Clark's face. She removed the arm that was around his waist and used the pad of her thumb to wipe a trace of moisture from his cheek. When she'd smoothed it away, she moved her hand to mirror her other one already around his neck, while Clark shifted his arms to completely encircle her waist.

"Honey — " Clark's voice broke, forcing him to take a beat to collect himself and try again. "Honey … I am *so* sorry. I — "

Before Clark could launch into a long, yet sincere apology for not saving her, Lois placed her hand over his mouth and cut off his speech. "Clark, it's okay. It's not your fault. You were needed elsewhere. I understand that you can't be everywhere at once. Besides, I should know better than to let virtual strangers into the house."

"No, Lois. It's *not* okay. I should have come sooner. I knew something was wrong — I could feel it — but I ignored it … " Clark's voice rose and octave as it strained with emotion and threatened to crack again. "I … I just wish … I should have … " The lump in Clark's throat boiled over and he dissolved into tears.

Lois pulled herself closer to her husband and nestled her face into his neck. Her body shook along with the sobs that wracked his body. She was taken aback by the ferocity of Clark's reaction to last night's events. She didn't think she'd ever seen him cry before, and briefly wondered if he'd ever done so before in his life. She'd known he would be upset with himself for not being faster, but this was much more than she'd expected. What had happened last night had opened a wound in her husband, and she was going to do whatever it took to make it stop bleeding, even if it meant cauterizing it. But she hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"Shh," she crooned softly. "I'm here, Honey. It's okay … I'm okay."

Suddenly Clark's sobs lessened and he raised his head to look at her. Lois met his gaze and Clark's moist eyes searched hers for a moment before he croaked, "Are you?"

"Yes, Clark, I am. Now that I'm home, and you're here with me."

Clark continued to gaze into his wife's eyes as he let out a shaky sigh.

However, Clark's tearful outburst had Lois more than a little worried. Though she knew Clark to be an sensitive person, he was not one to cry. She wanted to broach the subject with him, but was loathe to aggravate him any further. She sensed that Clark's emotional well-being was intricately balanced at the moment, and she was afraid verbalizing the issue may very well be the thing to send him hurtling over the edge.

Before Lois could decide whether or not to question Clark's mental state, Clark brought a hand up to cup her right cheek. Her left one was still slightly swollen from the blow she'd suffered from Ted Rickman.

Gazing into his eyes, Lois leaned into Clark's touch. It was the same caress that had given away his alter ego to Lois so long ago. A caress that would always be so special to them. It was a symbol of his trust and need for her, but most of all, it signified the undying love that had steam rolled into their lives, picking up strength after they had broken through the barrier of his secret identity, and continued to grow stronger with each passing moment. It was a love that they each cherished and held onto so tightly that sometimes it hurt.

Sensing his need for physical reassurance, Lois pulled Clark's face towards hers and began to kiss each of his tears away. When she was satisfied that she had removed them all, she placed a feather-light kiss on his lips and laid her head on his left shoulder.

Clark gently pressed his cheek to her forehead and sighed deeply. "What do we do now?"

Lois lifted her head to face Clark. "Now? Now, we get on with our lives. And first on the list is making sure that Ted Rickman spends the remainder of his pathetic life behind bars."

Clark, unintentionally letting go of his guilt for a moment, gave an ironic chuckle, shook his head and gazed at his wife in awe. "I can't believe you."

"What?" Lois looked quizzically at her husband. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, you are the one who was … uh … violated. You are the one who deserves to be comforted, yet here you are, comforting me. I may be able to bench press buses, punch holes in asteroids, and lift space stations into orbit with my bare hands, but you, Lois, are the strongest person in the world. And, Lois … " Clark's voice threatened to give out with emotion again.

"Yes?" Lois urged.

Clark lowered his head to gather his resolve, and then lifted it again to look intensely into her eyes. "I love you *so* much … so much it hurts."

"Oh, Clark." Lois reached a hand to cradle his cheek, a mirror of his special touch for her. "I love you, too."

Lois guided his head toward hers and, almost hesitantly, touched his lips with her own. Upon contact, all their apprehension vanished as the couple soon found themselves devouring each other's mouths.

Lois pulled back, breathless, but kept her face less than inch from Clark's. "I need you, Clark. I need you to make love to me. Now."

"Are you sure that's — "

Before Clark could finish his protest, Lois pulled his mouth back down to hers, mumbling against his lips, "I've never been so sure of anything in my life."


Clark lay in bed, wide awake at 6:00 a. m. Lois, partially soothed by their lovemaking, had finally let her exhaustion lull her into a restless sleep. Clark, however, had hardly blinked since then.

Usually one of his favorite pastimes was watching his wife sleep. He adored the way her face and body relaxed when fatigue claimed her. With her expression unguarded and the tension of the day finally drained from her limbs, his Little Tornado seemed so vulnerable in her sleep, yet never more beautiful. He felt it was a testimony to the complete trust she had in him.

Last night had been different.

Though she'd fallen asleep quickly, it had soon been clear to Clark that she was not relaxed. She'd rolled often, never staying in the same place for more than a few minutes. Her face had been constantly contorted in an expression of anguish and the ugly purple bruise marring her left cheek hadn't faded in the least. And once, after she'd rolled onto her side with her back to Clark, he'd slid a hand around her waist, spooning himself against her. However, instead of her usual sigh of contentment at this action, he'd felt her body tense with fear. He'd tried to murmur reassurances in her ear, but his warm breath on her face had actually caused her to flinch. In the time since they'd been married, she'd never reacted to his touch like this, even in her sleep … especially in her sleep. And, because of this, he knew that, despite his wife's composed demeanor and outward display of inner strength, she'd been deeply wounded. Ted Rickman had broken her trust — the trust that Clark had worked so long and so hard to establish in her. Though Clark figured that, in her head, Lois knew she could trust him, he wasn't sure that her heart still knew it.

Now, Lois was once again curled up on her side with her back to Clark while he lay facing her, wishing with all of his might that he could think of some way to soothe her pain.


The shrill sound of the alarm clock seared the morning silence, alerting Clark that it was 6:30 a. m. and time to get up and go to work. He numbly rubbed his eyes and groaned as he realized that he had, in fact, finally dozed off … five minutes ago.

Lois stirred and Clark reached over her to shut off the alarm clock before she started to reprimand him for not doing it sooner. Even as Clark was retreating from her side of the bed, Lois was snuggling deeper into her pillow and pulling the covers closer.

"Lo — "

Lois started at her husband's whisper, causing him to break off his words and pull back the hand that had been going to nudge her shoulder.

Lois rolled onto her back and cracked her eyes open enough to see her husband propped on his left elbow, watching her warily. She came more fully awake when she realized that she'd never seen her husband look at her in quite that manner before.

"What, Clark?"

"Uh … I just wondered if you wanted me to call Perry and tell him that we won't be making it into work this morning"

"Oh. Uh … no." Lois pushed back the covers, got out of bed, and began padding across the room. "No, I'm all right. Besides, we can't stay home today. We have a follow up to do on Jaxon Xavier's capture." Lois reached the closet and began pulling out a business suit to wear to work. "Then we have to go down to that computer store again and see if we can talk to … what's her name … Jaxon's mother?"

"Helen Carter."

"Right. We have to talk to her. Maybe we can spook her into revealing something."

Lois's voice and actions were laden with weariness, and Clark could see it clearly. However, he figured that work would probably be the best thing she could do right now. It might take her mind off the traumatic event from two nights before. Even if she tried to sleep some more, she wasn't likely to get any rest.

"Alright. I'll go make breakfast while you shower."


When Lois and Clark entered the newsroom that morning, the tension was palpable. Everywhere they looked, they met the questioning gazes of their co-workers. Though everyone was itching to know, not one of Lois and Clark's fellow employees had the nerve to ask what had happened the night before last. All they knew was that the Planet's latest intern had been arrested for rape and that, somehow, Lois and Clark had been involved. Whether they had simply been the first onto the scene as reporters, or if they had happened to stumble across the crime in progress was still a mystery. Although, the shiner on Lois's face was a good indication of which was more likely.

Perry White was the sole person privy to the story behind Lois's bruised cheek. It irked him that Lois had insisted on working today, but he knew better than to argue with her when she had her mind set. He just hoped that the tragedy hadn't affected his star reporting team more than they let on.

Lois and Clark, however, had not had any trouble settling down to work. They had retreated to the conference room to pore over the police reports of Jaxon's sighting and subsequent capture two nights ago. They still hadn't found solid evidence connecting Helen Carter to Jaxon or Lex.

"This report says," Lois gestured to the file in her hand, "that, according to one of the computer store's employee on duty at the time, Jaxon came in looking for Ms. Carter."

"And why would he being going to see her, unless our theory is right?"

"I know … " Lois grabbed the pencil that was perched behind her ear and used it to tap the papers in front of her. "Hmm … maybe we should just try the direct approach."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean maybe we should just go down there and talk to her. Maybe we can spook her into revealing something. We've done it before."

"Okay … " Clark hesitated.

"Uh-oh. I know that tone."

"What tone?"

"It's your 'Lois is grasping at straws and I'll humor her just to avoid upsetting her' tone. If you don't agree with me, Clark, why don't you just tell me?"

"No, Lois. It's a good idea. We should do it."

"Then, what is it?"

"What's what?"

"That tone."

"What tone?"

"Clark," Lois admonished.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Lois. I didn't use any tone." Clark was genuinely baffled by Lois's questioning.

"There you go again."


"Oh, I get it now."

"Get what? Lois, you're not making any sense."

"You think that because of what happened to me I'm not up to investigating. Well, let me tell you something, mister. I'm not a China doll. This sort of thing happens to people all the time and they get on with their lives. So will we."

"I believe you, Lois. Have I done anything to make you think otherwise?"

"Well, no. But you implied it."

"Lois, even if I thought you weren't up to working today, would there be any point in me telling you? You'd work anyway, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would."

"See? There's no point in discussing it then. Let's just go back to the Computer Depot and see if we can talk to Helen."

"Fine," Lois sniffed while rising from the chair and picking up her files.

"Fine." Clark let out an exasperated groan before he pushed out his chair and joined her in retreating from the conference room.


On the ride to Helen's Computer Depot, Clark mentally replayed his latest conversation with Lois. He came to the conclusion that, if he wasn't invulnerable, he might very well like to clobber himself over the head with a baseball bat.

What had he been thinking? Obviously Lois was far from recovered from recent events, and, rather than going on the defensive, he should have been more understanding to her behavior. He supposed that, after Lois's exuberant display yesterday, he'd been caught off guard by the hundred and eighty degree turn her mood had taken today.

But that was no excuse. Lois had just suffered one of the most horrible ordeals imaginable — all because of his own stupidity, he reminded himself — and he should have known one night wasn't enough for her to recover.

Though he knew the car ride to an interview was no place to broach a topic as dire as Lois's well-being, he thought it could at least use some addressing.


When there was no response from the driver's side, Clark took a breath and plunged on anyway.

"Lois, I'm sorry about the way I acted later. I'm just … well, there's no excuse, really. I should have been more understanding."

Lois rolled her eyes, but Clark didn't notice.

"You've been through … a horrible thing. And I haven't been much good in the way of support. And, well, the least I can do is be understanding if you're not … uh … in the best of moods."

Lois took her eyes from the road long enough to give Clark a murderous glare.

Clark shivered involuntarily at the look from his wife. He wasn't sure what he'd said to earn her wrath, but he decided that, for now, it'd be best if he didn't say anything else. From his experience, silence from Lois Lane should be feared more than any of her most outrageous outbursts.


Helen Carter bent over her desk, pretending to study the inventory list her store's clerk had just brought to her. She was contemplating the events of the night before last, reveling in the aftermath of a well executed plan. Yes, Ted Rickman had been a good choice of employee. Ted had fulfilled his duties with the utmost of thoroughness. He had been hired to show Lois what it felt like to be used to satisfy a man's yearning for power and then to be tossed aside like a rag doll. Helen knew better than anyone what that felt like.

Lex had had more than his share of power hunger, and he'd not hesitated in showing just how much that was. Even back then Lex's pockets were deep, so when she'd threatened to go to the police, she'd found herself the recipient of a very lucrative bribe offer. Who cared if Lex had walked away clean from his encounter with her? She'd become a rich woman, especially after she'd told Lex she was pregnant.

She wasn't stupid, however. As soon as she'd amassed enough funds, she'd faked her child's death, moved to Europe and made herself virtually untraceable to anyone. If she was going to get even with Lex, she would have to find a private place to put her plans into motion.

She'd enrolled Jaxon in the best schools she could find, training him from Day One to fulfill her life's ultimate goal of exacting her revenge on Lex Luthor. What better way to do that than with his very own illegitimate son? A son he didn't even know existed.

Even though Lex had been behind bars at the time, she had figured her plan to have Jaxon gain control of the world, and then expose the identity of his father would be enough to see Lex die of embarrassment. What better way to humiliate the greatest criminal mind of this century than by having his illegitimate son beat him at his own game?

But Jaxon, being the incompetent idiot that he was, couldn't even do that right. She'd set everything up for him, given him the computer equipment he'd needed and the access to Lois Lane, but he'd still been unable to pull off his part of the scheme. However, he was her son. She almost felt ashamed for having him take the fall for her crimes, and breaking him out of that asylum to be her decoy in this one.

Unfortunately, after Jaxon's initial failure, Helen's chance to avenge herself was ruined when Lois Lane had, once again, entered the picture. Lois Lane, with help from Superman and Clark Kent, had proceeded to cause Lex's second and final death, preventing Helen from getting the chance to do it. So if someone was going to pay for what Lex did to her, it would have to be Lois. And, so far, her plan had gone off without a hitch.

Her useless son was back behind bars and the only threat to her discovery was Ted Rickman. He'd been paid well to remain silent. Even so, when faced with the horrors of prison life, some people tended to talk. She'd soon have to make sure that Ted Rickman was silenced for good.

Just as Helen had begun to work out a plan for eliminating Ted Rickman, there was a knock at her office door.

Her employee stuck his head in. "Ms. Carter? There are some reporters here to see you. Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They'd like to do a story on the expanding computer market and want to interview you. Is it all right if I send them in?"

Helen smiled to herself. She loved getting away with her crimes, especially when it was right under the victim's nose. "Sure, Derek, send them in."

Lois came in first, followed by the man who Helen could only assume was Clark Kent.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Carter." Clark extended his hand to Helen.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane." Helen smiled demurely as she took his hand. She couldn't help but notice how delectable this man was in person. "And please, call me Helen." She was also somewhat amused to notice that Ms. Lane didn't bother to offer her a greeting. "Have a seat," Helen gestured to the swivel chairs that were placed on the other side of her desk.

"Ms. Carter," Lois began as she sat down, "we'd like to ask you some questions about the business you run here. Do you mind?"

"Of course not, Ms. Lane. I'd be delighted to answer your questions."

"Good, then we'll get started. How long have you been in the computer business?" Lois pulled out a note pad and pencil as she spoke.

"Let's see now … I've tinkered in the business for a long time now, but I didn't get serious about it until I opened this store. That was about five years ago."

"Do you know Jaxon Xavier personally? We noticed that you supplied his Virtual Center with equipment."

"Well, I did business with him, so I've obviously met him. I heard about what he did to you, Ms. Lane, and I'm very sorry. If I'd known that he was going to use that equipment to harm you … well, I wouldn't have sold it to him," Helen lied through her teeth.

"That's alright, Ms. Carter — "

"Helen. Please call me Helen, Mr. Kent."

"Ah … Helen, that's alright. We know you wouldn't want to harm us."

Helen smiled at Clark.

"Helen — "

"That's 'Ms. Carter', Ms. Lane."

Lois raised her eyebrows at Clark before continuing with her question. "Ms. Carter, we couldn't help but notice that you also supply the Insane Asylum with its computer equipment."

"Yes. I supply a lot of places with equipment."

"Don't you think that it's a bit coincidental that you supplied computers to both Jaxon Xavier's Virtual Center and the Asylum where he was imprisoned?"

"I don't think I like what you're implying, Ms. Lane. Just what are you implying?"

"I think you know."

"Look, Ms. Lane, if you're here to interrogate, you've come to the wrong place. I run a legitimate business, so you're not going to find anything corrupt here. If you're looking for that kind of story, you'll have to go somewhere else. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." Helen got up to usher her interviewers to the door.

"We know who — "

"Thank you for your time, Helen." Clark received a killer glower for interrupting his wife. "We'll be going now."

Helen watched, fuming, as the couple made their way out of her office. She didn't think that it was possible that Lane and Kent could have figured her out. She'd been very meticulous in eliminating any connections her criminal actions may have brought to her. She was going to have to alter her plans once again. Rather than reveling in the thought of the pain she'd inflicted on Lois Lane, she was going to have eliminate her and that scrumptious husband of hers. No amount of revenge was worth it if she was caught.


"Why'd you do that, Clark?!" Lois demanded as soon as they had returned to the street in front of the computer store.

"Do what?"

"Why'd you cut me off like that? We had her right where we wanted her. She was getting nervous. Couldn't you see that?"

"No, Lois, she was getting angry. I would too if someone was accusing me of doing something I didn't do."

"She was guilty, Clark! It was written all over her face!"

"Even if she was, she wasn't going to tell us anything, Lois. Even you must have been able to see that."

"What do you mean 'even' me?"

"Lois, please, don't start."

"No, Clark, I'm starting. It sounded to me like you were implying something about my interviewing abilities."

"Lois, I didn't mean to insult you. I just meant that sometimes, when you get it in your head that you're right about something, you tend not to listen to reason."

"Oh, so you're saying I'm unreasonable."

"No, Lois, I'm not," Clark replied, exasperated. "Look, you seem a little tired right now. Why don't we call it a day and head home early. Perry will understand."

"I wish you would stop this, Clark."

"Stop what?"

"You keep making assumptions about how I'm feeling. You're not letting me think for myself. You're treating me like I'm some helpless infant."

Passers-by began to take notice as Lois's voice raised in volume.

"I'm not helpless, Clark. And I'm certainly not an infant. Just because I was raped does not mean that I've suddenly turned into a china doll. I won't fall to pieces if someone says the wrong thing to me. And I certainly won't shatter just by doing my job!"

Clark was speechless at his wife's outburst, and a little embarrassed at the number of people who had witnessed it.

Lois gawked back at her audience. "What are you looking at?" she demanded of them before she stalked off down the street and got into her Jeep.

Clark smiled sheepishly at the crowd. "She's … uh, rehearsing for a play." Clark hustled after her before he had to suffer any further curious stares.


When the hottest team in town stormed into the newsroom after their disastrous interview, it was obvious to Perry White that all was not right. Lines of fatigue were etched on Lois's face as she continually gave Clark the cold shoulder. Clark, meanwhile, was following her around like a puppy with his tail between his legs, apparently trying to earn back her approval. Perry decided that some intervention was called for. Besides that, he had some important news he'd just learned from the Metropolis P. D.

He opened his office door and bellowed, "Lane! Kent! My office! Pronto!"

He watched, satisfied, as Lois and Clark made a bee-line for his office, making a rare show of taking his orders seriously.

"What is it, Chief?" Lois asked as she entered his office, closely followed by Clark.

"I received a fax from Inspector Henderson this morning. Ted Rickman was involved in a brawl in his holding cell this afternoon. He was killed."

"Alright, Chief, we're on it." Lois turned to go.

Clark opened his mouth to protest, but Perry beat him to it.

"No, you're not, Lois. These things happen all the time. Even if I wanted to assign my top reporting team to this story, you're way too close to do it."

"But, Chief — " Lois began.

"No, Honey, that's not why I called you two in here. I thought it was only fair for you to hear that information about Ted, but I called you in here to tell you two to go home."

"What?!" Lois was incredulous.

"You heard me. I'm sending you and Clark home and you're not to come back until you've worked out whatever it is that you need to work out."

"But, Chief — "

"No buts, Lois. Now get on out of here."

Lois gaped icily at her boss before turning and storming back into the newsroom.

Clark watched her retreat to her desk and begin to hastily pack up her things before turning back to Perry. "Thanks, Chief. I've been trying to get her to go home all day."

"You're welcome, son. You just make sure she talks to you, okay? She's putting up a valiant effort to look fine, but she's not."

"I know, Chief."

"Okay. Now get on out of here and don't come back until you're good and ready."

Clark nodded before turning to catch up with his wife.


The air was thick with tension on the drive back to 348 Hyperion Avenue. Neither Lois nor Clark had bothered to speak since retreating from Perry's office and calling it a day. Lois refused to talk to Clark at all, while Clark simply didn't know what to say to her.

It seemed to Clark that, no matter what he said or how he said it, she would find it offensive one way or another. He wasn't sure exactly how things had gotten to be the way they were either. Yesterday Lois had made a rare show of being cheerful, but today, her mood was about as stable as an active volcano. One minute they had been interviewing a suspect and the next they had found themselves in the middle of a full-blown argument. As far as he was concerned, Lois had been her usual tenacious self during the interview while Clark had provided his typical cautious attitude. Lois, apparently, saw things differently.

Clark decided that he was going to try broaching the subject with her again as they entered their home.

"Lois, we need to talk." Clark hung up his overcoat and reached for Lois's.

Lois sighed resignedly. "You're right, Clark. I — "

"Well, I certainly hope I'm not interrupting anything important."

Lois's coat hit the floor as the couple turned and stared in shock at their intruder standing across the room.

"I told you she was guilty," Lois mumbled to Clark as he stepped defensively in front of her, keeping a careful eye on the shiny black handgun that was pointed in their direction.

"Look, Ms. Carter, I don't think — "

"Save it, Mr. Kent. It's a waste of breath."

"What do you want with us, Helen?" Lois asked.

"I think you know, Lois. Weren't those the same words you said to me earlier? Ironic, isn't it?"

"You're Jaxon Xavier's mother, aren't you?"

"You're right, Lois. I thought you might have figured that out. There's no other reason for a couple of reporters like you to be snooping around my store." Helen sidestepped the sofa as she kept the gun trained on Lois and Clark and approached them. "I can't help but wonder just how much you two know about me?"

"It was your equipment that allowed Jaxon to escape from the asylum, wasn't it? You were responsible for his escape, weren't you?"

"Oh, Lois," Helen cackled. "Do you think that's all I was responsible for?"

"Well … " Lois snuck a glance at her partner who was furiously trying to find a way to get them out of the situation without revealing himself. "We weren't sure. Just how much are you responsible for?"

"That's a bit bold, don't you think — asking the villain to admit her guilt? Well, since you're both about to die anyway, I might as well have the satisfaction of telling you. If you think I broke Jaxon out of jail for the sake of motherly love, you're even more stupid than I thought. He's been a pawn in my schemes all along. Even the Virtual Reality Center was my doing. That boy hasn't had an original thought in his pathetic life. If I didn't think I'd need him, I would have left him in the asylum where quacks like him belong. But he proved to be a very useful distraction. The boy actually did something right for once by getting caught. Of course, he didn't know that was why I broke him out."

"What do you mean he was a distraction?" Lois asked, wary.

"You remember Ted Rickman, don't you, Lois? Yes, of course you do. The man was quite cooperative when I offered him a very lucrative reward for his services. As a matter of fact, I made sure he was paid handsomely just this afternoon. You know, men as unscrupulous as him don't come around very often. I'm almost sorry I killed him."

Clark's attention snapped back to Helen when he realized the implication of her words. "Did you hire him to rape Lois?" Clark demanded, his dark eyes clouding with ire.

"Mr. Kent, why this sudden change in demeanor? I could have sworn you were the gentle type, even to your foes. Anyhow, to answer your question, yes, I hired him. He'd make a great actor, don't you think?"

"Clark, relax," Lois whispered warningly as she felt his body grow even more taut. "We'll get out of this and then Helen will pay properly for her crimes."

Clark didn't say anything. He kept his angry gaze fixed on Helen. His only movement was the involuntary twitching of his jaw muscles.

Helen resumed approaching Lois and Clark, "Well, I know it's a bit cliched to ask, but I'm curious if either of you have any last words."

"Actually, there is one thing you should know," Clark's demeanor lightened subtly as Helen stepped within a leg's length of Lois.

"What's that, Mr. Kent?"

Lois's right foot connected with Helen's gun-wielding hand, knocking the weapon into the air where Clark's hands had been waiting to snatch it out of harm's way. Before Helen's brain had a chance to process what was happening, Lois's fist landed cleanly on Helen's left temple, knocking her out instantly.

Clark stood over Helen's limp body and answered, "Never get within kicking distance of an angry Lois Lane."

Lois chuckled as she picked up the phone and began dialing the police. "You are so corny, Clark Kent."

Clark smiled at Lois in return. "And you wouldn't have me any other way."


For the second time in two days, Clark Kent stood at the front door and watched a squad car carry a criminal away from his home.

Things were as they should be. Ted Rickman was dead, and Jaxon Xavier was, once again, rightfully behind bars. And now, thanks to the information Lois and Clark had learned from Helen Carter's impromptu confession, the police were sure that they'd be able to find enough incriminating evidence to convict Helen Carter for one lifetime, if not more. Yes, Clark was pretty sure everything was right with the universe for the time being. Almost everything, anyway.

Lois approached him from behind as he closed and locked the front door. "Do you think we're finally going to have a chance to be alone now?"

Clark turned to his wife. "I hope so. I really think we should talk."

"You're right. You go soundproof the house while I disconnect all the phones," Lois joked.

Clark smiled, but then his demeanor turned somber again. "I don't really know how to say this, Lois, but … I know you say you're fine, but I don't think you are." Clark held his breath as he waited for his wife to explode into another explanation as to why she really was fine, and why Clark shouldn't make assumptions about her feelings.

"I know I was a little on-edge before. I shouldn't have blown up at you in the street like that. But I'm fine now, Clark. Really, I am."

"It wasn't just that, though, Lois. Last night … " Clark hesitated. "Last night, after we made love, you were … different." Clark wasn't sure exactly how to word what he was about to say.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, after you went to sleep, you seemed like you didn't want me to be there. Whenever I tried to put my arm around you, you'd flinch and pull away. And the expression on your face … It nearly killed me when you kept pulling away from me like that, but to see you looking so pained . .. I just don't think I could handle another night like that."

Lois was horrified by Clark's words and their implications. Insecurity began to take root in Lois's subconscious as her thoughts ran wild. If he couldn't handle another night with her, how could he possibly spend the rest of his life by her side? "You couldn't handle another night like that? Are you … " Lois's voice quivered, and she took a beat to recover it. "Are you going to leave?" A lone tear slipped down her cheek.

"What?! No, Honey, of course not!" Clark reached for her and she welcomed the shelter of his arms. "You know I'd never do that," Clark whispered into her hair.

"I'm so sorry, Clark. I didn't mean to pull away from you last night. I didn't know — "

"It's not you're fault, Honey. You don't have to apologize. You should never have had to go through what you did. I should have gotten there in time. I should have saved you. I don't blame you if you don't trust me anymore. How can you?"

"Clark," Lois raised her head from his shoulder to meet his eyes, "of course I trust you. After all that we've been through, how could you doubt that?"

"You didn't see the way you looked last night, Lois. I don't blame you for it, though. I'm supposed to be Superman, protector of the innocent. If you can't count on me to protect you, how can you count on me for anything else?"

"Clark," Lois was distraught at the self-loathing tone in her husband's voice, "we both know that you can't be in two places at once. I once told you that whatever you can do is enough because the fact that you even try gives people hope. You may not have been there to stop Ted Rickman, but you got me through it. Throughout the whole ordeal, it was the thought of you that kept me going. The thought that you would be there to comfort me when it was over, that you would still love me no matter what happened, saw me through what was probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me. Before I met you, I don't know if I could have handled going through something like that. But, now, you give me the will to live even when I'm not sure that I want to anymore. Sure, I may have physically been able to survive something like that before you, but my heart would have died a long time ago."

"Lois … " Clark, overwhelmed with emotion, was unable to articulate a response.

Lois squeezed her arms tighter around her husband and buried her head in his shoulder.

"I love you, Lois."

"I know. I love you, too."

They embraced for a moment, before Lois pulled back, remembering her concern over the intensity of Clark's emotional outburst the night before. She chose her words carefully, not sure how her husband would react. "Clark, the other day, after we got home from the hospital … well, you weren't yourself."

"What do you mean, Honey?"

"I mean, you cried, Clark. Not that there's anything wrong with crying, but I've never seen you do that before. I knew you were upset, but I've seen you upset before, and you never reacted like that."

Clark paused, not sure how to phrase his next words. "I guess I . .. I just couldn't shake the thought of you … " Clark trailed off, unable to finish.

"Of what, Clark?"

"Of you … dead," Clark choked on the last word before breaking to compose himself. "If I had been a couple of minutes later, or if I hadn't come at all … what if I had been fighting a typhoon in Japan, or diverting a mud slide in … in Egypt?"


"Just go with me, Honey. What if I hadn't been able to get to you this time, or any other time, for that matter? I can't stand the thought that I can't protect you all the time. I know we've been through a lot and we've gone over this before, but it doesn't get any easier … you didn't even have to go looking for trouble this time, it came to you!"

"I know it's hard for you, especially since you're … " Lois outlined an S on her husband's chest, " … Superman, but it's a risk everyone takes by caring about someone. There's always a chance that something might happen to a loved one, but that's just a part of living. Opening your heart to someone means leaving yourself vulnerable to hurt, but it's a risk worth taking. You taught me that."

"You're right, and I know that. It's just that … why is it that every homicidal lunatic with a vendetta picks you as a target? It's like some sort of big cosmic joke, but it's not funny to me. And it's not fair." Clark pouted.

"It certainly seems that way, doesn't it?"

"Honey, it *is* that way."

Lois chuckled at her husband's uncharacteristic cynicism. "Well, maybe it's just one more reason why we're made for each other. I'm a target for criminals, so I need you to save my life whenever they 'dangle me over the jaws of death'."

Clark couldn't stifle the laugh his wife's morbid humor provoked. "You know, I never looked at it that way before."

Lois continued to chuckle as she took her husband in a another hug.

The couple's demeanor mellowed as they took a moment to relish the embrace.

"Lois?" Clark finally broke the hug, another concern on his mind.


"As long as we're being open, can I say something?"

Lois smiled at her husband, the eternal gentlemen. "Of course. That's what being open's all about."

Clark smiled briefly before continuing. "Lois, when you say you're fine … well, it's kind of hard to believe. I know that what you went through must have been awful, and I can't even begin to imagine what it's been like for you, but if you ever want to talk about it, I'll be here for you. I don't want you to feel that you have to put up a front for me. If something's bothering you, I don't want you to hold it in because you're afraid of upsetting me … or for any other reason, for that matter."

"You're right, Clark. I shouldn't keep my feelings hidden. I admit that, at first, I probably tried to push them aside a little too hastily, and I won't kid you, what happened the other night did hurt me — "

"*Us*, Lois. Whatever hurts you, hurts me too. We're a team, remember?"

Lois smiled, "Yes, I remember." Lois traced a seductive line down her husband's jaw. "How could I forget? Anyhow, as I was saying, what Ted Rickman did to me, to *us* … well, it hurt. I've never felt so powerless, or so worthless in my entire life."

Clark cringed at Lois's admission.

"But, when it was over and you were there comforting me, loving me, I knew that I was going to be okay. You held my hand all the way to the hospital, and then the roses the next morning … I knew that I was cherished, no matter how used I felt. I think it comes down to one basic decision. Do we let this tragedy ruin our lives, or do we put the event behind us and live happily ever after? If we let it ruin our lives, then Helen Carter wins. She gets to have her revenge after all, even though she didn't get away with it. Personally, I vote for getting on with our lives. You know how I hate losing."

Clark smiled at Lois's attempt to lighten the moment before his expression turned serious again. "I agree with you, Lois. I want to put it behind us too, but I think that's going to involve a lot of communication. I want … *need* to understand what you're going through so I can be there for you. I want to be the best husband I can be, but I need your help to know how to be that husband."

Lois lovingly pushed back the stray lock of hair that had a habit of finding its way onto Clark's forehead. "You already are the best husband I could ever dream of having. But, to ease your mind, I'll promise to share my feelings with you from now on if you promise to stop berating yourself for not rescuing me sooner."

"I … " Clark hesitated. "That's not going to be easy for me."

"I know. It's not going to be easy for me either, but I'm willing to try if you are."

Clark looked meaningfully into his wife's eyes and smiled as he came to his decision. "You've got yourself a deal."

"Great! Let's get started then. I'm gonna tell you what I'm feeling."

"You are?" Clark was surprised at Lois's eagerness to start sharing her thoughts with him.

"Yep. Right now, I'm feeling that I'd like to show the most wonderful man in the world … " Lois moved her hands to her husband's rear before rocking her hips suggestively against his. " … just how much I love him."


When Clark woke the next morning, more soothing to him than anything Lois had said or done the night before was the fact that Lois was still cozily snuggled in his embrace. The anguish on her face from the two nights ago had been replaced by contentment. He thought she'd never looked more radiant.



For those of you who've managed to get this far without giving up on this monstrosity, if you've read an earlier version of this story, you may remember it having a different ending. Don't worry, you're not going crazy. That ending is still around somewhere. In fact, it may even show up in a sequel one of these days. ;)

On an aside, the events depicted in this story do not necessary reflect my personal views of the issue dealt with within it. Every woman (or man) copes differently with such a tragedy; some are lucky enough to have the support of wonderful human beings such as Clark Kent along the way - real life Superpeople. However, there's no predicting how any one person may react to the tragedy, and, therefore, no telling which, if any, coping strategies work best. I merely applied my knowledge of Lois Lane's character (which I consider to be fairly extensive <g>), and perhaps combined it with a bit of personal experience, to come up with what I thought was the reaction most appropriate to Lois. I don't by any means believe that my choice was the only one, or even the right one, I merely wrote down what came out. If you don't agree with my depiction, then I certainly don't blame you, and I'm always eager to hear others views on the subject.

As always, comments and criticisms (preferably constructive - I can handle flames too, but I tend not to respond well to them <g>) are welcomed and appreciated! :)