By Sheila Harper <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Original Air Date: May 23, 1999
Summary: Clark and Lois thought they already knew each other intimately, but walking in each other's shoes is a different — and uncomfortable — matter entirely! (Part 2 of 3.) Episode 9 of S6.
PREVIOUSLY ON LOIS & CLARK:
A month ago, Dr. Klein finally decoded part of the files Clark had copied from the LexCorp network. The decoded sections had contained enough information to convince even Lois (who had tried to view Luthor's story impartially) that he had lied, that there had been no clone.
And that meant that the man living openly in Metropolis knew Superman's real identity.
The problem with the Zelig stone, Lex had long known, was that it was too personal. You had to clasp the stone against the hand of the intended victim in order to effect a transfer. But with this little machine amplifying and focusing the stone's power … portable, effective at a distance. Even a wary Superman wouldn't be invulnerable to such a transfer.
"How'd it go?" Clark asked, standing in his usual Superman pose, arms crossed, legs planted apart like young oaks, his cape lifting gently in the breeze.
At the familiar voice, Laura began to kick and squirm, squealing and holding out her arms for her daddy.
"Oops," he added, glancing around to see if anyone had noticed her reaction.
Lois raised her eyebrows. "You'd better hope you're not in the Suit when she pops out with 'da-da' the first time."
"Another shooting?" Lois asked as she pushed through the front door of the small ranch house to join Clark. She glanced at his notes. "What's this? No struggle, nothing stolen, no sign of a break-in, just a single bullet in the back of the head?"
"Like an execution. But we don't have to look for a connection to Luthor this time. Chris Trifyllis worked at LexCorp's main computer lab," her husband said.
Nick pushed away from his desk, glancing out the window into the hallway as he did. A couple was walking up to the door of his lab: a dark-haired man with glasses and a petite, dark-haired woman next to him.
Oh God. He dove behind his monitor, nearly knocking his chair over in his hurry to get out of sight of the window. Those were the people the police thought might be Chris's killers, and now, just a few hours after he saw them leaving Chris's house, they showed up at his lab.
"Dr. Trifyllis?" Lois called. "Your door was open. Are you still here?"
Clark followed her into the room, catching her hand. Something was wrong. He tipped his glasses down and began to scan the apartment. "Lois, wait," he said—
—when a white blaze of light seized them and held them rigidly in place. Then the light vanished, and they crumpled onto the floor.
"Wha-what happened?" Clark asked—
—and recoiled at the sound. High-pitched, unmistakably feminine … what had happened to him? Ignoring the pain in his head, he raised up on one elbow and looked down at himself. A suit dress? Nylons? He ran a disbelieving hand down his chest, over an all too familiar shape. Horrified, he lifted his gaze to his double's. "Lois?"
The image of himself nodded, and he groaned, "Oh God, not again,"
Taking Lois's hands in his, Clark said, "Close your eyes and concentrate on being in your own body."
They yearned toward each other, drawing together until their foreheads touched, but still: "Nothing," Lois said in frustration. "It's not working." She pulled away and stood up, pacing restlessly. "Clark, what are we going to do?"
He visibly set aside his own disappointment. "Find Nick Trifyllis," he said.
Frustration and fear drove her to put the unthinkable into words. "And what if we can't find him?"
Clark lifted his espresso-dark gaze to hers. "I don't know."
WALK IN MY SHOES
Written by Sheila Harper
Edited by Lynda Love and Kathy Brown
"Honey? Could you give me a hand, please?" Clark called.
Lois picked up Laura and started up the stairs. "C'mon, sweetie, let's go see Da— Mo— Let's go upstairs," she finished, deciding to avoid the troublesome names entirely. Things were confusing enough without getting Laura so mixed up that it scarred her for life.
Clark had taken off the skirt and matching jacket, put on some jeans, and was struggling to get out of the dark blue silk top, which buttoned up the back. "Oh, there you are," he said, looking over his shoulder as Lois and Laura entered the bedroom. "Can you help me get this off?" He had both arms bent up behind his back, but he couldn't seem to find the buttons.
He sounded so odd, Lois thought, putting Laura on the floor and watching as the infant quickly crawled toward her "mother." His voice didn't sound the way it always had to her own ears. More than anything, he sounded like that childish clone of her that Lex had made. "Here you go," she said and unfastened the buttons, a grin nearly splitting her face.
He slid the blouse off and, reaching for a t-shirt, pulled it over his head, sighing in relief. Then he glimpsed her expression. "What's so funny?"
She shook her head. "You. You normally spin in and out of form-fitting spandex that fastens in back, and now … "
He reached down and picked up Laura. "Be good," he warned. "I didn't say anything about your—uh—spin change earlier."
"Yeah, but—" Lois stopped, suddenly getting a clear mental image of what Clark would look like half-tangled in his suit coat and tie, and she laughed. "Okay, so we both need practice getting in and out of each other's clothes."
Clark started toward the stairs, and she added, "You aren't going downstairs like that, are you?"
He glanced down at his obviously feminine chest and grimaced. "It's not like I have a lot of choice."
"Not that, I mean—" Gaze fixed on his hair, which was sticking out as if it hadn't seen a comb in days, she reached toward him, stopped, then decided, 'What the heck,' and swiftly combed his hair into place with her fingers.
Rolling his eyes, he grinned and shook his head. "What d'you have against the 'dragged through a knot-hole backwards' look?"
She followed him downstairs. "Is that one of your dad's sayings?" At his nod, she continued, "Because someone might come by. Besides, it doesn't look right."
"Uh-huh." He put Laura in her swing and turned to see Lois sitting in her favorite chair with one leg tucked under her. "Neither does that."
"Guys don't sit that way. It makes me—you—look like a girl."
It was her turn to roll her eyes, but she untucked her leg. "Is this okay? Or do I need to cross my ankle over my knee and scratch myself?"
Clark took a slow, deep breath and counted to twenty. "No, what you need to do is come to the kitchen and help me with dinner."
"I had to cook last night," she complained.
"Lo—, you started the rice and stirred in the sweet-and-sour sauce. That isn't cooking."
"It is when I'm having to take care of a fussy baby, too." But she got up and followed him into the kitchen.
Nick's apartment door locks hardly slowed Enrico O'Reilly at all, and his search was equally swift and efficient. Within ten minutes, he was tucking half a dozen zip disks into his coat pocket. He had been unable to find an address book, so he tried to turn on the computer to see if Trifyllis had a database of addresses. However, the desktop refused to open without a password, and after struggling with it for another ten minutes, he was forced to admit defeat and leave the apartment without an address for the mysterious Alexios.
"Okay, we can't get changed back without Nick Trifyllis, but he wasn't at home or work, so the first thing we need to do is track him down. Do you have any ideas?" Clark asked as he shoveled a scoop of pureed carrots into Laura's mouth.
His daughter expressed her displeasure at the taste of vegetables by making a face and thrusting the food out with her tongue to run down her chin. From the other side of her, Lois mopped up the orange puree on the baby's face and sternly told her, "No applesauce until you eat your carrots." But Laura ignored her and, grinning, scooped up some cereal and applesauce, nearly half of which made it into her mouth.
"These little bibs are worthless," Lois complained, trying to wipe Laura's latest efforts at self-feeding off her top. "I'm going to get her some of those plastic poncho-things." She glanced across the table and saw Clark's patient expression. "Sorry, honey," she half-laughed. "I got a little sidetracked."
"I noticed." He smiled at her. "But can we get back to tracking down Nick Trifyllis?" he prompted.
"Um, right. Maybe we should check his house and lab again tonight."
"Okay. Do you think your mom would watch Laura, or should I ask my folks?"
Lois frowned. "Maybe I should go alone. I can find out if he's at either place with a quick fly-by, and if he's there, I can come back and get you."
"Leave me here while you check? I thought we were partners."
"We are. But you're the one who said Laura was reacting to us being gone so much. I just thought it might be better if we didn't both leave her unless we had to—and I can check it faster."
Clark turned to look at his daughter, who apparently felt his gaze and looked up, smiling while carrots drooled from the corners of her mouth. Her delight drew a reluctant return smile from him. "I guess you're right," he said at last.
The approaching headlights were hypnotic in the darkness, and although he was only a few miles from Carsonville, where Alex moved after he got out of prison, Nick felt his eyes droop closed as he lost his battle against sleepiness. His head bobbed; his hands relaxed on the wheel; he slid further into the beckoning arms of Morpheus.
It was his head jerking to one side, then banging against the steering wheel that awakened him. Groggily, he looked up and saw bushes ahead of him; then, startled and panicking, he realized that he was off the road and plunging headlong into a stand of trees. A surge of adrenaline jerked him awake, and he slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel to the left. The car skidded sideways and smashed into a tree just behind the rear passenger door.
When the car stopped shuddering, Nick grabbed a flashlight from the glove box and tumbled out of his door to look at the damage. The glare of the flashlight showed the rear fender crunched against the back wheel, and he turned away, fighting unexpected tears. It was too much: Chris's death, being hunted by his killers, and now wrecking his car. His head pounding, he dropped onto the seat behind the steering wheel and fumbled for his cell phone. "Hello? Triple-A?"
Bathing Laura was harder than it had been the night before. Kneeling in front of the tub made Clark's knees sore; leaning over the side of the tub dug into his ribs; and lifting Laura from this position made his arms and shoulders ache. She slipped in his hands when he picked up her water-slick body, and catching her nearly wrenched his upper back. He laid her on a towel on the bathroom floor to dry her and put a lightweight sleeper on her, but standing up and lifting her hurt his lower back. Groaning as he carried her down into the kitchen to fix her bottle, he wondered if this was why Lois still used the baby bath on the dressing table.
The microwave heated the formula quickly—too quickly, he realized, hissing in a breath when he squirted hot milk across his wrist, wishing for the precision control of his heat vision. However, a few minutes in the freezer brought the milk down to a comfortable temperature, and Clark hauled baby and bottle back upstairs and into the rocker in Laura's room.
He collapsed into the chair and, cuddling his daughter in his right arm, offered her the bottle—just as he always did when Lois was gone. But instead of reaching for it and pulling the tip into her mouth, she turned her head away and pushed it away. "What's wrong, sweetie?" he asked. "Does my Laura-babe have a tummy-ache?" He rubbed her little belly and tried to give the bottle to her again, and she batted at it with one hand while she grabbed at his T-shirt with the other.
<Oh, no.> He suddenly remembered Lois complaining that Laura wouldn't take a bottle from her—not even juice. He closed his eyes. No, this was too much. He couldn't do it; he didn't even know *how.*
But neither had Lois the first time—or Laura, who was tugging at his shirt again, for that matter. Sighing, he pulled up his shirt and opened the front catch of the bra. "I hope you know what to do, sweetie, because you're sort of on your own here."
Laura not only knew what to do, but she latched on so eagerly that Clark caught his breath and jumped as she bit down. She gummed him fiercely, her brows drawing together in a little frown while he held her close. He was tense, and even though he tried rocking her, her face scrunched up unhappily. "What's wrong, ba—Ow!" he yelped when she suddenly bit him. He jerked away. "No!"
At his sharp reprimand, Laura sucked in a deep breath, then began to wail. Clark got up and paced across the bedroom, holding her up against his shoulder as if he were burping her, gently patting her back and murmuring soft "Shh-shh" noises when all he felt like doing was swearing. This whole thing was impossible. He couldn't get her to take a bottle, and he was doing something wrong because she couldn't nurse either, and if he didn't figure something out soon, his daughter was going to go hungry.
Dimly recalling the books he had read when Lois decided to breastfeed, Clark guessed that the milk hadn't let down. The only problem was, he didn't know how to make it happen. He thought that it was related to his level of tension, but he didn't have the control over this body that he had over his own. He couldn't slow his heartrate and other vital functions and consciously force himself to relax no matter how upset or anxious he felt.
But he had to try.
He sat back down in the rocker and took long, slow breaths, trying to send the "relax, relax" message to his muscles. "It's okay, sweetie," he murmured, rocking gently and rubbing Laura's back. Gradually her crying slowed down, and a few shuddering breaths later, she sighed and rubbed her face against his shoulder.
Clark turned her, cradling her in his other arm. Woebegone brown eyes drowned in tears looked up at him, and he stroked her hand as she tried nursing again. When her small fingers curled around his thumb, he smiled down at her—and suddenly felt an odd tingling in his chest. Laura's tentative gumming grew strong and assured, her frown easing into contentment, and they both sighed.
As she relaxed in his arms, he rocked her, stroking her soft hair with one hand and smoothing the other forefinger over the back of the silky-skinned hand clasping his thumb. He talked to her softly and smiled into her drowsy brown eyes while he enjoyed the sweetly pleasurable sensation of her nursing and felt peace soak into his heart. "I love you, baby girl," he murmured, and his throat tightened when she pulled away long enough to give him a wide, milky smile before she returned to the serious business of eating.
When she finally drifted to sleep, he held her for a long moment, studying her face tenderly. He had loved her before she was even born, but somehow … this created a bond that he had never expected. No wonder Lois had fought so hard for the childcare center at the Planet. The only wonder was that she had been able to tear herself away from Laura to go to work at all.
"Hey, Nicky! C'mon in. What're you doing in this burg?" Alex Trifyllis was a little shorter than Nick, and his medium brown hair straggled untidily around his ears and the back of his neck. He grabbed the laptop case and held open the door of the messy apartment as if he were a doorman at the Lexor hotel. "And a taxi, too? What happened to your car?"
Nick's throat was tight with grief, but he managed to say, "I wrecked it. Fell asleep at the wheel."
"Man, you're lucky you weren't killed," Alex said, closing the door behind them.
A sob broke past Nick's lips, and he let his duffle bag drop to the floor.
"Nicky, what's wrong?" Alex asked, embarrassment and surprise in his voice.
Dragging his sleeve across his face, Nick tried to stem the flood of tears, but they reappeared as fast as he wiped them away. He finally gave up the hopeless effort and blurted out, "Chris was killed this afternoon. Murdered." And he collapsed onto the couch, cradling his invention in his arms as he cried.
A whoosh alerted Clark to Lois's return, and she trotted down the stairs a moment later. "Sorry I took so long," she said. "A bank robbery turned into a firefight."
He looked up sharply, remembering the bullet gouge on his forearm when Woody Sams had stolen his body. "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "Don't worry. I disarmed them before they ever saw me." She worried her lip in a very Lois-like gesture. "Do you really think your aura's fading?"
The habit of not showing her how worried he was took over, and he tried to downplay his fears. "I don't know, but I don't want to find out. Since you took the time to stop a robbery, I guess I can assume that Nick wasn't at home or his lab?"
"Right. But someone else had been."
"Someone's searched his apartment—someone who didn't care who knew it, either." She dropped down on the couch next to Clark. "I couldn't tell if anything's missing, but Nick wasn't there, and I didn't see any bloodstains," she added.
Startled, he jerked around to look up at her. "I didn't think of that. God, if he'd been killed—"
"—we might be stuck like this. Forever."
The word seemed to hang in the air like a threat, killing hope. "That's not gonna happen," Clark denied flatly. "We'll get switched back," he promised, then tried to lighten the moment by making a weak joke. "You know, honey, when I said I loved your body, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
Lois smiled and flung her arms around him, enveloping him in a big hug. "Yeah, I know. I'd rather be outside your body than inside it, too."
"Hey, I didn't say that," he teased, pulling back just enough to look at her face.
That startled a crack of laughter from her, and she swatted his shoulder, visibly gentling the blow at the last instant. "Clark Kent, you are *incorrigible*."
He grinned. "But you love me anyway."
Her smile softened tenderly. "Yeah, I do."
She hesitated, and he could read her confusion easily because the same emotions were troubling him. Their teasing exchange would normally have led to a kiss—or more, since Laura was asleep. But … even though he ached to lose himself in his wife's embrace, he just couldn't kiss that man sitting next to him. He couldn't do it.
Instead, he brought up something he had been thinking about while Lois was gone. "Honey, I think we've been assuming a couple of things about this … " He gestured toward both of them, trying to indicate what had happened to them.
She nodded. "I know. Since it was Nick Trifyllis's lab, we've assumed that he's the one who attacked us."
Her quick intelligence never failed to astonish and delight him. "*And* that he's been working on something that would have this kind of effect," he continued.
"But that's reasonable," she protested. "I mean, we know that he's connected to Asabi, who was connected to Lex—at a time when Lex was planning to transfer consciousness from one body to another."
"Yeah, but that connection is … " Clark rapidly wiggled his open hand back and forth to indicate its 'iffiness.' "Asabi could have been his astrologer or … or his spirit guide or something. For all we know, it could have been Asabi in that lab instead of Nick."
She was quick to see the weakness in his argument. "But why would Asabi shoot us with something?"
"Why would Nick Trifyllis?" he challenged, getting to the point that had been troubling him.
Lois frowned, thinking. "So you think some stranger with a—a psychic weapon used it on us? But why? And how? No one knew we were going to the lab."
"I don't know," he said, his exasperation and frustration packed into those three words. "I can't come up with a reason why *anyone* would do it. Or how any of this relates back to Chris Trifyllis's murder, or where Luthor fits into the picture. I just … think we've been making some assumptions that we'd better check out before we decide that Nick's our shooter."
She gnawed at her lower lip, then nodded abruptly. "Okay, so Lane and Kent need to do some investigating. Tomorrow we can tell Perry to reassign our other stories."
"Sounds like a plan." Clark hugged Lois and felt his own neediness reflected in her clinging embrace. He swallowed hard. They'd been in impossible situations before, and they'd always found a solution. This was just one more obstacle to overcome together. It had to be; the alternative was unthinkable.
The next morning, Clark put his foot through a second pair of nylons. "That's it," he said, standing up and throwing the cobwebby fabric into the trash. "No dresses, no pantyhose, and *no* heels." He pulled a brown jacket and slacks out of the closet. "Is this a work outfit?" he asked, holding it up so Lois could see it from the bathroom.
She wrinkled up her nose. "I guess." He waited for her to explain, and she continued, "It just … makes me look frumpy. Never mind. Wear either the white or rose shell with it."
He looked at her side of the closet helplessly. "Rose shell. That's a pink shirt, right?"
She came out of the bathroom in Clark's bathrobe, toothbrush caught between her teeth, and grabbed the rose silk top and a pair of round-toed flats. "Here," she said, thrusting the garments into his hands, then marched back into the bathroom. "Men," she muttered under her breath.
Clark was wiggling into the silk top when he heard a brief but ominous ripping sound. Uh-oh. He hurriedly pulled it into place and slipped on the jacket, which he figured could cover a multitude of sins, but mentally he was cataloging the damages so far: three pair of pantyhose and one silk blouse. No, shell, he amended and sighed. Why did they make women's clothes so fragile, anyway?
It was the sharp, unpleasant smell of burning gypsum that drew his attention away from his attire. He approached the bathroom door. "Honey?"
"Don't come in, Clark!" she blurted out. Behind the door, he could hear her muttering, "Just let me get this shut down." Smoke began to seep past the edge of the door.
"Lois?" he called again, worried now. On one level, he knew that she was perfectly okay, that nothing short of kryptonite could hurt her, but the habit of years of love and worry couldn't be broken in a few hours.
The door slammed back, and no smoke billowed into the bedroom, which meant Lois had probably inhaled the evidence, but his wife's harassed, unshaven appearance—and three fresh burns on the ceiling and wall—made the problem obvious. "Clark," she demanded, "why didn't you come up with some other way to shave? This—" she indicated the mirror— "is crazy and—and inefficient and … "
Her breathing was quick and shaky, and, after a night in which their bodies fit together oddly and they slept badly, this was apparently one too many frustrations to deal with. So he walked into her embrace and pulled her head down to the curve of his shoulder and neck. Her shuddering breaths told him she wasn't far from tears, and she muttered against his shoulder, "You showed me how to aim my heat vision, so I thought I could do it, but I can't get the hang of this mirror trick. And how am I going to be Superman for you when I can't use your powers properly?"
"You'll do fine, honey, just like you did as Ultra Woman," he soothed, patting her back as he had done with Laura the night before. "Would it help if I told you that I nearly burned my folks' house down before *I* got the hang of it?"
A watery chuckle answered him. "What did Martha say about that?"
"She made me replace the sheet rock in the bathroom and repaint the whole inside of the house. Smoke damage, she said. Dad just said it was a good thing I wasn't practicing outside because he couldn't afford to lose a field of wheat that close to harvest."
She lifted her head. "Really? Somehow, I always pictured them more sympathetic and understanding than that."
"They usually were, but after a few hours, I was pretty frustrated and blaming the whole world, and they wanted to make sure I realized I had to take responsibility for what I did."
"I think that lesson sank in," Lois said drily.
"You're probably right." Clark gave a little deprecating shrug. "Anyway, shaving was hard for me to learn, too."
She rubbed the back of her fingers side to side along her jaw. "Looks like Clark Kent's going to bring the Miami Vice scruffy look back into style."
"Yeah. Unfortunately, so's Superman," he said softly and headed into Laura's room, while Lois watched him, mouth agape.
END ACT 1
Clark bolted out of the ladies' room and hurried down the ramp to the pit, his blush clearly visible without the protective cover of Lois's usual makeup. Lois was waiting for him so they could go to the staff meeting. "You're blushing," she said, curious.
His cheeks burned redder. "Don't ask," he said, then stopped. "Is *that* what women talk about when they all get up to go to the bathroom?"
Lois looked down, trying to imagine just which conversation Clark had stumbled into the middle of: personal hygiene issues, details about sexual partners, or speculation on Clark's performance in bed. The other women had long since quit asking her questions, but she knew that they continued to discuss him, particularly since he still gave her the same flattering attention after two years of marriage and a baby that he had given her when they were first engaged. More than one drool-fest had started while she was anonymously locked inside a bathroom stall, only to stop abruptly when she left the stall. Maybe if she and Clark stopped the PDA's—kissing and touching and eyeing each other hungrily at work—the gossip would die down, but … Nah, some things just weren't worth the cost.
Grinning and thinking of how much she enjoyed looking at her husband's strong, beautiful body, Lois turned to answer him—and felt the shock all over again of seeing him in her own petite, feminine frame. She stammered, "I-I'm not sure what you mean, but maybe—I mean, I guess so. If that's what you heard, then that's probably what they talk about. Sometimes." She closed her eyes. Thank God that Clark's complexion didn't show a blush. She didn't normally notice her own babbling, but there was something ridiculous about hearing it in his voice.
Her embarrassment had given him time to get over his, and he patted her jacket-clad arm. "It's okay, honey. Let's go tell Perry we're looking for Nick Trifyllis so we can get things back to normal."
Telling Perry White what they were going to investigate—particularly at a staff meeting—was easy to plan, hard to do. The editor, obviously in full "I-love-the-smell-of-fear-in-the-newsroom" mode, greeted their entry into the conference room with a gruff, "You're late," and directed them to their seats. "A'right, Clark, your story 'bout Superman rescuin' the jet yesterday hinted at sabotage. I want a follow-up on that. What does the FAA think? Why'd Superman think it was sabotage instead of equipment failure or operator error?"
Clark started to respond but realized just in time that "Lois" wouldn't know anything about the sabotage story, and he shut his mouth, which was just as well because Perry wasn't done. "And if there *is* somethin' in it, I want Lane and Kent on it like an Elvis fan trackin' down a lock of the King's hair. I *do not* wanna see this story broken in a rag like the Star. D'you understand?"
Lois and Clark exchanged a sidelong glance. Definitely "yes, Chief" time. They answered almost in unison.
The "sir" apparently coming from "Lois's" lips earned Clark a sharp glance, and he squirmed uncomfortably, for the first time realizing that a normal response from him sounded like a smart-alecky crack from "Lois." This was going to be a lot harder than he'd expected, even after his baptism by fire in the ladies' room.
The sharp glance nailed him to his seat as Perry continued, "And when can I expect to see some copy on that school improvement press conference you covered yesterday, Lois?"
Clark was about to answer when Lois, who had returned to doodling on her notepad, absently said, "I'll have it on your desk in an hour."
Briefly closing his eyes in prayer, Clark leaped in with a further explanation. "Clark's proofing it for me before I send it to you, Perry." Under cover of the table, he poked Lois in the leg.
She gave him a swift, horrified glance from under her lashes that told him she realized what she'd done. "Yeah, that's why you made us partners, isn't it?" she added. "Because we work well together."
A few soft snickers greeted that ingenuous comment, and Clark thought he heard a quiet "*Play* well, doncha mean?" but he ignored it, although Lois sent the speaker a glare that would have fried him on the spot if she had forgotten that she had heat vision.
Perry wasn't in the mood for chit-chat. "Settle down, people," he ordered. "We've got a lotta work to get done. Now, Clark, if you can manage to tear yourself away from playin' editor with Lois's story, I'd like to hear how you're fittin' yesterday's shooting into that string of shootings you been lookin' into."
Clark took a deep breath and held it, mentally willing Lois not to say anything about Lex. That wasn't information he wanted leaking out before they had an airtight case. "Cl—" she began and covered her slip by coughing, then continued, "Lois and I found a connection to several of the other murders, but there still isn't any one thing that ties them all together. We've been trying to interview the victim's brother, who discovered the body, but he seems to have disappeared."
Lois was the most brilliant, perfect woman ever born, Clark decided, relaxing and letting his breath out slowly. "We don't know whether he's the killer or being hunted by the killer or what, but we wanna track him down," he said.
"Yeah," she added. "His disappearing act seems awfully suspicious."
Perry tapped a pen against the palm of his hand. "A'right," he said. "Sounds like a reasonable lead. Just gimme the copy on the other two stories before you hightail-it after the brother."
Under the table, Lois clasped Clark's hand and squeezed gently. "Thanks for the save," she whispered in his ear.
"You, too," he murmured under his breath, but he knew she heard him. Together, they'd made it through their first test. Now they just had to remember to sit at the proper desks.
Enrico O'Reilly dropped a bulging plastic grocery sack on Lex Luthor's desk. Luthor raised his eyebrows. "Zip disks," Enrico explained. "All the ones I could find from the computer geek's house and his brother's apartment. If the files you're looking for aren't there, neither of those guys have 'em. Not at home, anyway."
Lex nodded and dismissed his aide. This was a task he had to do himself—just in case any of his subordinates were behind the peculiar troubles that had been plaguing his business. If one of them was, he didn't want to provide more ammunition in the form of a file irrevocably stating that LexCorp had abandoned clone research in April 1994 because the existing techniques had been a failure.
He picked up the disks and let them slip from his hand. He hoped the files were in there. If not, he still had to track them down, and he wasn't sure whom he could trust to do so.
He sighed. Life was far too difficult when you couldn't trust the people you worked with.
"Jimmy, I need you to get everything you can find on Nick Trifyllis—"
"—family, jobs, friends, hobbies—"
"—where he spent his last vacations. Addresses, phone numbers—"
Jimmy Olsen's head turned from one reporter to the other. "Anything else?" he asked facetiously.
"Oh!" Clark snapped his fingers. "Asabi."
"Right. We need an address for Asabi … " Lois's voice trailed off, and she gave Clark a questioning look.
He shrugged. "Don't look at me."
"I never knew his last name. Anyway," Lois continued, "he used to be Lex Luthor's manservant. And we need to find him—*yesterday*." She punctuated that with a finger pointed at his chest, and Jimmy backed up, hands in the air.
"Sure, C.K. I'll get right on it."
Lois nodded and turned away, swerving at the last moment to go to Clark's desk instead of her own, and Clark sighed and hesitantly seated himself at Lois's computer.
After Lois finished writing up her coverage of the previous day's press conference, she sent the file to Clark, then got up to get a cup of coffee. Jimmy, who was passing by the coffee pot, stopped and hesitantly asked, "C.K., could I ask your advice about … women?"
Lois froze, then lifted her chin, accepting the challenge. "Sure, Jimmy. What d'you want to know?"
Jimmy glanced down, then looked back up, his wide grin creasing his cheeks. "Penny and I've been talking about maybe … moving in together."
"Hey, that's great! I didn't realize you two were getting that close," she said.
"Yeah, well … I think she might, you know, be the one."
Lois remembered Jimmy's reaction to Kate, the stalker who had thought Clark was in love with her. She wasn't sure Jimmy was ready to settle down yet—certainly not the way Clark had been—but she also didn't think her husband made any judgmental comments to his friends, so she limited herself to, "I hope you're right. Nothing makes you as happy as finding the right person."
Jimmy nodded, his head bobbing. "Like you and Lois."
She glanced across the newsroom to her desk, where her husband was frowning at her screen, probably working on his plane sabotage follow-up, and she smiled lovingly. "Yeah, like us." She looked back at her young friend. "Was that what you wanted to say?"
"What? Oh … no. Actually—" he looked over at "Lois" and lowered his voice. "How did you and Lois decide how to divide up the chores?"
Lois nearly laughed out loud in her relief. She'd been afraid Jimmy was going to ask something about male sexual physiology that would have forced her to make up something or put him off until she could ask Clark. And yet, what perversity of fate made him ask that question after a week that left her irritated with her normally helpful husband for sticking her with most of their domestic chores? "We usually do them together. Cooking, dishes, laundry, housecleaning, bill-paying, buying groceries."
"Together?" The young man seemed utterly incredulous. "But didn't Lois want to do all kinds of cleaning that wasn't necessary?"
She laughed. "Sweeping for cobwebs? Vacuuming under furniture? Washing the counter under the coffeepot? Making a shopping list?"
"Well … yeah."
"I learned to do it, too—or help her by moving the furniture around." He really had, too. Clark had never shirked his share of the work. The problem arose when his second job called him away.
Jimmy again checked for female listeners. "But, C.K., that takes *forever*."
"Yeah, but until she's done, you're tied to the house anyway. So you can sit in your chair and watch ESPN while she cleans around you and builds up a gutful of resentment or you can help her with the work and have more time for something you'd *both* rather do."
"Oh." Jimmy's eyes widened . "You mean … ?"
Lois tried to swallow a smirk. "Think of it as foreplay."
"Wow, C.K. I never would've thought … Hey, thanks!" He turned away as Lois poured a second cup of coffee; then Jimmy looked back and added, "I'm working on that research. I'll have it ready as fast as I can."
"Thanks," she said and walked over to the desk where her husband was working. She handed him a cup of coffee, smiling at his murmured thanks, then settled one hip on the corner of the desk and leaned down to say in a soft voice, "I sent you my story so you can check over it. Otherwise, Perry'll know something's up."
Clark glanced at the editor's office. "Yeah. I think he's already wondering." He checked over his shoulder to make sure no one was in hearing range. "I've been on the phone with the FAA, but Superman needs to swing by the airport and use his x-ray vision to give the investigators a hand. They have an idea what went wrong, but they need Superman's help to figure out *why*."
She nodded, her hand creeping to the knot of her clip-on tie. "Okay, but … what should I be looking for?"
He cast a brief glance around to make sure no one was in hearing range. "The bearings were locked up tight, so I looked at the lubrication system, and there was an odd odor. Not like silicone, but something … acrid. The lubricating oil looked fine, but I thought I saw some kind of residue … Anyway, see if you can still smell it, and check on whether they had the oil examined like I asked. You may have to run a sample over to STAR Labs."
"Smell it?" she asked incredulously. "Cl—honey, just because I have a—" she lowered her voice— "super nose doesn't mean I can recognize different chemicals by smell!" She bit her lip. "I can't do this."
A trace of panic showed in her eyes, and he grasped her forearms and squeezed gently. "You can do it, honey," he encouraged her. "There isn't anyone on earth who can do a better job of filling Superman's boots than you."
Her mouth twisted in an expression that was all Lois as she tried to smile through threatening tears. To give her a chance to regain control, he briefed her on what he did when he assisted technical investigators, then concluded, "While you're gone, I'll get someone from research checking into it." He opened his notebook and started making a list. "Passenger list of the jet, list of criminals who might have that kind of expertise, list of people who would normally have access to the plane … Anything else?"
"Pending takeovers, lawsuits, and such like against the airline or the plane manufacturer. It's one of those new intercontinental jets, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I'll finish writing up what I have and send it to your computer—well, mine." He shook his head over their confusing situation. "Anyway, you can add the current Superman update to it when you get back."
"On my way." She leaned forward, hesitated, then brushed a kiss across his temple. "See you later."
"Hurry," Clark urged her, "so we can start looking for Nick Trifyllis."
Lois didn't bother to answer. She hurried across the newsroom, up the ramp, and into the stairwell. Clark watched her go, a wistful smile on his face. It was hard to sit back and let her do the investigating that he itched to do. He sighed and turned back to his computer.
Lois still hadn't returned by the time that he finished proofing her story and writing what he could on the plane sabotage, so Clark LAN'd her story to Perry and picked up the phone to start tracking down Nick.
"No, Ms. Lane, Dr. Trifyllis isn't here, but I can transfer you to his voice mail if you want to leave a message," the secretary at the lab said.
"Do you expect him back soon? I really need to talk to him." Clark decided to try a little misdirection. "I don't know if you heard about his brother. He was killed yesterday."
"Really? How awful! No wonder Nick didn't come in. Do you know what happened?"
Clark lowered his voice as if he were sharing a confidence. "He was shot at his house. Nick found him."
"Oh, no! Poor Nick!"
He'd found the right button, and the secretary was soon giving him all sorts of information about Dr. Nicolas Trifyllis, who was, apparently, something of a saint for trying to find a way to help slow learners. In response to Clark's question about the nature of Nick's work, the woman airily said, "Oh, I don't know how he does it. Something technical with electro-magnetic something-or-anothers. But he's trying to transfer knowledge from one person to another."
"Like telepathy?" Clark asked, puzzled.
"N-o-o-o," she said at last, "I don't think so. It's some kind of teaching thing. He said something once about a story by some science fiction writer. Assiltoff, or something."
He hesitated, sorting through his memory. "Asimov?" he asked at last, dimly recalling a story about automatic learning.
"I guess. Maybe."
He could almost hear her shrug, and he continued, "Did he work with anyone else?"
"Oh, no! Mr. Gendell didn't give Nick that much money, even though he really could've used the help. He's always worked such long hours, trying to get done before the money ran out."
She ran on for a few minutes, but Clark only listened with half an ear. If Trifyllis didn't have a partner or assistant—and the secretary obviously didn't know anything—he needed to look elsewhere. Waiting until she took a breath, he broke in, "Did Mr. Gendell ever see a demonstration of Nick's work?"
"Oh, sure. He was in yesterday. Nick was just sick worrying about it, but I think it went fine. Anyway, Mr. Gendell certainly seemed pleased when he left, and Nick told me that he got funded for another three years."
Clark made a note to call Gendell and confirm that Trifyllis had come up with a device that exchanged minds from one body to another, although the secretary's artless chatter had pretty much eliminated the possibility that a stranger with a powerful weapon had been lurking in Nick Trifyllis's lab. He edged another question into her babble, adding a wistful note to his voice. "Since you haven't said anything, I guess Dr. Trifyllis hasn't come in yet. Do you have *any* idea when he might get in?"
The secretary lowered her voice. "No, I really don't," she said reluctantly. "I can't imagine him going out to celebrate since his brother was just killed, but I do know that he wouldn't take off someplace, either."
That was interesting. "How do you know that? He's too reliable?"
"Well, yes, that, too, but … his lab animals are still here. He wouldn't just take off and leave them, not without making arrangements for them. He treats them like pets, and he wouldn't leave them for someone else to experiment on."
Interesting but unhelpful, and after another minute or so, Clark finally managed to break away. He checked Lois's Roladex for Grant Gendell's number and called, working his way through the layers of people who protected the multi-billionaire from an intrusive public. Fifteen minutes later, he finally got through to Gendell himself, and after identifying himself and assuring the man that he wouldn't publish any of the information, he asked about Nick Trifyllis's experiment.
Silence answered him. "You don't ask easy questions, do you, Ms. Lane?" Gendell responded.
Trying to put himself in Lois's mindset, Clark said, "I just ask the ones I need answered. And right now, I need to know what Dr. Trifyllis was working on."
"I trusted you once to write my story fairly, and you haven't done anything to make me change my mind, so I guess I'll trust you again." He hesitated. "For three years, I've been funding Trifyllis's research into a means of knowledge transfer for slow or disabled students, and it was going nowhere. I was going to stop funding it—until yesterday. He showed me a pair of dogs, one of which could roll over on command and one of which couldn't, and then he shone a light on them from his cognitive facilitator and when he was done, the dog that didn't roll over before, now could. It was absolutely amazing."
Knowledge transfer? Was it possible that Nick didn't realize he was actually transferring souls from one body to another? "A light? A burst of blinding white light?"
"Why, yes. How did you know?" Gendell asked.
"It's—uh—part of the reason I needed to find out about his research. What did the—what did you call it?—look like?"
"Cognitive facilitator. Something like a portable television camera. I thought he was videotaping those dogs of his at first."
"Did he say anything about how it worked?" Clark asked, scribbling in his notebook.
"As I recall from his last report, he was using some kind of laser to generate an electromagnetic field that he thought might allow information to be passed from mind to mind in a more complete fashion than is possible using language."
"But that was when his project wasn't producing results, right?"
"Did he say anything after the demonstration? When it suddenly worked?"
"Nothing specific. I wanted to know when he was going to start tests with people. He said that it—his facilitator—that it didn't copy information from one mind to another. It *moved* it, so he didn't want to risk it on humans."
So much for Trifyllis not knowing what he was doing. "But nothing about why a previously unsuccessful project was suddenly working?"
"No." The curiosity in the billionaire's voice was apparent over the phone lines. "Why? Is something going on that I don't know about?"
"I don't know, Mr. Gendell. That's part of what we're looking into," Clark answered and thanked the other man for his information, then hung up.
Next step: checking on Asabi? Clark looked around the newsroom, but Jimmy was nowhere in sight, which meant he was probably still looking for addresses and phone numbers. Okay, Asabi was out. But there was someone else—someone who had called when he and Lois were searching Nick Trifyllis's lab. He thought for a moment as his eyes ran idly over the notes he had taken from the detective at the crime scene yesterday.
Owen Preece, Chris Trifyllis's boss. That was it. He reached for the phone book.
"'He didn't come by,'" Lex repeated slowly. "Why didn't you go to him?" His hand tightened on the phone receiver. Had he been wrong to trust Asabi's loyalty?
"I called him repeatedly through the night, sir. He has not yet answered his phone," Asabi said smoothly.
Lex considered. "His phone may be out, or he might be staying with a girlfriend."
"Do you want me to go to his apartment to look for him?"
Ever helpful, anticipating Lex's wishes. Was Asabi a little too good to be true? "No. I'll send Enrico. But call me immediately if your little scientist shows up." Lex hung up the phone and tapped a pen against the oak desktop. The experiment had worked, but then he lost track of both scientist and device. This situation was starting to have the same feel as the business ventures that had inexplicably failed over the past few months, and he didn't like Asabi's failure. Perhaps it was time to have Enrico keep an eye on the mystic.
END ACT 2
Clark jerked around, wondering who the Clark from the alternate universe was talking to, only to bang his nose against Lois's jaw as she bent down to kiss his cheek. "Ow." His eyes watered, and he gently rubbed his stinging nose.
"Sorry," Lois murmured. "Hurts, doesn't it?"
"Yeah. It's—I never thought—" He shook his head, trying to ignore more evidence of his weakness. "Anyway, I have a lot to tell you."
"Me, too," she told him. "Why don't we go to the conference room?"
One of the perks of being senior staff was being able to commandeer a conference room at any time. Once the door was shut, Clark continued, "While you were gone, I checked with Gendell. Trifyllis gave him a demonstration of his 'cognitive facilitator' yesterday, which Gendell said transferred information from one mind to another. It's too much coincidence for someone else to be in his lab and using a piece of equipment with that kind of effect, so I think we've ID'd our attacker."
"Good, because I think I found the motive." Lois set a copy of a police artist's drawing on the table.
"Who—?" He broke off and looked at the picture more closely. "That almost looks like … "
"Us. Yeah, I know. Those are the people Nick saw leaving his brother's house before he found the body."
"So then he saw us at his lab and, what? Panicked and used his device on us?" Clark guessed.
Lois shrugged and nodded. "I think he's probably hiding out from those two."
He stared down at the drawing. "As long as he isn't one of the bad guys, he should be willing to switch us back."
"*If* we can find him, and *if* we can get close enough to convince him that we aren't his brother's killers."
Clark smiled and squeezed her hand. "We'll do it. I have faith in your investigative ability. Speaking of which, how did it go with the jet investigation?"
"You were right about the smell and the residue, but the analysis of the oil didn't turn up anything on it. So I took another sample to Dr. Klein and described the smell to him." She put one hand on her hip and tilted her head to give him a considering look. "That *was* what you wanted me to do, wasn't it?"
He grinned. "I told you you'd do fine. Have I told you lately how glad I am that Perry teamed us up?"
"Not for at least 48 hours. I was starting to suffer from withdrawal," she teased him.
He laughed. "That isn't withdrawal you're feeling. That's—" He leaned forward to murmur a description of just what form of deprivation her body was suffering from.
The door swung open. "That better be an update on the stories I assigned you and not jus' sweet nothin's you're murmurin' in your partner's ear," Perry rumbled.
Clark and Lois both jerked back, Clark feeling the heat of a blush burning his cheeks. "I—I was—sorta," he stammered. "I was just starting to tell her—*him*—" he went cold at that slip and stumbled on— "that—that I called Owen Preece—he's the shooting victim's boss—and he—and he said he had time to talk to us."
"So we were heading right over there," Lois added, not missing a beat.
Perry frowned. "No, you're not." As Lois opened her mouth, he raised his hand in a gesture that cut off her protest before it had even formed. "Clark, I haven't got your follow-up on that plane crash Superman averted, and I want your copy on my desk in—" he glanced at his watch— "twenty-two minutes." He turned away from Lois, but when she hadn't moved, he looked back and demanded, "What're you waitin' for? Git after it."
As she stalked from the conference room, her six-foot frame stiff with indignation and frustration, Perry looked down at Clark and continued, "And what are you doin' still sittin' here? Don't you have a source to interview?"
Clark was at the elevator by the time he realized that he had left Lois's purse in her desk, and he had to rush back and get it under Perry's steely gaze. "See you, honey," he managed as he hurried past Lois, who waved and went on with her typing. In the elevator, he wondered if he had time to stop by the child-care center and visit Laura. But seeing Perry prowl across the newsroom like a lion with a toothache, he decided not to. After the show he and Lois had put on during the staff meeting, he'd better not push their luck.
"Dead? Chris is dead?" Owen Preece repeated in disbelief.
The IT director's desk was covered with haphazard piles of papers and journals and disks, and Clark leaned to one side to see past a particularly tall stack. "Yes, he was murdered at home yesterday afternoon. Do you know what he was doing there at that time of day?"
Preece didn't seem to hear him. "I thought he was sick, or maybe he'd found another job, but … " He shook his head and focused on Clark. "I'm sorry. What did you say again?
"He was killed at home in the middle of the afternoon. Do you know why he was there then?" Clark repeated patiently. He'd seen this reaction to sudden death and other disasters many times.
"Mid—? Oh, yes, he works—worked—a later shift, so his lunch break is mid-afternoon, and he likes to go home to eat. He's an introvert—most of our software engineers and systems managers are—and being around people all the time tires him out," Preece jabbered, not seeming to notice that he was still describing Chris in the present tense.
Years of working and living with a natural babbler like Lois had taught Clark to look behind the flow of words, and he thought the man was using words to cover some furious thinking. "Was Mr. Trifyllis in any kind of trouble?"
"Trouble? What do you mean? Like he was gambling or something?"
Clark nodded. "Or a problem at work."
Preece bit his lip. "Ms. Lane, you—you reporters protect your sources, right? Even go to jail rather than reveal who they are?"
Clark leaned forward. "More than once."
Preece took a deep breath and straightened up as if he had come to a decision. "I have something that Chris wrote the day before he … died. But before I let you see it, you have to promise not to print it or tell anyone where you got it from."
"I promise," Clark said earnestly.
"No, I really mean it. I'm the only person who could have gotten these, and I could be a dead man if it gets out." A trickle of sweat rolled down the side of Preece's face.
"Mr. Preece, Lois—" he nearly said 'and I,' but caught himself in time and went on smoothly, "—Lane has gone to jail several times for protecting her sources. When I say my partner and I won't print your letters or tell anyone where we got them, you can count on it."
The IT director hesitated again. "Okay," he said at last and, carefully lifting one of his piles, pulled out two sheets of paper and handed them to Clark, who took them without looking at them.
"Mr. Preece, if it's so dangerous for you, why are you showing me this?"
Preece looked down at his clenched hands and swallowed hard. "I think I told someone something that got Chris killed … and I … can't live with that."
"Why don't you go to the police?" Clark asked.
"Because I want to live longer than it'd take me to walk back out of the police station." He took a deep breath. "Go ahead. Read it."
Clark scanned them quickly, then read them more slowly and looked up, a question in his eyes. "I'm not sure I understand the signif—"
Preece broke across him. "One of Lex Luthor's aides came in yesterday just before I left for the day, and he searched Chris's desk and office and had me look at his computer files—the records of all his computer activity. These two letters are what he took."
A few hours after Chris was murdered. "Do you know what files Mr. Trifyllis is referring to?"
"One of the old LexCorp science projects. Someone hacked into the system last fall, and Mr. Luthor had me assign my top man—Chris—to putting up and maintaining the firewalls to secure it."
Hacked in last fall? Clark stopped breathing for a moment. Surely these weren't the same files he had copied when he and Jimmy broke into the LexCorp system last fall. "One of the science projects? You mean, like the old cloning project that got Luthor into so much trouble?"
"Could be. I don't know. It was encrypted when I first saw it." Another drop of sweat slid down his cheek.
"Really," Clark said softly, his coffee-dark gaze following the path of the sweat droplet. "How long have you been with LexCorp, Mr. Preece?"
"Eight years. But I've only been IT—Information Technologies—Director," he explained in an aside, "for two years."
"And these files were already encrypted then?"
"Oh, yes—well, I don't know about when I was first hired, but when I came to work in the IT division, yes." He was a little too eager, almost relieved at the direction that last question had gone.
Clark considered him for a moment. "Do you have the key to the encryption, Mr. Preece?"
Preece froze. "To the second level, yes. I had Chris re-encrypt the files after someone broke into the system. But my predecessor didn't give me the key to the original."
"You're the head of the Information Technologies division of LexCorp and *you* don't have it?" Clark said skeptically, yet there was the unmistakable ring of truth in Preece's words. He replayed the man's last statement: 'My predecessor didn't give me the key.' A couple of possibilities there. "So, where did you find it?"
Preece started to answer when his mouth slammed shut. Clark hid the leap of triumph he felt and flipped his notebook closed, tucking it into the briefcase-sized purse Lois toted around. At any other time, he would have pursued this link to Lex with the sort of bulldog tenacity Lane and Kent were famous for, but right now, it was going to have to wait until he and Lois could track down Nick Trifyllis and get switched back. But after that … <You're mine, Lex.> "Thank you, Mr. Preece. I'll keep these papers and this interview confidential."
"Who do you think this Alex or Alexios is?" Lois wondered out loud, re-reading the two short letters for the dozenth time.
Clark shook his head. "A friend? A relative? A fellow hacker? It's another name with Greek roots—like Chris and Nick," he added at her puzzled frown, "but I don't know if that means anything because Alex is a pretty common name in a lot of languages."
Alerted by her super hearing, Lois got up and opened the conference room door. "Maybe Jimmy's found something."
"Hey, thanks, CK," Jimmy said, carrying a thick stack of folders and papers which he dropped onto the conference room table. "There you are, guys. Everything I could find on Trifyllis, Trifyllis, and Trifyllis, *in*cluding a copy of a dissertation and a trial transcript," he added, grinning.
Lois and Clark spoke almost simultaneously. "A trial—?" "'*And* Trifyllis?"
The young researcher cum photographer cum would-be-reporter just grinned again. "Have fun." He pulled the conference room door closed behind himself.
"Okay, one of these guys has a criminal record," Lois muttered, diving into the pile, scattering papers as she went.
Clark picked them up and stacked them as she shoved them aside, glancing at each as he organized them. "And it sounds like our mysterious Alex may be a brother of the other two after all."
"Ah-hah!" she crowed in triumph. "Alexander Trifyllis vs NanoWare, Inc." She turned the pages faster and faster as she read, until she was fanning through them. Panting slightly, she lifted her head. "Wow, that's some ability you have, honey."
Clark smiled tightly and kept reading. "Yeah, it comes in handy sometimes."
"And you're right. Alex, Nick, and Chris are all brothers. They testified at his trial."
"It doesn't look like it helped. He still got sent upstate at the taxpayers' expense," Clark added, reading from one of the pages Lois had discarded.
Lois leaned toward him to read over his shoulder. "He's out already?" she said in surprise. "I figured Fences would have him put away for life for messing with his computers."
"Check the date. We'd already broken the story on Fences' microwave blackmail."
She nodded. "And he had enough troubles of his own. What are you looking for?"
"A last-known address. Or maybe a parole officer."
"Okay." She got up and closed the blinds, and when she returned, papers flew in a miniature blizzard that settled neatly into a pile. Smirking, Lois waved a couple of sheets of paper. "Address and phone number for Alex Trifyllis and for his parole officer."
"Show-off," Clark muttered, but he grinned at her obvious delight. "Having fun?" he asked.
She plopped into the chair next to him. "Honestly, honey, I don't know how you hold yourself back as much as you do. You can do … so much."
He dipped his head in agreement. "Habit. Practice. And nearly fifteen years spent trying to be normal." He reached for the documents she had selected.
"Do you still want to be normal?" she asked softly, covering his hand with hers.
"No. Right now, I just wanna be my old self again." He smiled teasingly, picking up the phone and dialing the long-distance number. "You're too short. I have to stand on tip-toe to reach anything."
As Lois rolled her eyes, a timid knock was followed a moment later by Courtney, a twenty-one-year-old research assistant, who sidled into the conference room with a stack of papers.
"That was fast," Clark said while he listened to the phone company's recorded message. He hung up and shook his head at Lois, mouthing, "Disconnected."
"Thank you," the girl said shyly, gazing at "Lois" with hero-worship in her eyes.
Lois and Clark exchanged amused glances. For once a female was giving Lois attention instead of Clark, but he was still on the receiving end. "What do you have for us?" Lois asked.
Courtney got flustered at the question from her hero's handsome husband, and she fumbled with her files. "Oh, it's the passenger list and—and the list of takeovers and lawsuits against the manufacturer and the airline." She pulled out another folder and turned back to "Lois." "I've also got a list of the kinds of people who might have the technical background to do something like you described, Miss Lane." She looked down, hesitating, then continued, "Jimmy Olsen helped me cross-reference it with known criminals and with people who had access to the plane." She acted as if she were embarrassed to admit that she'd gotten help.
"That's okay," Clark told her, taking the stack of folders from her. "Jimmy's the best at that sort of research, and teaming up with the best—" he glanced past her to meet Lois's warm gaze— "is a good way to learn the ropes."
"No one there, Mr. Luthor," Enrico O'Reilly said, plopping into the visitor's chair in front of Lex's desk.
Lex glanced up from the computer screen he had been studying. "There?"
"At his lab. That scientist guy with the rock. Dr. Triffle-something-or-'nother." At Lex's suddenly arrested expression, O'Reilly continued, "You know, the brother of that computer geek you had me put away. He hadn't been in all day, but he's not at home, either."
Several separate pieces of information suddenly came together. "Trifyllis?" Lex asked slowly. "Is that what you're trying to say? Dr. Trifyllis? He's Chris Trifyllis's brother?"
"Yeah, sure. Anyway, he's got the same name, and it's the same place I went when I got you those disks from the computer geek's brother. Unless Asabi gave me the wrong address. So, what d'you want me to do now?"
Lex frowned. "Nothing … for now. I'll let you know later." O'Reilly left, and Lex still stared blindly at the computer screen. Asabi had never mentioned the last name of his little protégé … Damn! He could hardly offer one Trifyllis a position at LexCorp when the man had nearly caught Lex's aide leaving the scene of the murder of another Trifyllis.
Lex flopped back in his chair. Not only did Dr. Trifyllis have the Zelig stone, but, based on those letters Enrico had dug up, he probably had the disk with the encrypted clone files that his brother had stolen, *and* he might be able to tie Lex to the murder through Enrico. The millionaire ground his teeth. If he had been sure of his aide—not just that he wasn't the saboteur, but that he would bring this new Trifyllis back unharmed—he would have sent Enrico after him. But he didn't trust his aide to obey orders when his self-interest was at stake, so now he had to come up with someone else. He turned to his computer again and called up a screen with a list of employees; then he picked up the phone.
"His number had been disconnected?" Lois asked.
Clark nodded as he punched in another number. "I'm gonna try his parole officer," he said.
Lois nodded, then turned away and scanned through the research Courtney had brought in, reading pages as fast as she could turn them. Clark's eager, "You do? What was that again?" caught her attention, and she leaned over to read the address he scribbled down.
"That's upstate New York," she complained. "It's a five or six hour drive. Does he have a phone number?"
Clark shook his head, trying to shush her and finish his conversation, and Lois waited impatiently, taking super-speed notes of the folders she'd been reading. At his, "Bye," she dropped the jet research. "Does he have a phone number?" she asked again.
"Nope. But I've got a current address, and we'll need to clear it with Perry to get the time off tomor—" he began when a whoosh interrupted him, blowing hair into his face. The conference room door hung open, swaying back and forth, and in the newsroom, he heard curses and demands that someone "Shut the window!" as people tried to pick up the papers that had swirled off their desks.
Abandoning his notes, Clark ran to the police scanner and bent down to listen to the emergency calls. Through the clamor of the familiar codes, he picked out the address, his heart sinking as he recognized the emergency code the dispatchers were using. He started toward the elevator, remembered that the Jeep keys were in Lois's purse, and circled back to her desk.
"Judas Priest, people!" Perry stepped out of his office and surveyed the mess in disgust. "What in the name of Elvis went through here? Lois!" he snapped as Clark rushed past.
Clark ignored him as he raced toward the ramp. But the second, "Lois!" caught his attention enough to make him pause a moment. "She's—" he began to say, then bit back a comment that was appropriate for Clark but wholly inappropriate coming from Lois. "What d'you need, Chief?"
Perry scowled. "Where're you goin' in such an all-fired hurry?"
"Explosion at the Winkie Tink Preschool."
The editor's mouth dropped open a bit, and he said, "Well, git goin', girl."
But he was talking to empty air. Clark was already in one of the elevators.
"Yes, Mr. Luthor. I'll run by his house and see if I can find a photo," Lindy Barrows said matter-of-factly. Then the female operative hesitated. "But after that … do you have a way I can track down his credit card use?"
Lex frowned. He wasn't used to explaining things like that to Enrico or Asabi. They knew enough about his operation to know where to get what they needed. "Go to the LexCorp Information Technologies computer center and talk to William Gleasing. He'll find Nick Trifyllis's credit card numbers and check the recent transactions so you can follow his paper trail."
Lindy started toward the door, and he stopped her. "Ms. Barrows, I do not want Dr. Trifyllis hurt in any way. He has several important objects in his possession, and I want to be certain we have recovered all of them before any harm comes to him. Do you understand?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
It had been the boom of an explosion and the screams that followed that had sent Lois hurtling out of The Planet conference room. She arrived at the scene of the blast before any emergency vehicles and hovered for an instant, appalled. The building had collapsed, concrete dust rising into the sky like a cloud of smoke. No one could have lived through that, she thought in horror, but a child's terrified cry shook her from her stupor, and she swooped in, searching for the survivors.
She emerged from the smoking rubble, carrying a child in her arms, as her Jeep slammed to a stop behind the ambulance that it had followed. Clark flung himself from the vehicle. "How can I help?"
She placed the little boy, his kinky black hair matted with dirt, his face smeared with blood from the cuts on his hands, into Clark's outstretched arms. "Take him someplace safe. I've got to get the others." And she disappeared into the wreckage in a blur of blue and red.
By the time Clark reached the street, the ambulance crew had set up a triage unit, and they met him with a stretcher. He handed the child over to their care, then turned to pick his way back through the ruin of the preschool building. Behind him, emergency personnel called him to stop, but he ignored them. If he could take the kids that Lois brought out of the bowels of the building, that gave her that much more time to spend finding others who might survive if she could get to them quickly enough.
At the closest point to where she had gone into the wreckage, but still safely out of range of any falling rubble, Clark began to clear away the debris so Lois would have a place to put the survivors and the emergency crews would have room to set down stretchers. When she emerged from the building, he took the wailing baby from her arms, and she vanished again.
This time, he met the other half of the ambulance team midway between the street and the area he had cleared, and he laid the baby on the stretcher. And when he went back to clear a larger space, he had a blanket with him, courtesy of one of the by-standers. Once again, people were discovering that they could be heroes in their own right.
"Yes, Mr. Preece, do you have an address for Chris Trifyllis's next-of-kin? I'd like to extend my condolences to his family."
"Oh—oh, sure, Mrs. Luthor. I have it right here."
Beth Luthor waited patiently at the pay phone while Chris Trifyllis's supervisor looked up the information. She was supposed to be shopping, which was a good cover for phone calls she couldn't risk Lex finding out about. Not that there was anything out of the ordinary about *this* call—not unless Chris Trifyllis had some family members who might be willing to take some risks to bring down the man who had killed him.
"Here it is."
She wrote down the Bakerline address for Nick Trifyllis with trembling fingers as she took her first step from merely thwarting Lex to attacking him.
END ACT 3
Two hours later, Clark was at a standstill. Once enough emergency teams had arrived, he had just been in the way, so he had gone to help the parents, who had stood dazed and frightened outside the perimeter the police had established. He had found them cups of coffee or tea and gotten information to them about where their children had been taken, but now he'd done all a stranger could. Most of those who were still waiting needed the comfort of their loved ones, not a stranger, however caring.
He couldn't do any more as a reporter, either. He knew better than to bother the workers with questions, and he'd already filed his initial story by phone. It was nearly an hour until the next briefing by the Metropolis Fire Department's public information officer, and he was certain there would be no information available that he didn't already have.
He should leave. He should go back to The Planet and pick up Laura, then take her home and feed her. He swayed a little, fighting dizziness, his arms and back aching with tiredness, and he was distantly aware of an uncomfortable empty feeling in his stomach. Maybe *he* should go home and eat, too.
But Lois was still here, still searching the ruins for the victims of the blast, and he wanted to be here for her. He wanted to hold her the next time she brought out a dead baby; he wanted to take away the look of frozen grief on her face.
But what could he do here? He couldn't hug her in front of a national audience. All they could do was face one another awkwardly, pretending to be professional acquaintances and trying to talk in an elliptical code to hide how they felt. It didn't do any good to stay. He couldn't help—not the children and not Lois; he'd gathered everything he could for a story, and Laura needed him. He should go.
But he stayed, waiting for Superman to appear again from the devastation of the building. A few minutes later, Lois plodded past the back corner of the building, her head drooping, a small body cradled in each arm. Clark felt his throat tighten. There was no need to hurry for the dead.
When she turned back from the paramedics, she saw him and gestured for him to join her. He slipped under the yellow police tape, picking his way through the debris to come to an awkward stop a few feet away.
"Is Laura okay?" she asked softly.
He nodded. "She was fine last time I called. I'm gonna pick her up in a few minutes and take her home."
"Good. I'll be here for a while yet, and I'd just feel better—"
"—if she wasn't at the daycare center the whole time?" He smiled crookedly, sadly. "I know." Clark lowered his voice even further. "I love you."
Lois took a deep breath. "I—" her gaze flickered up to where the other members of the press were watching avidly— "I know."
The swing creaked to a stop, and Clark wound it back up again as he walked past Laura on the way from the stove to the washer. "Looks like you'll have some clean jammies after all," he told her, digging an armload of wet baby clothes out of the washer and stuffing them into the dryer. Starting the dryer, he returned to the stove, where the bottled spaghetti sauce simmered gently.
He stirred it, then grabbed a carton of oatmeal and box of rice from the sack of groceries. "Maybe by the time dinner's ready, I'll have the groceries put up." He put the boxes in the cupboard and turned back to face Laura. "You know," he said, "our conversations are gonna get a whole lot more interesting when you start doing more than just giggling."
But since he said the last few words in his "sweet-talking-my-little-girl" voice, Laura naturally giggled again, and Clark was then forced to squat down and rub noses with her in an Eskimo kiss. "Love you, baby girl," he whispered and hugged her until spattering from the spaghetti sauce drew him back to the stove.
Collecting the address he'd found for Alex Trifyllis and the research for the jet sabotage, picking Laura up from daycare, buying groceries on the way home, and fixing dinner while putting away the groceries and running a load of laundry was a *lot* of work. He didn't mind when it meant he could spend more time with his daughter, but he missed being able to help people who were hurting or in danger. Clark had never been content to wait for someone else to solve a problem or lend a needed hand, and he couldn't sublimate that need to help by pouring his energies into investigating, the way Lois did.
Lois. More than anything, he was worried about her, fearing the deterioration of his aura that had led to Woody Samms being vulnerable to gunshots. Lois wasn't in a firefight, but an explosion from a natural gas leak or an undiscovered bomb would be just as deadly. And even if she was okay, he knew how hard it was to face so much sudden, violent death. <Come home soon, honey.>
"You paid for the tow truck with your credit card?" Alex said incredulously. "Jesus, Nick, are you crazy? I thought you wanted to hide!"
Nick bristled. "I was short on cash."
"Don't you realize you can be traced through your credit card?"
"Oh, come on," Nick protested, trying to ignore his uneasiness. "Nobody has access to that stuff, except the bank—and somehow I don't think those two were loan officers."
Alex scowled. "Look, you said you thought LexCorp might be behind it. Trust me, buddy, *they* could get hold of your records if they wanted 'em."
Nick pushed his glasses back up his nose, feeling a shiver of fear like when he saw the murderers walking up to his lab. "What am I going to do?"
"Lay low for now. We may have to make a false trail so it looks like you left town after your car was fixed." Alex tapped a finger against his front teeth.
Nick watched his little brother for a few minutes, then ventured, "What about my animals?"
"What about 'em?"
"I need to get them or make arrangements for them or … " His voice trailed off at the expression on his brother's face. "Or something," he muttered.
Alex's eyes blazed furiously. "Why don't you just take out a damned ad in The Planet while you're at it, Nick? God! Don't you get it? Those guys'll *kill* you if they find you!" He stormed across the small living room and looked out the front window for a minute, then turned back, his light gray eyes swimming with tears. "They already got Chris, Nicky. I don't want to lose you, too."
Clark was tired … and concerned for Lois … and worried that Laura was picking up on his tension, particularly since dinner time and bath time were both enlivened by her fussing. Dreading a repeat of yesterday's struggle, he cuddled her close to him and unfastened his clothing. Lois was so matter-of-fact about nursing, yet even with two successful feedings behind him, he still felt uneasy and almost … embarrassed.
He sighed. Probably because he was looking at Lois Lane's body through Clark Kent's eyes, and even after two-and-a-half years of marriage, he still didn't take her nudity for granted. Oh god, he wanted to be back in his own body.
But no kindly deity seemed disposed to answer his heartfelt prayer, and Laura had decided that she felt more like playing than eating: mouthing him, then pulling back to look around, patting the curve of his breast, and grinning up at him. He couldn't scold her, not when she was so obviously happy, but he couldn't figure out how to encourage her to eat, either, so she could go to bed.
It finally occurred to him that he had skipped story time—his own contribution to the bedtime routine. After a full day at work, helping at the site of the explosion, then taking care of Laura on his own all evening, he had been so tired and concerned about meeting her physical needs that he had forgotten to play with her. Straightening his underclothes and shirt, he carried his daughter on his hip as they crossed the room to study the little shelf of books. <Lois, I'm sorry,> he thought. <I didn't understand.>
Six books later, Laura decided that she was ready for a snack, and she settled down in his arms without any urging. He stroked her silky cheek and murmured loving nonsense while her dark eyes, so like Lois's, focused intently on his face. They were so engrossed in each other that they both jumped at the whoosh that announced Lois's return.
Laura started to cry, and Clark dragged his attention away from Lois to soothe their startled child, cuddling her closer and rocking her. "Shh, shh, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy are both here. It's okay, Laura-babe." After a few minutes, she started nursing again, and he lifted his head to look at his wife.
God, was that how he looked after a disaster like this one, covered in concrete dust and blood, his expression set and bleak? He held out his free arm, inviting her into his embrace, but she was frozen, her gaze locked on the baby at his breast. "Lois?" he asked.
She started and raised her gaze to his. He heard her swallow almost painfully, and she dragged a dirty hand across her eyes and shook her head. "No, I'll get cleaned up and … let you put her to bed."
Scalding hot water didn't work the tension out of her muscles, and it didn't wash the images from her mind, especially the last one. She had flown home after recovering all the survivors and the victims of the disaster, longing to cast herself into her husband's arms and be comforted. But when she stepped in the window, she saw Clark nursing Laura. She stopped short. She hadn't seen him get Laura ready this morning, and if she thought about it at all, she would have assumed he had given her a bottle. But seeing them together, a sense of loss stabbed her as if someone had stolen her baby. Her emotions already on edge, she couldn't face it; she couldn't watch her husband take her place so completely, and she'd fled as quickly as she could.
Water poured over her lowered head, and she picked up the soap and started to scrub herself while the water was still warm, taking her time so she wouldn't have to face Clark and Laura yet. If she thought about it logically, she knew that he hadn't stolen her baby any more than she had stolen his powers. He was just taking care of *their* baby as well as he could. In fact, by keeping her milk supply going, he was doing his best *not* to steal her choices. Otherwise, if this exchange continued much longer, she wouldn't have the option of breastfeeding anymore when they returned to their own bodies. But none of that eased her sense of loss, and she stayed in the shower until the water turned cold, then slowly dried off and put on clean jeans and a T-shirt.
At the door of their bedroom, Lois paused, hoping she had delayed long enough for Clark to finish feeding Laura. She hadn't put on his glasses, and she looked through the wall to see Clark holding the little girl against his shoulder. Good. She missed being with her baby, and after today's emergency … Silently drifting into their daughter's bedroom, she whispered, "Can I put her to bed?"
He smiled and handed the sleeping baby to her. Lois held Laura close, breathing in not only the scent of baby shampoo and baby powder, but also the baby's milky breath and some underlying smell that was simply 'Laura.' She pressed her cheek against her daughter's silk-soft hair, grateful that in so capricious a world, she could still cradle her baby in her arms. Tears flooded her eyes as she remembered the still, broken little bodies she had recovered from the destruction of the preschool, and she cuddled Laura closer.
"Do you wanna sit in the rocker?" Clark asked softly, and Lois nodded, unable to get a reply past the lump in her throat. He squeezed her shoulders. "I'm gonna get ready for bed."
She nodded again and sank into the chair—which had seemed so roomy yesterday but today was hardly big enough—while Laura slept on, her mouth open, her body relaxed and abandoned to sleep. Lois rocked the chair back and forth as tears streaked her face.
Holding Laura for nearly an hour had banished Lois's jealousy to the darkness where it belonged, but her silent tears had brought no relief to her over-stressed emotions. In her own room, the bedside light was on, but the papers Clark had been reading were facedown on his stomach, and his eyes were closed. He looked tired, she thought, recognizing the marks of weariness on her own features. He had been at the preschool for hours, first helping to carry children to safety, then covering the scene of the explosion and comforting horrified, grieving parents. Remembering, she blinked back threatening tears and turned away and quietly undressed. <Let him sleep,> she decided, even though she ached to have him hold her while she sobbed out her reaction to the pain and death she had seen so intimately.
She stacked the papers on the nightstand and turned out the light, and the mattress dipped under her weight as she climbed into bed. His head turned toward her, his sleepy dark eyes opening. Without a word, he held out his arms, and she tumbled into his embrace, burying her face against his shoulder. His arms just reached around her shoulders instead of enfolding her completely in a hug, but she could feel his love and empathy, and she needed that more than the physical comfort. A sob broke past her control, and she tried to hold the others back, but he pulled her closer and whispered, "Don't hold it back, honey. It was … bad." His voice shook, and she realized that he, more than anyone, knew how she felt, and she relaxed and let her tears wash away the unbearable memories.
When her sobs had become shuddering sighs and she had wiped her eyes and blown her nose, Lois said huskily, "I thought I could handle it. I thought … but they were so little, and there was one that was—"
She suddenly stiffened at a distant scream and lifted her head to listen. Swearing, she dashed fresh tears from her eyes and scooted off the bed.
"What is it?" Clark asked.
"A rape." She spun into the costume and rocketed through the open window in a blur of red and blue.
The morning light was blinding through the windshield as they approached the auto body shop, and Alex slowed the car down. "Here we—"
Nick noticed the woman getting out of the car in front of the building, and he caught his breath. "Don't park in front. Go to that parking lot." He pointed across the street.
"Wha—?" But Alex obediently turned left and drove into the unregulated lot. He stopped in a parking space and turned to his brother. "Okay, so what's that all about?"
Nick had craned around to look out the back window. "You see that woman going into the body shop?"
Alex peered at the petite, dark-haired woman. "Hot babe," he noted. "What about her?"
Turning back to face front, Nick flopped his head against the headrest. "That's the woman who was leaving Chris's house when I drove up. The one the police think is one of the killers." He was breathing quickly, his hands trembling. "Alex, you were right. They've found me. I've got to get out of here." He made an abortive movement toward the steering wheel.
"Hold on," Alex said. "You can't just … take off and start driving. Lemme think."
Nick kept looking back to see if the woman had spotted them. A muscle by his mouth twitched erratically, and he shoved his glasses back into place every few minutes. He jumped when Alex dropped the car keys in his lap. "What?"
"Take my car home, and I'll pick yours up. I have an idea."
Clark awakened to the shrilling of the alarm clock and smashed his hand down on the snooze button. The clock stayed intact, but the side of his hand stung, and he groaned. Oh, no. Please, let it have been a dream, he prayed. Eyes still closed, he gingerly touched one hand to his chest … and sighed, then reached across the bed to seek his sleeping spouse. His hand fell on a cold sheet, and he jerked awake. Where—?
He lay back down, remembering. Oh, yeah, the gang war that broke out in Hell's Gate after Lois came back from stopping the attempted rape. "Be careful," he whispered. It had been over 36 hours, and Lois hadn't shown any sign of losing her invulnerability, but he still worried.
The alarm went off again, and this time he rolled over to shut it off. He flopped onto his back, reviewing the long list of tasks that awaited him before he went to work. Not a problem for a man with super speed.
Except … he wasn't a man, and he didn't have super speed, and this hair of Lois's took forever to blow-dry. Clark took a horrified look at the red LED numbers on the clock and hurtled out of bed.
Two minutes after she returned from the latest emergency, Lois ran lightly down the stairs, tie in hand. She'd gotten the hang of spin changes and super-speed showers, and she easily dried her hair, but shaving still eluded her, and she couldn't get the tie to look right. "Honey?" she called. "Can you fix—"
She came to an abrupt stop. "Oh, hi, Mar—Mom," she stumbled. "What're you doing here?"
Martha Kent held her arms out to give her "son" a hug and a kiss. "Lois asked us to watch Laura today while you track down that witness."
Clark, elegant in a fitted light blue pantsuit, stepped into the living room. "I told … Martha that we weren't sure how long it'd take since he's in upstate New York."
Lois took that in without a blink, although this was the first she'd heard that they had permission to spend the day tracking down Alex Trifyllis. "That's right," she said absently, distracted by Clark's shoes—black, round-toed, and too low-heeled for those slacks. She nearly missed Martha's comment.
"Are you sure growing a beard's wise, Clark?"
Lois shook her head. "I'm sorry, what?"
Martha rubbed her hand along Lois's bristly jaw. "It's one thing for Clark to have a beard, but don't you think it'll raise some questions about Superman?"
"Yeah, well, it's—" Lois cast an imploring look at her husband.
He stepped into the breech. "He needs it for this assignment, and since we'll be out of town, there shouldn't be any calls for Superman. Anyway—" he grabbed Lois's jacket sleeve and tugged her toward the door— "do you have everything you need for Laura?"
Martha nodded, and Lois added, "We don't know where we'll be, but you have our cell phone number if there's a problem."
"Aren't you going to stay for breakfast?" Martha asked. "Jonathan's nearly done with the waffles."
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance, and she heard his stomach growl. "We'll stay," she answered at the same time as Clark said, "We really don't have time."
Martha raised her eyebrows and looked from one to the other. "Which is it?"
"We have time for a quick bite," Lois said firmly, ignoring her husband's attempts to communicate with her from behind his mother's head.
Clark grabbed Lois's hand when Martha turned to go into the kitchen. "I can't do this," he hissed.
"Then tell them," Lois said, "and you won't have to."
"We can't. They'll wanna talk about it, and we don't have time—not if we're going to find Nick Trifyllis and get switched back."
"He doesn't have a number we could call?"
He shook his head. "Just an address. So we've got to go there to check it out."
Lois paused, recognizing the truth of what he said. "Okay, but I still want to eat before we go. If you're afraid your folks'll find out, just shovel waffles into your mouth and smile a lot."
"Since when are you so concerned about eating?" Clark muttered.
She grinned over her shoulder at him. "Since I stopped having to worry about calories."
As usual, Lois drove, but this time, she had super reflexes to rely on, and they made it to the other side of New York City without Clark digging his fingers into the armrest more than twice. Once the megalopolis of Metropolis, Gotham City, and New York City was behind them, they followed the freeway up the Hudson River, then westward along the southern edge of Adirondack Park. "I hope he's at his brother's house and not out somewhere," Lois said. "I just want to get exchanged and get back to normal."
Clark looked at her curiously. "You don't like being Superman?"
"No, I don't." One corner of her mouth lifted ruefully. "I didn't like that kind of responsibility when I was Ultra Woman, and it's worse when it isn't even my own body. I have to think every minute *how* to do things because my reach is wrong or it's too far to the ground or—" She broke off, trying to think of an example. "It's like walking downstairs when you're reading something and you fall down that last step because you put your weight down on the same level as the last step, but there's nothing under you."
"I know. It's easy to hurt myself when I don't have my powers—just because I never learned to be careful—but this is worse." He curled his fingers protectively over his thumb.
Lois caught the slight motion. "Did you hurt yourself this morning?"
He pretended he hadn't heard her, and she held out her hand imperiously. "Let me see."
"Honey, it's nothing. I just brushed against the waffle maker when I was getting a waffle. I'm fine." He glanced up at the approaching exit. "Take that exit and turn right."
The turn took them away from the freeway and up into the hills, and they could see the low mountains beyond. Lois glanced over at her husband. It was obvious that he wasn't going to talk about his burn, so she brought up what she'd really wanted to say when she first mentioned how glad she would be to get back into her own body. "That isn't the only reason I'll be glad to be in my own body."
Her comment pierced his preoccupation, and he looked up with a faint smile. "What? Besides the obvious differences in the bathroom."
She rolled her eyes. "No joke. Heat vision isn't the only thing I'm having trouble aiming."
That startled a crack of laughter from Clark. "You can sit down, you know."
"I know. But—oh, I don't know." She squirmed a little. "The whole thing feels like I'm invading your privacy."
"Yeah. I know." He looked out the window, focusing on the trees along the side of the road. "I feel that way every time I—you know—feed Laura."
Her head snapped toward him. "You do?"
He nodded. "It's … embarrassing. I mean, it feels good—now that we finally figured out how to do it. And it makes me feel really close to her, and I love that, but … " He shook his head. "It just isn't … right."
"You feel that—" She broke off suddenly, tilting her head to listen to something. He waited a moment, then asked, "What is it?"
"An ambulance. There's been an accident up ahead. A car off the road." She turned her attention to the highway and pressed down on the gas, and the trees slipped past in a blur of green.
A couple of miles further along, the road clung to the shoulder of the hill, falling to the river on the opposite side. Two state patrol cars, an ambulance, and a tow truck blocked one lane of traffic, and cars took turns passing the area. Lois crept past the scene of the accident, her gaze focused on something at the foot of the cliff; then she found a wide place on the shoulder a little further on and parked off the road. She and Clark walked back to the area blocked off with orange highway cones and showed their press passes to the trooper, who was surprised to see Lane and Kent investigating a traffic accident.
Lois laughed. "We didn't get where we are without being curious."
The young trooper blushed a little under his wide-brimmed hat. "I guess not. We haven't ID'd the occupants yet." He gestured toward the car below, which still sent a column of flame ten feet into the air and added unnecessarily, "It'll probably be awhile." Turning back to his patrol car, he consulted his notes. "But we ran the plates and came back with an ID on that."
"Can you give us the owner's name?" Clark asked. He gave the burning wreckage a last look, then followed the patrolman.
"For what it's worth. The plates are registered to Nicholas Trifyllis, New Troy."
Clark suddenly stumbled, and Lois caught him. Their brown-eyed gazes locked; then as if with one mind, they turned to look into the ravine. Far below, the car continued to burn.
To Be Continued …
… in Episode 10, "Mirror, Mirror", by Sheila Harper
Characters in these episodes are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed in each episode are copyrighted (c) 1999 to the respective authors.