A Matter of Confidence

By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>

Rated PG-13 (language and violence)

Submitted April 2000

Summary: In this gripping story, Lois faces the fight of her life as she pursues a dangerous undercover story with the help of a new friend, but without the help of her partner.

Author's note: This story has a bit of a checkered past. It began as most of my stories do, as a serial posting to Zoomway's board last fall. After several instalments, I ran into some trouble and got taken to task by the board's readers. This necessitated a rewrite of those instalments to correct the problems I had created for myself. I continued on with the story to a conclusion which, at first glance, I was satisfied with. But for some reason the response to it died out at the end, and it seemed to not work for many of the readers. So I let it languish on my hard drive for quite some time.

A while back I decided that I had put too much time and effort into this story to just 'throw it out', so I spent some more time to whip it into shape for the archives. I ran it through two more beta readers (thanks Cindy, and Hazel) and using their comments and several rereadings of my own, I did a significant amount of reworking of the story.

Any of you who have read this story before will notice only minor tweaks and changes in the early going, but the ending has been retooled considerably, I hope for the better. I guess you, the gentle readers, will be the final judge as to whether my efforts paid off.

As always, all characters are trademarked and copyrighted to their respective owners; and all comments of any kind are welcomed and encouraged at TankW1@aol.com ***

The man was dirty, cold, but only partially drunk. He hadn't managed to panhandle enough for a decent bottle that morning and now he would have to find his shelter against the chill of the evening without the benefit of the numbness that blessed drink could bring. He surveyed his normal spots in the dark alleys between the abandoned warehouses down at the docks of Hobbs Bay. Luckily his large container box was still there, next to the rusty dumpster that Metropolis Sanitation hadn't bothered to empty in at least three weeks.

He was just about to settle in for what was left of the evening when his attention was captured by the sound of a couple of vehicles approaching. He peeked around the corner, his curiosity getting the better of him, to check out what was happening. He was smart enough, and still sober enough, to know to keep out of sight. Anything happening in this part of town, at this time of night, was not something that the parties would want observed; nor would they think twice about the disposing of a curious bum if they caught him watching.

As he looked out onto the docks in front of the building he used for protection, he noticed two vehicles. Apparently having come from opposite directions, they were stopped next to each other, side to side, about ten feet apart. One was a nondescript gray sedan, two door, with little ornamentation. He didn't know enough about cars to know what make or model it was, but he guessed it wasn't very old. It looked kind of like the ones rental companies use. The other vehicle was just the opposite. Whereas the one was ordinary and unremarkable, this one was impressive, even ostentatious, in it's gleaming silver color with chrome doo dads hanging all over it. It was a limo of some sort, probably a foreign make. In the dim light, he couldn't make out the license plates of either vehicle.

A large man got out of the driver's seat of the limo, and slowly went back to and opened the rear door of the vehicle. He helped the occupant out of the car. She was a knockout. Her long blonde hair cascaded smoothly over her shoulders and down her back. She had on an impressive gold colored evening gown that would sparkle every so often as the poor lighting hit it just right. Her face seemed to have those pouty good looks that men often found themselves acting stupid over. By the deference being offered her by the big fellow, blondie was obviously someone of importance.

The person coming out of the other vehicle was blondie's opposite number in many ways. She was clad all in dark leather, including a long leather coat which hid a lot of her figure, though she appeared to be slender, and was of medium height. Her most notable feature was her short, spiky, red hair. It was a flame color and stuck out at all sorts of odd angles, as if she wouldn't know a comb if presented with one. Also, perched on the end of her nose was a pair of half glasses. The kind they used to call granny glasses back when he was a kid. Her face was attractive, but it seemed to have an arrogant, almost disdainful look affixed to it at the present time. Something about this woman almost seemed familiar; he'd seen the type at many of the dive bars he frequented before. Her manner and dress screamed underworld connections, but her body language seemed just a bit off. Ignoring the incongruity, he shrank back a little further into the shadows as he watched the tableau progress.

Blondie seemed to be doing all the talking, with the red headed chick just nodding occasionally. Finally, the talking seemed to be over and blondie motioned to her gorilla. He reached back into the limo and pulled out an envelope and handed it to the red head. She, in turn, opened the envelope and pulled out the large wad of bills which it contained. She did a quick count, folded them over and shoved the bills into her jacket pocket, letting the envelope flutter away in the evening breeze. She then stood there expectantly. Blondie nodded, and gorilla boy reached back into the limo again and pulled out a small gray metal box. He handed it over to the redhead. She opened the box. While not being able to see what was in the box, the man knew it was something weird, for the redhead's face was bathed in a sickly green glow which emanated from the box.

The man had seen enough. He wasn't sure what he'd seen but he knew that whatever it was, he would be killed if it was known that he'd been there. He left quickly by the back end of the alley, all thoughts of comfort and sleep having fled his mind.


Lois Lane and Clark Kent approached the outer fence of McQuade Electronics under the cover of a moonless, night sky. The lighting provided by the entrance to the plant seemed to make the area not covered by those lights even darker. The back side of the twelve foot high chain link fencing, which held a small padlocked security gate, was shrouded in a blackness that was nearly absolute. McQuade had no reason to feel threatened so their external security was minimal at best.

The front gate, aside from the two powerful arc lights which illuminated the drive, sported a small guard's shack which was manned by a couple of bored rent-a-cops. Security for the rest of the perimeter was left to the high fence and the rolled barbed wire at the top of it. There were three other small, personnel gates set at the remaining compass points of the fencing, which would allow security guards, who might have patrolled the grounds at one time, an easier access on and off the site. It was at the gate farthest from the front that Lois and Clark found themselves. Besides the heavy standard gate latch, there was also a length of thick chain and a padlock. Lois pulled out her handy set of lock picks and began to work on the padlock.

Clark encircled Lois's tiny waist with his hands. "Here, Lois, let me," he said as he quickly floated them over the fencing.

Lois gave him a frown, which the darkness covered, but didn't say anything. They proceeded silently toward the rear entrance to McQuade. As Lois reached the door, she began to feel around the edges of the door jam for any hidden wires or such which might indicate the presence of an alarm system. She stopped almost immediately and turned to her partner.

"Any alarms?" She watched as Clark pulled his glasses down to the tip of his nose and looked intently at the door and its surrounds.

He shook his head. "No," his voice was a whisper as he reached for the door. She put her hand on his arm to stop him.

"Clark," a hint of worry was in her voice. "This has been too easy so far, don't you think we should be very careful from here on out? If McQuade is hiding something, there's got to be better security than this. There might be internal guards or some more sophisticated electronic security measures inside."

"Lois, don't worry." He patted her hand. "If there is, we'll deal with it." His grin was just barely visible in the poor light. "Remember who your partner is. I would never let anything happen to you." He plucked the lock picks she still held out of Lois' hand, and faster than her eye could follow, he had jimmied the lock. He silently eased the door open and entered.

Lois bit her lip and stared after her husband for a few heartbeats before she followed him inside.


"Lois, Clark," Perry's bellow cut through the newsroom as he stuck his head out of his office. All heads turned his way including his two top reporters. "Nice work on that McQuade Electronics expose. How you two manage to find out these things I'll never know." Perry quickly held his hands up in front of him, "but I'm not complaining."

"Thanks Chief," Clark responded, then turned and looked over at Lois, who seemed to be lost in thought.

Lois suddenly realized that attention had been turned onto her. "Ah, yeah, thanks Chief."

"Well you two can head on home now. You can look for the banner headline with your byline in the morning edition." Perry ducked back into his office.

Lois had gathered her things and was approaching Clark's desk when she saw that faraway look in his eye. She knew only too well now what that meant.

"What is it? What wrong?" she whispered as she stepped up next to him.

"Big traffic accident." He lowered his head so that only she could hear him. "A tanker truck overturned and has caused several other accidents. I'd better go." He bent over and gave Lois a quick kiss at her nod. "I'll see you at home, later."

Lois climbed the ramp toward the elevators as Clark headed for the back stairs, reaching for his tie as he went. Before the elevator had even had time to arrive Lois could hear the distant sonic boom that indicated that her husband, the big blue boy scout, was on his way to save the day yet again. Lois quickly quelled that thought as being petty as she entered the elevator and watched the doors close in front of her. ***

Lois turned off the news, which was mostly concerned with Superman's activities over at the Metro Turnpike. It had been one hellish accident, with several motorists needing to be flown Air Superman to a nearby hospital. Luckily, no one was killed. Being attuned to it after several months of marriage, Lois heard the now familiar thump of a landing in the back yard and the subsequent sliding of the patio door as Clark entered the brownstone.

Lois was quiet as Clark came over, sat down next to her and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. With his arm around her they sat in silence for several minutes.

Clark finally broke the stillness. "Have you eaten yet?" Clark frowned when Lois just shook her head. "Would you like me to go out and get us some take-out?"

She shook her head again. "I'm not very hungry." She looked up into his concerned face. "Don't let me stop you if you are though."

Clark placed his hand on Lois' cheek and slid his fingers into her hair. "Lois, is there something wrong?"

Lois stared at her lap as she played with the edge of her shirt. Clark waited for her, not wanting to push, even though it was obvious something was on her mind.

After several minutes Lois finally sighed and turned to her confused husband. "Clark, if I ask you some questions, will you answer them truthfully?"

Alarms went off in Clark's mind. He didn't know what was on Lois' mind but he thought it couldn't be good. "Sure," Clark answered, trying to think of what he might have done wrong recently.

Lois sighed again. "Would you say that I used to be one of the best investigative reporters around? I mean, I do have some awards from my earlier days at the Planet so that means I was the best at one time, doesn't it?"

Clark felt a sense of relief at Lois' admission. She was merely suffering from a little lack of confidence for some reason. He'd have to find out what triggered this and allay those fears. He knew that Lois, on occasion, would internalize her insecurities and she would allow them more credence than they deserved.

"Lois, you are still the best. Just look at this latest story we broke. It's another feather in our caps. It's definitely the biggest story out there in recent weeks."

Lois turned away from Clark, then turned back to face him. "Yes, it was a big story that *we* broke. Lane and Kent do it again." She turned away from him once more and stared at the far wall. "Except that I don't feel that Lane is really necessary on that team anymore."


"Face it, Clark, you are Superman. Why do you need me along on any of these excursions any more? I'm only a burden, someone whom you feel you have to worry about, whose safety you have to be constantly on guard for." Lois stood with her back to Clark so he couldn't see the emotions playing across her face.

"Lois, that's ridiculous …"

"Is it?" She whirled to face him. "It's not just your attitude. I know you are always going to worry about me. Hell, you worry about everyone. But it's me, too." She began to pace. "More and more I find myself relying on you and your *special abilities* rather than my own investigative skills. It's almost like I've become afraid of depending on myself, of taking a risk and rushing headlong into an investigation anymore." Her hands were wildly waving about accenting her points as she made them. "Why risk anything anymore when I can just wait for my super husband to come along and solve everything?" The floodgates were now open and it seemed like Lois was going to unload everything. "I feel like I've lost my edge, that I… What?"

Clark had that look again. He quickly spun into the suit, then placed his hand back on Lois' cheek. "I'm sorry, Lois, I'll be back as soon as I can. We can continue this then, but I have to go. There's a …"

"Go," was all she said as she gave him a sad smile. "Do what you have to do."

A quick nod on his part and he was gone. Lois unconsciously tried to straighten her wind mussed hair with her fingers. With another sigh, she picked up a magazine she had been trying to read for the last couple of days and headed up the stairs to their bedroom. ***

Lois Lane entered the newsroom looking visibly shaken. Her first glance was over to her husband Clark's desk but he wasn't there. He had gotten home late last night, well after she had already fallen asleep. They had both slept in and had to hurry into work this morning, so they were not able to continue their discussion of the previous evening. They had both been busy all morning, and then she'd gotten the call and had to rush out to meet her informant. Now that she was back, Clark was gone. As she hurried toward her desk she nearly ran into Jimmy Olsen.

"Whoa, Lois, watch it there. We almost had one heck of a collision." Noticing her distracted manner, he asked, "Hey, Lois, are you all right?"

She looked up at Jimmy as if just noticing he were there. "What? Oh, I'm fine, Jimmy, really. Have you seen Clark?"

"Yeah, he lit out of here about an hour ago. Said he had to fly, was late for an appointment, and to tell you he wasn't sure when he'd be back."

Lois nodded abstractly. She knew he'd run off to save the day as Superman again. Maybe it was better that he wasn't here, she thought. "Thanks, Jimmy," she said as she started gathering up her things at her desk. "If he comes back, tell him I went home, and I'll see him there." Lois had her bag and her briefcase in hand when she suddenly stopped and put one hand on Jimmy's arm. "Jimmy," she seemed hesitant to ask, "do you think that I've, well, lost my edge?"


"You know, am I just some settled down, old married woman now, only fit to write about flower shows and boring city council meetings? Have I lost the ability to go after the juicy stories of corruption and organized crime?"

Jimmy was shocked by her question, and even more shocked by the look of uncertainty in her eyes. "Don't be silly, Lois. I'll admit that since you and Clark hooked up you've been a little less intense, and are actually nicer to people than you used to be, but I wouldn't say you've lost any edge you had. Heck, if I was a bad guy, I surely wouldn't want Lane and Kent on my tail."

"Yes, you wouldn't want Lane and *Kent* on your tail, but what about just Lane?"

"Lois, I *always* thought you were the one with the tougher edge in that partnership. I don't know what you're worried about? Is there something wrong? Is there something I can do?"

She gave Jimmy a weak smile. "No, nothing, and thanks Jimmy, no matter what, I'll always consider you a good friend." She headed back toward the elevators leaving a very confused Jimmy Olsen staring after her. ***

Lois wrung her hands for the hundredth time as she glanced up at the clock. She had been home for several hours and had watched the coverage of Superman dealing with a train derailment on the local TV news. She had a lot of time to contemplate things, and she wasn't sure if she liked the conclusions she had come up with. She felt she knew what she had to do; it only made sense. Unfortunately there were two major problems with it. Could she talk Clark into it? Would he see, and understand the validity of her assumptions, and support the actions she felt she should take? And, even more so, did she think *she* could still pull something like this off? Did she still have what it takes to put it all on the line for something important?

Her musings were interrupted by a familiar sound out back, and within seconds her husband was entering the room via the kitchen. She didn't say anything as Clark came over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. A look of puzzlement came over him as he detected Lois' distracted manner. He sat down next to her on the couch.

"What's wrong, Lois?"

She favored him with a quick sidelong glance. "How was the train derailment? Was anyone hurt bad?" She stalled, completely ignoring his question.

Clark waited a moment before answering, trying to gauge his wife's mood. "Luckily it wasn't too bad. No one was hurt, just a lot of grain and lumber scattered about."

"You seemed to spend an awful lot of time there for an incident that 'wasn't too bad'." She turned and looked at him directly. "You must not have had any reason to return home quickly, huh?"

Clark briefly rolled his eyes, then stopped as he realized that Lois wouldn't appreciate that gesture, nor was it fair. "Look, Lois, it was much easier for me to help with the clean up than leave it for the emergency crews. What would take me a couple hours would take them days. You know that. I'm sorry if I took too long. I didn't know you had something planned."

"I didn't have anything planned, but I find it interesting that you feel we have to have plans for you to want to get home at a decent hour."

Clark reached over and placed his hands on her shoulders, looking her directly in the eye. "Lois, talk to me. What's bothering you, really?"

Lois turned away from his glance. She pulled herself free of his grasp, got up, and began pacing. "Clark, I'm sorry. I'm kind of cranky right now. I've been trying to work some things out about me, and you, and how I still fit into this partnership."

Clark sighed. He didn't know what had caused this drop in confidence by Lois yet, but he knew his recent absences hadn't made it any easier. They hadn't had the time together, alone, to try and work it out. He wanted to reach out and fold her in his arms and tell her she was being foolish, that everything would be all right. Wiser council told him Lois needed to work this out, and his best role would be as a supportive listener.

Lois continued, "I know I brought this up earlier, and that your other duties have kept us from really talking this out, but that's not important now."

Clark was surprised at Lois' sudden turn about, and was preparing himself for whatever Lois was going to say next when his attention was captured by a special bulletin on the television.

"You see, today I received a pretty important tip… " Lois finally noticed that Clark's attention was elsewhere. She swung to face the TV, to see what had grabbed it. "Oh, my god!"

Scenes of tremendous devastation were being shown, as a helicopter borne television camera crew flew over miles and miles of earthquake ravaged Tokyo. The destruction was appalling, and repeated aftershocks were halting any search and rescue attempts before they could even begin. The garish red-orange of dozens of fires contrasted with the steel blues and grays of the once proud office towers which now had been reduced to so much rubble. Lois didn't have to see it to know that her husband had spun himself into his suit.

He gathered her into his arms. "I'm so sorry, Lois, but I'm going to have to go"

She gave him her best reassuring, supportive wife smile, even if she didn't feel it. "I know you do."

Clark's heart went out to Lois as he recognized that smile. "I don't want to leave, I know you had something important you wanted to tell me?" His expression asked her if it was something they could settle quickly.

"I'll have to tell you later. You need to go, there are lives at stake." She leaned up and their lips met for a brief, but fierce kiss. "Go."

And for a second night in a row, circumstances forced her to confront her demons alone. There was no way she could have shared the information she'd received today with him before he left. It was big, and it was going to cause some arguments. She especially didn't like the idea of telling Clark where the information came from; he was still pretty sensitive about that.

Lois flopped down on the couch and began to watch the coverage of the disaster as her mind fretted over what to do next. She was unsure of her next step. It was obvious that this crisis in Japan was going to occupy Superman for quite some time, perhaps days, and Lois was sure about one thing. She didn't have a lot of time before she'd have to act on the tip she had gotten, and there was a lot more riding on it than just a story. ***

It was a distracted Lois Lane who entered the Daily Planet building early that next morning. Clark had managed to steal a few minutes to call her and tell her that he wouldn't be home for awhile. He was still tied up with trying to find and free trapped survivors; and, after that, he had volunteered to help with the initial cleanup. At least enough so essential services could operate effectively once again. The death toll had been horrendous and Lois could tell by his voice that he was soul weary from the ordeal. She couldn't see how she could burden him yet with her problem. He'd told her he'd be back as soon as he could, but it would probably be at least another day or even two. They quickly discussed a cover story for Perry, exchanged I love yous, and good-byes. As luck would have it, Perry chose that moment to stick his head out of his office.

"Lois, could I see you in my office for a minute?"

Lois dropped her bag on her desk and headed toward Perry's office. She grabbed a donut out of the box Jimmy was carrying as she passed him on her way. She entered through the open door, turned and closed it at his signal, and flopped down into the chair at the front of his desk.

"Before we get started, Perry, I need to tell you Clark will be gone for a couple of days." Before Perry could bluster some protest she plunged ahead with the cover story they had concocted. "You know about the big earthquake in Japan?" She continued at his nod. "Well, Superman stopped by last night and picked Clark up, to go with him over there to cover Superman's activities. When they return, the Planet will have an exclusive eye witness report for the Sunday supplement."

"Well that's great, honey, that husband of yours is always thinking."

Lois placed her hands on her knees. "So, what's up Chief?"

It took Perry White a couple of seconds to change gears and get back to the reason he'd called Lois into his office. He stared at his prized reporter and surrogate daughter for a couple more seconds. She seemed tired, like she hadn't slept much recently. Also, he couldn't put his finger on it, but she seemed pensive, almost worried about something. Something she was keeping bottled up for some reason. He leaned forward.

"Is everything all right, honey?"

Lois gave her boss, and surrogate father a suspicious look. "Yeah, I guess. What are you asking me Perry?"

Perry sat back in his chair. "Okay, to the point, what is this nonsense you were asking Jimmy about losing your edge?" Perry saw Lois glance toward the bullpen and frown. "Now don't go blaming Jimmy; he was just worried about you. So what's the story?" Perry could see that Lois was at war with herself as to what, and how much to say. He knew she was troubled. He knew her a lot better than she thought he did.

Lois exhaled loudly. "Well, Perry, you know that Clark and I have been married several months now, and have finally settled into a sort of domestic routine." Lois waited for Perry to interrupt but he just nodded, so she plunged ahead. "We have even begun to talk about the possibility of kids."

"I think you two would make great parents, but that's not what's bugging you is it?"

"Well, not exactly, but it relates." Lois hesitated for another second, she would have to word this carefully so as to get her point across without letting spill any secrets that would best be left unsaid. Even though that secret was a big part of the problem, she knew that it was still mostly her own insecurities which were causing her concern, and maybe Perry could help her talk them out. God knew when Clark would be back. So then making up her mind, she proceeded. "It seems to me that I don't have that killer instinct anymore. It's like the story is not the most important thing. I actually find myself weighing the dangers before I rush into a situation. Perry, how can I continue to be the best investigative reporter around when I let outside concerns enter into my thinking? Superman hasn't had to save me from some impending doom in months." Lois gave Perry a forlorn look. "Have I become some middle-aged, settled down, married woman who is only good for staying home and raising babies?… Perry?"

Perry White had started laughing and was reaching for a tissue when Lois' look of annoyance brought him back around. He wiped his eyes and held up his hands to forestall any further comment by Lois until he was under control. He reached over and gave her hand a squeeze.

"Congratulations, Lois, I'm happy for you. You've finally figured out that there are other worthwhile things in life besides just being the best at your job." Perry smiled to take the sting out of some of his words. "Honey, it's no secret how I feel about you, and Clark, and Jimmy. You guys are more like my kids to me than my own children are. I was thrilled when you finally let Clark be more than just your partner. You were so driven and had such tunnel vision, I feared that in your single minded pursuit of that next award, you would never experience the joys beyond your job that you'd been missing." Perry saw the look on Lois' face. "Oh, I know what you're thinking. Who am I to lecture someone else about job obsession, and you'd be right to some extent, but I tell you now, that I wouldn't trade my life with Alice for all the awards handed out in the past fifty years."

"So you are saying, that I have lost some of my edge, that I'm not the hard driven reporter I used to be?"

"What I'm saying, Lois, is that you are smarter than you used to be." He grinned at her puzzlement. "Lois, your priorities have shifted somewhat, and I'm glad. You actually look before you leap now… well sometimes. You know that there are people who love you, and are counting on you for something more than just your next hot byline." Perry came around the desk and put his arm around Lois. "Lois, you are just as passionate as you ever were, and there is no doubt in my mind that if you felt a story was important enough, you would do whatever it took to get to the facts and expose the bad guys. If that meant you had to put yourself in danger, you would, but I'm also glad to know that you would make a decision like that based on more than whether or not it would win you another Kerth Award."

"Thanks, Perry, I… I appreciate your confidence in me."

"*I* never had any doubts."

The two of them stood and headed toward the office door. Perry stopped them and turned Lois to face him.

"Now, was this little crisis of faith triggered by anything specific, or are you just frustrated that you haven't been able to bring down a crooked politician or a major crime boss in a few weeks?" Perry saw in Lois' eyes that she was holding something back from him. "Do you have a line on something, big?"

Lois glanced down away from Perry's gaze, then inwardly cursed herself for that action because it would look suspicious in itself. She sighed and looked Perry in the eyes. Maybe this was for the best. She would need the paper's support to make this work anyway. Perry's little pep talk had helped also, because right then she had made up her mind what it was that she had to do.

"Perry, I'm going to be out of the office for a couple of days." At Perry's cocked eyebrow, Lois came back into the office, closing the door behind her. "I've got a tip about something real big coming down, and I'm going to have to go undercover to investigate it. Clark had to leave before I could discuss it with him but what I think I need to do is …" ***

Lois rummaged around her bedroom. She had one suitcase open on the bed as she busied herself packing it. Besides the necessary undergarments and personal hygiene products, Lois concentrated mostly on dark pullovers and dark colored jeans. She didn't think she'd have many opportunities to dress up, but just in case she threw in one casual, but nice pants suit. She closed the suitcase with a snap that to her sounded ominously final.

She ticked off her mental check list. She was packed, she'd already made the necessary call. She had actually checked the batteries on her cell phone, and had replaced them. The only thing left was to leave Clark a note, and hope he would understand and not be too mad. She quickly came up with a piece of paper and a pen. She sat at the desk in the living room and wrote.

Dearest Clark,

I'm sorry I'm not here for you right now. I know you must have suffered a

terrible ordeal over in Japan, and I wish I could be there to hold you.

Remember that tip I told you about? Well it's a pretty big story, and I

had to go under cover to properly investigate it. Please don't worry.

Perry has all the details so he can fill you in. I'll try to get in touch

with you once I know you're back.

Remember, no matter what, I'll always love you.

Your Lois.

She placed the note prominently on the desk where Clark was sure to see it. It was best that he get the details from Perry, rather than have her write them down. That way, he'd have to control his reaction, and act as if he were just her normal guy partner and husband, and not the hero of millions, who wants to keep his wife safe from any possible harm. She just hoped that she could either wrap this up before he got home, or talk him into letting her handle it; and, that he'd refrain from flying in without thinking, and putting himself in great danger.

She got up from the desk, grabbed her light jacket, and headed for the door. As she reached to turn out the lights she took her time letting her eyes do a full sweep of the brownstone where she shared a wonderful life with a wonderful man. She took a couple of deep breaths. She knew she could do this. She had to, she had no choice. She just couldn't trust Clark's life to anybody else. ***

Lois opened the door to the room she had just rented and immediately wiped her hand on her jeans. The room was dirty and small. It hadn't seen a new coat of paint in twenty years. The overhead light was a bare bulb hanging from it's socket, with an old shoelace as a pull chain. At least it was a 100 watt bulb. A single window looked out into an alley which Lois wasn't in any hurry to investigate. Surprisingly the glass was intact, though a couple of the security bars were bent out of their pockets.

A smallish twin bed with dubious linens squatted in one corner beside the window, while a single chair which at one time would have been called overstuffed, but not any more, sat in the other corner. Next to the chair was a small table which held a radio. Lois silently laid odds as to whether it still worked. She turned her attention to the other side of the room. To one side was a barely serviceable kitchenette, with a single sink, a couple of cabinets, and a single outlet above a very small counter top. That left the bathroom.

Lois hesitated, but finally forced herself to look at the facilities. She wouldn't say she was pleasantly surprised, but she was surprised. The old fashioned claw foot tub looked as if it would still hold water, the toilet, though rusty, didn't appear to leak, and the sink only dripped once every twenty or thirty seconds.

Lois gave the floor very intense scrutiny. It took awhile but she saw along the inside wall the leavings of some furry little friends. Lois bit her lip as she thought to herself, maybe she should get a cat. Actually, all things considered, it wasn't that bad a place. She wandered over to the small dresser next to the foot of the bed, and set her single suitcase on it. No, not to bad after all.

She sat down on the bed, not really noticing that there were no springs, merely a solid platform, and stared at the opposite wall for several minutes. She then wrapped her arms around herself and began to shake. She desperately wished that Clark were here, to hold her, and tell her that he'd make everything all right. Suddenly she jumped up and slammed her fist into the wall. A few chunks of plaster fell as hot tears of anger tracked down Lois' cheeks.

"Dammit, I'm Lois Lane. I'm not some rookie, or second banana who needs to be wet nursed on an assignment just because it's a little dangerous," she shouted at the unresponsive walls.

She sat back down on the bed, and as she clenched and unclenched her fists she brought her tears under control. If she didn't get her act together, and soon, she not only wasn't going to be any good to herself anymore, but she wasn't going to do Clark any good either; and that was the whole reason for her being here in the first place.

Lois was so lost in her own internal struggle that it took her a couple of moments to recognize that someone was knocking at her door. She stood on shaky feet and wiped at her face with her hands.

"Just a second," she yelled at the impatient visitor as she did her best to smooth the imaginary wrinkles out of her clothes.

She opened the door and was greeted by a very unlikely pair of fellows. The one was an honest to goodness dwarf. He had a pleasant smile on a face that sported a neat graying beard and mustache. His salt and pepper hair was thinning on top. Lois couldn't help but think of a Santa's helper. Her attention then quickly turned to the other guest.


"Please, call me Daniel."

Lois gave him a mock frown. "Sorry, Dan, come on in." She stepped aside and allowed them to enter her 'humble abode'. She did a quick check of the hallway before she closed the door. When Lois turned back to her guests, Dan had already seated himself in the single chair, and his companion was leaning on the arm of that chair. Lois came over, sat on the bed, and faced them.

"Thanks for coming, Dan. Who's your good looking friend?" Lois gave the little fellow a small smile.

"Hey, Danno, I like her already." A wide grin split the dwarf's face. "Not only is she pretty, but she's smart too."

Scardino gave his 'friend' a swat on the shoulder. "This wisecracking, sawed off piece of work is Skip." Lois and Skip formally shook hands. "Lois I came as soon as I got your message to meet you here." Scardino turned his head and quickly took in the little room. "So, where's Dad?"

Lois frowned in confusion at first, then when recognition dawned she stood and began to pace. "Ah, Clark's not here. He's out of town, so he's not going to be involved in this investigation." Lois continued to pace, not wanting to meet Scardino's eyes.

Scardino leaned back in the chair lacing his fingers behind his head as he did so. "What's up with that? I thought you two were joined at the hip now?" Dan leaned forward in the chair. "I didn't think I would ever be the one to say this, but I sort of looked forward to seeing how you two would work together on something like this."

Lois stopped pacing but kept her back to Scardino. "Well, I decided that I should do this investigation alone." Lois suddenly felt Dan's hand on her shoulder.

"You didn't tell him, did you?" The look on Lois' face when he turned hers toward him gave him his answer. "Lois, you know how dangerous this could be? It looks to be even bigger than I originally thought when I first contacted you. Kent would kill me if anything happened to you while he wasn't here to protect you."

Lois angrily shoved Scardino back away from her. "I told you he is out of town! Besides, my life is my own to decide what to do with." She went back over and sat down on the bed. "Now explain to me again what's going on so I — we, can plan a course of action."

Scardino looked as if he were going to say something more but thought better of it. He sighed, came back and sat down again in the chair. He took a couple of moments to gather his thoughts.

"Okay, let me run this through in order." Dan ran his hand through his thick, dark hair. Lois bit her lip at the so familiar, so Clark like gesture. "A little over a week ago, Skip contacted me to tell me something real big was going down. Someone, possibly Intergang, was bringing in a major shipment of drugs. We weren't talking about some nice multi-million dollar operation here, no. It was rumored to be a multi-billion dollar shipment. Enough drugs to keep most of the junkies on the east coast happy for a year."

"But an operation that big would have to alert the attention of the authorities," Lois interjected.

"So you said when I first told you." Scardino got up from the chair and nervously looked out the window. "Anything this big could never go down without inside help, so I figured that either the bureau, some of my people, the local cops, or probably all of the above were compromised. There had to be people in place who could suppress, or deflect any hint of information that might surface concerning this operation. Skip confirmed my suspicions, but he didn't know any specific names. I decided I had to work outside of my normal channels. No one at the DEA, nor the bureau, knows I'm onto this." He turned to face Lois. "That's why I turned to you. I needed someone smart, and capable. Someone with the guts and the ability to help me pull this off."

Lois stared at Scardino, her gaze seeming to command him to continue because she knew there was more. He flinched away from her stare.

"Okay," he relented. "I also called you because I knew you could get in touch with Superman." Scardino took a deep breath before continuing. "I also knew that if they had to have accounted for the various law enforcement agencies when it came to this operation, they also had to have a plan for Superman. Skip was able to find out that that was indeed the case. Outside talent, to reduce the chances of discovery, was contracted to handle the Superman problem." He placed his hand on her shoulder. "Did you let him know?"

Lois shook her head. "No, I couldn't. If you've seen the news at all, you'd know that he is in Japan at the moment. I'm not even sure if I should tell him." Dan stepped back in bewilderment at Lois' words. "He'd go charging right in there to save the day for everyone else, with no regard to his own safety. He doesn't understand how important he actually is to this city, and this world." Lois wiped at a tear before it could begin to form. "No, it's best to find out more about this threat, and see what we can do to eliminate it. Maybe we'll get lucky and have this mess wrapped up before he even gets back." Lois rubbed vigorously at her face with her hands in an effort to keep herself focused and not let her thoughts stray to Clark, and what he would be doing now. He must be so tired, she thought. She waved her hand in the general direction of the little man who'd been silent this whole time. "So how come Skip seems to know so much. Is he an informant of yours?"

Scardino let go a single snort like laugh. "An informant? What, like Bobby Bigmouth? No, Skip is much more than an informant. He's more of a trusted confederate, an ad hoc partner if you will." Scardino gave the little man a smile. "And he's also my friend."

"And?" Lois cocked an eyebrow at her pair of visitors.

The deep throated chuckle startled both Scardino and Lois. "My dear Ms. Lane," Skip began. "Look at me. I'm the kind of person who people go out of their way not to see. They avoid me, and ignore me, like I'm some kind of mutant freak whose condition is contagious if they get too close or are around me too long." He shrugged. "And as far as those who do acknowledge my presence, they mostly underestimate the funny little fellow." He ambled over to Lois and took her hand in his. "Ms. Lane, I know of Bobby Bigmouth. He's a nice, conscientious guy, and he has his uses. But in all honesty, he's minor league. I've been playing in the dirtiest pools of the Metropolis underworld for years, and I can, and have, gotten into places that Bobby could only dream about. As Danno said, I was the one who found out about this coming operation in the first place and brought it to his attention; and, even for me, the information did not come easily. This is big." Skip walked back over to the chair and leaned against the arm again. "I found out who it is that is coming to town to fulfill the contract on Superman." He paused for the effect. "Jane Doe."

"What? Who?" was all Lois could say in her confusion.

Scardino let fly with a string of expletives that would have made any dock worker, or factory laborer, proud. Scardino began to pace furiously around the room.

"That's it. You are out of this. It has become too dangerous for you to investigate now. You have to contact Superman and warn him. Tell him to lay low while I see what I can do."

Lois watched Dan in consternation, all the while the Lane brain was furiously working for an angle. "Hold it," she said putting her hand on Dan's arm to stop his movement. "This could work out okay." It was now Lois' turn to pace about the room. "If you could find some way to detain this person, put her on ice, so to speak, then I could possibly take her place. I'm sure that her face is not well known and, in this town, what are the chances that we'd run into any of her past associates?" Lois was speaking to no one is particular, mainly just verbalizing her thoughts. "Once I have taken her place I could find out about the plans for the shipment, and would be able to prevent Superman from coming to any harm. He would then be free to fly in and round up the bad guys." Lois turned back to her guests with a smile that said, 'see I've solved the problem'. She only saw a frown on Skip's face and shocked disbelief on Scardino's.

"Are you insane!" Scardino exploded. "I don't know a lot, but what I do know about this woman is enough. Lois, she is a stone killer. No one knows her real name. She changes her look for every contract so no one has any idea of what she actually looks like. She's never been caught, and more importantly, she's never failed in a contract." Dan guided Lois back to the bed and sat her down. "This is way too dangerous for you. I can't let you get this personally involved; the risk is too great."

Lois jumped up off the bed. "It's a little too late to be changing your mind about my help. I've got a little invested in this too you know. I'll be lucky if Clark talks to me again after this. You're not exactly one of his favorite people. I'm here to help you because I thought that…"

"Lois!" Scardino's voice whip-cracked through the room and stopped Lois mid-sentence. "At least be honest with yourself. You aren't doing this for me, you aren't even doing this for a story." His eyes bore holes into Lois' skull. "You're doing this because of Superman. I don't know what you may or may not have told Clark, or if he even knows you're here at all. I am sure he wouldn't want you placing yourself in this much danger just to prevent another attempt on Superman's life." He grabbed her by the arms and gave her a shake. "Lois, you could very easily be killed."

Lois pushed herself out of Dan's grasp. "You just don't get it do you? Yes I could be killed, but in my mind that's not too high a price to pay to keep Superman safe. Believe me, I don't say this lightly. I have so much to live for now that you can't even begin to imagine; but neither I nor anyone else in this city, heck, on this whole planet, would even be alive today if not for the risks that Superman has taken for us. I owe that man my life so many times over that if presented with the opportunity to do something that might save his, I have to do it."

"Okay, I'll grant you Superman's demi-godhood." Lois frowned at Scardino's sarcasm, but he continued on. "But why just you? Why not bring in Clark, or just warn Superman? I know I can't trust my people on this, but surely you have people you can trust?"

"Not yet." Lois' deep brown eyes captured Scardino's and held him in her gaze. "We need more information first. They would all try to protect me from this. Clark would tell Superman, and he would put himself at greater risk just to keep me and everyone else safe. This is something *I* need to do."

Dan shook his head. "Lois, I still don't…"

She stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Tell you what. None of this will work if you can't isolate and take this Jane Doe out of the picture. If you can do that then, obviously, my risk is reduced. If you can't, then I'll abandon my plan and just go warn Superman, and tell him to be careful."

"Wellll, I still am not comfortable with this." Dan turned to Skip. "Do you think you can find this Jane Doe for me? Before she makes her contacts?" Skip just shrugged. Dan seemed to come to a decision. "Okay, this is how we'll play it. You stay here. I'll use Skip for any further contact with you. If you don't hear from me within a couple of days, that means I've been unsuccessful and it's too late to contemplate a switch. That being the case, you get out of here and back to Kent and Superman. You tell them everything, and maybe they can come up with a way around this." He frowned again as he and Skip headed for the door. "Remember, you can't trust the authorities. If this is an Intergang operation, as I'm pretty sure it is, they've got eyes and ears everywhere, and we could miss our chance to blow that whole rotten organization wide open."

Lois escorted Dan and Skip back to her door. This time it was Dan who checked the hallway.

"Remember," Dan said, "You stay here, out of sight. Skip will be back later with anything you might need." Dan gave Lois a crooked smile. "Including some food."

Lois returned the smile. "All right, I'll stay put for the present." As they started to leave, Lois stopped Scardino. "Thanks."

Lois closed the door and wandered over to the single chair. She flopped down into it and tried to calm her racing thoughts. It was no longer a question of whether or not she still had the nerve and the ability to do something like this; she was committed now. Perry's words came back to her. He had told her that if she thought something was important enough she would still be willing to do whatever was necessary, including risking her life. She guessed that was certainly true in this case. Superman's life was definitely important enough.

She allowed herself a crooked little grin as she thought, who knows, this just might also turn out to be that story that won her the Pulitzer, or, as her thoughts immediately sobered, killed her. ***

It had been too late to call Perry and fill him in on any of her plans; that would have to wait until the morning. That is, if she told him anything. Lois was unsure what to do in that regard. She knew Perry would expect an update, and he'd probably want to know where she was too. Dan's paranoia over who could be trusted was finding its way into Lois' thinking. It wasn't that she didn't trust Perry, god knows she'd trust that man with her life. It was just that the Planet was a big place, and it would be easy to plant some sort of informant among the large number of people passing through there on a daily basis. Come on Lois, she scolded herself, you're beginning to act like you are in the middle of a James Bond movie. Of course, the more she thought about it, that wasn't far from the truth. She'd have to think some more about that before she made up her mind.

She spent the next couple hours, alternating between trying to get the radio to work, and silently cursing for not bringing any reading material with her. The radio lay in assorted pieces on the small table. Lois was just about ready to head out to the corner drugstore for a paperback, despite what Dan had told her, when there was a soft knock on her door.

She approached it warily. "Who is it?"

"Pizza delivery."

Lois frowned in puzzlement as she opened the door a crack, leaving the chain still hooked. Her cautious gaze was greeted by the sight of Skip loaded down with a boxed pizza, and a large bag. He gave her a toothy smile, which Lois couldn't help but return. She quickly unlatched the door and let the little man in. The pizza smelled heavenly.

"Oooh, Skip," Lois cooed as she swept the radio parts to the floor and set the pizza on the small table immediately opening the box and grabbing a slice. She hadn't realized how hungry she'd become. "If I weren't a happily married woman…"

Lois let the rest of the thought go unsaid as she stuffed a hot, gooey, slice of pizza in her mouth. Skip produced a six pack of diet Soder Cola and snapped one out, handing it to Lois. She mumbled her thanks as she accepted the cold drink, her mouth still full of cheese, sausage, and crust.

Lois watched as Skip unloaded the bag he'd brought in with him. It contained some basic foodstuffs like bread, butter, and lunch meats. Skip took it upon himself to put them in the small, tucked under, refrigerator that occupied the lower cabinet space on the right side of the sink. The rest of the contents of the bag were left out. They consisted of a couple of bags of chips, and a package of double chocolate chip cookies.

Lois' eyes then spied two more items that made her earlier mood do a 180 degree turn. The first was much appreciated reading material. Skip had picked up three recent magazines, a People, a Metropolis Monthly, and an issue of Cosmo. Lois knew that would help out in the boredom department, but it was the last item that caused her to have warm thoughts regarding this little fellow in front of her.

"How did you know I loved Double Fudge Crunch bars?"

Skip gave her a quizzical look. "Oh, do you like them, too?" Lois giggled as Skip came over and helped himself to a piece of the pizza and a soft drink.

They passed the rest of the meal in a companionable silence until Lois, holding her stomach, flopped back into the chair. She smiled as she gave her current cohort a careful study. He was leaning up against the bed, licking the sauce off his short fingers. He was dressed simply, in jeans and a plain brown button down shirt. He was a fairly unremarkable looking fellow, which Lois supposed helped him in his business, but there was something about him. Even given his small stature, he seemed to exude an air of confidence. Also there was something about him that made you feel comfortable. Lois couldn't imagine Skip being someone who ran off half-cocked over anything. Now that he was done with his share of the meal he returned her look, inviting Lois to start the conversation. It was weird because Lois wasn't normally the chatty type, nor did she usually trust strangers readily. But there was something about Skip that invited you in, made you want to talk to him. So she did.

"I realize it's only been a few hours, but did you find out anything more about the mysterious Jane Doe?"

He shook his head. "Nope, I've got some feelers out but I don't expect them to yield any results until tomorrow." He waved in the general direction of the stuff he'd brought. "How about you? Will you need anything else before tomorrow?"

It was Lois' turn to shake her head. "No, I think this will get me through a day or two." Before Lois could come up with anything else to say Skip interrupted her thoughts.

"So, Ms. Lane," he only hesitated a moment before continuing, "what's the story between you and Danno?" Skip smiled at Lois' blush. "I know you saw each other for a while, but he never talked about it much. Anytime I would ask, he would just mutter something about not understanding how you could prefer a guy who wouldn't commit." Skip noticed Lois' discomfort at the subject. "If this is too personal you can tell me to butt out." His face split into another wide grin. "It wouldn't be the first time."

"No," she returned the smile. "It's all right." Lois paused while she gathered her thoughts. She hadn't really thought about Dan much since she had decided that Clark was the man she had wanted all along. "It's sort of complicated."

"Isn't it always?"

Lois nodded. "I'm afraid I was unfair to Dan, that I might have led him on. I was never in love with him or anything. He was a nice looking guy who expressed an interest in me at the right time."

"You and the boyfriend were having some problems?" Skip offered.

"You could say that. I was in love with Clark, and I knew he was in love with me, but we just couldn't connect. I knew he had some other issues, but until we were able to get all that out in the open, we kept misfiring."

"So the boyfriend had trouble with commitment?"

"No, but that's what Dan always thought, and, truthfully, so did I early on." Lois hesitated trying to think how best to put this next part. "Let's just say that he had trouble sharing, and until we got past that, we couldn't take the next step." Lois waved her arm in the air and shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows, if Clark had never come into my life…" She let that statement hang for a few moments. "Oh course, Dan, had his own problems with sharing, and a macho attitude."

Skip laughed. "That's my boy Danno all right. One of the last of the cowboys." He shook his head in amusement, turned to look Lois in the eye. "But make no mistake. He is extremely good at what he does, and you can trust him. I do."

"I do too."

Lois and Skip continued to talk the night away. Lois was amazed at how easy it was to open up to Skip, and found herself telling him things she hadn't shared with anybody outside of Clark. She had to constantly check herself so she didn't accidentally give away too much, so that Skip wouldn't make the connection between Clark and Superman. As it was, she was sure Skip thought that she and Superman had indeed had some sort of relationship beyond the friendship she purported she and Clark had with big blue.

It was quite late by the time Skip excused himself, promising to let Lois know the minute they had anything concrete to work with. Lois thanked him for all his help and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead as she saw him to the door. He, at first, gave her a quizzical look, then broke into his toothy smile as he bid her a final good night. It was a very tired Lois Lane who flopped down on the hard bed and was asleep before she even had a chance to take off her clothes. ***

It was a dirty and very tired Superman who finally took a break and found a working phone several miles from the worst of the devastation. Not having any pockets to keep any change, or his cell phone in, it was lucky Superman had a good memory. Knowing his calling card number by heart had come in handy on more than one occasion.

He wasn't quite sure what time it was back in Metropolis, but he guessed it was sometime in the early hours of the morning. He was looking forward to hearing Lois' voice. After the horrors he'd had to endure it would be like a balm to his sore and weary soul.

The phone rang several times before the machine finally picked up and he got their standard message. Superman frowned at the phone as he hung up with only the briefest acknowledgment that he had called. Maybe he had the time wrong and Lois was already into work. He punched up another series of numbers and soon was through to the Daily Planet switchboard. ***

After a breakfast consisting of a bologna sandwich and a soft drink, Lois headed into the bathroom. After washing up and brushing her teeth, she began running a comb through her hair. She stared at her reflection in the dulled surface of the small mirror above the sink. She had to admit that she liked this latest hairstyle. It wasn't that 'too short' look she had adopted right after that horrible business when she'd been accused of murdering that former snitch Sikes. But it was definitely shorter than the chin to shoulder length bob she'd worn for so many years. It seemed to frame her face well, and Clark seemed to like it too. It gave him plenty of hair to grab onto when they kissed, but it also gave him easy access to her neck, which he so liked to nibble. Lois had to suppress a girlish giggle at the thought of Clark and, well…

She shook her head to clear her mind. Time to get down to business here. Today could very well be the day when things started happening and she had to be focused. If things went the way they hoped, a lot would be riding on her actions and abilities, like Clark's life… and hers.

After dressing in a clean pair of jeans and a burgundy pullover top, Lois reached for her cell phone. She'd made the decision to call Perry. She'd just tell him she was settled and that she was all right. She really couldn't betray anything to him because she didn't know anything definite yet. She dialed Perry's direct number, to avoid going through the switchboard. He answered after only two rings.

"Daily Planet, Perry White."

"Perry, it's Lois." It was a comfort to hear his gruff voice.

"Lois, honey, it's great hearing from you. What's up? What can you tell me?"

"Not much, Chief. I've made contact with my informants, but we have no definite leads yet." Perry knew her informant was Scardino, but Lois didn't feel comfortable saying his name over the phone."

"Okay, where are you, Lois? Clark called earlier."

Lois' breath caught momentarily at the mention of her husband's name. "How is he? Is he home yet? What did you tell him?"

"Hold on just a second, honey." Perry allowed himself a silent smile. Same old Lois. "He's fine. No, he's not home yet. There have been some more aftershocks, but he thinks he might be home later tonight, or early tomorrow."

Lois wondered if he would be back before Skip and Dan found this Jane Doe, and took her out of the picture. "Perry, what did you tell him about me?"

"Well, he wondered where you were. Where are you by the way?"

"Doesn't matter, go on."

"He didn't have a lot of time to talk so all I was able to say was that you were on assignment, and I hadn't heard from you yet. He seemed to accept that without any questions, and then had to beg off before I could get into any details."

Lois felt a sigh of relief. She didn't want Clark worrying about her while he still had so much to do over there. "Okay, Perry, thanks. I'll let you know more when I do."

Lois hung up and sat down in the under stuffed chair. She picked up one of the magazines Skip had brought and opened it to a random page. Now all she could do was wait. ***

It was early afternoon when she heard the knock on the door. A quick check through the chain revealed Skip outside carrying some kind of gym bag. She let him in and closed and locked the door after him. Skip immediately took the bag and set it on the table. He turned to Lois.

"We got real lucky. It took some doing, but I was able to find out how and where Jane was coming into town. Danno was just able to get there in time to pick her up before she could even know anyone was on to her. He has her stashed in a safe place." Skip noticed Lois' cocked eyebrow. "Look, Ms. Lane," he said chuckling. "I know Dan comes off all brash and cocky, but he really is an excellent agent. In fact, he is the Agency's most decorated operative."

"Really." He ignored Lois' comment.

Skip began to rummage through the bag, pulling out some leather garments and another smaller paper bag. "We were also able to get the critical information necessary for you to be able to take her place." He handed her a slip of paper.

"What's this?" Lois looked at the paper. It simply said: Don Bosco's — 9:30.

"Danno is pretty sure it's the meeting spot. He saw some low rent goon pass it to her just before he nabbed her. Don Bosco's is a bar down near the waterfront. It used to be a high class joint twenty years ago, but neighborhoods change. Now, let's just say it is less than respectable. We assume that is where they will make contact with you."

Lois came over and looked through the pile of clothing. It was a leather pants outfit in black and dark brown. Also a long black leather coat.

She pointed to the pile. "Are these her clothes?"

"No, she's a little bulkier than you so her stuff wouldn't fit. I went out and got similar stuff in your size."

Lois didn't want to know how Skip knew her sizes. She indicated the brown bag with a tip of her finger. "And this?"

Skip pulled a photograph out of his shirt pocket. He handed it to Lois as he busied himself with emptying the contents of the bag.

Lois took the photo and looked at it. She saw a plain looking woman of average height, and a muscular build. She was wearing an outfit very similar to the one Skip had brought only without the jacket. The thing that drew Lois' attention though was her hair. The short, spiky, punk style hair was a brilliant red. It immediately caught your attention. At first Lois wondered why she would pick a style and color that would draw attention to herself, then she thought back to what Dan had said about her. She was constantly changing her look so as not to be recognized from one job to the next. It did make sense to draw attention to those features that could be changed or covered up and away from those that couldn't.

Lois looked up at what Skip was doing and a sinking feeling came over her as she saw him pull a bottle of red hair dye out of the brown paper bag, and a sharp, new pair of barber's shears. She sighed heavily as she reached out her hands to take the items that Skip had so thoughtfully provided. With the bottle in one hand and the scissors in the other she turned toward the bathroom.

"Clark is going to *kill* me." ***

It was a very different Lois Lane who walked through the doors of Don Bosco's that evening. She immediately became the focus of attention for all the locals as they checked out the new talent. Clad in tight fitting leather and a long leather coat, she looked every inch the professional low life she was supposed to be. It was a good thing no one could hear the hammering of her heart, as her insides contrasted with the cold, disinterested demeanor she affected on the outside. She slid onto a wooden bar stool and ordered a gin and tonic. She let her gaze drift slowly around the room as she peered over the top of a pair of rose-colored half glasses she wore. What the heck, if it worked for Clark, who was she to argue.

It was an interesting place. The trappings of a once upscale, high class bar were still in evidence. Time worn and badly in need of general maintenance; still the two large chandeliers and the once richly textured walnut woodwork bespoke a time when this establishment had been a hot spot of the social elite. Now, it was a neighborhood hangout and convenient watering hole for the Metropolis underclass.

Lois glanced at her watch and tried her best to look bored and annoyed. It was nine twenty five. It took very ounce of her will power not to put her fingers to her hair. It had been somewhat of an ordeal for her. She had tried to tell herself that it was only vanity, and that it would grow out soon enough. Still by the time she had finished butchering her previously perfect coiffure there had been a couple of errant tears marking her cheek. Not that the haircut hadn't been bad enough, but then she had to endure the garish red hair color. She looked like one of Ronald McDonald's illegitimate children. Her only comfort was she knew she had nailed the look Jane Doe had adopted for this contract, and she could always shave her head when this was all over. By the time her hair grew out again, Clark might be speaking to her, but she wasn't about to take any bets on it.

Dan and Skip had been pretty sure that this was the place and time that Jane Doe was supposed to make contact with her future employer. Lois tried to spot the contact but couldn't find anyone whom she thought might be the one. Lois inwardly groaned as her view locked on one fellow. She had no idea who he was, but it was obvious that he wasn't the one she wanted to meet. Unfortunately, he apparently didn't feel the same. He'd been eyeing her since she came in and must've finally gotten up the courage to come over. From the way he walked it was apparent that a lot of his courage came in liquid form. Lois sent one forlorn gaze heavenward as she prepared herself for his arrival.

This guy had 'Loser' flashing like a neon sign from his head to his feet. He was decked out like some urban cowboy, a fad that was only twenty years out of date. He had all the trappings. From the cowboy hat tipped back on his head down to the fake snake skin boots. His jeans were Levis about a size too small, and the buttons on his yoked shirt had to work extra hard to contain the spare tire he carried around his middle. He even had on one of those goofy string ties that no one in their right mind ever wore. He stumbled once before he reached her and had to glare back at his buddies to silence their laughter.

He came up beside her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Hey sweet cakes, how 'bout you an' me have our own little party inna back?"

Lois didn't even look up at him. "Move it, or lose it."

She didn't have to try and fake a reaction to this creep. Guys like this made her sick, and she'd had to deal with more than a couple in her lifetime. Lois tried not to let her anger turn hot, though. She figured someone like Jane Doe would be more likely to show a cold, detached sort of anger. Of course, the idiot didn't take the hint.

"Okay, sweet cheeks, how 'bout here?" He placed his hand on Lois' breast.

Lois was shocked into momentary paralysis. She quickly fought back the urge to slap his hand away. Instead she allowed herself a sigh and a slight shake of her head. She turned and peered up at him over the top rims of her glasses. He had a stupid, leering sort of grin on his face. Very deliberately Lois reached up and grabbed the string tie in one hand. With her other hand she quickly slid the ornamental clasp up tight to his throat. He didn't have time to do more than gurgle once before Lois slammed his head face first onto the bar with all the force she could muster. The cowboy slid bonelessly to the floor unconscious, his nose a mashed ruin.

Lois reached back, took a sip of her drink, then favored the rest of the bar with her appraising stare. "Who's next?"

The only sound was the shuffling of feet as most of the patrons made an extra effort not to acknowledge her existence. Except for one guy who Lois hadn't noticed before. He was clapping as he approached her. He was an oily weasel of a man, with a permanent smirk on his face. It was like he was the only one in the room in on the joke, and liked it that way.

"Very nice," was all he said as he dropped a small slip of white paper on the bar in front of Lois. He turned and walked out without another word.

Lois picked up the slip of paper and read it. 'Midnight, Pier 18 docks' was all it said. Lois allowed herself a half smile. So far, so good; she had her meeting place. She forced herself to take a couple of extra minutes, and finish her drink before she left. She was almost giddy with power at the way the rest of the bar bums went out of their way to avoid her as she left. It was good to be queen. Once outside she got into the plain gray rental sedan that Skip had procured for her.

"Yes!" She reveled in a bit of self congratulation. Everything had gone according to plan so far, and she allowed herself the hope that she would be able to eliminate any danger to Clark before he returned. She started the car and headed back toward her room. ***

Skip was still there when she arrived. She knew he could tell by the look on her face that everything had gone well. He just smiled and pointed to the containers of Chinese take-out that sat on the small table. Once again Lois marveled at this man's ability to know just what she needed.

"Oh, Skip, you are a doll," Lois said as she flopped down on the floor beside the table and began to check out the assortment he'd picked up.

"Well, I'm about the right size anyway," he said. Lois grinned and he returned it.

He handed her a soft drink and leaned against the foot of the platform which masqueraded as the bed. He regarded Lois for a few moments before he spoke again.

"So, tell me about Clark."

Lois was surprised at the question. "What brought that on?"

"Well, Ms. Lane, ever since we started on this little adventure you've been more concerned about what Clark is going to think, or how he is going to react, than you have been about your adversaries." His grin was totally disarming. "I take it your husband is a pretty special guy."

A dreamy look came over Lois' face. "Oh yeah, he's pretty special all right."

Lois then launched into all the things that made her husband so special; well almost all. She and Skip talked for over an hour with nary a lull in the conversation. Skip was intelligent, funny, and incredibly perceptive. Lois really enjoyed talking to him, and the time just flew by.

"Oh gosh!" Lois exclaimed. "I'd better get going if I'm going to make that meeting with my potential employer."

"I'll hide in the back seat and provide some back up if you need it." Skip made like he was getting ready to go.

Lois put her hand on his arm. "I don't think it would be a good idea. I think my best protection is to be exactly what they expect. If you should be discovered it could be bad for both of us."

Skip frowned. "Are you sure? I don't like the idea of you alone in such an isolated place."

"I'm just going to find out the details of the job. As long as Dan has the real Jane Doe under wraps I should be completely safe."


"Okay, it's settled." She quickly put aside her carton of moo shoo pork and reached for her coat as she got up and headed toward the door. "Wish me luck."

"I doubt that you'll need any Ms. Lane, but break a leg anyway." He gave her a thumbs up.

She returned the thumbs up and slipped past the door. Before she closed it she poked her head back into the room, "and Skip, it's Lois." ***

As Lois moved her sedan slowly along the docks of pier 18, she could see ahead in the distance the approach of another automobile. It was a stylish silver Rolls. Lois began to focus her mind. She had to convince these people that she was the stone killer Jane Doe. Lois took several deep breaths and mentally rehearsed her attitude. She had decided that a cool arrogance would be the best demeanor to affect. She stole a quick glance in the rear view mirror to practice her look. Finally the two vehicles came to a stop next to each other, about ten feet apart.

Lois watched as the driver of the limo, a big strapping lad, got out and went to the rear door. As he opened the door of the Rolls, Lois began to open the door to her car. As Lois exited her vehicle she watched as the chauffeur helped his passenger out of the limo's back seat.

Mindy Church! It took all Lois' will power and concentration not to break character at the revelation that she had just been privy too. A voice in the back of her mind shouted with glee. She knew it! She always thought that Mindy knew more than she was letting on. Lois was always certain that the empty-headed blonde act was just that, too, an act. The things that happened after the Church's, both senior and junior, had gone to jail were just too organized and methodical to be the work of a former lieutenant trying to become the top dog. There already had to be a top dog in charge, and Lois was sure she was seeing that bitch right now.

Lois pushed the glasses a little farther up her nose to partially cover her eyes. Mindy had met Lois Lane before, but Lois was confident that she'd never be able to penetrate her disguise, especially in this light.

Mindy was dressed in a sparkling gold evening gown. Lois couldn't tell exactly the designer, but knew it was one of the top ones. Mindy stepped out to the limo with a directness of purpose that told Lois that there would be no bimbo act going on here tonight.

"So, you are the infamous Jane Doe?" Mindy met Lois' eyes, stare for stare. Lois just nodded. "And you can guarantee to kill Superman?"

Lois didn't speak but merely raised her eyebrow. Mindy frowned and signaled her driver with a nod of her head. He reached in the back and pulled out a thick, plain, envelope. He handed it to Lois. She quickly ripped open the envelope to reveal and very large wad of bills. They appeared to be thousand dollar bills. Lois' hand trembled ever so slightly. She had never seen money like that before, let alone handled it so casually. She made a show of fanning through the bills as if she were doing a quick count, as she let the envelope flutter off in the evening breeze. Lois didn't have a clue as to how much might be there, but she knew it was a lot. She folded the bills over once and stuffed them into the pocket of her long coat. She cocked her head at Mindy this time, really trying to play up her disdainful arrogance.

"Not much of a talker, huh?" Mindy let a little irritation show in her voice. She signaled her driver again, this time with a wave of her hand.

The silent chauffeur once more reached into the rear of the limo and this time produced a small, gray, metal box. He held it reverently, as if it held some unimaginable treasure. Lois was pretty sure what treasure it actually did hold as she accepted it from him. Lois did a quick mental exercise for calming herself in preparation to opening the box. She carefully schooled her facial muscles not to give away anything as she slowly undid the latch and opened the tight-fitting lid.

It was kryptonite! It was in the shape of a double crystal, not much larger than a large man's thumb. The sickly green glow was almost eerie. It seemed to pulsate, almost like it was alive and breathing. Lois clamped down on her impulse to shudder. This stuff was evil. It was the only thing that could kill her husband, and that was something she would rather not see happen. She knew she had to speak to Mindy, there were still some things that needed to be known.

"Not very big," Lois began. "Will this be enough to knock big blue down?"

Mindy smiled. The kind of smile one would see on a cat just before it pounced on the mouse. "Oh yes, it doesn't take much. You just have to get close enough for it to affect him."

Lois nodded. "Is there a deadline for this contract?"

Mindy's smile turned wary. "Let's just say that I'd very much appreciate this be completed before this time tomorrow." Mindy hesitated for just a moment, as if weighing her next words. "And if it's not too much trouble, try to stay away from south side of the harbor when you lure Superman to his doom." Lois gave Mindy a slight half smile and a nod. "If I may ask, how do you plan to trap the big blue boy scout? He's been pretty hard to kill so far."

Lois slammed the lid down tight on the lead-lined box and tucked it under her arm. She reached for and opened her car door. Before getting into her car she stopped and looked back over her shoulder at an expectant Mindy Church.

"Maybe I'll just yell 'Help Superman', and when he comes to rescue me, I'll stick this little present down his bright red shorts."

Lois could hear the soft laughter of Mindy Church as she got back into her car and slowly drove off. She had to force herself not to speed away. She got the kryptonite! Clark was safe! Now all she had to do was go back to the room and have Skip get in touch with Dan. He could then take over setting up the raid on the late night shipment that must be coming in late tomorrow over on the south side somewhere. It would be a lot easier if Clark could swoop down and bust up the big drug operation. Lois suddenly pulled the car over on a dark side street. Why couldn't he? Lois pulled out her cell phone. He just might be home by now.

The phone only rang once before it was answered. "Lois?" It was Clark's anxious voice at the other end.

"Yes, sweetheart, it's me."

"Where are you? Are you all right? What's going on? What's this about some assignment? Where are you?"

Lois had to giggle. The tension had been great and she hadn't realized she needed a release until her husband provided it for her with his impersonation of her own favorite trait, babbling.

"I'm fine, Clark, but I need you to listen to me. I want you to promise me you'll let me finish what I have to say before you ask your questions. Will you do that for me?"

"Yes, Lois, I can do that." His voice wasn't as sure as his words

"Okay, a few days ago Dan Scardino called me and…"


"Clark, you promised."

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I won't interrupt again."

"Thank you. Now, as I was saying, Dan called me up with a hot tip. He come across some really big information. So big that he couldn't…"

Lois filled Clark in on all the details on what she'd been doing for the last few days. Well maybe not all the details. Lois thought she'd wait and sort of surprise him with her new, bozo the clown, look. As is was, they argued for awhile on how to best proceed from there. Clark was all for flying out and getting her right then and there, so she'd be safe. Lois convinced him that everything had gone smoothly, and that any danger she had been in was now over. She also pointed out that she still had to get in touch with Dan and get him the information she had, and be around for the planning of the raid. After all it was his bust, and it was her story, so she had to be there. Clark still didn't want to leave her alone. He suggested that he come over and they could do all that together.

"Clark," Lois finally managed to break through his rambling. "I'm a big girl and I don't need you to hold my hand all the time." Where once Lois might have said those words in anger, now she spoke them from an understanding of her husband's compulsive need to protect her. "I've managed okay so far, and I do have Dan's associate helping me."

"But, Lois, …"

"Clark, you've spent the last few days knocking yourself out helping with that earthquake relief over in Japan. I can tell by your voice that you are dead tired." Lois knew she had him there. "Do me a favor. Get some sleep. Go into the Planet tomorrow. Write up a great article on the earthquake for the Sunday supplement. Fill Perry in on everything I've told you. Then," Lois paused for effect, "then, meet me behind the old rendering plant over near the south side of Hobbs Bay at, say, ten o'clock. Come as Superman, and we can coordinate with Dan's people and when the time comes you can fly in, bust up the drug shipment, and I can get another award winning story. What do you say? Sound like a plan?"

"Lois, I don't know."

"Clark, please, do this for me?" Lois put a little extra wheedle into her voice. When she heard Clark sigh she knew she had him. "Thanks, honey, I'll see you tomorrow night. I miss you and I love you. Bye."

It was an exuberant Lois Lane who parked the gray sedan on the street out in front of her soon to be former digs, and rushed up the stairs to her room. She quickly unlocked the door and pushed her way into the room.

"Skip, it worked! It went down just… Skip!"

Lois rushed over to the broken and bloodied little figure propped haphazardly against the rear bed frame. His face and upper body were a mass of cuts and severe bruises. It was obvious the little man had been tortured. Lois immediately felt for a pulse. He was alive, but just barely. She'd have to get him to a hospital fast. She was trying to figure the best way to carry him and not hurt him when she became aware of another presence in the room.

Lois quickly turned, only to be confronted with the operative end of a nasty looking pistol. The large cylindrical attachment at the end of the barrel told Lois that there was no danger of waking the neighbors. She let her eyes focus on the figure behind the gun, and as soon as recognition set in, that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach that one gets, sank to an all time low.

It was like looking in a fun house mirror. The woman before her was a bit taller and a good twenty pounds heavier, but the dark leather outfit, and the short, flame red hair left no room for doubt. Lois had just met the real Jane Doe. A self satisfied smirk took over the killer's face.

"Miss Lane, I presume? So nice of you to come." Jane thumbed the hammer back on her pistol. "Say good night, Lois."

A cough, no louder than a pop corn box being stepped on was the last thing Lois heard before blackness. ***

Lois woke up slowly and immediately wished she hadn't. Her mouth felt like it had been filled with ash and her head pounded worse than the nastiest hang over she'd ever known, including the one she suffered after Miranda's 'revenge' pheromone spray. Lois opened her eyes to find herself on the floor, her hands tied spread-eagled to the two rear bed posts and her back up against the rear bed frame. She had to choke back a cry of anguish as she saw that her legs were effectively pinned to the floor by the unconscious body of Skip.

"Oh, Skip." A tear slid down Lois' cheek. "Is he d-dead?"

"If he's not, he soon will be." Jane strolled into Lois' view as she got up from the chair and came to face her. "For now, he makes a handy *dead* weight, don't you think?" Jane's laugh caused a shiver to run up Lois' spine.

"Why am I still alive?" It was a question that Lois hadn't been sure she wanted to ask, but even in situations like this, she had to know.

Jane leaned over and placed her finger under Lois' chin and tipped her face up so they were eye to eye. "Because, Miss Lane, you still have some information that I need to know." She let Lois' head fall back. "By the way, thanks for picking up the down payment for me."

"Down payment?"

"Come on, Lois. I can call you Lois, can't I? You don't really think that Superman's death would come so cheap?" She laughed again. "No, my dear, Superman is a million dollar contract. The fifty grand you brought me is just the down payment. I get the rest when the job is done."

"Why don't you just take the money and run? You can't possibly think you can still go through with this now?" Lois tested the ropes binding her arms and found them quite secure. "Nobody goes up against Superman and comes out ahead."

An evil grin spread across Jane Doe's features. "Two reasons: one, I'm greedy and I want the money, and two, I consider it a challenge. I would love to go down in history as the one who actually succeeded where everyone else failed."

Lois tried to move her legs, but for a little fellow, Skip was fairly heavy and Lois didn't have the leverage to move him. "I hope you don't expect me to help you in any way. I won't tell you anything." Lois' words were more defiant than her emotions were.

"But you already have helped, Lois," Jane grinned as she spoke. "You've brought me that cute little lead-lined box with that pretty green crystal in it. I'm grateful you didn't think to get rid of that right away."

Lois groaned. How could she have been so stupid as to have not dealt with the kryptonite first. True, it had been late and she had intended to take it over to Star Labs in the morning, but she should have hidden it or something. Things had been going so well that she had gotten careless. Now that carelessness was going to have dire consequences.

Lois had faced death before, but she was never more scared than she was right now. It wasn't the possibility of her death that had her so frightened; no, it was the fact that her death might very well mean Clark's death as well.

"What about Dan?" Lois' voice wavered a bit as her insatiable need to know kicked in yet again.

Jane frowned, as if not understanding her question, then she smiled that evil smile again. "Do you mean that goofy fellow who was holding me? I'll admit he did a good job of capturing me in the first place. Clean, no nonsense, and very careful." Jane walked over to the cabinets and pulled out a bag of cookies that were still there. "But he was a gentlemen, and so he was a fool. All I had to do was complain about needing to use the bathroom. Even in the presence of an enemy there are certain men who suffer from a Sir Galahad complex, and can't stand to see a lady suffer." She shoved a cookie in her mouth. "We had quite a bit of fun. His skills were actually better than I thought they would be. You'd be surprised how many so called *professional* law enforcement types are really pretty pathetic when it comes to interpersonal combat. I'm still a little sore from our exercise."

"Is he dead?"

"I'm not sure," Jane laughed. "The last time I saw him, he was falling backwards out of a second story window with a bullet in his gut."

Tears were now falling in earnest from Lois' eyes. She couldn't believe what a mess this had become. Everything had been going so smoothly, just like they had planned. And now, it had all fallen apart, and it didn't look good for the good guys. Lois sucked in a shuddering breath. She had to find out Jane's plans, and find a way to stop her. Too much was riding on her to fail. She thought about and just as quickly dismissed the idea of yelling for help and hoping Superman would hear her. Not only would Jane have time to shoot her dead before Clark could ever get there, but Jane also had the kryptonite and Lois didn't want him anywhere near Jane as long as she did. She had to find a way to warn him. Of course, given her current state, that was not going to be too easy.

"How did you find me?"

Jane laughed. "I over heard your friend talking to his little buddy here. He made the mistake of mentioning the name of this fine establishment. The rest is, as they say, history." Jane placed her self in front of Lois and grabbed her cruelly by the jaw. "Now, Ms. Lane, I have a question for you. I assume you've made contact with Superman and made arrangements for some sort of meeting. So I'm only going to ask you this once, where and when?"

Lois gave Jane a look like the woman was totally out of her mind, which she probably was. "You don't honestly think I'll tell you that do you?"

"Yes, I do." Jane backhanded Lois hard enough to cause her head to crack back into the foot board of the bed frame. A trickle of blood slipped from the corner of Lois' mouth.

Lois' eyes blazed with a fury that buoyed her against what she knew was to come. From the light filtering in through the window Lois guessed it was nearly noon. She had to hold out ten hours, so that when she didn't show up for the meet with Superman, Clark would know something was wrong and at least he could be prepared. She spit some of the blood that had pooled in her mouth onto the shiny black leather boots of Jane Doe. The moment the blood left her mouth Lois knew she had made a mistake. She hadn't meant to hit Jane's boots; she wasn't stupid. She knew how Jane Doe would react to that gesture, and it garnered an expected response. The hard backhand was repeated.

Jane grabbed Lois by the front of her shirt and pulled her up as far as the ropes would allow. A cry of pain escaped from Lois' lips before she could stifle it. "Listen, Ms. Tough Gal, I would enjoy beating the stuffing out of you, but I don't know the timetable yet, so I don't have that luxury." She released Lois to fall back down with a thud. "You're obviously tougher than you look, and it could be great fun, but I don't have the time."

Jane made a show of pulling a smallish, rectangular, leather case out of her coat. She unzipped it slowly, relishing the attention that her captive audience was giving her. With a dramatic flourish she opened the case to reveal a couple of hypodermics and several ampules of various colored liquids.

"Yes, Lois, there really are drugs that will make you want to tell me your whole life story if I ask." She pulled out one of the hypodermic syringes and an ampule of a golden colored fluid. "I like to be prepared. Sometimes it's necessary to find out things before I kill people. I'm very thorough, and quite good at my job." Within a minute she had loaded the syringe and held Lois' arm still against bed frame. "This will probably hurt you, but I won't feel a thing." Jane savagely jammed the needle into the vein at the inside of Lois' elbow. Lois gasped, and squeezed her eyes shut against the pain as the liquid was injected into her vein. It was pulled out with no more thought to Lois' comfort, nor was there any little antiseptic soaked cotton ball to hold against the wound. Jane smiled. "Now we wait." ***

Several hours had passed and a very stiff, sore, and emotionally drained Lois watched as Jane rummaged through the cabinets looking for more food to eat while she waited. Lois had listened in horror as she heard her own voice betray the man she loved. Jane had only asked a few pointed questions and Lois, in her drug induced stupor, had happily obliged with the answers. Jane now knew the time, and place, of her intended meeting with Clark tonight.

Unfortunately, she also knew that they had planned to meet to discuss things before planning to meet up with Henderson and his men for the raid. That meant that Clark would be alone when he arrived at their rendezvous. The only positive was that Jane hadn't asked Lois any questions which would reveal her real relationship with Superman, or that he was really award winning journalist, and her husband, Clark Kent.

"You know, Lois, this has been fun." Jane squatted down in front of Lois, and casually looked at her watch. "But I really must be going if I'm to keep your date with Superman. I'll be sure to tell him that you've been unavoidably detained… forever." Jane patted Lois on the cheek. "Now I could shoot you right now, but where's the fun in that. It's obvious to me from our little conversations that you care a great deal about Superman." She smiled her shark like smile. "Heck, Lois, you even impersonated me in order to save him." Jane stood and looked down on Lois. "Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm not going to kill you quickly. Instead I'll let you have some time to think about it as it comes. And at the same time, you can be thinking that it was your information that allowed me to go out and kill Superman also." Jane walked over to the chair and retrieved her coat. "No, no, don't thank me. It's just the kind of gal I am."

Jane reached into the pocket of Lois' coat and pulled something out. She shoved the cell phone into Lois' face, then pulled it back and dropped it on the floor. She stomped her heel down hard on the small plastic device and ground the pieces into the carpet.

"No fair calling for help."

Lois remained silent as Jane tore the bedding off the bed and threw it in a pile in the middle of the floor. The dirty curtains were next, then the contents of Lois' suitcase, along with the suitcase itself. Lois wasn't sure what Jane had in mind but it didn't look good for the home team at that moment. Jane taunted Lois a couple of more times but Lois refused to let her see her fear, or her despair. Jane smiled again as this time she secured a large strip of tape across Lois' mouth.

"I guess it's time, Lois. A good guest never overstays her welcome." Jane pulled out an ornate gold zippo. She bent down and let the lighter's flame ignite the pile of material in the center of the room in several spots. "Before I go, I want to thank you, Lois, for all you've done for me on this contract. Honestly, I don't know it I could have done it without you. Bye." Laughing, Jane picked up her coat and walked through the door, closing and locking it securely behind her.

Lois whimpered as she struggled against her bonds and tried to shout something intelligible through the tape covering her mouth. Her eyes grew larger as she watched the pile of clothing and bedding flame ever larger till it finally started the carpet smoking. As the flames hypnotically held her attention, her mind screamed out to Clark that she was sorry.

Only a couple of minutes had passed and already the flames had reached the near wall and were climbing toward the ceiling. The heat was becoming unbearable and within another minute or two Lois was sure the flames would reach her feet. She struggled some more against her bindings, and tried to shift Skip's weight off her legs. Sweat generated from her earlier exertions, as well as the heat, ran into Lois' eyes making it hard for her to see.

Suddenly she heard a groan. At first she thought her hearing was playing tricks on her, but when she struggled some more she heard it again. Skip! He was still alive! Lois tried shouting through the tape but the muffled curses couldn't be distinguished as anything but grunts and cries. She tried moving her legs again.

This time she was rewarded with a bit of movement and another groan. Lois could see the heat was having an effect on the little man. He was sweating profusely, and she guessed that the discomfort caused him to wake from his state of unconsciousness. Either that or he just got tired of her kicking him.

He was facing Lois as his eyes finally opened. Both sets of eyeballs grew wide as they took in the situation. Skip's from seeing Lois' tied and gagged before him, and Lois', seeing how close the flames were to her feet. She grunted some more, trying to get Skip's attention and to have him focus on the problem at hand. To Skip's credit it didn't take him long to pull himself together and take action.

He crawled off Lois' legs, which she immediately pulled in closer to her body and away from the flames. The bottoms of her boots had started to smoke. Quite unsteady on his feet, Skip reached up and began to work at the knots holding Lois' right hand to the bed frame. As Skip collapsed from the effort after freeing her hand, Lois reached across and savagely tore at the rope securing her other hand. Once free, she levered herself up to a standing position and ripped the tape from her mouth. She bit back a cry of pain as she turned her attention to her small companion and savior. She reached over to help him to his feet. He was a lot heavier than he looked.

Her first thought was to yell for help, but the crackling of the flames was now so loud that she had to shout just to be heard by Skip, who was right next to her.

"Come on Skip, we've got to get out of here." Lois was stiff from sitting in such a cramped position for so long, and her muscles protested the activity she was asking of them. "Skip, can you walk at all? I'm still pretty weak and I don't think I can carry you!"

It seemed to require a great deal of effort for Skip to look at her and speak. "Go on, save yourself. I can't make it. I'm done."

Lois shook her head angrily. "Why is it that all the nice men I meet are so damned noble." She reached down and struggled to pull Skip to his feet. "Not an option, my friend, you are coming with me."

Lois looked up at the inferno that raged around her. The path to the outer door was completely blocked by a wall of flame. She started to turn the other way, toward the window when she was startled by a loud cracking sound. Part of the ceiling came crashing down on the pair causing Lois to be thrown to one side, separating her from Skip. She had to beat out the fire that had ignited her clothing in a couple of spots as she regained her feet.

"Skip!" There was no answer. The air was superheating and was beginning to burn her lungs. There was no chance that he could hear her.

Suddenly, Lois was rocked by a loud explosion. The small gas stove had blown, and the force of the explosion had thrown Lois against the far wall, next to the window. She shakily pulled herself to her feet. Between the incredible glare from the wall of flames and the amount of wreckage that lay jumbled in that corner, Lois couldn't see much of anything.

"Skip!" She screamed again with as much force as she could muster. There was no answer. She couldn't even hear her own voice. Tears poured down Lois' face. "Oh, Skip, I'm so sorry!"

It tore Lois' heart out to have to leave him, but she had no way to reach that side of the room. Between the flames and the debris she had no idea where he was, let alone if he was still alive. She had to get out of there. Another life was at stake, and she wasn't going to let Skip's sacrifice be in vain.

Lois turned to the window and with a couple of sharp kicks of her boots, enough of the window was shattered to allow her egress onto the fire escape outside. She was on the street in front of the building in another minute. A crowd had started to gather, pointing up at the flames as they began to lick up the outside of the building. Lois ran over to the gray rental sedan and fished around in her pocket for the key. The distant sounds of the coming fire trucks caught her attention. She looked around, there was no one within several yards of her. She looked to the sky.

"Help, Superman, help." Lois crossed her fingers as the seconds too slowly ticked by. Her eye caught a clock in a store window across the street. It read 10:03. Several silent curses, and a few not so silent ones escaped from Lois' mouth as she jerked the car door open and threw herself behind the wheel. The sedan roared to life and Lois sped away to the squeal of tortured tires. ***

Ignoring every speed limit and traffic law along the way, Lois was disgusted; where was a cop when she needed one. Even given her NASCAR caliber driving performance, it still took her just over ten minutes to reach the old rendering plant where she and Clark had agreed to meet.

As much as her little voice told her to hurry, Lois knew she couldn't come roaring onto the scene, tires squealing. As she turned into the drive that lead to the plant, she turned off the lights and slipped the car into neutral. Turning off the engine, she allowed the vehicle to coast along the side of the building. Letting the car stop just before the corner of the building was reached, Lois leapt from the auto and moved quickly to the side of the building, peeking surreptitiously around the corner.

It was dark and only a few street lights still worked, but she didn't need much to recognize the scenario unfolding in front of her. The lingering stink of the plant, mixed with the smells of the nearby bay, assaulted her nose. An icy hand seized and squeezed her heart as she reacted to the scene several yards ahead of her.

Jane was bent over Superman, who was lying still on the ground next to her feet. She was holding the kryptonite next to his chest. Superman appeared to be fighting to stay conscious, but pain lines were clearly etched into his face.

Lois knew she was no match for the assassin, even on her best days, and she definitely was not having one of her best days. Jane was so intent on her tormenting of Superman that she hadn't yet noticed Lois' arrival. Lois quickly went around to the back side of the car and popped open the trunk. Being a rental, there wasn't much in there, but there was the requisite spare tire and changing jack. Lois quickly reached in and freed the tire iron from its locked down position. She took one look at what she hoped would be her equalizer and turned her attention back to Jane, and Superman.

Lois prayed that she wasn't too late as she launched herself at the smug assassin. Jane had heard the noise of Lois' approach and turned just in time to catch Lois' tire iron swinging assault head on.

The two ladies were catapulted several feet from the prone figure of Superman, the kryptonite flying from Jane's hand. They both landed hard, temporarily knocking the wind out of each of them. Lois was first to recover and scrambled over to where the kryptonite lay. She picked up the offensive little crystal and threw it toward the bay with all her might. She didn't know if she'd had enough strength to reach the bay with her toss but at least it was out of Superman's immediate vicinity.

Lois turned and noticed Jane just beginning to get to her feet. She launched herself at Jane, the tire iron ready at hand, hoping to knock her out before Lois had to tangle any further with her.

As luck would have it, bad luck, Jane had recovered quickly enough to react to Lois' attack. A hard hip toss found Lois hitting the pavement, hard, once again. She found herself staring up at a very angry Jane Doe.

"Lois, I have no idea how you managed to escape the fire, but you are really proving yourself to be a nuisance." Jane began to pull a pistol out of her waistband as she started to back away from the prone Lois.

Lois had retained the tire iron during her headlong attack and subsequent falls. She noted with satisfaction the puffy welt along the left side of Jane's face. With a somewhat awkward left-handed swing Lois managed to strike Jane's right hand with enough force to knock the gun from it. It landed several feet away. She then swung her leg in a basic tie kwon doh sweeping maneuver, taking Jane's legs out from under her.

Both women rolled to their feet quickly and faced each other. Lois was breathing heavily, but held on firmly to her trusty, rusty weapon. It had served her well so far. Jane had pulled a switchblade knife from her pocket and locked the blade into place; a nasty, predatory smile creased her face.

Lois stared at the knife showing no fear. She was dog tired, and her body ached from what it had been put through the last twenty four hours. First the stiffness from being tied up in one cramped position for so long, and now all this violent physical activity. Her body was sending her signals, that it just wanted to lie down and rest. She couldn't do that, she had to stay focused and she had to keep Jane away from Superman. Lois felt that even if she wasn't lucky enough to defeat Jane, she had to keep her occupied enough to allow Superman time to recover. He had to recover.

Perry's words, like a prophecy, came back to Lois. If she thought something was important enough, she would do what was necessary, including risking her life. Well this was definitely risking her life, and it *most* definitely was important enough. Lois was scared, but she hadn't given up just yet.

"You know, if you were smart you'd take off right now." Lois did her best to keep her voice level. "Superman will be coming around any minute now, and once that happens, your butt belongs to the police."

Jane risked a quick glance back at the still supine form of Superman. "Oh, I don't think he's going to be joining the party anytime soon; but you're right, Lois, time is a wasting."

Jane feinted left and then lunged to the right, her arm swinging the knife in a slashing motion. Lois leapt to her left as she swung her weapon at Jane's outstretched hand. Her iron bar missed it's target and she gasped in pain as she felt the razor sharp blade slice along her rib cage. Luckily, Lois had moved enough to save herself from a serious wound. She was grateful for the leather clothing as it helped deflect some of the force of the blow. The cut wasn't deep, but it did hurt like hell.

Jane quickly spun and caught Lois in the chest with a back kick that staggered her. The assassin followed that up with a nasty thrust of her blade that just barely caught Lois high on her right hip. Jane's knife opened a gash that, again wasn't too deep, but it began to bleed quite a bit, and that began to worry Lois.

As Jane pulled her blade back to try for something a little more deadly, Lois shot a two handed tire iron to the bridge of Jane's nose.

"You bitch," Jane spit out in a low menacing tone as blood poured from her nose.

Lois, was feeling a little light headed from her own loss of blood, and was worried how much longer she could keep this dance of death going. She saw that Superman was still pretty out of it, and she wasn't going to be able to count on him to come and save the day. Lois backed off a few steps in order to put a little more distance between her and Jane.

Jane's eyes blazed with anger. "You know, Lois, before it was just a job. Okay, you can say I enjoy my work, and take great satisfaction in hurting people." Some strange cackling sound came out of Jane's mouth that Lois could only assume was a laugh. "But I'm really going to relish killing you. Before I'm finished you will be begging me to end it." The blood coming from her nose and flowing around her mouth gave her smile an evil clown aspect. "Say good night, Lois."

Lois was only half listening to Jane. Her eyes had been searching frantically the area of hard pavement on which they had been fighting. The part of her mind that had been keeping track of Jane called out it's warning that Jane was ready to strike. It was then that Lois' search was rewarded. Off to the right, and behind Jane, lay the gun that she had pulled earlier. Lois knew that it would be her only chance. Lois focused her attention on Jane just in time to see her begin another lunge.

In a reflex action, Lois flung the tire iron at Jane with all the force she could muster. Taken by surprise at the desperate move, Jane wasn't able to avoid it. The tire iron struck Jane in the right shoulder with enough momentum to knock her sideways. Before she was able to recover her balance Lois was sprinting by her, toward the pistol resting on the ground a few yards in front of her.

Lois could hear the curses from Jane coming fast on her heels. She made a headlong dive for the gun. Lois hit the ground hard and cried out from the pain, but she kept her wits about her enough to grab hold of the handgun and keep rolling.

She scrambled unsteadily to her feet, and quickly held the pistol out in front of her searching for Jane. Lois immediately locked on her target, only a couple yards in front of her. Jane came to an immediate stop, looking expectantly at Lois.

Surprisingly, Jane spread her arms out to the side, flipping her knife off into the darkness. A slow smile spread across her blood smeared face. "I guess you got me, Lois," she said as she slowly walked toward Lois.

"Stay right where you are!" Lois pulled the hammer back on the revolver to emphasize her words.

Jane's smile stayed intact. "Come on, Lois, I'm unarmed. We both know you won't shoot. You're one of the good guys." Jane kept coming. "I mean, we both know it's against the rules of fair play to shoot an unarmed opponent."

The silencer was still on the pistol so it made very little sound as the bullet exited the barrel and struck Jane in the right thigh. She fell to the ground with a single cry of pain, spending the rest of her breath on cuss words. Lois came up and, sticking the barrel of the gun between Jane's eyes, shoved her so she was lying with her back flat to the earth.

"Do I look like some macho idiot to you?"

Lois used Jane's and her own belts to tie the woman's hands and feet leaving her lying where she fell. Lois then quickly ran over to where Superman was still lying on the ground. Please, her mind screamed, let him be all right. She cradled his head in her arms as her tears splashed from her cheeks to his face. Lois murmured into Clark's ear as she pleaded with him to come back to her. With a shudder and a moan Clark began to audibly breath again and his eyes fluttered open.

"Lois?" His voice was weak and Lois had to strain to hear him.

"Yes, darling, it's me. You're going to be all right. Just lie still, you're going to be all right."

A weak hand reached up and fingered Lois' bright red locks. "Not your color."

Lois alternated between laughing and crying as she rocked back and forth continuing to hold Clark's head in her arms.

"Hey who's there? What's going on here?"

Lois looked up to see a flashlight wielding, security patrol officer approaching. Lois quickly kissed Clark on the lips. "I'll be right back," she said as she carefully laid his head back down and got up to meet the officer. "Do you have a radio in that car?" She pointed to the officer's vehicle which was parked a few yards from them with the front door still open.

"Of course." He was a young fellow and he stood a little straighter trying to show Lois that he was the real deal, but it was obvious he was intimidated by the bloodied, leather clad woman who was striding purposely toward him.

Lois smiled. "It's finally time to pay the piper, Mrs. Church." Lois led the bewildered security officer back toward his car.


Three days later, The Daily Planet's hottest reporter and her partner entered Metropolis General Hospital. Lois still walked with a bit of a limp, and continued to be a bit stiff and sore. There continued to be some swelling of her face, a result of her earlier interrogation at the hands of Jane Doe. Her two knife wounds had luckily not been very serious and only one had required any stitches. She had only had to stay overnight at the hospital.

The worst were the bruises. Clark, upon seeing Lois naked, had been very upset at the colorful nature of her body. It had led to the expected argument about why she had done what she had. Why hadn't she told him, and why hadn't she waited? She had explained her logic, and how the recent spate of emergencies for Superman hadn't allowed her to tell him more, sooner. She was in possession of important information and had to act fast on it. Clark also didn't understand Lois' motivation. Why she felt compelled to place herself in this situation when she knew how dangerous it was. He couldn't understand the reason she felt she'd had to do this. Lois suspected that part of Clark's anger was directed at Scardino for 'dragging her into this mess'.

They had spent a lot of time arguing, and Lois wasn't sure that anything had actually been resolved, but the makeup love making had been terrific. Clark had been hesitant, being very conscious of Lois' injuries, but Lois attacked him with a passion he hadn't seen in her in some time. In the end, they had mutually agreed to put the whole affair behind them and move on with their lives. Clark did have to admit that Lois seemed to have regained that spark, that self-confidence she had been missing of late. They were both just glad that the other was still alive and they both made sure that the other knew it, too.

After inquiring at the nurse's station, Lois and Clark were directed to the proper room. As they entered they saw a pale and tired looking Dan Scardino. Upon seeing he had guests, Scardino immediately cheered up. He smiled and indicated the chairs that were close to his bed.

"Hey, if it's not the dynamic duo, themselves." Dan grabbed a paper off the night stand. "Congratulations, Lois, terrific story. You're bound to get that Pulitzer now." He grinned. "Nice story on the Tokyo earthquake too, Kent."

Lois smiled. The Planet had run a special edition breaking her drug raid and Intergang expose story. It had sold out in record time and Perry had been strutting around like a proud peacock for the last couple of days over it. Lois had been able to use the security officer's radio to contact Henderson and fill him in on the shipment coming in. There had been barely enough time for him to round up the needed manpower but he had. Intergang had been confident that they had everything covered so they were unprepared for the raid. Superman hadn't recovered enough to help, but luckily he hadn't been needed. It had been the biggest drug bust in the history of the Metropolis PD, and had severely crippled Intergang.

"Too bad about Mindy Church though." Scardino shook his head.

After Lois' deposition, Henderson had secured a warrant for Mindy Church's arrest, but she had already skipped. A city wide hunt had yet to turn her up. Lois shrugged and came over, putting her hand on Dan's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry about Skip." Tears began to trickle down her cheek. "He saved my life you know."

Dan reached up a patted Lois' hand. "I know, but don't cry, Lois, Skip's a tough guy he'll pull through."

Lois' eyes grew wide in astonishment. "What do you mean?" She grabbed Dan by the shirt front. "Are you saying that Skip's alive!"

Dan's look of puzzlement was genuine. "Well, yeah, didn't you know? There was some sort of explosion which blew him right out of the building. Some fireman found him in an alley dumpster when he heard him groaning." Dan had to smile at Lois' reaction. "He's in rough shape, but he'll pull through."

"Ohmygawd, where is he!" Lois had to refrain from shaking Dan. "What's his room number?"

"It's 312."

Lois planted a quick kiss on Dan's cheek and headed for the door. "Get better Dan, gotta go. Catch you later." And she was gone.

Dan shook his head as he quietly laughed. "Now, why can't I get women to act like that for me?"

Clark couldn't help but crack a slight smile of his own. Lois had told him quite a bit about Skip, and what he had meant to her during her ordeal. She had been devastated when she thought she had left him to die in the inferno that was the old hotel room. He was glad the little fellow was going to be all right. He looked at Dan.

"Should I be jealous?"

Dan smiled back at Clark. "I'm not sure, maybe."

"So, how about you?" Clark felt a bit uncomfortable being alone with Dan. "Lois didn't have much hope that you had survived after Jane Doe told her how she left you."

"I'll be okay in a few days. Doc says I have to rest up a while yet, while my wound heals. I was lucky when I went out the window to land in a lot of garbage. It cushioned the fall and saved me from a broken back." Dan sighed. "How about Lois? It sounds like she and the dragon lady had quite the tussle."

"Yeah, they did. Luckily, she wasn't hurt badly. I guess a tire iron goes a long way as an equalizer."

Dan let go a snort like laugh. "I don't know. I think where Lois is concerned, it doesn't matter who you are, you are overmatched." Dan shook his head. "I know I'd never bet against her."

Clark's mood sobered. "Nor would I, though that doesn't stop me from worrying about her."

"No, it never does." Dan saw the look that Clark was giving him. "Okay, Kent, I guess this is as good a time as any. We are alone, and I know that we've never gotten along." Dan took a breath. "It doesn't matter how I feel, or felt about Lois; I know that she never really had any feelings for me. I was handy at a time when she was confused about your feelings for her. She always did, and always will love you." Dan's voice strengthened in his sincerity. "You have to know that I would never knowingly put her in any danger."

Clark frowned. "But you did."

"No," Dan was shaking his head again, but this time in denial. "She invited herself along for the ride. I contacted her originally because I knew the two of you had a pipeline to Superman. Once she found out why I wanted to contact Superman, to warn him, things changed. She got all protective of him, and told me she wanted in on the operation." Dan fixed Clark with a piercing stare. "Frankly, I'm surprised you weren't there when we had our meet."

Clark turned away and spoke to the walls. "I was in Japan."

Dan nodded. "So I understand. You and Superman both, which complicated matters quite a bit. I tried to call off the operation once Lois told me her *plan*. It was too dangerous, and I didn't want Lois being put in a situation like that. Trouble was, it was a good plan; and, if anyone could pull it off, it would be Lois. She is an incredible woman."

Clark's frown deepened but Dan ignored it and pushed on. "You know, Kent, the sad thing was, it would have worked fine if I had just been able to keep up my end of the bargain. If that murderous bitch hadn't gotten the drop on me and escaped, everything would have gone smooth as silk, and none of us would have had to spend any time here, licking our wounds."

Clark could see that Dan was wallowing in a lot of guilt. Not only had his actions caused Lois pain and suffering, but it had almost cost him the life of his friend. Clark wanted to feel sorry for him, and if he had been the injured party instead of Lois, he might have been able to forgive him. Since it was Lois who had suffered, he didn't think he could.

"I'm sorry, Dan. I'm sorry you got hurt. I'm sorry you're friend got hurt, and I'm glad you both will get better." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "But I think you know that we will never be friends. I've read your file. I know you are some hotshot operative, but I don't like the way you operate. You are too much of a cowboy, you act before you think, and you feel the best way to get to the honey is to stir up the bees."

Dan grinned at Clark. "Sound like anyone else we know?"

Clark shook his head slowly and grimaced. "Dan, I hope for the best for you, and your friend, I really do; but if you ever need to contact Lois, me, or Superman again…"

Dan cocked his eyebrow. "Yes."

"Put an ad in the Daily Planet." Clark turned on his heel and left the room. ***

It took Clark only a couple minutes to find room 312. He knocked once, then pushed open the door and entered. He saw a small man, heavily bandaged, lying on a bed that made him seem even smaller. Lois was seated on the edge of his bed and she was holding his hand. A few tears were evident on her cheek. She looked up when she heard him enter, and favored him with a big smile. He came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She leaned into him, gently placing a kiss on the back of his hand.

The voice that issued from the mass of bandages in the bed was surprisingly strong. "So this, I assume, is the light of your life. The enigmatic Mr. Clark Kent."

Clark reached over and half shook, half squeezed Skip's hand and made the introductions. He glanced back at Lois, a slightly puzzled look on his face.

Lois blushed. "Well your name did come up in some of our conversations, once or twice."

An honest belly laugh erupted from Skip. "Believe me, Clark…" At Clark's nod, Skip continued, "Believe me, Clark, it was almost all good."

Clark's gaze bounced from Skip to Lois to Skip and back to Lois again. "Almost?"

A laughing Skip patted Clark's hand. "Okay, all good, it was all good. In fact some of it was so juicy I get embarrassed just thinking about it."

"Skip!" Lois looked scandalized.

The laughter from the little man soon made his guests realize that he was just having some fun at their expense. Both Lois and Clark smiled at each other as they linked hands.

With a casual wave of his hand, Skip directed attention to Lois' head. "So, Clark, what do you think about Lois' makeover?"

Lois put her hand to her ultra short new hairstyle. It was still red because the hairdresser thought another dye job so soon would damage her hair too much. They had decided instead that they would just keep trimming it as her hair grew out until they got rid of the color.

Clark put his arm around his wife. "It's not a look *I* would have chosen, but if she can deal with it, so can I. It's more important that she's home and safe once again."

"Amen to that. You know you have a pretty special lady there don't you?"

Clark nodded. "Oh, yeah."

"You take care of her. I won't always be around to bail her out of trouble." Skip's grin was so infectious that it caused Clark to laugh. Lois just tried to glare unsuccessfully at the little man who had become a good friend to her in such a short time.

Lois stood as she saw Skip try to hide a yawn. "I think we'd better let you get some rest. I'll be back to see you tomorrow, if that's all right?"

"Sure, Lois, that would be great. You're welcome back anytime." With a twinkle in his eye, Skip added, "You can even bring Clark back with you."

Shaking her head Lois turned to go, Clark right with her. They were both stopped when they heard Skip once again speak.

"Oh, and, Clark, I hope you weren't too hard on Danno. He really is one of the good guys."

Clark just nodded and, with his hand on the small of her back, guided Lois out the room's door.

Once in the hallway, Lois' thoughts turned to Dan. Lois now felt a little guilty for leaving Clark alone with Dan. Lois could tell that Dan had been uncomfortable with Clark there, and Clark hadn't been too much at ease either. Neither would ever be able to get beyond the past that existed between them. Lois felt sorry for Dan. This bust had made him a hero to his department, and he was considered one of the top dogs again, but she could tell he was lonely. He never really had gotten over the death of his partner, Jenna. Lois hoped that some day he could find with someone at least a part of the happiness that she had found with Clark.

Lois stuck her arm through Clark's. "How's Dan? I'm sorry I ran off on you."

"He's doing okay." Clark leaned down and gave Lois a gentle, sweet kiss. "I think you should stop by and see him tomorrow, too."

Lois leaned against Clark a sad smile on her face. "Yeah, I will."

Lois and Clark left the hospital in a companionable silence. Arm in arm they walked out the front exit and into a beautiful star filled night. The sun had just recently set and the moon was not yet up. The air was cool, but not cold, more refreshing than chilly. Clark pulled Lois in closer and wrapped his arm around her, rubbing his hand up and down her arm.

"So," he said, turning his head to look into her face, "have you managed to overcome this recent crisis of confidence yet?"

Lois stared up in the sky for a few moments before answering. "I think so. It was not only the ability to do what I had to do on this story that helped, but just the way some things played out."

"And they would be?"

"Clark, for the first time since I met you, I was in a life or death situation where I knew there was no chance that Superman was going to come swooping in to save the day. He wasn't going to break down any doors, rescue me from the bad guys, and tie everything up in a nice neat bow for me."

Clark frowned. "And this was a good thing?"

Lois' laugh was restrained and musical. "In a way, yes it was. I was beginning to doubt myself. I wondered if I had any value anymore on my own." She placed her finger over Clark's lips before he could utter his protest. "Together, we are unbeatable, but I was feeling like I wasn't able to pull my weight in the partnership." She grinned. "After all, you do have a couple of physical advantages over me." She continued, "But this time it was different. You were not in a position to be of any help, so I was on my own. It was up to me to save the day, as it were, against an enemy that I should have had no chance against. But I beat her."

Lois stopped, pulling Clark around to face her as she ran her hand along his cheek. "You know why it was that I was able to beat her?"

Clark smiled. "No, why?"

"Because Jane Doe was just fighting for her life, while I was fighting for something much more important than my life."

Clark returned the gesture of the hand to the cheek. "And what could that possibly be?"

Lois allowed herself to be mesmerized by the rich mahogany pools that were Clark's eyes. "Your life."

Clark leaned in and captured her lips between his. The trials and terror of the last week disappeared in two lovers' affirmation of the fact that they had survived, and they were together.