When Larry Met Charlie

By Wendy Richards <wendy@lcfanfic.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: August 2003

Summary: While undercover, Lois meets car thief Charlie King. But is he more than what meets the eye?

Author's notes: This story would not be finished if it wasn't for the help of so many people. Just after I started writing it, I went through a period of writer's block, when for some reason I could only write short stories. Long stories got stalled after a couple of dozen pages. However, thanks to the nagging and encouragement of a number of IRC friends (you know who you are, guys!), I finally got to a point where I could start posting it on the fanfic message boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com), and there I had even more encouragement and support. Thanks to all of you, this epic is now finished.

Even more grateful thanks goes to my beta- readers. Kaethel and Annette, you cheerled and generally helped to inspire me, as well as making useful suggestions along the way. KathyB, who repaid me many times over for an advance sight of the whole story by very helpfully pointing out some errors and inconsistencies and thereby avoiding my embarrassment. ;) And, most of all, Yvonne Connell, BR extraordinaire, who stuck with me the whole way through this monster. You're just the best. :)

Finally, the characters in this story are the property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, and no profit has been or ever will be made from this story!


"…it's a great opportunity, Perry! I go undercover and get to be part of the gang, and I'll be able to break it open from the inside!"

Perry raised a sceptical eyebrow in her direction. "Well, it sounds good, Lois, but are you absolutely sure you can get in? And that it's not too dangerous? You know the accountants weren't too happy at the hike in our insurance premiums last month."

"I still think that was a con," Lois grumbled, pacing about the editor's office. "It's not as if I wound up in the hospital that much!"

"Oh? And having your own personal 'Lois Lane' coffee mug at the hospital cafeteria doesn't mean anything?" Perry drawled.

"I do *not* — " Lois began, objecting.

"Enough," Perry said dryly, interrupting her. "Anyway, okay, you go do it. And bring back a great story, y'hear?"

"You bet, Perry!" With a grin, Lois marched back into the newsroom, already planning her disguise.


"Hey. I'm Larry."

The fortysomething skinhead nodded. "Vinnie. You done this before?"

Lois shrugged casually. "Few times. Back in Detroit — until things got too hot."

"Good. Just do as you're told — no solo activity, no prima donna stuff, and you're in."

"Great!" Lois extended her — carefully grubbied — hand, taking care to spit on her palm first. Vinnie did likewise before giving her a hard handshake.

"Tonight. Where we agreed. Don't be late."


She was in! Vinnie had clearly been completely fooled by her disguise; she'd have to remember this one for future reference. The goatee beard and moustache were perfect, and the grubby woollen cap disguised her shiny, feminine hair — she hadn't even needed to cut it. The binding around her chest concealed her bustline, and the loose clothing she wore completed the effect. She looked exactly like a nineteen- year-old boy.

Her bust felt pretty squished with all the binding she had to wear, but she could live with that — it was all worth it in the name of the exclusive, wasn't it? And this was nothing like as uncomfortable as some of the disguises she'd worn in the line of duty. She thought of the leather cat-suit she'd had to wear a year or so ago, and grimaced. Though even that hadn't been as bad as the bunny-girl outfit with the tighter-than-skin upthrust bustier. Or the frog costume… but she didn't need to be reminded of that!

And, thanks to Jimmy's help — just what had that kid been in Juvy for, anyway? — she knew how to boost a car and had been able to demonstrate her talent successfully enough to convince Vinnie. She was in — she was already halfway to getting her story.

And, she thought gleefully, perhaps another award…


"Larry. This is Charlie — he's new too. I'm going to team you two with Snake," Vinnie said later that night as half a dozen or so people congregated in the tumbledown brownstone in Suicide Slum.

Lois studied the man called Snake. He was medium height and stocky, dressed in army fatigues and with a crew-cut. He also had a tattoo of a snake on his cheek — pretty noticeable, Lois thought. Someone like him could hardly fade into the crowd. These guys clearly believed that no-one was actually going to see them doing what they did.

Still, it would mean that she'd have no difficulty at all in describing him to the police once that became necessary.

She turned to glance at the other man — Charlie. And she felt her heart tilt dizzyingly.

He was tall — around six feet, she guessed. Well-built, with a magnificent pair of shoulders. His hair was long and untidy and looked as if it needed a wash, and he wore stained jeans and a grimy sweatshirt, with a leather jacket that had seen better days. But his jaw was firm and strong, even partly covered as it was by a thin growth of beard, and his eyes…

He wore fairly nondescript glasses, but as he met her gaze all she was conscious of was the dark brown intensity of his stare. And she felt as if she'd been hit by a bolt of lightning.

Who was this Charlie?

A car thief, she reminded herself. No-one she could even for one second contemplate being attracted to.

<You're going to be handing him over to the cops, along with the rest of these punks> she reminded herself caustically.

She looked away from him, breaking eye contact in spite of the strange, insistent longing from somewhere inside her to carry on looking at him. In spite of the totally baffling conviction she seemed to be feeling that this piece of street-scum was her destiny…


Yawning, Lois hit 'save' for the final time on her file of notes from the night's work. She stretched, again feeling grateful for the lack of binding around her chest; it had been sheer relief to take it off once she'd got home. It had been a very fruitful evening, she thought in satisfaction as she got up and headed for the bathroom and then bed, knowing that she could only afford to cat-nap for about three hours. Still, the lack of sleep was no big deal. It was worth it for the sake of what she knew was going to be another great story.

She'd learned that the car-theft ring operated in groups of two normally; because she and Charlie were both new, they'd been sent out with Snake, but once the gang considered them to be sufficiently trustworthy, they'd fall into the normal working pattern. Lois herself had been involved in the theft of three cars, and from what she'd been able to tell, at least a dozen vehicles — all high-value and many of them imports such as Mercedes-Benz and BMWs — had been acquired in all.

She now understood the thieves' methods — they'd drive to an upmarket area, carrying equipment to disable security lights or motion sensors, quickly break into the target vehicle and one of them would drive it away, taking it to the temporary compound, an abandoned warehouse also located in Suicide Slum. Car alarms were no problem to these operators, she'd quickly found — and she now knew how to disable the most common alarm. Once in the compound, she discovered, cars would have their licence-plates and chassis identity numbers changed and would be swiftly shipped out of the state.

But she didn't yet have enough information to blow the whole thing open. She knew how they worked and where the cars were stored, sure; but she hadn't yet found out who was behind it all. Cars were stolen to order, she'd discovered: all the teams had been given instructions as to exactly where they were to go and which vehicles to get — she'd been surprised to find, on one trip, that they took a baby BMW convertible and left behind the more expensive X5 SUV.

So who gave the orders? Who ran the show?

She had to find the answers to those questions before she could write the story — well, before she could go to the police, she reminded herself.

Yawning again, she slid between the sheets of her bed.

But as she closed her eyes, the image of a face swam before her lids.

Charlie. Charlie King, she'd discovered later in the evening. His good looks, even marred by his overall scruffiness, were undeniable. And his voice… For some reason, she hadn't expected a guy like him to have such a soft, gentle voice. And his eyes… Several times during the few hours they'd been working together, she'd glanced at him only to find him looking at her, and every time she'd felt a peculiar sensation as her gaze had met his. She'd even found herself fancying that his dark gaze was caressing her…

Though that was completely ludicrous, she'd told herself with an incredulous shake of her head. He thought she was a man — well, a youth. A guy called Larry.

He was strong, too, she'd noticed: one of the cars they'd lifted had large blocks in front of the wheels. Snake hadn't been able to move them, and Lois had tried with no success at all. Yet Charlie had kicked them out of the way with little apparent effort. He was clearly very experienced at car theft — he'd had the job of breaking into one of their target vehicles, and he'd had the door open in under a second.

He was obviously a hardened criminal, she told herself firmly. And that meant that she had to put him out of her mind. He was going to jail, along with the rest of the gang.

It was such a shame… Someone with his looks and his obvious intelligence — although they hadn't talked much, what little he'd said indicated to her that he was far from stupid — could have done so much better for himself.

And if he had, if he hadn't chosen a life of crime, if she'd met him in different circumstances, what could they have been to each other?

Nothing, she told herself wryly. She'd likely never have met him. After all, what might he have done instead of becoming a thief? Driven a taxi? Been a street-cop? Worked as a janitor or night security guard? It was unlikely that their paths would have crossed.

And anyway, how did she know that he wasn't married? Or involved with someone, at least?

Forget him, she told herself harshly. Concentrate on the *story*!


Clark typed the final line with a flourish, then ripped the page from his portable typewriter and, gathering the sheets together, read over his story.

'Diary of a Car Thief.' It wasn't exactly ground-breaking stuff, but it was human interest: an insight into the mindset of a criminal, one engaged in the kind of theft which affected ordinary Americans. And it was the kind of story, he hoped, which would get him the big break he'd come to Metropolis for: a reporting job at the Daily Planet.

He'd intended to apply for the job he almost thought of as his already as soon as he arrived in the city. But, looking through his portfolio again a week or so ago, he'd become consumed with insecurity. His best work was in there… and yet it looked flimsy. His most recent writing, for example, was on pretty esoteric topics, pieces he'd written for the Borneo Gazette, on subject-matter he really couldn't see a man like Perry White being interested in. And his more newsworthy stories were from a few years ago.

He'd decided that he needed some more recent examples of what he could do. So, leaving Smallville a few days earlier than he'd intended, he'd arrived in the city a couple of days ago, intending to find something local to Metropolis that he could write about and, with any luck, show to Perry White to persuade him that Clark Kent, the reporter from Kansas, was worth hiring.

And he'd struck lucky. Poking around one of the city's murkier areas in search of local colour, something he could maybe write a human- interest, socially-conscious article about — Clark knew he was good at that sort of thing. Anyway, he'd overheard, entirely due to his special abilities, two people talking and complaining about having lost a couple of good operatives lately. Listening further, he'd discovered that they were part of a theft and distribution racket. His first thought had been to report them to the police, but on reflection he'd realised that there was nothing he could have given the cops to go on.

But he'd started thinking then… and later, he'd made himself look scruffy and had engineered a meeting with one of the men he'd seen, introducing himself as Charlie King, an experienced operative in their line of work. And now he was part of the gang.

There wasn't quite enough in the story yet to make it saleable, though; he'd need to spend at least one more night out with the gang to get sufficient material. Not that Clark especially enjoyed being a part of criminal behaviour — far from it. And he was sorely tempted, right now, to fly over to the warehouse where they stored the stolen cars and return them all to their owners.

But, he reasoned, that wouldn't do anything to ensure that the thieves were caught — and that was one thing he was determined to do before he was finished with this. So far, he had little to go on; it was pretty clear that the people he'd seen were only minions. There was a big boss somewhere, and Clark needed to listen very carefully, even use his abilities to sneak around a bit, to find out who that boss was. And come up with enough evidence against him to allow the police to do their job.

Of course, he couldn't help recognising that if he did manage to do that, it would make him an even better proposition for the Planet.

Glancing down at his story again, Clark mused briefly over the character studies he'd created — all using pseudonyms, of course. Vinnie and Snake, naturally… and Larry.


Why could he not get that crazy kid out of his mind?

Maybe it was because he was just a kid. Clark thought he couldn't have been much more than nineteen. What a waste of a young life! Larry should be in college, or starting his first proper job, at his age. But then, he reasoned, the kid had probably been dabbling in crime most of his life.

He just couldn't understand what it was about Larry which had fascinated him. The kid wasn't especially remarkable — not particularly tall, a wispy goatee of a beard on otherwise smooth features which only highlighted his extreme youth, and dirty clothing and that awful hat.

And those eyes…

Deep brown eyes, which seemed to see right through him, to look into his soul. Eyes soft as a doe's, with beautifully curved lashes which Clark would just bet were smooth as silk to touch.

And Larry's hands, grimy as they were and with grubby fingernails too, were slender and well- shaped.

<Stop it, Kent!> he commanded himself, aghast. He was *not* attracted to that juvenile delinquent! That *male* juvenile delinquent! Clark recoiled at the unbidden thought.

Although he couldn't help wishing that he could help the kid to see the error of his ways, and maybe help him to break away from his life of crime. If only…


Keeping her eyes and ears open, Lois spent the following night trying to track down clues to the theft ring's leader. The guy clearly kept himself as anonymous as possible, she decided after discreetly questioning Snake and one or two other gang members. No-one seemed to know anything, and she was pretty sure that they weren't just saying that to shut up a nosy kid.

At the same time, she found herself having to cope with Charlie, who for some reason was behaving in a very strange manner towards her. They were on the same team again, and for the first hour or so he'd seemed to be avoiding her. He'd barely glanced in her direction and, while she wouldn't have thought anything of that, she did notice that on the one occasion she did catch him looking at her, he looked away again very quickly, almost as if he felt ashamed to be seen watching her.


She frowned as she looked away herself. What was Charlie's problem with her? She thought he was attractive, even in spite of her better judgement about his character. Not that she could understand this completely ludicrous attraction to him. He was a car thief, after all — someone without ethics, who made his living by depriving other people of their hard- earned property. He'd probably never done an honest day's work in his life! She despised people like Charlie King.

And since when had she found grunge in any way attractive? Her taste in men had been the same for years: well-educated, elegantly dressed, cultured men in respectable occupations. Men she could respect, and who would win the respect of her parents should she decide to introduce them. Not someone she'd be ashamed to take anywhere!

Always assuming that he didn't wind up in jail before their first date…

But what was she thinking? This ridiculous attraction to Charlie King couldn't possibly go anywhere.

Yet she did undeniably find him attractive.

So what was so wrong about him thinking the same — except that, to this gang of thieves, she was a man. Larry Long.

Lois stilled. Was Charlie… attracted to 'Larry'? But that would mean he was…

Before crushing disappointment could surge through her, she quelled it severely. Charlie was a *criminal*! He stole other people's expensive property, without a qualm, she reminded herself yet again. And it was her intention to see him in jail, along with the rest of them.

Once she managed to find out who was running the show, of course…


Clark felt as if he was going crazy. He couldn't get Larry out of his mind! He was conscious of the kid the whole time; his senses were busy keeping track of Larry at every second, instead of doing what they were supposed to do. He *should* be trying to find out who was behind the operation. And with his extra abilities, that shouldn't be difficult. A conversation overheard here, a piece of paper read from a distance there… he should have what he needed without anyone being any the wiser.

Instead of which, he was trying not to watch Larry.

Clark had *never* been attracted to another man before. Not ever. Not even in the most disinterested way. It wasn't that he had anything against the *idea* that men could be attracted to other men; he just wasn't made that way.

Or, at least, he'd always assumed that he wasn't. Taken it for granted, he supposed. He was attracted to women; of course he was! He'd fancied Lana Lang for ages before she'd finally agreed to date him. And, along with most of his classmates in Smallville High, he'd fantasised about Farrah Fawcett and Darryl Hannah, not to mention Catherine Bach. He'd gone with his friend to movies just to see their idol of the moment. Like his friends, he'd played Cindy Lauper records over and over, listening to her voice and staring at her semi-clad picture gazing out at him from the album cover. And, with a blush, he remembered even sneaking peeks at a girlie magazine or two as they were passed around in the locker-room.

And feeling… interested.

Of course he was attracted to women! And he'd never felt any kind of attraction to another man. This thing with Larry had to be his imagination. That was it. He was imagining it all, this strange compulsion he seemed to be feeling whenever the kid was around.

It wasn't even as if Larry was all that good- looking, as men went. He wasn't even medium height, and he was thin and not remotely muscular, although the sloppy sweatshirt and jacket he wore hid any musculature he might have around his chest and shoulders. His hair was scruffy and hidden under that dirty hat. And his fingernails were grimy… Why had he noticed that?

No, he was *definitely* not attracted to men. Or to Larry in particular.

But he had such soft lashes around those deep brown eyes of his…


The next night, Lois and Charlie were again sent out with Snake. And despite the rush of pleasure she'd felt when she'd discovered that she'd be working with Charlie again, Lois was sorry for it. She didn't want to spend hours in the close proximity of a man she felt so attracted to. Not when this was a job. When she had to keep her mind fixed firmly on her *work*. And when he was a thief, one of the gang of criminals she was there to investigate.

Charlie King was out of bounds, but for some reason her hormones didn't seem to want to recognise that.

It hadn't just been a fleeting attraction, Lois realised within seconds of seeing Charlie again. He was lounging casually against the side of the anonymous-looking sedan car they were to use that evening, that disreputable woollen cap perched on his head. He'd raised a hand in greeting as she approached, giving her a crooked smile of welcome. And her heart had immediately gone flippety-flop.

Charlie. The car-thief. The criminal. The most gorgeous man she'd ever met!

Stealing a surreptitious glance at him while pretending to look over their night's itinerary, Lois found herself wondering what it would be like to be kissed by him. What his stubbled face and jaw would feel like against her own smooth skin…

…except her skin wasn't smooth at the moment, she reminded herself, deliberately bringing herself back to reality by running her hand across the fake beard she wore. She was disguised as a man. Even if Charlie might possibly find Lois Lane attractive in return, he certainly wasn't going to find Larry Long attractive, was he?

Making herself ignore him, Lois went over to Snake and started a conversation with him, using the opportunity to try to find out more about the operation and those behind it. But, as on the two previous evenings, Snake either didn't know anything or was deliberately keeping quiet. She got nowhere.

Stonewalled again. But that, Lois vowed, wouldn't last. She was going to get to the bottom of who was in charge here and break this gang open. Lois Lane *always* got the story, after all.

Tonight, she was again with Charlie and Snake, and Snake led them over to a sedan with an old- fashioned bench seat in front. "You sit in the middle, Larry — you're skinny enough to fit between Charlie and me."

Charlie opened the passenger door and gestured at Lois. "After you."

Without glancing at him, she climbed in and slid across. Snake got in at the same time, his stocky build ensuring that Lois had to edge back towards Charlie's side of the car in order to have enough room — and to give herself just a little distance from Snake's too-obvious body odour. And then Charlie got in, and Lois found her thigh pressed right up against his.

"Sorry," he said quietly. "I guess there's not that much room in here after all."

She couldn't afford to let the fact that his closeness bothered her show in any way. Affecting a nonchalant shrug — which only made her shoulder brush Charlie's — she said carelessly, remembering to keep her voice gruff, "It's not a problem. Anyway, it won't be for long."

"True," Charlie agreed, and then he leaned forward to address a question to Snake, about the vehicle they were on their way to 'lift', as he put it.

The journey might have been short, but to Lois it felt like an eternity. Seated close to Charlie as she was, she was aware of him every inch of the way. Every time he shifted so much as a muscle, she felt it — her heart thudded and her stomach seemed to go flip-flop. Every one of her senses seemed to be aware of Charlie. She couldn't even concentrate on their route, or on anything Snake said, because all of her being was entirely focused on Charlie. She didn't want this awareness, but she couldn't seem to do anything to make it go away.

His hand moved to rest on his lap, long fingers extended and drumming slightly. Lois's overactive imagination immediately started to wonder what it would be like to have those fingers stroking her face, running through her hair, roaming over her body. Would he be gentle? Or rough and demanding? What would his lips be like? Hot and fiery? Soft and yielding? Or — heaven forbid — wet and rubbery?

"Stop it!" she told herself furiously. When Snake announced that they'd reached their destination, she gave a huge inward sigh of relief.


Clark gladly volunteered to be the one to drive their latest theft back to the compound. Sitting beside Larry had been sheer torture. It seemed that he was aware of every breath the boy took, every movement of every muscle and sinew. Even Larry's scent… and that had been incomprehensible. Clark suspected that it was only his extra-sensitive sense of smell which was allowing him to notice anything, but for a moment he could have sworn that Larry was — or had been — wearing some type of *feminine* perfume.

He had to have been imagining it. There was just no way…

For a moment, he'd been tempted to engage his special abilities fully, to see whether he really had smelt it, or if he was just imagining things. But he hadn't done it. He *had* to focus on putting these mad, *insane* feelings out of his mind. And the only way to do that was to focus his attention on anything but Larry.

None of it made sense. He welcomed none of it — the tension which permeated his body whenever Larry was near, this insane desire he had — and had experienced just a couple of minutes ago, too — to reach out and caress the kid. To run his hand across Larry's lap as the other man had been sitting next to him. To stroke his cheek and see if it felt as smooth and soft as it looked. To see if those lips were as soft and tempting as they appeared…

Was he going *crazy*?

Or was it something to do with him being different? Clark's hand paused as he reached out to the Lexus he was about to steal. That was a possibility. After all, he and his parents still hadn't managed to work out just where he was from or what he was. They didn't even know if he was human or not. There were so many possibilities, and many of them worse than others — he could be some sort of genetic experiment by some government or other from the Cold War period, some sort of mutant — or even, he supposed, an alien from outer space, always supposing that there was life on other planets and that they had devised means of space travel. And, if that was the case, he'd thought on too many occasions, what must his parents, his family — always assuming that society on this hypothetic other planet recognised the concept of families, always assuming that their children weren't conceived and gestated in some artificial manner — have been like to have sent their child, a tiny baby, many millions of miles away, alone?

Regardless of any of this, he *was* different. He might look human; most of his body might function in a humanoid manner. But some parts of it did not. After all, a human male was not able to lift very heavy objects, run at extreme speeds, see through solid objects and hear sounds from long distances away. Nor could any normal human set things on fire with his eyes, or freeze things with his breath. Or fly.

So just what rule of not-human biology was there to say that he — whatever manner of creature or being that he was — couldn't be attracted sexually to men as well as women?

His own squeamishness, for one, he answered himself instantly. He liked men, but as friends. *Not* as… well, as lovers. Boyfriends. And he didn't *want* to be attracted to men.

Oh, sure, he was different. But, please, not different in that way! It had never even occurred to him that *he* might be like that, and he just didn't want it.

Guiltily, he realised that he was reacting in a way which made him feel uncomfortable about his own levels of tolerance. Acceptance, his father had always recommended. Don't judge other people. It wasn't his place to criticise. It wasn't his place to dictate what was wrong or right about something which wasn't hurting anyone else, no matter what he himself believed.

But, he reasoned as he made himself consider it rationally, his reaction wasn't based on prejudice. His dream, what he wanted most from his own life, was marriage, a family. Children. And… if he was attracted to men, not women, then that dream was just that — a dream, and no more. After all, if being not-human made him different in that way, would it be fair to ask any woman to accept him as he was?

It didn't bear thinking about.

The sooner he could get proof about who was behind this operation, the better. Then he could quit, write up his story, get his job at the Planet and never have to see Larry Long ever again. Safety beckoned — if only he could get the information he needed. This evening, preferably. Clark really wasn't sure that he could go through another evening like this one — and this one had barely started.

Worse still, was Larry in any way aware of the insane thoughts which were running through his head? The kid had seemed unnaturally still in the car, as if he was so tense he was afraid to move a muscle. Just nervousness about the night ahead — or had he somehow worked out what 'Charlie' was thinking and was doing his best to avoid being anywhere near him?

The thought made Clark shudder. It was bad enough that he was feeling this way, without having anyone else aware of it — and especially not the object of his totally impossible, unwanted attraction.

Once he'd broken into the car they were after — and Clark still felt like a criminal himself as he did so — he watched Larry and Snake drive off with a sigh of relief. At least half an hour before he'd have to sit beside Larry again. And, if he was lucky, by then whatever ludicrous thing was happening to his hormones would have settled down. He hoped.


Tonight. She had to get the information she needed tonight. This was her fourth evening out with the car thieves, and if she didn't get results soon Perry would take her off the investigation and give her something else to work on. Probably something unutterably boring, like analysing the city council's pathetic environmental agenda. Yet more recycling schemes, and since the sub-committee had withdrawn its proposal to ban SUVs and pick-ups from the city centre, there was nothing at all controversial about it any longer. A real yawner of a story.

Now, this was real investigative work. And tonight she was determined to get to the bottom of it.

After a few hours, at some time after three in the morning, she and Charlie were sent, on their own, to acquire an Audi SUV. That would be her chance, Lois decided: they'd have to split up once they'd broken into the car, since one of them had to drive it back to the warehouse. And she could give him the slip and do some snooping around, something she knew she was very good at.

She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about being alone with Charlie. In one way, it was a bad thing, since he was new, like her, and therefore was unlikely to know any more about the operation than she did. In fact, given her reason for being part of this gang, he more than likely knew less. So pumping him for information would be even less profitable than asking Snake questions — despite her enthusiasm at being left alone in the sedan with Snake the previous night, the older man had barely grunted in response to most of her questions, and shrugged in answer to the remainder. Again, she'd been left to conclude that either he didn't know the answers, or was being very careful not to give anything away.

Charlie, the newbie, would know nothing at all. From her perspective, then, he was completely useless. And yet…

And yet she was still attracted to him and, despite knowing how impossible it was, despite despising herself for her inability to convince herself that she was *not* interested in him, a large part of her wanted to take every opportunity possible to spend time with Charlie King. After all, there wouldn't be many more, she was sure of that. She was absolutely determined to bring this investigation to an end at the earliest possible opportunity, and if she succeeded, then she would never see Charlie again after tonight. Well, only if she reported his trial, of course.

So she climbed into the car beside him and said a gruff, "Okay, let's hit the road."

Charlie drove to the address they'd been given. Again, he seemed to avoid looking at her unless it was unavoidable. But, a few minutes into the journey, he said abruptly, "So, what's a kid like you doing getting into something like this?"

"What's it to you?" she muttered in a surly voice.

Charlie shrugged, seeming a little uncomfortable, Lois thought. "You're still a kid. You've got your whole life ahead of you. Do you really want to risk a jail sentence?"

"What makes you think it'd be my first?" Lois threw at him, deliberately aiming for bravado.

Charlie sighed and said nothing, focusing on his driving in a way which seemed to emphasise his disapproval of her answer.

"Like I said, what's it to you?" Lois persisted. "You on some kind of 'learn from my mistakes' kick?"

"Would that be so bad?" he asked, his voice soft. Its sound sent shivers through her, and Lois had to blink hard to prevent herself looking at him. He sounded so concerned, so caring… so nice! She didn't want to like him, dammit!

And what was he up to, anyway? Trying to turning over a new leaf or something? If he was, then what was he doing here? Up to his neck in criminal activity — that was no way to make a new, crime-free start. Or was he, in some misguided way, trying to make up for his own criminality by dissuading someone else from a life of crime?

Didn't that suggest that at least he had a conscience?

*But she didn't want to like Charlie King!* She *couldn't* let herself like him. As soon as she'd got the information she needed, she'd be putting in a call to a contact of hers in the MPD's larceny division. And Charlie, along with Snake and Vinnie and the rest of them, would be going down.

"It's none of your business what I do," Lois growled, being deliberately off-putting.

"Sure," Charlie agreed. "I guess I was just hoping that you might consider… Still, it's your life — there's just so much more you could make of it."

"Yeah, yeah," Lois drawled. "And next you'll tell me that a man can fly."

"Uhh…" she heard Charlie mutter, and she glanced sharply at him; he seemed to be biting his lip.

"What?" she demanded.

"Nothing," he said, with what sounded like a sigh. "But I mean it, Larry. If you want to get out of this line of work, I could probably help you. You know, maybe help you get a legitimate job. You could leave all this behind you and start again."

Surprised, she stared at him. What kind of car thief was this guy, anyway? He must really be regretting his own choices, she mused thoughtfully. She was glad to hear it; did that mean that he was thinking of getting out of the game himself?

She decided to test him. "So, you taking your own advice, then?"

That took him by surprise, she noticed. He blinked, and his hands tightened on the steering-wheel. After a few moments, he muttered, "It's a bit late for me."

"Hardly, if you're serious," she snorted.

"Maybe I'm happy with the way things are," Charlie replied, but he sounded uncomfortable.

So. He didn't like what he was doing and knew it was wrong, but he had no intention of mending his ways and leading a law-abiding life. Probably too used to living off the proceeds, Lois thought cynically. Good intentions were all very well, but it took commitment and self-sacrifice to make them work, and clearly Charlie King had neither.

The silence extended for a couple of minutes, until Charlie finally broke it. "Anyway, here we are." He drew the car up outside a large suburban house, where an Audi SUV was parked on the driveway. "You want to grab this one, or will I?"

"You take it," Lois said quickly. This was her chance. She only had to wait until Charlie was inside the SUV with the engine running; then she could drive off, and if she put her foot down, she'd get back to their base long before Charlie could. That would give her time to do the snooping she needed.

Smiling to herself in anticipation, she slid across to the driving seat.


Clark was surprised, though glad, to see Larry drive off so quickly. He immediately cut the SUV's engine, though — this was his chance, at last, to get away alone and do the snooping he needed. And then he could make his exit from car-thievery. Leaving the car exactly where it was — there was one owner who would never know how close he or she had come to losing their property, he mused wryly — he exited at faster than human speed and, finding somewhere dark, shot up into the air.

Back at the thieves' base, he hovered under cover of darkness and used his vision powers to see inside. Vinnie was there, with two other men Clark didn't recognise. Concentrating, he listened in on their conversation… and realised that he'd struck gold.

The older of the two strangers clearly ran the show. That was obvious from the way the two other men deferred to him and by the instructions he was giving. No names were mentioned, which was disappointing — but, judging by their conversation, the men were planning to hang around to do an inventory of the latest stolen cars. So he had time.

He could call the police; they would get here while the gang was still safely ensconced and they'd be caught red-handed. Clark could then stick around to get the exclusive on the arrests, and possibly a couple of interviews. His eyewitness account of the arrests, combined with his participant observation of the gang of thieves, should definitely be enough to impress Perry White and, he hoped, get him the job he so longed for.

Less than a second later, he was dialling from a payphone.


Dumping the getaway car in a side-street, Lois crept out and around the back of the warehouse where the thieves made their base. If she could just get into the small office she knew was at the back, then maybe she could find some identifying paperwork which would give her the identity of the boss or bosses. And then she could take it for her story, and then call the cops. And bingo! Another front-page splash; more evidence that Lois Lane was the best investigative reporter in the business.

She moved stealthily around the building, looking for a back entrance or perhaps a window through which she could get in without being seen. There were a few windows, but all were at least five feet above street level — not easy without something to stand on. Glancing cautiously around, Lois noticed a few small dumpsters a little further down the alley, and she hurried over to grab one. It was about half-full, which made it heavy but also, she thought, sturdy enough to bear her weight. It was a struggle to drag it back up to the window she'd identified as, she hoped, belonging to the office in the back of the warehouse, especially as she was trying to be as silent as possible. Finally, she managed to manoeuvre it into position, and she climbed onto the top.

Peering carefully through the window, she could see dimly that she was looking into an office — the small back office she'd known was there. Success! Now all she had to do was prise the window open and climb down inside. The office was empty, but she thought she could see paperwork lying untidily on the desk. She just hoped that there was no-one lurking around who would see or hear her in the room.

Securing her entrance was the work of a couple of minutes; the window-frame was old and the fastening not too secure. The small penknife she always carried with her provided the necessary leverage, and she was soon jumping carefully down into the office itself. The room was in near-darkness, but one of the attachments on her penknife was a small Maglight, which provided a tiny beam of light just sufficient to see the documents.

And she'd struck gold, she immediately realised. The papers detailed purchasing and shipping arrangements for the stolen cars, as well as specific orders for the models to be sold. And there were names: of purchasers, and of the man behind the outfit. She'd never heard of Damien Ridgeway before, but he was going to be a household name very soon, Lois decided with an exultant grin.

Stuffing the papers hurriedly inside her bulky jacket, she dragged a chair over to the window and made her escape quickly, dragging the window shut behind her. In a couple of seconds, she was back on the ground and shoving the dumpster several feet away from the window — she had no wish to advertise the fact that she'd been in the sanctum.

She'd been lucky; she'd known, of course, that someone could come in at any moment and she'd have had no excuse for her presence. But then, as she always argued when anyone questioned her attitude to risk-taking, if she didn't take risks then she wouldn't get the story. And that was what mattered, wasn't it? Caution was for wimps — and wimps didn't win awards for investigative journalism.

Right; it was time to call the cavalry, or at least the police in the shape of her contact in Larceny. It really was about time Perry issued his reporters with cellphones, Lois thought in irritation as she headed to the end of the alley and tried to work out where the nearest payphone was. It would be so much more efficient in so many ways.

She reached the corner and debated whether to go left or right, reluctant to pass near the front of the warehouse in case Snake or Charlie or any of the others saw her and wondered what she was doing. She should, of course, have returned by now to pick up Charlie and receive their next assignment.

Charlie… who would go to jail along with the others once she called in the information. But that was the way it should be, wasn't it? she reminded herself. He was a criminal. He made his living stealing from other people. The fact that he was devastatingly attractive, in a grungy, scruffy manner, was completely irrelevant.

She should have no sympathy for him. He didn't deserve any.

His face swam before her eyes again; those liquid brown eyes, which had looked at her with such concern earlier as he'd tried to persuade 'Larry' to see the error of his ways. His soft voice. The way he'd gestured with his hand, as if to demonstrate the strength of his feelings.

His devastatingly attractive smile, which she'd noticed for the first time when she'd arrived that evening. He'd caught sight of her and, to her surprise, his eyes had seemed to light up and he'd smiled. She'd caught a flash of very white, even teeth, and she'd gone weak at the knees. That smile should come with a health warning, she'd thought.

Had he any idea of the effect it had?

Probably not, she told herself. After all, he thought she was a man. A kid.

Unless her half-formed thought was right… unless Charlie was attracted to men.

<What a waste…>

It was *not* a waste! Lois reminded herself furiously. She was *not* interested in Charlie King! He could hardly be further from the sort of man who was her type. And he was street- scum. A criminal. Someone who had no interest at all in rehabilitating himself.

He was going to jail. And that was where he belonged. He'd probably get around three years, unless he had previous convictions, in which case he could get five or six.

Prison wasn't a pleasant place. Lois knew that very well, having on several occasions seen the inside of a couple of Metropolis's prisons: the state penitentiary, which was on the outskirts of the city, and the county jail. Prisoners spent long hours of every day locked in their cells. Their narrow, cramped, dark cells. They were locked up with other criminals, many of whom had committed far worse crimes than stealing a few cars. And many of whom who would find an attractive man like Charlie an irresistible challenge.

Lois shivered at the thought. Would he be safe in prison?

But that wasn't her problem! Why was she concerned about Charlie King, anyway? He was a criminal. He belonged in jail. He deserved what he had coming to him. And that was the end of it.

So she found him a little bit attractive. So what? She'd have forgotten him in a couple of days. Of course she would.

She forced him from her mind and focused on getting to the nearest payphone. Left. Away from the thieves' depot would be safer, she decided, before noticing the familiar logo of a Lex Communications payphone booth across the road and a little way up from the warehouse. Abruptly changing direction, she headed for it.

And suddenly someone grabbed her from behind, clamping one hand around her stomach to pull her tightly back against a hard, strong body, and another hand covering her mouth so that she could barely breathe. Despite her struggles, she was dragged almost effortlessly backwards and into the alley from which she'd just emerged.

<Damn!> she cursed silently, kicking out at her captor for all she was worth.


Clark had been heading back towards the depot, intending to be in place when the police arrived so that he could get an eyewitness account of the arrests. The officer he'd spoken to, once she'd been convinced that he was on the level and really did have a major theft ring to hand to them on a plate, had promised to have a plainclothes team there within minutes, with uniformed backup not far behind.

As he got closer, he scanned the interior of the depot with his special vision. The two men he'd seen earlier with Vinnie were still there, along with a few of the team of thieves. The police should be able to make plenty of arrests, Clark thought in satisfaction.

As he refocused on the street, he noticed a slight figure walking hurriedly towards the warehouse. A very familiar slight figure… someone he'd been spending time at very close quarters with, at a lot of personal discomfort.


Clark's mouth tightened as he watched the kid, and he frowned. It hadn't been his imagination. The last three nights, he'd had to keep a tight grip on his control to prevent himself staring at Larry, staring at him admiringly just as he might have looked at a woman he was attracted to. It didn't make sense. He was *not* attracted to men! And certainly not a runt of a scruffy teenager.

That wasn't fair, Clark mentally castigated himself. His mom would have his hide for being so rude about someone else.

But it was still true. Larry was *nothing* like the kind of person Clark had been attracted to previously. He wasn't even female, for a start! Clark still couldn't figure out what on earth was going on. Why, every time he so much as looked at the kid, did he want to get closer, to find out everything about him and even to hold him in his arms?

He hadn't felt like that since he was at high school and in love with Lana!

Not that he'd ever really loved Lana, Clark reminded himself. He'd liked her a lot and, yes, he'd felt lust for her, just like every other teenage boy around when it came to his girlfriend. But never love. In fact, he'd never felt love for anyone. Never had that sensation all the books and love-songs talked about, that feeling of utter helplessness in the face of overwhelming emotion. That need for the loved one; to see them, to be with them, to talk to them — to want to know that they were safe.


Larry wasn't safe. In fact, right now he was walking right into a trap. The police were due any minute now.

The kid was a car-thief, he reminded himself bleakly. And, from the way he'd been talking earlier, he'd been in prison already. He wasn't new to a life of crime. And he clearly had no intention or desire to change his way of life. Being arrested, going to jail, was no doubt what he deserved. And anyway, it might be the making of him. Maybe this time he'd learn his lesson and become rehabilitated.

He should leave things as they were. Let Larry be arrested.

He couldn't do it. In an instant, Clark was behind Larry; he grabbed the kid, covering his mouth so that Larry couldn't yell out, and dragged him back towards the alley.

Larry was kicking and struggling for all he was worth; for such a slender kid, he was surprisingly agile. He knew martial arts too, Clark realised quickly. It was just as well he was stronger than normal men; it wasn't inconceivable that Larry could have escaped someone else's hold.

"Cut it out, Larry!" Clark hissed in his ear as he backed into the alley. "I'm trying to save your skin!"

He felt the man in his arms freeze. "Wha — " Larry struggled to yell, sounding furious, and Clark realised that he still had his hand over the kid's mouth. Just as well, he thought. Larry seemed angry enough to yell the place down.

"Look," he muttered quickly. "The cops are on their way. I know, because I called them. Everyone's going to be arrested. You want to go to jail?"

He could feel Larry's shock; what was more, the kid made another attempt to escape. Gripping him more tightly, Clark hissed, "Don't be stupid! Look, trust me — I'm trying to help you here!"

His voice came out more gruffly than he'd intended, partly because holding Larry so tightly against his chest was doing strange things to his reactions yet again. Clark tried to squash the rush of sensation which made him want to soften his grip, turn it into a caress instead of an imprisoning hold. *Why* was he feeling like this?

And then Larry's struggling movements made Clark's hand slide up the kid's chest, and with a huge surge of relief he realised why.

Larry wasn't a man. She was a woman.


*Charlie* had called the police? What on earth was going on? That was her job, Lois thought, confused, as she struggled to free herself from his grasp. What did he think he was doing? Why would he, one of the gang, betray the others?

And how *dare* he grab her like that? Manhandle her? Keep his filthy hand over her mouth? It wasn't as if she had anything to fear from the cops anyway!

But of course he didn't know that…

Not that it mattered! He had no right to grab her like that! She kicked out at him again, trying to loop her foot around his ankle at the same time. He was too fast and strong for her, though: yet again he dodged her manoeuvre.

And then suddenly his arms fell from around her and he jumped back as if he'd been scalded.

She spun around to give him an accusing glare and a piece of her mind, but the expression of utter shock on his face stopped her.

"You're a woman!" he hissed.

Ah. Oh. Uh-uh…

But he had been holding her across her chest, Lois realised. So it was probably only to be expected that he'd figure it out. But unfortunate, all the same. On the other hand, she could probably brazen it out.

"So what?" she threw at him. Attack was always the best form of defence anyway. "What's it to you, King? And anyway, what the heck's going on here? What do you mean, you called the cops?"

He took a deep breath, drawing himself upright in the process and reminding her just how tall and broad-shouldered he was. "I called the police. The whole gang's going to be arrested any minute now. And — call me foolish — I thought I'd give you a chance to get away. Because you're just a — well, I thought you were just a kid. But you're not, are you?"

"That's none of your business," Lois snapped hurriedly, now desperate to get back to the warehouse to see what was going on. Her story was in danger of evaporating right under her nose if she didn't hurry! Well, maybe not quite 'evaporate', she corrected, but if she wasn't there for the arrests she'd miss a major part of the scoop. Besides, she wanted to ensure that whatever ham-fisted street cops were there understood that the exclusive was *hers*.

She began to stride off, but Charlie caught her arm. "What are you doing?!" he demanded, agitated. "If you go back there now, you'll wind up in jail!"

Lois was about to enlighten him, but stopped herself, deciding that it was none of his business. "Look, buster, I don't know what you're up to here or what kind of game you're playing, but I'm out of here!" She pulled away from him.

"I'm a reporter!" he almost shouted at her. "I've been undercover, okay?"

"You're *what*?"

Lois halted, swung around and stared at him, hands on her hips. That was her line!

"I said, I'm a report—"

"For what news organisation?" Lois demanded, incandescent. "And who leaked this to you?"

"Leaked? Nobody leaked anything!" Charlie retorted. "I think you're forgetting that I saved your skin here, Larry or whatever your name is! Now, if you don't mind, I have to go and talk to the police."

He tried to march past her, but Lois shifted, placing herself in his path. "Oh, no, you don't! Not before you tell me who you're working for!"

"To quote you… what's it to you?" he threw at her.

Frustrated and angry, Lois almost yelled, "Because I'm from the Daily Planet! And this is *my* story!"

"You're kidding!" Charlie exclaimed.


He stared at her, crestfallen. This had been his big break; he'd been sure of it. This story would have got him a job at the Planet. And now none of that was going to happen. The Planet already had the story.

And, he realised suddenly as he stared at the slender woman in front of him, still dressed as a youth, he knew who she was.

Lois Lane.

Investigative reporter for the Daily Planet. *Award-winning* investigative reporter. She'd won three Kerth awards in as many years, he'd discovered when he'd done his pre-interview research on the Planet's current staff. He'd heard of Lois Lane even before that, of course, and had read some of her earlier work. She was *good.* In preparation for his interview, he'd read a number of her stories, including the award-winning ones, and again been highly impressed. And envious. He'd even added her existence to his list of reasons for wanting to work at the Planet; working with Lois Lane — even if just in the same newsroom; even if he never actually worked *with* her — would be a privilege.

If Lois Lane was on this story, then he might as well tear up his drafts and throw them in the trash. He didn't have a hope.

But then a thought struck him. Her reaction to his true identity had all been about concern for her exclusive; she'd wanted to know who had leaked the story to him, and she'd insisted that it was *her* story.

"It's my story too," he pointed out firmly.

"Yeah? Well, who are you anyway?" she demanded scathingly. "I certainly don't recognise you. And who do you work for?"

"I'm freelance," he said, sliding over the truth. "And this story's for… for whoever will pay me most for it. LNN, maybe. Or the Star," he invented, knowing that his only chance here was for the famous Ms Lane to continue to feel threatened by the loss of her exclusive.

"Forget it, buster," she said bluntly, arms akimbo and her tone hostile. "I've already got it for the Planet. Everything. There won't be a paper in Metropolis that'll touch it. Not when the Planet had it first."

"Who says they'll have it first?" Clark countered. "And anyway, it was me who called the police. They'll talk to me, not you."

"So?" Lois shrugged, her expression indicating complete unconcern. "Zymack in Larceny will talk to me."

"You got names?" Clark asked, knowing that was the big gap in his knowledge. He'd hoped to get that last piece of information from the police.

"I've got everything I need," Lois Lane informed him. "And now, if you don't mind, I've got a story to file. Once I've talked to the police, that is." She turned away again and began to walk back towards the warehouse.

Clark followed, catching up with her. He wasn't going to give up yet! No matter how domineering or arrogant Ms Lane tried to be. This was *his* story too, and he was determined to get some benefit out of it.

In spite of Lois Lane's best efforts!


Three ordinary-looking saloon cars were parked in front of the warehouse, Lois saw as she approached. And inside there was chaos. Various members of the gang, including two men she hadn't so far seen, were in handcuffs and being led, protesting, out onto the street by men who, Lois thought, just looked like cops. One of these days, she thought, the MPD would finally learn how to disguise its undercover officers so that they would actually blend in.

One of the cops turned to face her as she approached, Charlie tagging along beside her. "Either of you Kent?" he enquired.

"I am," Charlie announced. Lois gave him a sharp look.

"Clark Kent," he said, gesturing at himself with his thumb. "This is Lois Lane of the Daily Planet," he added to the detective.

Clark Kent. As she'd suspected, she'd never heard of him. And she was pretty sure that she knew all the decent journalists in Metropolis — not that there were all that many of those — as well as all the mediocre ones too. Including the freelances.

"I'm Fernandez," the cop introduced himself. "Sergeant — Larceny."

Some reporter Kent was! Lois thought smugly. If he really thought this was his scoop, what was he doing even acknowledging her presence, let alone introducing her? She certainly wouldn't have done it. And since the cops knew who he was, he'd had the advantage. He must have known that. And he'd thrown it away.


He'd known who she was, interestingly. She hadn't told him, so he had to have worked it out for himself, despite her disguise. Not that she should be surprised — after all, she was the Planet's star reporter. Why wouldn't another reporter figure it out? It stood to reason: she'd told him she worked for the Planet, so she could only be Lois Lane.

"You from the Planet too?" the cop asked Kent as several MPD cruisers pulled up.

"I'm freelance," he said. "Ms Lane and I were both working on this."

Again, he was ensuring that she got equal access to information, Lois noted. Not that it mattered; one phone call to Zymack in half an hour or so and she'd have all she needed. But Kent was making it even easier for her to cut him out altogether. He'd never survive in journalism, she thought cynically.

"Hey!" Vinnie yelled as he was being led out to a police car. "You two are freakin' *reporters*? You — !" His obscenity was cut off by a uniformed officer, who shoved him hard into the back seat of the car.

"Come into the back office," Fernandez said, gesturing to Lois and Kent.

They followed him, Lois frantically trying to think of a way to cut Kent out, but nothing sprang to mind. After all, Fernandez knew that it was Kent who'd called the cops anyway, and she was only there because Kent had stupidly included her.

"There's one thing I want to clear up first," Fernandez said, pausing in the doorway to the back office. "You two have been undercover with the gang?"

"That's right, we have," Kent confirmed, before Lois could say anything.

"Now, this could be a problem. You helped to steal cars? Your prints will be on some of these vehicles?"

Lois stared at Fernandez, barely able to believe what she was hearing. "What's that got to do with anything? I was — *we* were doing you guys a favour! If we hadn't got our fingers dirty, these guys would still be ripping off cars and selling them and you people wouldn't have a clue who they were or how to catch them. And you're complaining because we had to steal a car or two to get the evidence?"

"It's still a criminal offence," Fernandez pointed out calmly, clearly refusing to rise to the bait of Lois's righteous indignation. "Theft. Larceny. And probably another couple of charges once the boys at the precinct get their hands on the case and get it ready to pass up to the DA's office."

"You mean you're going to *arrest* us?" Lois snarled, ready to demand a phone so that she could call Perry and get him to alert the Planet's lawyer. At least she would be protected. She noticed that Kent was staying very silent during this conversation.

"You wouldn't have the arrests without us," Kent intervened to say — exactly the point which Lois herself had made only a minute earlier, she noted with impatience. "And we only did what was necessary to sustain our cover. I'll be very happy to give a full statement and identify anyone you need me to. Arresting us would be a waste of police time, anyway — you know the Planet's lawyers will have us out in no time."

<The *Planet's* lawyers?> Lois thought with a cynical curl of her lip. He was making one heck of an assumption there. Why on earth should the Planet's lawyers lift a finger to help Kent?

"Hold on, hold on," Fernandez said. "I only wanted to point out to you that you've been treading a fine line between legitimate investigation and getting yourselves arrested — you especially, Ms Lane. I've heard of you. And this time you crossed that line. You're right, though. We wouldn't have these arrests if it wasn't for you. So of course you're not under arrest. But I can't guarantee that you won't be if there's a next time. Just a friendly warning. Okay?"

"Point taken," Kent said; Lois raised her eyebrows at him. She would never have let Fernandez get away with his 'friendly warning'. But it was probably better to say nothing, she decided.

"Anyway, let's go inside so we can talk properly," Fernandez added, indicating the back office. "I do need statements from both of you, and I've no doubt you want stuff from me. I can't give you much, but we owe you something for the tip-off. These guys had us stumped, and the police chief was getting it in the neck from the mayor."

Lois again tried to think of a way to dump Kent, but nothing sprang immediately to mind. It didn't matter, she told herself. He'd said — twice — that he was freelance. That meant he still had to sell his story. And since it would be in the Planet as soon as she could get it written — which now probably meant today's afternoon edition — she couldn't envisage anyone wanting to give him a penny for it. Unless he went to LNN or a radio station, but they'd want pictures or at least an audio file…

…unless he was carrying a tape recorder?

Well, she could check that out. Once in the back office, Lois said to Fernandez, "You don't mind me taping this?"

He shrugged. "I'm not going to tell you anything that's not on the record anyway."

She fumbled in the inside pocket of her jacket, pretending not to be able to find her miniature recorder. Then, glancing at Kent, she asked, "You got a tape recorder?"

"Can't find yours?" He gave her what she could only describe as a smirk. "I don't need one. I can take almost verbatim notes." From his pocket he produced a reporter's notebook and pencil.

Excellent, Lois thought, and she quietly depressed the 'record' button on the machine hidden inside her jacket.


Clark smothered an amused smile as his sensitive ears picked up the tiny click. So Ms Lane had been playing a little game, had she? She'd intended to tape the interview all along, but had been ensuring first that he didn't have the means to do so himself. He was beginning to see just how Lois Lane had earned her reputation for getting some of the most incredible scoops around. She clearly believed that she could outsmart most people — and most of the time, she'd be right.

Still, he wasn't worried. As he'd told her, he really could take verbatim notes. Just as long as he could keep his ultra-fast scribbling out of sight of the other two, that was…

Fernandez was talking about his amazement at seeing the range of luxury cars in the warehouse. Clark allowed his attention to drift, and he surreptitiously studied his fellow reporter.

Larry Long was a woman. The amazing relief of that discovery still hadn't gone away.

His inexplicable attraction to her now made complete sense. He wasn't confused about his sexuality at all. She was a woman. Lois Lane.

And, looking at her now, he was faintly surprised that he hadn't made the discovery before. Her lashes were too luxuriant for a man's. And those eyes… Now that he knew, they looked feminine and beautiful. And then there were her lips — even surrounded by scruffy facial hair, they looked eminently kissable. And desirable.

He couldn't wait to see her dressed as herself.

And to find out whether she was as attractive as he was already imagining her to be.

He wanted to get cleaned up himself, to get rid of his disguise and let her see him just as he really was. Would she — *might* she find him attractive too? Was there any possibility…?

His attention refocused on Fernandez for a moment, and he made a quick note of the man's words. Nothing crucial just yet. He was well aware that Lois thought he'd been foolish to have included her in on this interview with the detective — that in her eyes he'd made a strategic error. He could easily have shut her out; he'd had the advantage. And she'd have missed an important element for her story.

He hadn't done that. And he still had hopes that it could work to his advantage. If she understood that he wasn't planning to shaft her behind her back by cutting her out of important information… Although, he thought with an inward frown, Lois Lane didn't appear to be a particularly trusting individual. She worked alone, from what he could tell, and it was clear that nothing was as important to her as getting the story. And beating everyone else to it.

Still, she hadn't beaten him yet. Even though, as yet, he had nowhere to take his story, and she seemed to have the paper of his choice all sewn up.

At the same time, why should she trust him? He *was* planning to deny her her exclusive, wasn't he? If he didn't, then his chances of getting any paper in Metropolis to employ him were very much diminished. The Planet was out of the question now, of course, but he needed to get a job somewhere. So, once they left here, he'd be making straight for the Metropolis Star as quickly as he could get there. Which, given his unusual abilities, would be considerably faster than Ms Lane could get to the Planet!

With any luck, the Star would be impressed with what he had and would offer him a job on the strength of it. And if their edition happened to hit the streets just before the Planet's, so much the better. He'd noticed over the past couple of days that the Star's afternoon edition tended to arrive at newsstands fifteen or twenty minutes ahead of its competitor. If the Star's editor knew that the Planet had this story too, he'd no doubt ensure that his paper was out even earlier today.

Lois did have another advantage over him, so far as Clark could tell: she had the names of the ringleaders and, if her comment hadn't been a bluff, documentary proof of it. Not that she'd be able to hang onto that without getting into trouble with the police for withholding evidence, but that wouldn't be too difficult: a quick photocopy back at the Planet offices, and she could hand the papers over to the police with a sweet apology for her 'forgetfulness'. So he needed to make sure he got names before Fernandez left, to even things up.

Fernandez was now getting down to serious business, and Clark concentrated. It seemed that a very brief search of the papers in the office had revealed that the gang had contacts in several Middle Eastern and African countries, which was where the stolen cars were shipped and sold to order. "We'll be contacting the police in Uganda and the Emirates and the other places — it looks like we have names for most of their contacts. This is a huge international racket you've broken open here, Kent. The MPD is going to be very grateful."

"Hey!" Lois interrupted, sounding very indignant. "This wasn't all Kent's doing! I was working on the case too. He only beat me to the phone-call!"

Fernandez blinked, then smiled slightly. "Well, I'm sure we're grateful to you too, Ms Lane. But you were working together, weren't you?"

Clark waited for Lois to deny it vociferously. But, to his surprise, she shrugged. "Well, yes. But I got the hard evidence while he played decoy."

He wondered what she was up to, until it occurred to him. If she'd denied working with him, Fernandez might have felt obliged to give *him* any further information exclusively, since he was the one who'd tipped off the police. This way, she stayed within the loop.

She didn't miss a trick.

And they both got the story.


Now, all she had to do was spike Kent's guns in some way, ditch him, and then get back to the Planet, Lois thought as they emerged from the warehouse half an hour later. The police cars had mostly left; now the area was surrounded by workmen and car transporters, clearly starting the task of getting the stolen vehicles to a police compound. Photographers and forensic experts were also still hard at work.

Kent… now there was a problem.

And yet, in another way, there wasn't. Lois finally allowed herself to admit to the feeling of relief which had been present ever since he'd identified himself as a reporter. He wasn't a criminal. He wasn't a thief. He wasn't going to jail.

And so there was no reason at all why she shouldn't be attracted to him. Why she shouldn't want to explore these strange, powerful feelings she'd been having about him right from the moment she'd met him. Why she shouldn't find out where it might lead; if there was a chance that he might feel the same way about her.

No reason at all.

But of course there was a reason, she reminded herself sharply. He was a rival. Another reporter. Someone who wanted to take *her* exclusive and sell it to another paper.

The fact that he had gorgeous brown eyes and a smile that made her want to melt had no bearing at all on the matter.

It meant *nothing*. Clark Kent was history.

And anyway, she reminded herself with a grimace, he'd thought that she was a man, hadn't he? And he'd let her go pretty darned quick once he discovered otherwise! Almost as if he'd had an electric shock… And that definitely told her how he felt about his discovery that she was female, didn't it?

Not that it mattered, she told herself firmly. The only thing that mattered — the only thing that ever mattered — was the story.

But ditching him could be a problem, she mused. After all, he had as much of a scoop as she did. Okay, he didn't have the papers which she'd so carefully secreted away, but they did both have a statement from the investigating officer which gave them both all the details they needed — including where the stolen cars were destined for, and Damien Ridgeway's name and those of his contacts, even if they'd had to promise to hold back those names for the time being, until they'd been arrested by the police in their own countries. Kent could be a big problem if she didn't find a way of preventing him selling his story to someone else.

Unless… he didn't sell it to someone else.

A smile curved around Lois's face as an idea occurred to her. And, given Kent's obvious naivety, it might just work…

Moving so that she was walking closer to Kent, she turned to him, deliberately giving him a friendly look.

"So… Clark, is it?"

She saw one of his eyebrows shoot up. "Yeah, Clark Kent… Lois." She got a brief flash of a heart-stopping smile, which almost made her falter in her plan.


"We need to talk," she told him, deliberately making herself sound reasonable. "Look, there's an all-night coffee bar just around the corner. How about we go there? I'm always less growly after a decent injection of caffeine anyway."

"Okay. I'd like that." He sounded surprised. "Uh… and, Lois?"


"I… just wanted to tell you how relieved I was to find out that you weren't part of the gang after all." Lois glanced at him, taken aback by his comment, and was surprised to note that he was blushing faintly. "I mean, I… uh… well, I couldn't help liking you, and I hated the thought of you going to jail…"

"So you tried to persuade me to mend my ways, and you stopped me walking into the trap," Lois finished quietly, now feeling just a little bit guilty at her plan. After all, Charlie — Kent — had tried to help the misguided kid he'd believed Larry Long to be. He'd stuck his neck out and saved Larry from arrest.

Stupid of him, her inner voice observed sardonically. After all, if Larry Long had been what he pretended, the kid would have been in and out of detention centres since before his teens. A few kind words from some do-gooding liberal wouldn't have made any difference. Kent was naive to believe anything else.

"It was probably a kinda stupid thing to do," Kent answered, unconsciously echoing her thoughts. "I just… well, it doesn't matter. Anyway, I'm glad you're who you turned out to be."

<And I'm glad you're…> No! Lois squelched the thought before she could complete it. Kent was a rival — a rival she could do without. As Charlie King, he was safe to admire from a distance. As Clark Kent, he was trouble with a capital T. And she needed to neutralise him — the sooner the better.

Inside the coffee-bar, they took a booth and ordered coffee — hot and strong, Lois insisted to the balding, overweight guy who came to take their order. And chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts, but only if they were fresh. Nothing with fake cream, she insisted, ignoring the sour look she got from the waiter. She was the customer, after all, and if he wanted her business — and his tip — his job was to make sure that she got what she wanted.

When their drinks arrived, Kent took a sip of his, then faced Lois with a questioning look. "So, what did you want to talk about?"

She shrugged. "Well, it seems to me that we've got a problem. And I'm hoping that we can find a way to resolve it amicably."

"We do?"

Was he a complete idiot? Lois wondered. Or was he being deliberately disingenuous? She decided to play along, and retained her air of calm friendliness.

"See, we've both got the same story, and if you take it somewhere else, then the Daily Planet doesn't have the exclusive we were hoping for. So, Clark, tell me — where were you hoping to sell this? Where do you usually sell your work? Because I thought I knew most of the freelances in Metropolis, but I've never come across a Clark Kent before now."

He grimaced. "You won't have." Sighing, he added, "You see, I've just arrived in Metropolis. I've worked freelance in several different countries, but not in the US, though I did work for a local newspaper in Kansas for a while. I came here hoping to get a job on a paper. Uh… actually, I was hoping to work at the Daily Planet," he finished, sounding disheartened.

He was? Oh, that made it even easier, Lois thought exultantly. It'd be like taking candy from a baby…

And he really was naive, too. A more seasoned reporter would never reveal just how vulnerable he was. He'd set himself up to be cut out of this story. Really, she almost owed it to him to do it; it was a lesson he clearly needed to learn if he was ever going to learn how to survive in the cutthroat world of journalism.

"Well, maybe I can help there," she said brightly, giving him a brilliant smile. "See, the only way I get my exclusive is if we share it. That means we *both* take our stories to Perry. That's Perry White, by the way. Editor- in-chief of the Planet."

Kent nodded, and she could see him trying to swallow a lump in his throat. "Yeah, I… uh, I know who Perry White is. You mean it? You'd persuade him to buy my story?"

"It's the only way out of this situation, Clark. Isn't it?" she pointed out. "And this way you get a byline in the Planet — and if Perry likes your work, maybe you even get a job out of it too. How does that sound?"


How did it sound? It sounded… too good to be true.

On the other hand, it made some kind of sense. Lois Lane, he could well imagine, would hate the thought of being denied an exclusive. And he could mess things up for her pretty badly if he tried. He could take his story to the Metropolis Star and they'd no doubt be glad to spike the Planet's guns. Even better, he could take it to a TV or radio news station, which would have it on the airwaves in time for the morning news bulletins. There was no way that the Planet would be able to publish it before their afternoon edition.

So this was the only way that she could salvage her exclusive. That did make sense.

And this way there was still a chance that he might get hired by the Planet after all.

That was true… but there was also the chance that the editor might just buy his story, thank him nicely and then show him the door. He'd be left with no job, and no trump card in terms of getting a job. Wouldn't he be better to go ahead with Plan B and take his story to the Star?

But that was a risky strategy too. What if the Star wasn't interested? What if somehow the Planet managed to get their story, or spoilers for their story, out first? The Star wouldn't want to touch him then. What if Lois Lane found some other way to stick a spoke in his wheel if he declined her offer?

No; this way he at least had Lois on his side. It was in her interests, after all, to keep him on side, and so probably the best way to protect himself was to go along with her. After all, this would still give Perry White a chance to see what he could do, and he had the promise of an interview with the Planet's editor anyway. Mr White might even be impressed that Clark, instead of taking the story elsewhere once he knew that a Planet reporter was already on the case, had agreed to take it to the Daily Planet.

But still he hesitated. Something about the way Lois had behaved towards him ever since he'd told her who he was warned him that this wasn't a woman who would do him any favours if she could at all avoid it. She seemed the ruthless type; of that he was very sure. And anyway, she was unlikely to have won the numerous awards to her name without treading on a few toes along the way. Not when she'd won so many, and at so young an age.

Was it likely that someone like Lois Lane would make him an offer like this and really mean it?

Sure, he'd already acknowledged that it would save her exclusive. The last thing she wanted was for him to take the story elsewhere. But she probably had other ways of achieving that, too. Was this a trap?

He studied her carefully, putting his senses on full alert. Her pulse rate seemed a little higher than normal; there was certainly some anxiety there. But did that mean she was lying? Or just that she was worried that he might reject her offer and take the story somewhere else after all?

She was looking directly at him, her gaze not wavering from his face. Could she lie and still look her target in the eye? Not many people, unless they were especially devious, could deceive and still *look* honest and open.

He still wasn't entirely sure that he could trust her… but he'd give her the benefit of the doubt. His gut instinct was telling him that there was a pretty good chance that she was on the level. Why shouldn't he believe her?

Smiling warmly at Lois across the table, Clark extended his hand. "I think you've got a deal."

She accepted his hand, giving him a firm clasp in return. Her hand felt small and delicate in his large one. And Clark felt a sensation almost akin to an electric shock as he touched her.

Maybe he really was going to find everything he'd ever dreamed of in Metropolis, he thought dazedly, looking back at Lois with what he was sure was a silly smile on his face. He already felt halfway in love with her, and he hadn't even seen her as she really was! But he would soon, that was clear. And he couldn't wait!

"We'd best get going," she said abruptly, breaking the spell for Clark as she withdrew her hand. "We should be able to get a cab to the Planet from somewhere around here."

"I'd really like to go back to my room first," Clark said ruefully, dragging the back of his hand over his bearded chin. "In fact, I need to — my work's all over there. What I'd written before tonight, that is. How about I meet you at the Planet in half an hour or so?"

She gave him an incredulous look. "Are you kidding? Do you honestly think I'd let you out of my sight?"

"Huh?" He stared at her, frowning.

"You have my exclusive," she pointed out; Clark refrained from reminding her that it was also *his* exclusive. "If you think I'm letting you go *anywhere* on your own, you've got another think coming! And if you've any sense, you wouldn't let me get away from you either," she added, giving him what almost seemed like a scornful look.

Puzzled, Clark looked away; her friendliness of only a couple of minutes ago seemed to have vanished. Now he was confused. Lois seemed to have qualities in common with a chameleon. She'd undergone several changes of personality since he'd uncovered her disguise. Which was the real Lois Lane? And could he trust her?

She got to her feet, throwing a five-dollar bill onto the table. "Clark, you need to get some street-smarts if you're going to survive in Metropolis very long. It's a shark-pond out here. Where did you say you were from?"

"I didn't — but Kansas," he said, getting up as well and following her to the exit.

"Figures," she commented. "First lesson: trust nobody. Then you won't be disappointed." Outside on the street, she put her fingers in her mouth and whistled piercingly; Clark winced. But a taxicab appeared almost out of nowhere and screeched to a halt beside them.

"Right. We'll go to your place first," she announced, getting in.

"Okay," he agreed a little weakly. She was nothing short of a tornado! Even with all his abilities, he was finding it difficult to keep up with her. Getting into the cab, he sank somewhat gratefully into the back seat.

"Earth to Kent!" He blinked and looked at her enquiringly. She was giving him a frustrated stare. "Where to?"

"Oh! Sorry. The Apollo Hotel," he told the cabbie. Lois's grimace didn't surprise him; it was a dive, and he knew it. But it was all that he could afford, until he got a job and a paycheque. Which, it seemed, could be pretty soon.


Lois hated having to wait for anyone, so cooling her heels in this grimy cesspit of a hotel was not her cup of tea. But, she reminded herself, it was worth it to get her exclusive. Kent was getting changed, he'd explained. Well, he did need to; his clothes were pretty appalling. Though hers weren't much better… Much as she hated the idea of letting a stranger into her apartment, they were probably going to have to go by her place next.

She was leaning against the counter in what passed for a kitchen in the strange apartment/hotel room Clark was renting, casting her gaze around the room. She'd already sneaked a peek inside his fridge and cupboards — stuffed to the gills with junk food, she'd noticed in amazement — and speculated on the state of his bedroom. Charlie King — or Clark Kent, as she had to learn to call him — didn't exactly appear to her to be the neatest of men.

But he was still pretty darned good-looking…

<Shut up!> Lois commanded her inner voice. Kent's attractiveness had nothing to do with it. He was a rival — a hick reporter, of course, but a rival no doubt at the moment — from whom she had to protect her story. And that was exactly what she intended to do.

It was easy to tell that he wasn't used to the big city, or even the competitive world of working for one of the country's top newspapers. She didn't know what his previous experience was, although he'd given her some spiel about freelancing internationally, but she wouldn't be surprised if he'd just worked for some small-town paper somewhere. The Hicksville Herald, she thought sardonically; no doubt just a weekly paper. And where the biggest story he'd handled would've been when one farmer's cows invaded someone else's field.

Yeah, he was no competition. Clark Kent would never know what had hit him. And he'd be on the train back to Ohio — or was it Kansas? — before the day was out.

She smiled in satisfaction, already visualising her front-page story and the 42-point headline it would get, above the fold. Yep, this was definitely a potential award-winner…

The door opened suddenly, and she turned to urge Kent to hurry up. But the words froze on her tongue as she looked at him and…



Her jaw was gaping open; Lois realised what a sight she must look and turned away, closing her mouth. He cleaned up pretty well. Actually… that was an understatement. He was even more attractive than she'd imagined when she'd seen him as gang-member and thief Charlie King.

His hair was clean and carefully styled, albeit over-long. He wore a not-very-fashionable suit, clearly his best but nothing which would show to advantage in Metropolis. And his glasses — the same as he'd worn for the past three nights, so clearly his only pair — were old- fashioned and unflattering. But his face was clean-shaven and he was…

He was *gorgeous*. Clark Kent could have been a male model, Lois thought dazedly as she turned back and looked at him. She'd known that he was tall, but she hadn't taken in the full impact of those broad shoulders, that firm jaw and… oh, and that dizzying smile.

Because he was smiling at her. Openly and without a trace of guile. Trustingly.

And she was going to stab him in the back.

Lois turned away, trying to ignore the guilt spearing through her.

"Come on," she said abruptly, reaching for the doorhandle. "We need to get going."


Clark followed Lois down the stairs and out of the Apollo Hotel, glad to be outside again. He'd felt very uncomfortable about bringing her up to his room — not so much that she was a stranger, but because it was a horrible place. He'd felt ashamed that she'd seen where he was staying.

He knew that Lois Lane had worked for the Planet for about four years, and she'd already won three Kerth awards. She was probably on a pretty decent salary, and he could imagine that her apartment — or house, even? — was a far cry from the Apollo Hotel. So much for imagining that he could impress her in any way.

He was just a penniless reporter from Smallville. Why should a successful woman like Lois Lane even give him a second glance?

He winced again as she gave another piercing whistle. If he was going to be spending any significant amount of time with this woman, he was going to have to watch his eardrums, Clark thought. At the very least, he'd have to shut down his super-sensitive hearing. That was twice now that she'd almost blasted him out of it.

A taxi pulled up within seconds — no cabbie would dare keep the tornado that was Lois Lane waiting any longer than that, Clark thought in amused admiration. Even dressed as a scruffy kid, she seemed to command attention.

"Carter Avenue," Lois said snappily, getting in and gesturing impatiently for him to follow her.

"What's on Carter Avenue?" he asked, puzzled.

"My place. I need to get changed as well," she said briefly, in a tone which didn't really encourage further conversation.

Clark slid into the back seat beside her, taking advantage of the silence to glance down at his draft of the car-ring story and the rest of his portfolio. He was about to meet the editor of the Daily Planet, and somewhat sooner than he'd anticipated. He just hoped that he had enough to impress Mr White.

He thought his work was good. His old journalism professor was impressed enough by it to have written to Perry White with the personal recommendation which had secured him the interview he'd been due to have in a couple of days' time. Professor Carlton's letter, a copy of which he'd sent to Clark, had left him blushing. But was his work good enough to impress Perry White? Especially as he was coming in with Lois Lane, the winner of three Kerth awards.

Lois Lane…

Clark sneaked a quick peek at her. She was staring straight ahead, apparently ignoring him. It seemed that once he'd agreed to her plan, he'd become almost irrelevant… which made him just a little suspicious of her motives. He'd have to watch her very carefully, he thought. She struck him as the ruthless type…

He couldn't wait to see what she looked like without the disguise, all the same. Her present appearance didn't give a lot away; medium height for a woman, and probably of slender build. Her hair was clearly dark, although most of it was hidden under that awful woollen hat she was wearing. Most of her face was hidden, either by the hat or the wispy beard.

Her voice had changed almost as soon as he'd figured it out; the gruffness was gone, and in its place was a more feminine tone. She had a tendency to speak quickly, impatiently, as if she hated being kept waiting and suffered fools badly. All the same… he liked her voice. It sounded attractive.

*She* sounded attractive.

And he was going to get to work with her!


She locked him in her living-room. Triple- locked her front door and removed the key from the chain.

She didn't want Clark Kent in her apartment, but it would be a cold day in hell before she'd allow another ambitious man to steal her story. Making him wait outside was simply not an option. So she locked him in.

And then, because she didn't trust him that way either, she locked the door leading to her bedroom.

Just because Clark Kent was about the most attractive man she'd met in months — no, *years* — meant absolutely nothing. Men were all the same; they'd smile sweetly while stabbing you in the back. And the good-looking ones were the worst, she reminded herself. No matter how naive this one seemed, he was just like all the others: he couldn't be trusted. It would be foolish to allow herself to feel guilty.

Pushing Clark Kent from her mind, Lois began to undress.

It was sheer bliss to unwind the binding from her breasts. Lois felt her entire body relax and her muscles unstiffen as the constricting fabric was removed. And she wouldn't have to put it on again — she'd got the story.

Well, as long as Clark Kent continued to believe her and Perry took her advice. But that should be a piece of cake. After all, Kent was new in the big city. He was pretty gullible, she was sure about that — though not sure enough that she was willing to trust him not to abscond with her story. And Perry understood the value of an exclusive well enough to be sensible about it. In a couple of hours, Kent would be heading back to the cornfields of Kansas or Ohio or wherever it was he came from, his tail between his legs. And she would have another award-winner on her hands.

She smiled in anticipation as she padded into the shower.


Clark paced the length of Lois's living-room once more, now beginning to have even more serious doubts about his new acquaintance's motives. She obviously didn't trust him — well, she'd made that clear immediately after she'd suggested that they join forces. She'd also, of course, warned him that he shouldn't trust her either… and he hadn't heeded that warning.

Maybe he should have. Maybe he shouldn't have agreed to her proposal.

After all, she'd *locked him in*! Confined him to the living-room of her apartment like some sort of prisoner. Clearly, she didn't trust him not to go back on their agreement. He grimaced as he remembered his own entirely trusting behaviour at the Apollo Hotel. She couldn't even show him the same courtesy. What kind of woman was Lois Lane, reporter?

He heard a click, and in the next moment the bedroom door opened. Lois emerged, and Clark could almost feel his jaw hit the floor.

Lois Lane was beautiful. He'd been right about her slender figure, but he hadn't realised just how… *shapely* she was. In the flattering dark suit she was wearing, its severity lightened by the dark flower-print blouse, she looked the consummate professional, and at the same time incredibly attractive. Her hair, freed from the dirty woollen hat, swung free to her shoulders in a soft bob, swinging gently from side to side as she moved. She wore make- up too, enhancing her femininity even more.

How had this woman managed to persuade anyone that she was a man?

He forgot all his caution about trusting her, and smiled in her direction. "Wow. I can't believe you're the same person as Larry Long!"

She shrugged. "All part of the job. The whole point of a disguise is to be convincing, isn't it?"

"Sure, but disguising yourself as a guy…?" Clark shook his head. At Lois's frown, he added quickly, "All I meant was… well, you sure don't look anything like a guy now."

The sharp tilt of one eyebrow was the only response Clark got to his complimentary observation. Lois walked past him towards the door. "Come on. There's a cab waiting downstairs."

Hurriedly, he followed her.


Arriving at the Planet, Lois escorted Kent upstairs as quickly as she could; she wanted him dealt with and gone as soon as possible. She took him to her desk, inviting him to have a seat. The newsroom was almost empty, as she'd have expected for that time in the morning; it was a little after six. But Perry was in his office, as usual.

"I need to talk to Perry," she explained. "I'll explain the situation, and then he'll talk to you. Okay?" she added, trying to make her tone sound less brusque. She didn't want him to guess what she was up to!

Kent nodded. "You'll need my portfolio, I guess?"

Oh, he really was wet behind the ears! Lois could barely believe that Kent was willing to trust a complete stranger with his material. Guilt at taking advantage of him again began to hit her, but she forcibly ignored it. If he really was that innocent, he was about to learn a much-needed lesson. In fact, she really was doing him a favour here. Tough love, it was called; wasn't it?

"Just your notes for the car-theft story," she said, almost holding her breath in hope that he would agree.

"Sure!" he said, handing them over with a big smile.

What an innocent! It really was like taking candy from a baby, Lois thought with a cynical curl of her lip as she spun on her heel and headed for Perry's office. It was almost too easy. Within twenty minutes, Kent would be on his way back to the boondocks — and she would have her exclusive.


Left sitting alone at Lois's desk, Clark allowed himself at last to soak in the newsroom atmosphere. He'd been too anxious not to show himself up as an overawed newbie when Lois had escorted him in; now that her critical gaze was no longer on him, he could look his fill.

This was the *Daily Planet*, he told himself incredulously. The best newspaper in the world, Professor Carlton had always said. Even, in Carlton's view, better than the Washington Post — and he would know. And edited by Perry White, one of the very best editors around. And, sure, he had an interview with Mr White lined up for the very next day, but this — coming in with an exclusive and with an introduction from none other than Lois Lane — surely had to be a far better way of persuading the editor that he was worth a chance.

As long as he could trust Lois Lane to present his case fairly…

And there was the one fly in the ointment, Clark mused thoughtfully. Ms Lane herself. Leaving aside any consideration of how attractive she was — and he still hadn't got over seeing her for the first time dressed as herself — he wasn't sure he could trust her. She was clearly a very clever woman, and he hadn't been able to get rid of the nagging suspicion that she was playing him like a violin.

She'd been extremely hostile when she'd realised that he was a reporter too, and after the same story as she was. She'd asserted her right to *her* exclusive, and when he hadn't backed down she'd made certain that she got access to every scrap of information that he did. Her manner had been brusque — when she'd deigned to notice him at all.

And then suddenly she'd changed, smiling at him, calling him 'Clark' instead of 'Kent' or nothing at all, and she'd invited him for coffee and actually offered him the chance of getting his story in the Daily Planet.

Why hadn't that volte-face made him suspicious?

Because he'd been over-awed by her, he accepted wryly. And attracted to her. And probably hero- worshipping her too. He'd swallowed her promises like a complete innocent.

He was an idiot, he told himself swiftly. After all, once he'd agreed to her plan she'd turned abrupt again. At her apartment, she'd actually locked him in! He still couldn't believe she'd done that. And she'd barely spoken to him once they'd got in the cab to go to the newsroom. Of *course* she was planning to double-cross him!

The only question was… how?

His lips thinning into a fine line, Clark engaged his acute hearing.

"…it's simple, Perry. You just tell the greenhorn we'll buy his story, write him a cheque for a couple of hundred bucks, and then trash it once he's out of here. That way we have a guaranteed exclusive!"

"Now, Lois, you know I don't like that sort of unethical behaviour…"

"Yeah, but do you like losing an exclusive any better?"

He'd heard enough. Furious, Clark got to his feet and walked straight to the editor's office, walking in without knocking.

"I've changed my mind," he said coolly. "I'd like my story back, please."


As the door crashed open and Kent made his demand, Lois groaned inwardly. She'd been so close! Perry had been just about to agree to her suggestion, she knew it. And now the greenhorn had changed his mind! Why, she had no idea. She'd thought she had him convinced, eating out of her hand like the naive country boy that he was.

Perry would be furious at his barging in like that, though. That would work in her favour. And there was no way, anyway, that the Chief would casually allow a Planet exclusive to go somewhere else. He'd talk Kent around.

She smiled tautly and turned to the editor. He was looking at Kent, as she would have expected.

"Kent, I presume?" he enquired, his tone unreadable.

"Yes; Clark Kent." The greenhorn held out his hand.

Perry accepted it, much to Lois's surprise. "Now, where have I heard that name before?" the editor wondered aloud.

Lois blinked. He'd actually *heard* of Kent? Had the man actually had anything *decent* printed? But that couldn't be — he wouldn't be unemployed and desperate to get a job if that were the case.

"Professor Carlton wrote to you about me," Kent was explaining. "I have an interview scheduled with you for tomorrow."

"So you do," Perry said thoughtfully. "Now, why in tarnation didn't you mention this to me, Lois?"

<Because I didn't know anything about it!> Lois muttered silently, fuming.

Perry ignored her, however, and turned back to Kent. "So you're Carlton's protege, huh?"

"Who's Carlton?" Lois demanded, interrupting before Kent could answer. Things were moving swiftly out of her control, and she hated not being in control of things. She hated not being in the know, too.

"We were at journalism school together," Perry explained. "And 'bout eight years ago he retired early and went to teach journalism at Midwest State U, after ten years editing the Washington Post."

Lois could feel her jaw dropping. "*That* Carlton? Charles Carlton?"

"Chuck Carlton, yeah." Perry gave her a knowing look; oh, he knew just how chagrined she was feeling, she could tell! Kent was the protege of the former editor of the *Washington Post*?!

Why hadn't she known that? Why hadn't he told her? He'd made a fool of her! He'd let her come all the way here, let her make her pitch to Perry, and all along he'd known that once Perry realised who he was, it'd…

It'd what?

She was being stupid — rushing to conclusions without analysing the facts. The fact of Kent's mentor meant nothing, of course it didn't! Perry would still want to protect the Planet's exclusive. Which probably meant that he'd give Kent an interview, for form's sake and because he'd already promised the greenhorn one. And then he'd shake the guy's hand and tell him that there simply wasn't a position available. Of course he would! After all, he'd only just turned down her request for a raise because, he'd said, there was no money available. So there was no way that Kent would be getting anything but an escort to the door.

"So this is your story?" Perry was asking, gesturing to the sheaf of papers Lois was still holding.

"Yes," Kent said, his voice displaying a note of pride that she hadn't heard from him before.

Perry held out his hand towards Lois. She frowned, realising that he actually wanted to look at the country boy's notes. What was he thinking? Reluctantly, she handed it over.

The editor scanned the papers in silence for a few moments, his face expressionless. Then he paused, glancing from the sheets in his hand to Kent, then to Lois and then back again. Then, to her amazement, he began to read aloud.

"It's not difficult to see why these people live a life of crime. Qualms of conscience aside, it does have distinct advantages. These guys are, for the most part, poorly educated and without good connections. The best they could hope for is some sort of unskilled or semi-skilled employment at low rates of pay. Compare a week's take-home pay from waiting tables, maybe $120 a week, or from working on a construction site or even driving a cab, where you might bring home around $200 a week, with earnings of around $500 a week stealing cars. And there's no taxes to pay on that, either. The economic motivation for turning their back on legitimate employment is clear.

"And when even the most sophisticated car alarms and immobilisers can't keep out determined, professional thieves like these, it's not difficult work. Careful planning means that the chances of getting caught seem to be minimal. So where's the deterrent?"

Perry raised his head and looked enquiringly at Lois. He liked it, she could tell. She gave him a sour look. "If you printed that, our readers — and the shareholders! — would say that we're encouraging crime," she observed scathingly.

"Hardly, since the thieves got caught," Perry pointed out dryly; Lois shot him a fierce look. What the heck did he think he was doing?!

"My point exactly, Mr White," Kent interrupted. "That's exactly how I was planning on finishing the article — pointing out that, in the end, crime doesn't pay. Criminals do get caught. Those guys are all going to jail — there's the deterrent."

Perry nodded as Lois watched incredulously. Okay, Kent's writing was halfway decent, she acknowledged grudgingly. If you liked that kind of thing — touchy-feely human interaction stuff, finding explanations for things, as opposed to hard news and analysis. A lot better than she'd expected — but then, he was *Carlton's* protege and that had to say something about his ability. She should have expected that, once she'd realised who had recommended him. But Perry wasn't seriously thinking of buying the story, was he?

"You wanted to work for the Daily Planet, Kent?" Perry asked.

"It's been my ambition ever since I was at college," Kent replied, and Lois gritted her teeth. Didn't Perry realise he was being toadied to?

"Well, you've got yourself a job," the editor drawled, extending his hand. "Welcome to the Daily Planet, Clark Kent."

As Kent shook Perry's hand, clearly delighted, Lois stared at the two of them, in shock. Perry had actually *hired* him? When he'd told her, only the previous day, that he couldn't afford to give her a raise? It was a disgrace! No, it was worse than that, she realised with a dawning sense of outrage. It was an insult! *She* had been working on the car theft story for the Planet — and now Perry had hired this wet-behind-the-ears, fresh up from the country newbie on the back of his work on *her* exclusive?

"We'll print this piece as part of the series," Perry was adding, and Lois realised that things were getting worse still. The editor was actually planning to *print* Kent's story! "It'll be a great complement to Lois's more factual account of working inside the gang — I like what you've been sending me, Lois," he added, and she felt that his compliment was an afterthought.

"Now, you've both got some work to do on your pieces," Perry added briskly. "Kent, I take it that one of your pseudonymous characters is Lois? You'll have to remove any references to her. And Lois, you need to do likewise in respect of Kent here. I want those pieces finished by the deadline for the morning issue. But first, I need the big news story — the arrests. And I want that for the afternoon edition, so you need to get working!"

"I'm on it!" Lois declared, heading for the door. She'd get her front-page story at least, even if she did have to put up with the humiliation of Perry hiring the Kansas hick against her recommendation.

"I meant *both* of you." Perry's dry remark made Lois stop in her tracks. "This story belongs to both of you — and I like Clark's style, Lois. I think together you could be a great writing team, and I want you to try it."

As Lois stared at him in sheer disbelief, Perry waved his hand impatiently at her. "So what are you waiting for? Git! And get me a story by deadline!"


Clark could barely believe it. He was in! He had a job at the Daily Planet!

And, even better, Perry White himself had actually said that he liked his work!

And he was being partnered with Lois Lane, whose work he genuinely admired and had for some time, even if the reality of Lois herself had turned out to be something of a disappointment. He hadn't expected her to be as rude or unfriendly as this — which was even more disappointing given that he found her so attractive. Well, anything of that nature was clearly out of the question. Even if she could ever get over her obvious dislike and resentment of him, he wasn't sure that he'd want to date a woman who was so unpleasant.

A woman who had actually tried to cut him out of a story in about the most despicable way he'd ever seen. And who had made clear her contempt for him, even after it was clear that her editor didn't agree with her.

No; he couldn't possibly be interested in a woman like that.

Even if she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever met in his life… even if he'd never before felt this kind of reaction to *anyone*.

Lois Lane and Clark Kent would be writing the big story on the capture of the gang of car thieves — a story which would no doubt be on the front page of the paper. He could see the byline now. Clark Kent and Lois Lane, in alphabetical order. Although, given that Lois had been at the Planet a lot longer, she'd probably want her name first. In fact, given her reaction to his appointment at the Planet, he could consider it a certainty that she'd want her name first. But he could go along with that. Simply getting his name on a byline in this paper was a dream come true.

And that, of course, was the one fly in the ointment about his new job. Lois Lane herself was not at all pleased at his new status. Even if he hadn't overheard what she'd been saying to Perry White, it would've been obvious from the sour looks and furious grimaces on her face while they'd been in the editor's office. If looks could kill, he'd be an obelisk by now.

Her irate words, muttered under her breath but clearly audible to Clark, made him wince further. "What is Perry *thinking* of?! Hiring a rookie! And making *me* work with him on *my* story? I should just refuse to do it — I should quit… see if Perry likes *that*! See if he prefers Kent to a three-times Kerth winner!"

This was going to be an interesting working relationship, he could tell.

Oh, boy.


Right; she'd start as she meant to go on. Show Kent who was boss. This was *her* story, and he'd just been lucky enough to stumble onto it, after all — and to talk his way into a job at the Planet. He'd got a job, on a reporter's salary even if it was probably going to be on the probationer's scale, right when Perry had turned *her* down for a raise. She wasn't finished with Perry about that either.

Well, no country hick straight out of the Mid- West was going to be a match for Lois Lane.

"Okay, Kent, why don't you find yourself a desk and finish up your story?" she said coolly. "I'll get to work on the arrests."

"Didn't Mr White want us to work on that together?" Kent objected, not moving from his position beside her desk.

So he wasn't going to be as easy as she'd hoped. Gritting her teeth, Lois replied, "It'll be quicker if I do it on my own. This is the kind of thing I've won awards for, as people around here know. And I do have a tape- recording of the interview with Fernandez, remember."

In other words, she said silently, butt out and let her get on with *her* job.

"Ms Lane," Kent said, in an irritatingly calm voice. "I think you might find that I'll be more help than you seem to imagine. Now, how about we get the facts sorted out first, and then decide how to present the story?"

In other words, Lois understood, Kent didn't intend to be pushed around. She sighed in frustration. It looked as if she was stuck with the guy… for now, anyway.

And his proposal was exactly how Lois would have approached the story. So, just to be perverse and to show him who was in charge, she waved a careless hand in his direction. "The facts are obvious. We'll start by working out the structure."

Kent shrugged, pulling a chair up to sit beside her — too close for Lois's comfort. The man was just too darned good-looking for her peace of mind. "Whatever you prefer. You are the award- winning reporter in this partnership, after all. I'm looking forward to learning from the expert."

Did she detect a note of humouring her, or even of patronage, in his tone? Lois gave him a sharp look, but his expression was bland.

"Let's just get started," she said curtly.



Gang Under Arrest

by Lois Lane and Clark Kent"

"Oh, that's wonderful, Clark! Congratulations!"

Clark grinned happily over the top of the newspaper he was holding aloft, the thrill of seeing his name on a front-page byline in the Daily Planet still as great as it had been three hours earlier when he'd first held the paper in his hands.

His name on the front page. It was such an incredible thrill; a dream come true. Not that he should start getting used to it; he'd struck lucky this time and he couldn't count on it happening again. But still… it felt so amazingly good.

He hadn't been able to resist showing it off to his parents, so just as soon as he'd been able to get away from the newsroom he'd found a quiet back alley and launched himself into the air, arriving in Smallville a few minutes later. He hadn't even had time that day to call his folks and tell them that he had a job, he'd been kept so busy by his new partner, so the front page was even more of a surprise for them.

"When did this happen? You smashed that theft ring?"

"And who's Lois Lane? Is she nice?"

His mom's question made Clark wince slightly. A full day spent with Lois Lane hadn't changed his mind on any of three things: one, she was utterly gorgeous and he was very attracted to her; two, she was a brilliant journalist, with great writing skills and a talent for putting information together which made him breathless with admiration; three, she was one of the rudest, most cold people he'd ever met. And, of course, there was that little matter of her trying to cheat him out of his story.

He settled for saying, "She's a great journalist, Mom. It was a privilege to be working with her today. I've learned a lot."

And he had. Oh, he wasn't bad himself; he knew that. But the single-minded way Lois approached her work, the way she used her sources, her talent for phrasing things for maximum impact, had all made an impression on him. He'd had some impact on their joint story — more than she'd expected, he was sure. She'd been prepared to reject any and all of his suggestions, but more than a few times she'd hesitated, looked thoughtful, then made the change or addition he'd proposed, sometimes with a minor amendment of her own.

"You're a great journalist yourself, Clark," Martha said proudly. "Don't underestimate yourself."

"Yeah," his father added supportively. "And I hope this Lois appreciates your talents."

<Uh… I'm not so sure about that, Dad…> Clark thought in wry amusement. But she would, he thought. He intended to make sure of it. He knew only too well that he'd never survive working with her otherwise!


What was she going to do about Clark Kent? Lois lay awake that night, conflicting thoughts running through her mind. On the one hand, it was definitely a relief to know that Charlie, who she'd liked very much against her best judgement, wasn't a criminal. And he cleaned up *very* nicely. He was one of the most attractive men she'd ever met.

Was he attracted to her? She wasn't sure. He had eyed her up — stared at her, in fact — when she'd emerged from her bedroom in her normal work-garb and with her hair swinging free in its usual bob. But his reaction could just have been surprise at the sharp contrast in her appearance.

But he was also a reporter, and competition. Despite her best efforts, he was now working at the Planet, and if she wasn't careful, for all she knew history could repeat itself. She was *never* again going to get involved with anyone she worked with. And she had no intention of giving any other man the chance to advance his career at her expense. She would be as ruthless in protecting her own interests as she had to be.

As she already had. Later that afternoon, their story written, she'd marched into Perry's office, closing the door firmly behind her. The editor had looked up and given her a long- suffering look, putting his pencil down.

"Well, Lois? I'm guessing that this is about Kent."

"You bet it is, Chief! What were you thinking of?!"

"Now, Lois —"

"I mean," she'd continued, ignoring Perry's interruption, "first he steals *my* story, and then he comes strolling in here as if he was somebody! And you *hire* him, when only yesterday you turned down my request for a raise! And, to add insult to injury, I have to work with him!"

"Lois!" Perry's voice had been sharper then. "Now, honey, I know you're all bent out of shape because I didn't take your advice about Kent. But he's a good reporter. Once you get over this, you'll see that yourself. And I know you're the best this paper has, but it don't hurt to have another couple of reporters capable of bringing in the awards. Which Kent is, in my opinion. So give him a chance, okay?"

Give him a chance? She'd been furious when Perry had said that — but she'd known better than to let it show. The Chief clearly wanted Kent on board. He liked Kent's writing. That wasn't good — but there was no way that she intended to show that she felt threatened by it. Perry expected her to be professional about it, and she would. After all, it would probably be better to bide her time anyway, and see just how Kent turned out.

"Okay, okay," she'd conceded. "But what about my raise?"

"What about it, Lois?" he'd countered. "You'll get your raise next year, along with everyone else. And you know you only had a bonus two months ago when you were nominated for the Merriwethers again. Get yourself nominated for a Kerth this autumn and you'll get another. You know how it works!"

She'd shrugged. She deserved a raise; she knew she did. She'd brought in a number of scoops over the past few months, and the Planet's sales had shown a significant increase as a result. They *owed* her that raise.

And instead, Perry had hired an irritating male reporter, and made her work with him.

And, to make matters worse, Perry had ended the interview by observing that he thought that Lois had crossed over the line in recommending that he buy Kent's article just to spike it. That, he'd said, wasn't the way the Daily Planet operated. The Planet was an ethical newspaper, and that applied to its employment polices as much as anything else.

So she'd left the room feeling unfairly chastened as well as infuriated at having to work with the new hire.

Kent wasn't a bad writer. In fact, she reluctantly conceded, he was good. He had talent. Which made him both safe and, perversely, even more of a challenge. He was safe because he wouldn't need to steal her writing as Claude had — although that didn't mean that he wouldn't muscle in on her leads and investigations if he could. But he was a challenge in that she was currently indisputably the Planet's best investigative reporter, which made her the best investigative journalist in Metropolis. Was Kent good enough to be… *better* than she was? She'd fought a lot of battles to get to where she was, and she wanted to stay there. So if Kent thought he was going to walk into all the plum assignments, he had another think coming!

So her first move had to be to ensure that he worked on his own, not with her. Okay, it had made sense that they should work together that day. After all, no matter what her views were on the matter, they had both been involved in the car theft investigation. But that was it. They weren't partners. Perry knew that she preferred to work alone, and he respected her enough to accept that. Kent, however much potential he seemed to have, was still not much more than a rookie, and he'd have to work his way up just like everyone else. One lucky break didn't give him the right to come in at the top.

And when she'd actually given him the lucky break he'd got, it was doubly infuriating. If she hadn't suggested that he take his story to the Planet…

Although, she reminded herself, that probably wouldn't have made any difference. He'd had an interview lined up with Perry for tomorrow in any case.

She'd only had herself to blame for this morning's debacle, though, she admitted with a sigh. Perry had been right. She'd behaved disgracefully, and she knew it. Kent was a journalist, just as she was. And, okay, she'd always — or at least, since Claude — lived by the motto that all was fair in love and journalism, but still… She'd stepped over the line between fair competition and downright cheating.

If Lucy were here — her sister, who'd been staying with Lois for the past couple of months, was visiting friends in California — she would have looked at Lois in that way she had; not saying anything, but indicating by the tilt of her head and the questioning lift of her eyebrows that she thought her sister had been unkind.

Not that kindness had anything to do with journalism! Or making your way in any career. It was always twice as hard for a woman than for a man. Lucy hadn't learned that lesson yet — she still hadn't graduated from college, and since she seemed to be heading close to dropping out for a second time, it would probably be a while before she'd get even close to starting a career instead of wasting her time in dead-end jobs. What did she know about having to compete with ambitious, arrogant males?

Lois sighed. Perry was right. Lucy would have been right. She'd behaved badly — almost as badly as Claude, although she hadn't tried to steal Kent's story for her own. She'd just tried to get Perry to spike it — but she'd done it by pretending to be Kent's friend, pretending that she was going to help him. That wasn't ethical behaviour, no matter what she told herself about all tactics being fair in the fight to get the story. What Claude did to her hadn't been fair. And nor had what she'd almost done to Kent.

She'd been in the wrong. And having to admit that to herself was far more painful than having Perry — the man she'd long thought of as the father figure she'd needed all her life — be disappointed in her. What she'd done had been wrong.

Even still… That didn't mean that she had to *like* Kent, or even agree to work with him.

From tomorrow, she need have nothing to do with Clark Kent.

It was just a shame that he was so good- looking…


Over the next couple of days, Clark didn't actually see a lot of Lois. He didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed about that fact. Being partnered with her seemed to have been a temporary thing, only for the purpose of that one story. The following morning when he'd arrived for work, Perry White had assigned him to covering the razing of an old theatre, the Sarah Bernhardt on Forty- Second. Lois had been nowhere in sight, and he'd heard Jimmy Olsen say later that day that she was out covering the as-yet-unexplained explosion of the Messenger space shuttle.

Not that he'd minded not being involved in the big story of the week; he'd enjoyed his assignment, especially when he'd turned up and met the coterie of retired actors and others who were protesting against the demolition of the theatre. After a short conversation with one of them, he hadn't been able to resist a little demolition work of his own on the wrecking ball. And then, when a couple of the actors had staged an impromptu performance inside on the stage, he'd had an idea.

Returning to the Planet, he'd written his article. Perry had made it clear that he wanted a mood piece, and that was what Clark had given him, in spades. He'd focused on the actress he'd first spoken to, Beatrice, and her career which had revolved around the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre. He'd shown that a huge part of her past was being ripped away by the demolition of that building.

"… she came to say goodbye," his article had concluded. "Goodbye to a young girl in a gossamer dress, goodbye to the players, long dead, to the spirit of the theatre, so strong that nothing, not even the wrecking ball, could destroy it. She came to say goodbye, as we all must, to the past, and to a life and a place that soon would exist only in a bittersweet memory."

And, in a brief coda, he'd added, "Unless, that is, we as a city, as a *community*, revise our priorities and reconsider what's important. A parking garage, offering convenience for drivers and more dollars for its owners, or a theatre, offering pleasure and culture to thousands, including our children and future generations? I know which I'd vote for."

The article had made its way into the afternoon edition; to his surprise, Perry had placed it on the front page. So much for his conviction that he couldn't expect page one bylines as a regular occurrence and that it would probably be weeks, if not months, before it happened again. Even better, Perry had added a phone poll, encouraging readers to call in and give their views… and he'd called up an influential friend of his on the city council and persuaded him to halt the theatre demolition until the results of the poll, and then get the council to reconsider allowing the construction of the parking garage to continue. The councillor had agreed — in Clark's opinion, that had been more from concern for his re- election in a couple of months' time than simply doing Perry White a favour.

And it had worked: the cause had caught the attention of a couple of TV news editors and had been taken up, covered in the section of news bulletins reserved for quirky and human interest stories. By the following morning, Clark's final paragraph had been repeated so often that he was sick of hearing it… but the theatre had been reprieved, saved not only by the city council's reaction to public opinion, but also by several local businesses and philanthropists donating money to a hastily- opened Save the Sarah Bernhardt campaign fund.

The theatre would re-open, and Clark couldn't help hoping that the first play to be performed there would be Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. He'd certainly be first in the queue for tickets — and he'd ensure, somehow, that Beatrice got the best seat in the house.

Lois's only comment, when she'd passed by Clark on her way out of the newsroom, had been a cynical, "Quite a crusader, aren't you, Kent? You know it'll only happen again in five years or so, when everyone's forgotten this, don't you? Commercial interests always win in the end."

"Only if we let them, Lois… only if we let them," he'd said firmly in response; her taken- aback expression had shown him that she hadn't expected him to disagree with her. Well, if catching Lois Lane off-balance would help to show her that he didn't intend to be walked all over by her, he'd decided that he'd just have to keep on doing it.


"Whoa, Lois, you look like you're on caffeine withdrawal!"

Jimmy hurried away before Lois could retaliate, and she gave his departing back a sour look before redirecting her path to the coffee area instead of her desk. It probably wasn't too surprising that she didn't look her best this morning. She had pulled an all-nighter, after all — though that wasn't unusual for her. The events of this morning, however, weren't that common, and she was still brooding on what she'd found, and wondering how on earth she was going to prove anything about the Messenger mission now.

The coffee was hot and looked strong. Lois ignored the flask of skimmed milk and just added her usual low-calorie sweetener, beginning to sip the thick brew as she moved towards her desk, yet again scanning the papers in her hand as she went. And then she collided with something large and solid.

"Oops! Careful there, Lois!" Clark Kent's voice said in her ear, and suddenly strong hands were holding her by the shoulders, steadying her. One hand then took her mug of coffee from her, and he turned to place it on her desk. "Before you spill any more of it," he explained dryly, and she looked at him and noticed the damp brown stain on his pale, multicoloured tie.

Clark Kent. She'd been doing her best to avoid him over the past few days. It wasn't just that he was about the most attractive man she'd met in a long time. The problem was that every time she came within a few feet of him she was reminded of exactly how she'd felt in that car with Charlie. Drawn to him. Compelled by a burning need to look at him, to touch him; longing to have him touch her.

She'd fantasised about Charlie. In the depths of the night, in the safety of her own apartment, she'd imagined him stopping the car somewhere remote, leaning towards her and gazing deep into her eyes. She'd visualised him trailing a finger slowly along her jaw while telling her that he found her irresistible. And she'd felt his kiss in her imagination, a passionate embrace so vivid that her mouth had felt as if it had been seared with the heat of his lips.

She'd been able to indulge herself in return, running her fingers through his unruly dark hair and letting her lips trace his stubble- roughened jaw; tearing off his glasses so that she could see his beautiful brown eyes more clearly. And then returning her attention to those inviting lips, giving in to the need to trace them with her tongue before exploring inside his mouth. She'd imagined pressing her palms hard against his solid chest, feeling the muscled contours of his body, before pulling him tightly against her.

Of course, her fantasies had ignored the fact that, as far as Charlie was concerned, she was a guy named Larry. In the privacy of her imaginings, he'd seen through her disguise, sweeping her woollen hat off so that he could comb his fingers through her hair, or else her disguise had somehow magically disappeared and she was sitting beside him dressed in her most flattering figure-hugging top and short skirt.

Charlie had been safe to dream about. It wasn't as if she could have had a real relationship with him; he'd been a professional car-thief and her intention had been to see that he and his cohorts went to jail. Charlie, therefore, hadn't been any real threat to her emotions or her sanity, or so she'd believed.

But Clark Kent was different. He wasn't a criminal; he was a law-abiding citizen and, apparently, a decent guy. But he was also another reporter and therefore competition. He was also a work colleague, and she'd vowed never again to get involved with someone she worked with. She would *never* take the risk again of becoming the butt of locker-room jokes and newsroom nudges and sniggers.

And anyway, she'd reminded herself several times over the past few days, hadn't he seemed to be attracted to *Larry*? The *man* she'd pretended to be as her undercover disguise? That made him… well, it put him out of contention as a potential boyfriend, even if she hadn't resolved never again to get involved with a work colleague.

It really was true: all the best-looking guys who *weren't* creeps were either married or gay.

What a waste!

She looked away, extricating herself from his grasp. "Thanks," she said brusquely, knowing that she was being very ill-mannered, but unable to help herself. Quite apart from the need *not* to allow herself to fall under whatever spell it was Kent seemed to cast, she simply wasn't in the mood to be friendly. Not this morning.

"Lois?" His voice, softly concerned, tugged her back to look at him. "Are you okay?"

About to give him a curt, "I'm fine," with an underlying note of 'mind your own business,' Lois found herself hesitating. She was upset. And, for once, the thought of a sympathetic ear was very tempting. Even an ear belonging to Clark Kent, whose very presence in the newsroom she still resented…

Clark was watching her, his expression displaying concern. "I know it's none of my business…" he began, as the silence following his question extended.

"No, no, it's not that… uh… well, it's just that…" she began, hesitating uncharacteristically.

"Want to talk about it?" he asked, sounding as if he expected to be rebuffed.

She grimaced, realising that she really did want to. And she couldn't really imagine herself talking to anyone else in the newsroom, except perhaps Perry — who might even take her off the story if he knew what had happened.

But Kent?

On the other hand, why not Kent? Her observations of the man over the past couple of days suggested that he was what he appeared to be: a slightly naive boy from the country. He lacked the sophistication and guile of most of her colleagues — those who had at least two brain cells to rub together, at least. Not that his apparent innocence meant that she'd trust him as far as she could throw him — but maybe he could be the someone she needed to talk to at the moment.

Only if she was crazy, she told herself caustically. Trust a guy she barely knew? Show vulnerability to someone who would only take advantage of it?

But this, a little voice reminded her, was the man who'd stuck his neck out to rescue a kid from a prison sentence. Twice, he'd gone out of his way to save the person he'd thought of as Larry Long, a car thief. He'd tried hard to persuade 'Larry' that a life of crime was a bad idea, even to the point of offering to help the thief find a job — just how Kent would have done that, Lois had no idea. But the point was that he'd offered. And then, with the police on their way or perhaps already there, Kent had prevented her from going back to the warehouse where, had she really been what she'd pretended, she would certainly have been arrested.

And, following a trial, she would have gone to jail. Or, at least, Larry Long — had he existed — would have.

Didn't that show that Kent had a strong streak of decency? And that maybe she could even trust him? At least, trust him to understand, if nothing else.

She took a deep breath and nodded.

"If you don't mind listening."

He shook his head. "Not at all. Uh… is there somewhere we can go to be a little more private?"

Lois waved her hand in the direction of the other side of the newsroom. "The conference room's empty."

He followed her over and, once inside, closed the door behind them. "So, what's happened? Is it work or… personal?"

"Work." She sighed, then added, "You probably know that I've been following up the Messenger explosion."

Kent nodded. "Yeah, I've read your articles. Great work, as always, even though there's a lot you haven't been saying."

He was sharp, too — more so than she'd believed. "Yeah, well, there's a lot of unanswered questions, and I can't yet prove my speculation about the answers."

"That's tough. But you'll get there. If anyone can, you will!" His confidence in her, amazingly, made her feel somewhat better.

"Well, anyway, one of my sources is… was Samuel Platt. Dr Platt. He was an engineer at EPRAD for ten years. He came to see me the day before yesterday, just before the Messenger blew — he wanted to blow the whistle, but he hadn't been able to get anyone in authority to believe him. I guess I'm not surprised," she added wryly. "The guy looked like a tramp and sounded insane. But he knew what he was talking about. He told me that the Messenger had been sabotaged."

"Sabotaged?" Kent echoed, sounding appalled.

"Sabotaged. Anyway, I wasn't altogether sure whether I believed him, but I thought he was worth checking out — and when the Messenger blew, I started to take him seriously. Anyway, yesterday he gave me his report — the one he tried to show the officials to warn them about the problem with the cooling devices — and I stayed here most of the night trying to piece it together and read it. In the end, I couldn't figure it out, so I went back to Platt's place a couple of hours ago."

She halted, shuddering. Clark took a step towards her, then hesitated, clearly unsure of her reaction. "What is it, Lois? What happened?"

"He was… dead," she said tonelessly. "Sitting in a chair, his feet in a bowl of water, and holding a live wire in his hands. A live wire connected to *electricity*." She shuddered again, remembering how she'd felt when she'd seen Platt.

"Oh, Lois…" Kent said softly. "You think he did it himself? Or that he was murdered to stop him telling anyone else what he knew?"

Her opinion of Kent went up another notch. The police had automatically jumped to the conclusion that Platt had committed suicide, even after she'd told them what she knew. No- one had considered even for one second that the scientist might have been killed.

"Yeah," she said quietly. "I think he was murdered."

"Then you have to prove that he was right," Kent said firmly. "Prove that the Messenger was sabotaged, and find out who did it. You can do that for him."

He was right, and Lois had already come to that conclusion. But, again, he had surprised her. Almost anyone else in the newsroom would have laughed at her conviction that Platt had been murdered. After all, as Henderson had said, the man had a history of suicide attempts.

"I will," she said soberly. It was a vow.

"That's not all of it, though," she added after a moment. "He had… he had a wife and a daughter. They were separated, though. And I found out that his daughter is in a wheelchair. The reason the Messenger meant so much to Platt — and his family — is because of Prometheus."

"The space station?" Clark frowned, then added immediately, "The zero-gravity laboratory… where crippling diseases could be cured. I see."

Kent was intelligent too, she acknowledged silently. It wasn't fair, a corner of her brain noted, that one man should have so many advantages. Right now, though, his quick brain might actually be helpful. Lois never worked with partners, for good reasons… but maybe there was a tiny possibility that Kent could be a — very temporary — exception.

"Exactly. And now… well, now that's not going to happen." Lois blinked and looked away; she hated anyone seeing her not in full control of her emotions, but she simply hadn't been able to regain her composure since the events of the past couple of hours. "This little girl could have walked again — and even if Samuel Platt couldn't have been with her on Prometheus, he'd have known about it. Now she's lost her father, and Prometheus isn't going to happen."

"But hasn't the Secretary-General of the Congress of Nations said that funding will be provided for the cost of repairs and of another flight?"

Lois stared at Kent, startled. "She has?"

"Yeah — it was announced about twenty minutes ago — just before you got here, I think. Anyway, seems they turned down Lex Luthor's offer of funding a privately-owned space station, and I can't say I'm sorry. Something as important as this shouldn't be in private hands, and I'm not sure I trust Luthor anyway," Kent added with a twist of his lip.

He didn't trust Lex Luthor? Why not? Lois was intrigued by this, but pushed it aside for now. The important question for the moment was how she was going to prove that the Messenger had been sabotaged. And she was going to do that — no question about it.


Clark regarded Lois in thoughtful silence for a few moments. His impression that she was like a chameleon had been reinforced this morning, in spades.

Since discovering her true identity, he'd come to the conclusion that she wasn't the kind of person he liked, even if he did find her attractive. She was hard, cold, untrustworthy and without an ounce of compassion. She treated other people with little consideration, issuing brusque orders to the newsroom gofer, Jimmy Olsen, and using a tone of voice barely above freezing point when speaking to most of the male staffers. She had little more time for the women.

He'd have sworn to it that she didn't possess a heart, much less a soul.

And yet she'd been close to tears over the death of a man she barely knew, and over the fate of a child she hadn't even met.

A cynic might have said that her concern was only over the story, and the fact that Platt's death meant that she was unlikely to be able to prove her speculation. But, having seen her and observed her reactions, including those not apparent to normal humans, there was no way that Clark could believe that. Lois really cared about what had happened, and she was genuinely distressed.

She wasn't cold after all. Or heartless.

And his own heart lifted in response.

But he squelched that feeling at once. Even if he was well on the way to falling in love with Lois Lane, he knew very well that she wasn't likely to feel the same way. He'd heard the newsroom gossip, and knew of her reputation as an ice-woman. Mad Dog Lane, they called her, and it referred as much to the way she chased men away as it did to the way she went after stories.

Some of the gossip was cruel, and Clark had done his best to avoid listening to it, though it hadn't been easy. He was doing his best to disregard it, too. But still, what seemed to be undeniable was that Lois wasn't interested in men or romance. There was speculation that she was a lesbian, the thought of which had disappointed him — though he wasn't sure he believed that. He hadn't missed the way her eyes had widened and she'd looked at him when he'd come out of his hotel-room decently dressed, after all. Even if she had no intention of acknowledging it, she'd felt some small degree of attraction.

Regardless, she clearly wasn't interested in relationships. Even without the gossip, the 'hands-off' attitude she habitually projected would have told him that. So he was wasting his time falling in love with her.

Even if it was already too late to prevent himself.

He took a deep breath and made himself focus on the matter under discussion. She'd probably reject him out of hand, but he was still going to offer. "So, can I help?"


"Yeah. With the investigation. I know I'm new in town and don't have the sources or contacts you have, but sometimes two heads are better than one. Maybe I could be useful."

Lois looked taken aback but, to his surprise, she didn't immediately tell him to get lost. Her jaw hardened, however. "This is my story," she said stiffly.

"Sure it is. I'm not trying to muscle in on your territory — or your byline," Clark assured her. He meant it, too; he wasn't expecting credit for any work he might do. Anyway, she'd already done most of it herself — more than the vast majority of reporters in the city would have managed. But then, that was why she was a multiple-Kerth winner.

"I just want to help," he explained. "If you're right and Dr Platt was murdered, he deserves to have the truth come out. And also, if the Messenger was sabotaged, what's to stop those responsible trying again? Next week, when the colonist launch goes up?"

Lois's face paled; clearly that hadn't occurred to her yet. He hadn't a shadow of a doubt that it would have, and sooner rather than later. She took a sharp intake of breath and nodded. "Thanks. I'd appreciate your help."


Clark was more useful than Lois had expected. He suggested that she go and make whatever phone calls she needed to make, and he would attempt to put Dr Platt's report together, working in the conference-room so that he could spread out and wouldn't be disturbed. She really didn't expect him to make much progress, so she wasn't too surprised an hour or so later when he came to get her.

"Given up?" she asked, resigned to the fact that the report was simply indecipherable.

"Actually, I've managed to put it together," he said, his tone sounding surprisingly modest. "I thought you might want to take a look."

"But… how? I spent hours on that!" Lois protested.

Clark shrugged. "I understood some of the science — that helped me work out the chronology. And I can speed-read."

"Well, whatever it is you do, it works for you," Lois told him, shaking her head in amused disbelief. "Okay, let's look at this report."

Clark also, to Lois's surprise and relief, actually understood the points Dr Platt had been making about the heating and coolant systems which had led to the freezing of the ion particles, and could explain it to her in terms she could understand.

"Something as basic as that couldn't be a mistake, could it?" she said, almost rhetorically. "It would have to be done deliberately."

"That's my guess," Clark agreed. "I'm not surprised your Dr Platt was calling it sabotage."

"What I'm trying to figure out is who could be behind it," Lois said thoughtfully. "Who would stand to gain from wrecking the space programme?"

"Good question." Clark drummed his fingers on the table. "How does blowing up a shuttle and killing all the crew on board benefit anyone?"

"Only if… someone else wants to do what the Prometheus will do…" Lois said slowly, her thoughts not yet fully formed.

"And make money from it," Clark interjected. "A private enterprise, not a publicly-funded one."

"Like Space Station Luthor?" Lois commented, intrigued by Clark's suggestion. And then she stopped dead and stared at him. "Space Station Luthor. That's it!"

"It has to be," he agreed slowly. "All those patent licences from the vaccines and other medication they hope to invent on the space station… if Luthor owned the station, he'd own everything, or at least a huge share of it. If EPRAD runs it, the Prometheus's share of earnings gets reinvested in the space programme. Or into Medicaid."

"But could Lex Luthor really have done something as terrible as sabotage the Messenger? And kill innocent people?" Lois asked, almost to herself rather than Clark. Then, remembering, she added, "You don't like him, do you?"

"I don't know him," Clark answered. "But, no, I don't trust him. And as to whether I think he could do something like this… I don't know. I have no evidence that he's capable of it, but… well, put it together. He has a motive. Did he also have the opportunity?"

"Or is he working with someone else who did have the opportunity?" Lois amended. "Okay, that's another angle to check out. But if Luthor is behind this… it's just become an even bigger story. Dr Platt sure had no idea just what he was up against."

"He was a brave man," Clark said quietly. "Even if he didn't know who was behind it, he still knew that his life was in danger. And he still tried to warn someone about the sabotage."

"And now that he's dead," Lois added, "What's to stop Luthor, or whoever did this, from doing it again on the next launch?"

Clark grimaced. "Not a lot. Lois, can you talk to whoever's in charge at EPRAD?"

"Already have," she told him. "Dr Antoinette Baines. No help whatsoever. As far as she's concerned, Samuel Platt was delusional. An alcoholic who'd turned to drugs. She claimed that she'd never seen the report he said he'd given her. And I don't believe her — but I couldn't get anything else out of her."

"We'll have to try another approach, then," Clark said thoughtfully. "Any ideas?"

"Well, I'd like to get a second opinion on that report, first of all," Lois said. "If we can find an independent scientist who understands this stuff — maybe a professor at the university. I'll ask Jimmy if he can find someone. And — " She gave Clark a quizzical look, wondering how he'd respond to her next proposal. Oddly, she felt no hesitation in actually telling him what she was planning. "I think I need to break into EPRAD and see if I can find any documents proving Platt's claims."

Clark smiled in obvious amusement. "You like to take the direct route, huh? Want a sidekick?"

"You done any breaking and entering?" Lois asked, a little sceptically; she didn't want someone who'd be a liability. Even if he had been invaluable over the past hour or so.

"Some." His grin and raised eyebrow told her that there was much more that he wasn't saying. She considered for a moment, self-preservation and natural inclination warring with a highly unusual desire to trust another colleague. And not just any colleague, but a man, and one who was obviously going to be ambitious, and could end up being a serious rival.

"Okay, you're in. We'll do it tonight. Hope you haven't made any plans."

Clark gave her a heart-stopping smile. "I am all yours."

<If only…> she thought, then bit her lip. <Clark Kent is *not* boyfriend material!>


The afternoon edition of the Planet was cause for celebration: Jimmy's rocket scientist contact, a Professor Pickering, came through for Lois and agreed with Dr Platt's theory, in time for a front-page story. The headline, 'MESSENGER SABOTAGED?', under the byline of Lois Lane, vindicated the time and effort Lois had been spending on the story, as well as that of the late Dr Platt, and Clark noted her satisfied expression with pleasure. Perry had put the full resources and might of the Daily Planet behind her now, and had offered her backup in terms of other staff.

To his pleasure, she'd refused the offer of Eduardo and Bannister, and had said that she wanted him — Clark Kent. And Jimmy Olsen, which made sense — but the fact that she'd asked for him made him feel warm inside.

He'd been wrong about Lois Lane. And maybe, just maybe…

Well, all in good time. They had a story to work on first. And saboteurs to catch.

Of course, not long after the afternoon edition had hit the streets, EPRAD had issued a press release in Dr Baines' name, together with a letter from their lawyers, denying the suggestion of sabotage and threatening legal action unless the Planet's allegation was withdrawn by the morning edition. Even knowing Lois's reputation, Clark half-expected her to show a little alarm at the swift denial, but her manner depicted even more sang-froid than normal.

"Baines is running scared," she observed with some satisfaction after Perry had shown them the letter.

"You think?"

"Sure she is!"

"She's denied everything, and she's threatening legal action," Clark pointed out, not because he entirely believed that it wasn't just a bluff, but because he wanted to know Lois's reasoning for assuming that it was.

"Oh, come on, Clark! If our story was completely untrue, she wouldn't just be threatening to sue unless it's retracted by tomorrow! There'd be lawyers crawling all over the place *now*, they'd already have an injunction, and every reporter in the city would've been invited into EPRAD to examine the Messenger for themselves. And any scientists they wanted to bring. As it is, Baines hasn't even invited Professor Pickering to come and examine it. That all reeks of bluff to me. And to Perry — didn't you notice his expression?"

"I did notice that, other than asking us a couple of questions about our sources, he didn't seem particularly concerned," Clark acknowledged; he'd already drawn conclusions from the editor's reaction himself. "So, you think the Planet will call Baines' bluff even if we have to fight it out in court?"

"Oh, it won't come to that!" Lois exclaimed, sounding amused. "We'll get the proof we need tonight, and by tomorrow morning Baines will be history."

Her confidence both impressed and amused Clark. He was certainly seeing the Lois Lane who had won award after award; but did she ever experience any doubt about her investigations? Surely she must have been wrong occasionally. But that didn't seem to have made her any more cautious, any more willing to hesitate before coming to a conclusion. He had the feeling that the few minutes of vulnerability she'd shown him that morning were a real aberration; Lois Lane would never normally allow herself to be seen like that.

Did that mean that she kept her self-doubt, her insecurities, to her personal life? Or that she was every bit as self-controlled and self- contained there as well?

Had she come to believe in her own infallibility as a reporter? He couldn't quite believe that she was so reckless that she didn't care whether she was right or wrong; Perry White wouldn't continue to employ her if she regularly tried to get him to print stories which turned out to be inaccurate.

Lois Lane was an enigma. But she was an enigma he wanted to solve, if at all possible.


"You want me to come and pick you up later?" Clark asked as he noticed Lois shoving belongings haphazardly into her bag later that evening.

She glanced over at him, frowning. "I'll meet you there," she said briefly.

Clark grimaced. Was their tentative truce of that morning over already? Her carefully- constructed 'keep out' barriers seemed to be right back up again. Maybe the other guys at the Planet were right, an insidious inner voice suggested to him. Maybe she really was a man- hater. Perhaps she'd just been using him earlier because she'd needed help. And yet she'd asked for him as part of her team… that didn't add up.

And anyway, he didn't believe that she was really as bad as her colleagues — most of whom he was sure were just jealous — had painted her. Lois had been genuinely upset — he'd seen it in her eyes, and in the way her breath had caught several times as she'd fought for calm. He was pretty sure that no-one else would have noticed; he'd needed his additional abilities to hear the sounds of her distress. And he was also sure that she'd hate it if she was aware that he'd realised.

As he was about to turn away, saddened by her attitude, she added quickly, "No, wait! That's not such a good idea… How about I pick you up? I mean, you don't have a car, do you?"

"No, I don't," he confirmed, turning back to her. "Okay, sure. What time?"

"It's got to be after dark. Around nine?"

"I'll be ready." Then, as a thought occurred to him, he added, "You're known at EPRAD, aren't you?"

She shrugged. "I've been there, sure."

"So if they catch you on security cameras, they'll know who you are. Right?"

"Right. So? If they catch us, we're in trouble anyway. But I don't intend to be caught."

"Of course not. But, Lois, if you weren't instantly recognisable as Lois Lane, reporter, you could just be some kid breaking in for what you could find to sell."

"And your point is…?" she prompted.

"We should go in disguise. How about it… Larry?" He grinned at her.

Lois stilled in the act of pulling her coat on. "I guess it wouldn't hurt," she said slowly. "You still got your disguise?"

"I can dredge up something like it."

"Fine. See you at nine." And with that, the whirlwind known as Lois Lane swept past him and towards the steps.


Lois squirmed a little and adjusted the binding on her chest before she raised her hand to rap sharply on Clark's hotel-room door. Feeling trussed up like a mummy was not exactly her idea of fun — but if it was what it took to get the story, then she would do it. She just hoped that they'd be able to get in and out of EPRAD quickly.

And Clark, actually, had come up with a pretty good idea. If they went in disguise — if she herself wore her man's disguise again — Dr Antoinette Baines would have no idea just who'd broken into her facility, even if she did have a security tape.

Kent was a pretty smart guy. Which, of course, only made him more of a threat within the newsroom. Lois had, long ago, learned the lesson that her real rivals weren't those working for other papers, but those also employed by the Daily Planet. She'd managed to establish her seniority of position with respect to her colleagues some time ago; but then, none of them had Kent's intelligence or his undoubted skill with words. She'd have to be careful around him.

Although he was being helpful to her now, and it didn't seem as if his intention was to pose a threat, that didn't mean anything. This was just one story, and he was still very new at the Planet, and a little bit wet around the ears. That was why she'd asked for him, rather than anyone else, to help her with the EPRAD story. After all, he already knew about it, so it made sense to have him rather than Friaz or one of the others, and since he did know about it, she wanted him where she could keep an eye on him.

Once he'd found his feet, he'd be a dangerous rival. She would have to be very careful around him and, pretty quickly, she needed to come up with a strategy for neutralising him.

And something else… Now, several hours later, Lois was very much regretting the way she'd let her guard slip around Kent earlier. She couldn't deny that he'd been helpful, but that wasn't the point. She'd let him see that she was vulnerable.


*No-one* was allowed to see that Lois Lane was anything other than a consummate professional, always completely in control of herself and her emotions. With the possible, and very rare, exception of Perry White; but then, Perry had been like a surrogate father to her for so long that she felt comfortable being herself with him. Not with anyone else. Well, okay, maybe she let her temper show every now and then, but that wasn't a bad thing. It was useful, if only just to keep the opposition on its toes. The opposition at the Planet, that was. The only opposition that counted.

She'd let Kent see her close to tears. Upset. Doubting herself. Hurting. And frustrated, barely able to see a way forward. It had been his encouragement, his sympathetic understanding and his practical help which had enabled her to walk out of that conference room and pursue the story she knew to be true.

Kent had done that for her. And therefore she owed him one.

She didn't like being indebted to anyone — and certainly not a wet-behind-the-ears interloper who'd very nearly stolen *her* story.

And nor did she like the knowledge that she'd allowed Kent to see her vulnerabilities. Not that she had many. Hardly any at all, in fact. Nothing that really made any difference.

But he'd seen her at less than her best. And, knowing the habits of ambitious young men — and not-so-young men, he wouldn't hesitate to use the information against her if it would help him. Of that she was very sure.

Well, there were two things she could do about that. The first was simple: never to let Kent see her in that state ever again. Sooner or later, he'd come to see that it was an aberration; not the real Lois Lane. And with any luck, he'd forget it.

And second, she had to rebuild her defences where he was concerned. She'd let them slip that morning, with almost disastrous results. She had to remind him — and herself — that he *was* an interloper, someone whose presence she resented. He wasn't her *partner* — in any case, she never worked with partners. She was allowing him to help her out tonight because she needed back-up and he knew more about the investigation than anyone else, but that was all. Once tonight was over, Kent could go back over to his side of the newsroom and leave her alone.

And she'd be safe.

The door opened suddenly, and Lois swallowed as she looked up at Clark. He was dressed scruffily, as befitted his 'Charlie' role, but he looked every bit as good-looking as ever.

Far too attractive for her peace of mind. Or her sanity, for that matter.

Especially as, her own resolve aside, he wasn't interested in women. She could only imagine how he'd laugh — or worse, how embarrassed he'd be — to discover that Lois Lane had the hots for him. No; Clark Kent could never be allowed to see her reaction to him. That was absolutely essential.

He wore a faded T-shirt and jeans, the shirt worn tucked into his waistband so that his slim waist and nicely-shaped hips were revealed. He'd ruffled his hair so that it looked untidy, and with his late-evening stubble, he looked nothing like Clark Kent, respectable journalist.

Just as she, of course, looked nothing like Lois Lane, Kerth-winner. Lois frowned briefly as she wondered whether part of the reason Kent had suggested they go in these disguises was so that he could see 'Larry' again. Even though he now knew that Larry wasn't what he'd seemed…

So what? she asked herself angrily, pushing the thought aside. It didn't matter, even if it was true. She ignored the possibility and tried to focus instead on the evening's business.

And yet something drew her gaze back to Kent. Now dressed in his 'Charlie' gear again, he looked nothing at all like the sort of man she would be attracted to in the normal course of events. Scruffy, stubbly, grungy… yet he was still what Lucy would call sex on legs.

Nothing like the sort of man Lois had dated in the last couple of years — and nothing like Clark Kent, reporter, either, who was also too attractive for his own good. It was strange how a change of dress style and a different hairdo could make so much difference to his appearance.

But the biggest difference was around his eyes. Lois stared, puzzled, as she tried to work out what it was… and then she realised. "You're not wearing your glasses!"

"No." He gave a slight shrug. "Thought it might be a better disguise. Not that anyone at EPRAD knows who I am."

"It's not going to be very helpful if you can't see where you're going," Lois observed, more sardonically than she'd intended. He was having too much of an effect on her for her liking, she concluded ruefully, and it was taking all of her defence mechanisms to cope with being around him without letting him see what his nearness was doing to her.

Clark seemed to wince slightly; then he said, almost sheepishly, "I'm wearing contacts."

"Contacts? Why don't you wear them all the time?"

He shrugged. "I don't like them much. I just prefer the glasses."

<Just as well… those eyes are distracting enough without having the full effect of them staring at me all the time> Lois couldn't help thinking. She could drown in those dark eyes…

But she wasn't going to! She could control her hormones. Of course she could! It was just sex, after all, and sex was something she'd decided, long ago, that she wasn't particularly impressed by. She was focused on what was important in her life: her career and her goals. And she was well aware that people who let their sex drive influence their actions had a tendency to lose their focus on what was really important — something she had no intention of doing ever again.

"Okay, anyway, let's get going," she said abruptly. "My Jeep's downstairs."

Lois parked the Jeep just down the block from EPRAD a little under half an hour later, and reached into the glove compartment for her breaking-in kit. Lock-picks, wire-cutters, a Maglight, a miniature camera and a tape- recorder were all essential tools of the trade for this sort of situation. She noticed that Kent didn't seem to have anything similar with him. Yep, he was every bit as much of a novice as she thought. He'd probably want to get in by breaking a window, thereby letting everyone know there'd been intruders, and maybe even risking setting off an alarm and calling the police.



Clark followed Lois as she led the way around the side of the EPRAD complex, ignoring the main entrance and finally halting at a small gate in the twelve-foot fence. He buried his hands deep in his pockets, wondering in amusement how she intended to get inside. The fence, he saw when he looked at it carefully, was alarmed and had barbed wire and glass embedded in the top.

If she climbed over it, she'd be seriously hurt. If she tried to break the lock on the gate, the alarm would go off — and, he realised as he allowed his special vision to engage, the fence was electrified. A low voltage, but it looked as if there was some mechanism to increase the voltage if security was breached.

Clark glanced cautiously at Lois, worried. He'd have to be ready with some speedy application of one or other of his abilities, he thought, if she did something reckless — as she seemed very likely to do. He could disable the power with a quick bolt of heat vision — and it was just as well he'd decided to leave his glasses off as part of his disguise, he thought grimly. Was she always this careless? This irresponsible? It was a wonder she'd managed to stay alive to win those three Kerths of hers!

"As I thought. Alarmed," Lois murmured then, stepping back from the gate. He raised an eyebrow in silent admiration. Not as careless as he'd thought, then. "Probably electrified as well," she added, and his opinion of her climbed higher.

"What do you suggest?" he asked curiously.

"I'm going to cut the wires," she announced in that same low voice, producing a wire-cutter from one of her pockets. "Okay, it means they'll know someone's been inside, but that can't be helped. There's no other way to do it. I thought about sneaking inside during the day and hiding somewhere, but their security's just too tight. I'd never be able to manage it."

She was talking about herself again, Clark noted, making it clear that he was with her only because she needed him for now. Her personal preference was still to work alone. Well, that wasn't news to him. Lois Lane didn't want him around; he knew that. What he should do was forget all about his attraction to her, forget the sneaking liking and admiration he was beginning to feel for her, and just treat this as a learning experience; as part of his development as a reporter. After all, he was beginning to appreciate just how much working with Lois was going to teach him.

"Be careful, Lois — you don't want to get electrocuted," he couldn't help cautioning her.

Lois sighed without looking at him. "Do you think I'm wet behind the ears or something?" she demanded, her lip curling. "Look, Clark, I was doing this sort of thing when you were still back in Iowa milking the cows and planting corn, you know!"

"Kansas. And it's wheat, actually," he replied mildly, still determined not to let this prickly woman get the better of him with her sarcastic barbs. "And, actually, it's my dad who owns the farm. I've — well, let's just say that I've done this sort of thing a time or two as well, Lois. So, since I'm taller, you want me to disable the current?" At least, if he got electrocuted he wasn't likely to feel it!

Lois looked for a moment as if she was going to reject his offer, but then she hesitated. "I guess it makes sense," she conceded, handing him the wire-cutters.

Motioning Lois to stand aside, Clark studied the fence carefully, engaging his special vision to strip away the layers so that he could see where to cut.

<Great> he thought to himself as he began to snip. He'd only been in Metropolis a week, and first he'd stolen cars and now he was breaking and entering. Oh, and committing criminal damage at the same time. All in the name of getting a story, sure, but he wasn't really sure that the first amendment covered the commission of criminal acts as part of a reporter's work.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

Lois's snappy, sceptical voice interrupted his thoughts and he sighed, giving her a swift, irritated glance. "Yes, I know what I'm doing," he said with a degree of calm he didn't feel.

"Well, it doesn't look like it to me!" she objected. "I mean, you're just staring —"

"You really want to take the risk of me cutting the wrong wire? Or maybe you wouldn't mind if I get electrocuted as long as you get inside safely?" Clark couldn't resist retorting with mild sarcasm.

"Oh, don't exaggerate!" she protested.

Clark gave her a withering look, but said nothing. In the semi-darkness, he saw her roll her eyebrows as she stood back, folding her arms, and waited.

Within a few seconds he'd disabled the alarm and cut off the current. "Okay, we should be able to get in now," he told Lois quietly.

"You're sure?" She gave him another sceptical look. "I don't intend to get killed just because a rookie reporter -"

"Lois!" Clark couldn't help snapping, albeit in a low voice. "I may be new to Metropolis, but I'm hardly a rookie as a reporter. And I did tell you that I've done this sort of stuff before. Oh, and maybe you remember which one of us was better at breaking into cars?" he couldn't help taunting. Not that he felt at all proud at the knowledge that he was skilled at car-theft — even less so that he'd actually used his powers to do it. He comforted himself with the knowledge that everyone whose car he'd stolen as part of the undercover routine had got their property back.

"Look, I'll go first," he added in a more temperate tone. "That way, if it's not safe, you won't be the one to get hurt."

She had the grace to look ashamed. But she still waved a hand impatiently in his direction. "Just get moving — we need to get in and out of here before anyone notices that we're here!" she hissed at him.

"I'm going, I'm going!" he muttered, and pushed the gate open. No sparks flew, no alarm sounded — not even one which only his ultra-sensitive ears could hear. Clark refrained from shooting a triumphant look at Lois, and ushered her ahead of him into the compound.


<Show-off!> Lois thought as she led the way over to the main building. She could have done exactly what Kent did, and probably quicker, too. It was obvious what he was up to: he clearly believed that, as a woman, she needed 'protecting'. He just had to play the big macho male role, talking up the danger of that fence and then making himself look all manly and brave by insisting on cutting it himself.

Well, if he thought that kind of thing was going to impress her, he had another think coming!

Ensuring that she kept ahead of him — he needed to be reminded just who was in charge of this investigation — she walked carefully around the exterior of the large main building to which the remains of the Messenger had been brought for examination. As she did so, she kept looking around her for the security cameras which were positioned here and there, taking care to keep out of their reach. She'd hissed abruptly at Kent to do the same as they been crossing the compound.

Reaching a small side-door, Lois paused; this could be their way in. Producing her Maglight and lock-picks, she examined the door to see what locks were in use. Behind her suddenly, she heard a fizzing noise, followed by what sounded like pieces of metal falling.

"What's going on?" she muttered at Kent, who was standing behind her, looking around him.

He shrugged. "Dunno." But there was something just a little bit suspicious about his expression…

"If you've dropped something, or set off any alarms…" Lois began impatiently.

"Lois, I haven't," he insisted firmly, quietly, interrupting her. "Have you seen the alarm system on this door?"

Alarm system. Okay. Well, she'd guessed that there'd probably be one, but how had Kent spotted it when she hadn't? Not that she was going to let him know that!

"Of course I've noticed it," she said immediately. "I'm just figuring out the best way to disable it."

"Let me," he said instantly. "I've got a knack for dealing with alarms, remember?"

"Oh yeah," she drawled sarcastically. "You were a natural as a car thief. I'm surprised that you didn't consider a career change."

Kent's soft laugh surprised her. "No thanks. The job security's pretty terrible."

He moved forward, forcing her to step aside if she didn't want to be pressed right up against his solid body. His nearness again seemed to make her aware of him in ways she'd never felt around any other man. She was conscious, once again, of every movement that he made; it was as if there was some thread of energy pulsing between the two of them, compelling her to want to be close to him, to touch him, to press herself against him…


She did *not* want to do anything of the kind!

Kent was a reporter. A colleague. A rival.

And he wasn't interested in women anyway, even if she ever allowed herself to be crazy enough to trust another man she worked with. And that was never going to happen. The chances that she would *ever* again date a man she worked with were considerably less than the chance that… that… that she'd meet a man who could crush solid steel with his bare hands.

"Anyway, I tried to persuade you of the error of your ways, remember?" he added, sounding amused. "That's not exactly a sign of someone really committed to living a life of crime."

"I thought there was something not quite right about you then," Lois observed caustically. "If I hadn't been so close to breaking the ring, I'd have done some digging… you would've been out on your ear that night."

"You think?" Kent turned from his task and grinned at her, showing a flash of straight white teeth. "I was closer to getting the story than you, so you'd never have managed it."

The desire to stick her tongue out at him was almost overwhelming. Lois was shocked at herself; that was just juvenile! She was a professional, a reporter at the top of her field. She just didn't behave like that!

What was Clark Kent doing to her?

Fortunately for her peace of mind, and to her great relief, he stepped back then. "The alarm's disconnected. It's all yours."

Ignoring her temporary partner, Lois set to work with her lock-picks. Within seconds, the door swung open.


Snippy Lois was well and truly back, Clark thought wryly as he followed her into the darkened building. She'd been so different that morning in the conference room: open, welcoming his suggestions, even needing his help and support. Whatever barriers she'd thrown up between them as soon as she'd discovered his real identity had simply melted away.

Now, they were back, and almost stronger than before.

Well, he'd determined that he wasn't going to let her get to him or frighten him away with her brusque, sarcastic manner.

<Frighten him away?>

Why would he suddenly think that was what she was trying to do? Clark asked himself as he followed Lois through another door out into a corridor.

Maybe because that was what she was trying to do? Maybe for some reason she just didn't like to let people get too close to her? That would explain at least some of the newsroom gossip, he thought, surprising himself by feeling a wave of sympathy for Lois.

He'd seen a different side to her that morning. That had showed him that Lois Lane could be warm, sensitive, caring and compassionate. He already knew that she could be funny, as well as intelligent and quick-thinking. For all the negative qualities that she made only too evident, there were at least two things about her that he really liked — and he wasn't thinking of her physical attractiveness, though that didn't hurt.

He was still attracted to her. But after that morning, he'd started to be attracted to her personality as well as just her appearance.

And he was *definitely* attracted to her appearance. Even dressed as she was now; even though Larry Long the juvenile delinquent was back.

Looking at Lois now, in her disguise, Clark couldn't believe that he'd ever thought she was a man. Sure, she was swaggering just like an over-confident teenager, and her bulky clothes hid her feminine curves completely. But still, there was something about her… something essentially female, even though he couldn't tell what it was. There was no way that she could fool him ever again.

And he was attracted to her now, even dressed as she was, in her scruffy jeans and baggy jacket, and that horrible old woollen cap with her beautiful long hair stuffed inside. At least now he understood why!

The fact that she was sniping at him again was disappointing, but he could handle it. Clark smiled to himself at the memory of the way she'd looked at him outside; she simply didn't know how to react to a man who didn't allow her barbs to rile him. He gave as good as he got, but he did it with humour and a teasing manner. He got the impression that Lois was unaccustomed to those kind of comebacks, and that she was being knocked off balance. Not that she didn't recover quickly — but he could tell that she was taken aback that her acid remarks weren't having the desired effect.

He was pretty sure, too, that she also resented the fact that he was the one who'd got them inside the compound and who'd disabled the alarm on the door. She thought she could have done it just as easily, he could tell. Probably, given the expression on her face as she'd watched him at the door, she imagined that she'd have been quicker. Not a chance, Clark thought, amused. He had a few advantages over her; not that he had any intention of telling her about them.

Anyway, he needed to stop thinking about his temporary partner and concentrate on their reason for being inside the EPRAD centre, Clark reminded himself as Lois led the way along the passage. She stopped abruptly, and he almost cannoned into her — his own fault for not paying attention, of course.

"Watch where you're going!" she hissed at him.

"Sorry! But if you will stop without warning…" he defended himself.

But she interrupted him. "Never mind about that! Look over there!" She shone her Maglight over to the left.

Clark looked… and stared at the huge craft, part-shrouded, which was in front of them. "The remains of the Messenger, I presume," he said softly.

"Yeah, I'd guess so," Lois said, sounding almost triumphant. "I just hope they haven't covered up the evidence yet."

"Lois…" Clark frowned. "You're not a physicist. How are you going to be able to tell just by looking at it whether Platt was right?"

She looked at him as if she thought he was an idiot. "All I need to know is whether it has a hole in its side. Baines denied that before — well, it's going to be pretty easy to find out now, isn't it?"

"True," he conceded. They climbed over the barrier and neared the shuttle, Clark looking around carefully for cameras and other warning devices. He noticed one and quickly fried it while Lois's attention was on the Messenger — if she heard the faint fizzle, she'd probably just write it off as her imagination, he hoped, just as she'd done when he'd shorted the camera outside the side door.

Lois was crawling under the canvas; wordlessly, Clark stepped up and held it for her. And then she let out a triumphant breath. "There!"

She was right: there was a large hole in the side of the shuttle.

She was wriggling and fumbling, and Clark had to look away; the sight of Lois, dressed as a man, groping around under her clothes was too much for him. "Let me get my camera," she said impatiently.

Several photographs later, Clark thought that she'd be ready to go. But again he'd underestimated Lois's hunger for information. "The documents, Kent! The reason we broke in here in the first place!" she reminded him.

She was right, of course; that was why they'd come. But they'd been inside the EPRAD compound almost twenty minutes already. The alarm on the fence was cut, the one covering the door disabled. And more than one security camera was also out of commission. Sooner or later someone was going to come to investigate, and if that happened they were in big trouble.

But somehow he suspected that telling Lois any of this — minus the tiny detail of the security cameras — would get him nowhere. He sighed and followed her.


Lois smiled to herself as she headed down the corridor. This had gone even better than she'd hoped — she had proof that the Messenger's destruction hadn't happened as Dr Toni Baines had claimed. Those photos would make great front-page material.

And even Kent had turned out to be reasonably useful after all, although he had a lot to learn about taking a risk for the sake of a story. He was far too cautious. She was well aware that he'd wanted them to leave after they'd found the Messenger, regardless of their real reason for being here.

"Do you know where you're going?"

Lois rolled her eyes. What did he think she was? Seven?

"Of course I know! Toni Baines' office is just down here. I want to search her desk and filing cabinet."

"Okay." This time the masculine voice was conciliatory, falling in with her wishes. "Lead the way."

Oh, he did have a talent for the trite! Ignoring her companion, Lois used her flashlight to find Baines' office. It was locked, but again that wasn't a barrier to her. Within seconds, the lock clicked open and they were inside.

Kent closed the door carefully, walked across to pull down the blind, and then flicked on the light. "You want me to take the filing cabinet while you take the desk?" he enquired.

"Do you know what you're looking for?" she demanded, sceptical.

"Lois, just remind me… who was it who reassembled Dr Platt's report?"

Kent's reply was considerably less heated than she herself would have produced in similar circumstances. In fact… she could almost describe his tone as mild. Which was a lot more than she deserved. She was well aware that she had been pretty insulting to his intelligence just there. She knew only too well that if he hadn't helped her with Platt's report, and explained the science to her in words she understood, she'd be no closer to proving that the Messenger was sabotaged than she had been first thing that morning.

"Okay, I'm sorry," she said abruptly. "That was… unnecessary."

He gave a casual shrug of his shoulders. "Fair enough. Shall we get started?"

His tone was matter-of-fact. Not a man who seemed to bear grudges, Lois thought in surprise, and filed that information away for future reference before turning her attention to Baines' desk. The sound of a drawer sliding out behind her told her that Kent had succeeded in getting the file cabinet open — it probably hadn't been locked, she reflected. A few seconds' fiddling with her lock-picks was all it took to get the desk drawer opened, and soon she was engrossed in searching for the evidence she needed.

Ten minutes later, frustrated, she straightened up and rubbed her back. She'd found nothing at all. Baines' desk drawers contained make-up and stale sandwiches, old correspondence relating to some journal articles, some disciplinary letters sent to staff related to smoking in the labs, and a very worn copy of a Jackie Collins novel. Nothing at all related to Samuel Platt, the Messenger or any possible sabotage.

Lois was about to turn to Kent and express her annoyance, when he suddenly moved towards her with an excited look on his face.

"Lois! We've got them!"


Since Lois's attention was completely focused on the desk, Clark felt it was safe to use his special abilities to search the cabinet at speed; after all, if he was to go through all four drawers at normal speed, it could take an hour or more to establish whether there was anything of interest. The labels on individual files weren't particularly helpful, as many had initials or acronyms.

He'd just got to the back of the third drawer when he found it. A file with the innocuous label "Future research plans". Inside was a sealed envelope; he'd scanned the contents with his vision ability, expecting to find that it was exactly what it claimed to be: some research proposal or other. Instead, the first document was labelled "Messenger cooling systems."

He ripped open the envelope and read the first few pages swiftly. This was it — this was the smoking gun Lois had wanted. There was a copy of a memo giving detailed instructions as to what was to be done to the Messenger. There was another memo from someone who appeared to be an engineer, confirming that the instructions had been carried out. And there was a copy of another memo setting out very clearly who was to be allowed access to the shattered hull of the vessel.

At his alert, Lois hurried to his side; she snatched the documents out of his hands and began to flick through them. Within seconds her excitement level clearly matched his.

"This is it! We've proved it was sabotage — and Toni Baines is in it up to her neck!"

"Looks like it!" Clark was grinning, unable to help himself. It felt terrific to have got the evidence to support what they believed — to know that they could prove their allegations and see someone brought to account for the murder of all on board the Messenger, and Samuel Platt's murder too, if that could be proved — or even if it couldn't. This was a major story — far bigger than the car theft ring, and far more significant than his theatre story. This was a huge scoop, of national significance.

"I could get a Kerth for this!" Lois exclaimed jubilantly.

Clark's heart sank. Did she really only see this in terms of what it meant for her career? Was it all just about winning awards? Didn't she *care* about justice, about setting right wrongs, about telling the world the truth? Sure, an award would be nice, but he wasn't remotely thinking in terms of awards right now. He was thinking about the benefit to…

Wait a second — she'd said "I". In other words, she still thought of this as just her story, her scoop. The fact that he'd helped her out with Dr Platt's report, and that it was *he* who'd found the incriminating documents, seemed to be irrelevant as far as Lois was concerned. *He* was irrelevant.

Anger and frustration made him snap. "Is that all you think about? Your next award? What about what all this really means? — proving that the Messenger's crew was murdered, the implications of discovering that *EPRAD* is involved in sabotaging the space programme?"

Lois looked stunned; obviously she wasn't used to people arguing with her. But after a moment she had the grace to look shamefaced. But, ever belligerent, she responded smartly.

"Of course those things matter to me! And the first thing I'll be doing once I write this up is asking Perry for resources to investigate EPRAD further — if the FBI doesn't get there before me. And I want to see Dr Platt's wife, so that I can tell her that her husband wasn't delusional. He was right! And if I do win an award for this, Kent, I'll be dedicating it to him! So don't you start lecturing me about what's important here, okay?"

Clark shrugged. He'd made his point.

"And another thing," Lois added, barely pausing for breath. "I want to know who's behind this. Why did Baines do it? What does she have to gain?"

That was true. "I don't know," Clark said slowly. As he spoke, a piece of paper slipped from the pile Lois was holding, and he bent to pick it up. "I can't see anything in it for her. And if anyone ever suspected, her career would be over — and she'll wind up in jail now. So I can't see why…"

He trailed off, staring at the document he held. It was an unremarkable sheet of plain white notepaper, with no address or other identifying features. The text was handwritten, in black ink in what appeared to be a forceful hand, and dated a couple of weeks earlier.

"I trust that arrangements are all in place as we agreed," Clark read aloud. "The first instalment of the payment has already been transferred. As soon as I have confirmation that the Messenger has failed in its mission due to an unfortunate and untraceable fault, the final instalment will be paid and the originals of certain documents will be returned to you. Do not fail me."

The note was signed only with a single, slashed, L.

"So she was paid to do it," Lois said slowly.

"And blackmailed, by the sound of it," Clark added.

"Now we need to find out who L is," she mused, beginning to search quickly through the file again, producing a camera and taking snapshots of the pages. "I wonder if it could be…"

Clark stilled, tuning out Lois's comment. He'd heard something…

"I really don't understand why it was at all necessary for me to come here," a crisp male voice said, outside in the corridor.

Clark grasped Lois by the shoulder and muttered urgently, "There's someone outside!"

She gave him a sceptical stare. "How do you know? I can't hear anyone!"

From the corridor, he heard a woman's voice. "I wanted you to see the Messenger for yourself. After all, you were beginning to doubt…"

Dr Baines, Clark concluded. And the man with her had to be the mastermind of the operation… If only he could see who it was! But they weren't in his direct line of sight through any of the room's walls, at least at first glimpse, and anyway he had to focus on getting Lois out of sight.

"I have good hearing," he replied quickly, urging her to hide by crowding her with his body. "Look, they may not come in here, but if they do…"

"Okay, okay," she agreed grudgingly, pushing the cabinet drawer closed carefully and glancing quickly around the room.

Clark focused on the sounds outside again. The man was saying, "…Congress of Nations *did* decide to give you funding for a second attempt, after all."

"Not a problem. The second expedition will meet with the same fate as the first, only the effects will be far worse. There's not a chance the Congress of Nations will risk a third attempt. And that's what I wanted to show you," the woman responded. "Come into my office —"

Clark didn't wait to hear more. Lois was safely tucked away on the floor between the desk and the window, the documents they'd found returned safely to the cabinet, so she was fine. He snapped off the light and silently locked the door from the inside before considering a hiding place for himself. He contemplated, then discarded, the notion of floating up to the ceiling; too risky. If Baines or her companion happened to look up… Or even if Lois did.

There was a table next to the filing cabinet, piled high with books and reports and with some scientific equipment on the floor beside it. Grateful that his special abilities also gave him excellent night vision, Clark dived under the table…

…just as a key turned in the lock.


Lois had very reluctantly complied with Kent's instruction to hide — after all, *she* hadn't heard anything, and she was an expert at covert investigation! If there'd been anyone at all out there, she'd have heard it.

But he'd sounded so certain, and he'd practically been shoving her into a hiding- place, that she'd just done as he'd instructed anyway. Though she certainly planned to make sure he understood later exactly who was boss…

And then she heard the door being unlocked, and she froze. Clark had been right. It was fortunate that he'd been alert; she really didn't like the idea of being found in Baines' office. Okay, the woman was unlikely to recognise her in her disguise, but Baines would certainly call the police, and Lois didn't want to defend herself against illegal breaking and entering. Not after that cop Fernandez' offensive lecture about breaking the law in the course of her work. It'd be just her luck to have him be the officer sent out in response to Baines' call.

She inched up a fraction, wanting to see who came in. Baines' voice was audible as soon as the door creaked open, so it was obvious that she wasn't alone. Could her companion be a co- conspirator?

The light snapped on, and she dived for cover again before, a moment later, tilting her head once more to see who was there. She recognised Toni Baines instantly, but her companion was hidden from view behind the half-open door.

Lois waited, hoping that she'd at least find out who the other person was. Would she recognise whoever it was? Would Baines address her companion by name?

Then the other person moved and came into view. And Lois almost gasped in shock. It was Lex Luthor.

Lex Luthor.

The city's — no, the state's — most eligible bachelor. At the last count, the fourth — or was that the third? — richest man in the world. The owner and chief executive of close to half the city's industry.

The man Clark Kent had said he didn't trust.

The man she'd already started to suspect, based on his own involvement in space research.

Lex Luthor *was* in cahoots with Antoinette Baines!

He had to be. His presence here at this time of night, and with Baines herself, could have no other explanation.

Carefully, silently, Lois reached into her jacket pocket again and fumbled around until she found her trusty miniature tape recorder. The button depressed as she pushed it, and she relaxed slightly; now she'd have their conversation on record. Which was just as well, as it seemed that Baines was now showing Luthor some plans — the technical jargon didn't make a great deal of sense to Lois, but it was clear that it related to the Messenger's next flight, once it was repaired.

"…I think you'll agree that not even the Congress of Nations would want to fund another mission after this, wouldn't you, Lex?" Baines was saying, her voice husky and, to Lois's horror, seductive.

Baines was trying to vamp Luthor over plans which were designed to kill at least a couple of dozen people, and wreck the publicly-funded space programme and the international space station as well. Did the woman have no sense of decency?

But presumably not, since she was so uncaring about the deaths of her colleagues, and those deaths she was planning.

Deaths which would now be averted, if Lois had anything to do with it. As soon as she — well, she and Kent — got out of there with their evidence, once she'd grabbed it back again and as long as Baines didn't take the crucial file with her, she would write the story up for the Planet and then call one of her contacts at the MPD — probably Henderson this time — to get Baines and Luthor under arrest.

Evidence. She had evidence tying Baines to the Messenger explosion and to plans to ensure that the next shuttle flight also met a disastrous end. But, other than a voice on a tape, she had no evidence tying Lex Luthor to anything. And, as she well knew, tape-recordings were inadmissible in court. As Henderson would certainly remind her, proving that the voice on the recording was that of Luthor would be almost impossible, and Luthor's lawyers would have the Planet tied up in knots over that in no time.

No; she needed something more unarguable. Photographs — especially of Luthor standing next to Baines in the latter's office at dead of night, looking at files which, with the use of magnification, could be identified as those relating to the Messenger — would be perfect.

She reached inside her pocket for her camera and, inching up so that she could get Luthor and Baines in the viewfinder, prepared to get her evidence.


Clark had recognised Lex Luthor just as soon as the man followed Dr Baines into the room. Although he'd never met Luthor, he'd read dozens of profiles of the man who was now the third-richest person in the world, and he'd seen photos by the score, in black and white and full colour; more than enough to identify the man in person.

Luthor. As he'd suspected, even though it had only been a hunch based on Luthor's keenness to offer his own space station to the Congress of Nations, the LexCorp owner was behind the space shuttle explosion.

What was already a big story had just turned into the scoop of the year, if not the decade, Clark mused as he wondered just how he and Lois were going to be able to prove it.

The tiny click he heard just then gave him one clue; it was just as well that he'd only been able to hear that with his extra-sensitive hearing, he mused wryly. If the room's other occupants realised that they weren't alone…

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement from behind the desk. <Lois!> he groaned inwardly. Did she not even have the sense to stay put at a time like this? If they were discovered…

This was Lex Luthor, after all, a man with a reputation for ruthlessness in business. And this wasn't any normal business deal; this was something which could destroy Luthor's reputation and his legitimate business interests and send him to prison for a very long time.

If they were discovered, Luthor wouldn't stop at simply threatening them.

What on earth did Lois think she was doing?

And then he saw. In her hand was her miniature camera. With a silent groan, he closed his eyes briefly and prayed that neither Baines nor Luthor, who were engrossed in studying the files spread out on the desk, would notice what was happening.

He heard the clicks as one photograph, then another, was taken, and he winced at each one. But, he thought, the sounds weren't loud enough to attract attention. Then she took a third photograph. The camera's built-in flash triggered — presumably because of insufficient light at the angle Lois was snapping — creating a sudden burst of light.

To Clark's horror, Lex Luthor's head shot up and he turned towards Lois's hiding place.

"What the hell was that?"


Lois froze as she saw the flash go off. She was sure the film speed had been at the right level not to need extra light! That was all she needed. Carefully, she ducked back down behind the desk, hoping that Luthor would decide that it had to have been a passing car.

Footsteps crossed the room. Baines' voice said, "It was just something outside, wasn't it?"

"It was in this room!" Luthor snapped, his voice coming from somewhere very close to Lois.

The crash of something falling reverberated over near the door; Lois heard both Luthor and Baines whirl around. "Now what?" Luthor demanded.

A pause. "This book fell off the shelf," Baines said, sounding irritated. "I don't see how, but…"

Thank heaven for badly-shelved books, Lois thought, squeezing herself even deeper into her corner. With any luck, Luthor would forget about the flash of light.

She wasn't so fortunate. "Forget about the stupid book! I want to know where that light came from!" he snapped.

She heard shuffling, the sound of items being moved, and Baines protesting that Luthor was wasting his time, to which Luthor responded by telling her to shut up and check the exits. Trying desperately to hide, Lois shrank further back into her corner, wishing that she'd had the foresight to pull something *over* her.

Then the light went out. The fierce crack Lois heard sounded almost as if the lightbulb had exploded. There were curses, and Lois used the confusion to move, crawling into the footwell underneath Baines' desk. At the same time, she hit the rewind control on her camera and, once it had performed that function, she quickly removed the film and, fumbling, slipped the cartridge under the binding around her chest. Then she put the camera on the floor, under the wall-heater.

A dimmer light filled the room then, and Baines spoke. "That's the best I can do without going for a flashlight, Lex — it's just a desk-lamp."

"It'll do," Luthor growled, and in the same moment suddenly the desk was pulled back, and she was exposed to the gaze of the third- richest man in the world, who was staring down at her with a face like thunder.

"Got you! Come out of there, whoever you are!"


His frantic attempts at distraction hadn't worked. He'd thought that the book falling might have been enough to make Luthor and Baines forget about the flash of light. But he had clearly underestimated Lex Luthor. It was no wonder the man was as powerful as he was.

Frying the lightbulb had been easy, though Clark had been reluctant to do it. After all, he'd already destroyed three security lights in the complex, and that was too many to be coincidence. Someone was going to be asking questions about just how so many bulbs had managed to explode in one night.

But even that hadn't been enough. He could only watch in horror as Lois was discovered.

The temptation to rush out and protect her was strong. But Clark instantly squelched it; it would be an absolutely crazy thing to do. Quite apart from the fact that he was very sure Lois would be furious at his assumption that she needed protection, at the moment Luthor and Baines knew only that there was one intruder. And therefore keeping his own presence a secret meant that he could help Lois, once he knew what Luthor planned to do with her.

His jaw clenched as he watched Luthor dragging Lois upright by one arm. She came, obviously reluctant, keeping her head down and a stubborn expression on her face. He recognised it: her 'Larry' look. Her quick thinking in getting into character in her disguise was admirable, Clark thought, then remembered that coming disguised that evening had been his idea. Would she thank him for it once they were out of there?

"Who are you?" Luthor demanded harshly. "What are you doing here? How did you get in?"

He was holding Lois firmly, and Clark could see by the whiteness around her lips that the man's grip was tight — too tight. He was hurting her.

But Lois, Clark noticed, wasn't giving anything away, by word or by gesture. Not by a movement, other than the paleness of her features, did she indicate that Luthor was hurting her. And as far as the other man's questions were concerned, Lois was doing a perfect imitation of a deaf mute.

"That's why the alarm wasn't working, Lex!" Baines interrupted. "He must be a professional thief!"

Clark saw Luthor give Baines an angry look. "Don't use my name!" he hissed, and she flinched.

Then her attention was distracted by something else. "My desk's been gone through! Search him!"

"Don't be stupid. A chance thief, breaking in here? Into a facility with one of the most elaborate security systems in the city? Ending up in your office? And you actually believe that's a coincidence?" Luthor said scornfully.

"So what are you saying?" Baines demanded.

"He was after something. Something he knew was here. And that flash I heard…" Suddenly Luthor, still holding Lois, lunged down to the floor again. This time when he straightened, he was holding a camera.

"Now, what could this mean…" he murmured thoughtfully, looking back at Lois. "Not a simple break-in, indeed. You were taking photographs — of what, I wonder?"

His brain frantically churning, searching for ideas to get Lois and himself out of there without revealing everything he could do, Clark could only watch as Luthor threw the camera onto the desk and began to search Lois with his free hand.

"Nothing in the pockets… Now, why that disgusting hat?" Luthor speculated. "Antoinette, remove it," he added with distaste.

Baines removed the cap, and Lois's shoulder- length hair swung free. "It's a woman!" Baines exclaimed.

"Indeed," Luthor murmured. "And I think I know just who she is too…" With one swift, and obviously painful, movement, he stripped off the lower part of Lois's fake beard.

"Lois Lane, of the Daily Planet, if I'm not mistaken," Luthor observed sardonically. "Well, well."


Lois swallowed. She'd known that she was in trouble once Luthor refused to accept the suggestion that she was simply an opportunistic thief, but she'd hoped that her disguise and her refusal to say anything would at least save her from full discovery. Now Luthor knew who she was, and since he was obviously aware of her reputation, that didn't bode well at all.

She just hoped that Kent had the good sense to stay put. She had absolutely no idea what Luthor was likely to do to her, though clearly murder meant nothing to that particular twosome. As long as Kent remained hidden, there was a faint chance — very faint — that he might manage to find some way to rescue her. And if he didn't, then at least the truth about the Messenger would still get out, and the lives of those due to travel on the second voyage could still be saved.

Luthor's hand gripped her arm even more tightly than before. His free hand then slid up her body in an insulting movement, over her bound breasts, and coming to rest at her throat. Fingers and thumb cupping her neck, he applied pressure directly over her windpipe.

She could barely breathe. Terror growing even as she tried to calm herself, telling herself that Luthor wouldn't, couldn't kill her, Lois tried to swallow. Hands tried to wrench Luthor's fingers away, to no avail. Her gaze flicked around the room, desperately searching for Kent — not that Clark could do anything to help her without risking everything. She knew that. But for some reason she desperately needed the comfort of knowing that there was someone in the room who — maybe — cared about her…

"Well, Ms Lane," Luthor drawled, not relaxing his grip. "Perhaps you could tell me just what you're doing here. What is your nosy little journalistic mind looking for?"

"Not… when… 're hol — ing m' froat!" Lois gasped, as belligerently as she could under the circumstances. She clawed at his hand again, digging her nails in as she struggled to free herself.

His grasp loosed fractionally. "I recommend that you do as I ask, Ms Lane. I can squeeze even tighter, you know." Judging by his tone, Luthor could have been making polite conversation at a garden party, not issuing what amounted to a death threat. And at that moment Lois realised that he would have no compunction at all in killing her. She didn't even need the warning in his ice-cold, emotionless eyes as they gazed down at her.

He was going to kill her.

And rationality told her that he would kill her whether or not she gave him the information he wanted.

"I couldn't sleep, so I went for a walk," she drawled, then almost choked as his hand tightened painfully around her throat again.

And again, struggling did no good at all. Luthor must have had martial arts training, Lois realised after several of her most effective kicks and manoeuvres had no impact whatsoever on the man. He managed to evade them all, and he made it look easy. The exertion made her even more desperate for breath, and she felt herself beginning to get lightheaded.

His grip loosened after what felt like an eternity, but was probably only several seconds; Lois coughed uncontrollably as oxygen flooded back into her in response to her gasps.

"Wrong answer, Ms Lane! Now, do you want to try again?"

Suddenly, a blur seemed to materialise a few feet from Lois — how could he possibly have managed to move so quickly? And a very angry Clark Kent demanded, "Let her go, Luthor!"


He'd tried to stay hidden as long as he could, and he'd struggled with a painful dilemma. With his special abilities, of course, he could have Lois out of there in under a second. She'd be safe, away from harm, and they'd be able to take their evidence to the police and the FBI.

But at what cost? All his life, he'd been drilled by his parents — his father especially — not to let *anyone* know that he could do all these strange and powerful things. Those weren't normal, human attributes. No-one else on the planet could see through things, move faster than the speed of light, heat things up with his eyes, freeze things with breath, or — most amazing of all — defy the force of gravity and *fly*. The world's scientists — and the world's governments — would pay fortunes to get their hands on him to find out what he was and what made him able to do the things he could do.

He'd be locked up in a laboratory and dissected. Like a frog.

The refrain was as familiar to Clark as the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.

If he revealed himself now; if he allowed the occupants of the room to see what he could do, then not only himself but the people he loved most in the world could be in danger.

<But Lois is in danger now…>

Luthor's hand was still around her throat. She was struggling, to no avail. And she was desperate for breath. She was… Luthor was killing her!

As he prepared to make a lunge for Luthor, the man's grip relaxed. Lois could clearly breathe again.

He was *playing* with her!

Relief warring with anger, Clark had resumed his watching position. Lois was okay — at least for now. Luthor was still hurting her, and still threatening to choke her if he didn't get answers to his questions — but Lois was okay despite that. He had to trust that she'd be okay, at least for the moment. At least until he had time to think.

He had to find a way of getting her out safely without giving himself away — his abilities or, preferably, his presence, he'd told himself firmly. Lex Luthor wouldn't kill Lois. Of course he wouldn't! Someone like him wouldn't want to sully his own hands with the messy business of murder. He'd question her, try to find out what she was up to, and when she said nothing he'd give up trying. He'd leave her tied up somewhere and remove all the evidence, so it would be her word against his.

At least, Clark had tried to persuade himself that was what would happen.

And then he saw that Luthor's hand had tightened again. Lois was fighting, but with no success at all. Luthor parried her every move — and her moves were skilful — with casual ease. Toni Baines was standing by the door, watching but making no attempt to intervene.

And Lois was choking.

What good were his abilities if he couldn't save the life of his colleague? Clark thought with a smothered choke.

And in one swift movement he rolled out of his hiding space and rose to stand behind Luthor, his gaze fixed on Lois, who was now coughing as she desperately tried to fill her lungs with oxygen.

"Let her go, Luthor!" he roared.


Luthor's grip didn't slacken in the slightest. He must have had combat training at some point, Lois thought, or perhaps in those murky early years of which nothing was known of him he'd been a member of a street-gang. In any event, Clark's sudden appearance and command didn't faze Luthor in the least. If Kent's plan had been that the element of surprise would allow Lois a chance to escape her captor, it had failed miserably.

"Take a step closer and Ms Lane will regret it," Luthor said, his tone conversational. Simultaneously, his grip on her throat tightened yet again, and she stared pleadingly at Clark.

Kent responded by taking a half-step backwards, raising his palms in a gesture of submission. What did he think he was doing, anyway? Had he imagined that simply by ordering Luthor to let her go, the man would? Was he really that naive? Had he really shown himself without a fallback plan?

Well, they were both doomed; of that there was no doubt. Even if Luthor didn't break her neck, in her struggles against his hold she'd felt the outline of a weapon worn under the jacket of his elegantly-tailored business suit.

"So. Ms Lane didn't come alone," Luthor drawled softly, menacingly. "And who might you be?" Lois watched as his glance raked Kent from head to toe. "Her bodyguard? Hardly very effective, I think."

"Just let her go," Clark said, his tone even more menacing than Luthor's. Lois was taken aback; she simply hadn't imagined that he could sound like that.

"And if I don't?" Luthor taunted.

Clark began to take a step forward. Again, the hand around her neck tightened. "One more move, my friend, and you'd better hope that Ms Lane is good at holding her breath."

"Okay, okay," Kent said abruptly, stepping back; a moment later, she could breathe again.

Kent's gaze met Lois's; his eyes seemed to send a message of apology. She glared at him; he'd ruined his own chance at getting out alive and with the story, and for what? Her neck and throat now felt bruised all over and she felt far more vulnerable than she was comfortable with.

She was in very deep trouble — they were both in trouble — and she had no idea how they were going to get out of it. She wasn't sure that there was any way out. But she darned well wasn't going to give up trying. Not while she was still breathing!

"Antoinette, there is a weapon under my jacket. Get it," Luthor commanded. Held immobile while Baines found Luthor's gun, Lois was unable to do anything but watch. Were they going to be shot?

Kent was standing where Luthor had ordered him to stay; his face seemed almost expressionless, but his eyes told her that he was thinking furiously. His jaw was clenched, and his hands were held tightly in front of him, so much so that his knuckles were white.

He turned his head as Baines held up the gun in a triumphant gesture, and Lois saw him purse his lips. Puzzled, she stared at him…

…and then the desk lamp fell over, creating a loud clatter and a further dimming of the light.


In the ensuing confusion, Clark lunged for Lois, dragging her away from Luthor.

He hadn't yet worked out how he planned to get her out of the office — the window? Make a run for the door? — but at least she wasn't being strangled any more, and Luthor couldn't use her as a bargaining tool. He manoeuvred to get in front of her -

- just as a shot rang out. Luthor had fired his gun at the floor.

Baines straightened the lamp in the same second as Luthor grabbed Lois's arm and held his gun to her head. "Right, my friend — *you* need to let her go," he drawled at Clark.

There was nothing he could do. For a split second, he calculated what it would take to grab the gun from Luthor, and realised that even with his powers Luthor could have pulled the trigger before he'd succeeded. Freezing the gun, or making it too hot to hold, weren't options either — Lois was in the way of his direct line of vision or breath, and in any case, she'd get hurt by having an ice-cold or red-hot weapon held against her head.

Reluctantly, still thinking frantically, Clark released Lois.

"Good. Now, Antoinette, is there a building in this complex which is expendable?" Luthor enquired coolly.

Baines nodded. "This way."

"Good," Luthor said, giving Lois a shove while keeping the gun to her head. "You!" he snapped at Clark. "Follow her." He indicated Baines with a jerk of his head. "If you do anything at all other than walk to where we're going — if you even breathe out of place — Ms Lane's brains will be splattered all over the floor. Do you understand?"

Clark nodded, stifling the instinctive words of contempt which sprang to his lips. Getting mad — or letting his anger show — would only have a destructive result. They were being taken somewhere, and by the sound of it they'd have to go out of doors to get there. Once they were outside, in the darkness — and even if there were lights, he could deal with those — he could find a way of rescuing Lois and getting them out of this situation.

Even if it meant having to reveal his abilities to her.


Her life was in Clark Kent's hands. If he made even the slightest suggestion of a wrong move, the gun pressed to her head would go off. That was terrifying.

Even though Luthor's hand at her throat, tightening and choking her any time Clark did anything he saw as threatening, had been bad, life-threatening even, this was worse, somehow. It was the thought that Clark, by his decisions and his actions, would decide whether she got her brains blown out any second now.

Of course, Luthor was going to kill her anyway, so that shouldn't matter… and yet it did. She had to restrain herself from yelling out to Kent, telling him not to put a foot wrong. She couldn't do that — she certainly hadn't been able to when Luthor had been half-choking her, and she couldn't now because she was afraid that any movement on her part would lead to the gun being fired.

She had to trust Kent to keep her alive. And trusting a man was something she hadn't done for a very long time.

What if he decided to save his own life, no matter about hers? If they were going outside, as seemed possible, he might try to make a run for it, to get away. After all, no weapon was trained on him. Luthor was using psychology; gambling that Clark cared enough for his colleague not to abandon her to her fate. Not to do anything which would cause her death.

But she had absolutely no way of knowing that Clark would put her life above his own safety. How could she? She barely knew him. He'd been at the Planet for four days. She'd spent four evenings with him before that, and then she'd thought he was a car-thief — and he'd thought that she was a kid named Larry who was also a car-thief. How could she possibly be sure that he would care enough about Lois Lane not to risk her life?

Because, she reasoned, he'd cared enough about her in the newsroom that morning to ask what was wrong, and to help her out even when she'd made it clear that he wouldn't get a credit on the story. Because he'd tried to stop a kid named Larry from getting arrested, even though he'd believed that Larry already had a record.

But still… this was different. Both their lives were at stake. Only a fool would assume that they were going to get out of this alive. Luthor was going to kill them. So… who could blame a guy in Kent's position for trying to save his own life? Who could blame him for not feeling obliged to stick around for a woman who'd treated him like dirt?

Just ahead, Baines opened a door and they were outside in the grounds of the compound again. Steeling herself for the sight of her colleague making a run for it, Lois moved ahead in response to Luthor's push.

These could be the final seconds of her life… Silently, she began to say farewell to everything that was precious to her, as a lump solidified in her throat.


No opportunity presented itself. Baines led the way across a section of the compound which was very well lit; Clark would have had to destroy several lights to give himself any possibility of getting Lois safely out of there. He'd got past the point of caring about his secret; if he had to take flight in front of Luthor and Baines to rescue Lois, he would. The trouble was that, even as fast as he was, he couldn't be sure of getting her away from Luthor before the man could pull the trigger.

So he had to wait. They were being taken somewhere, after all. And unless Luthor planned to shoot them both once they were there, there would be other opportunities to get free. Clark doubted very much, in fact, that Luthor did intend to use his gun; he wouldn't want a murder where there was any possibility that it could be traced back to him. His preference, Clark assumed, would be for his and Lois's deaths to be considered accidental.

That being so, he figured that their captors planned to be long gone by that time. Which should give him a chance to get them safely out of there.

He hoped.

Oh, he'd be fine — since his teenage years, he'd yet to encounter anything that could so much as give him a twinge of pain. He'd survive. But he had no intention whatsoever of allowing Lois to die.


She had to be terrified. He was sure of it. Oh, while Luthor had been taunting her — and later, taunting them both — she'd shown no fear at all. But he'd caught sight a couple of times of a fleeting expression in her eyes: an expression of sheer, blind terror. She believed that she was going to be killed.

He wished that there was some way that he could offer her reassurance. But the way they were walking, he was ahead of her, and Luthor had made it very clear that if he moved in any way other than to follow Antoinette Baines, Lois would pay with her life. He couldn't risk it.

He would just have to wait until they were alone, as he was confident they would be — then he could reassure Lois that she was going to be okay. No matter what it took, he would get her out alive.

Yes, even if it meant revealing to Lois Lane, award-winning investigative reporter who never missed a scoop, the secret of what he could do.


Baines was leading the way into a smaller building on the far side of the complex, one which looked considerably more run-down than the others. That was presumably why it was expendable.

As light flooded the inside, Lois could see that the building's interior was open, not divided in any way. Shelves around the walls held a variety of bottles, cans and containers of every type, and bits and pieces of apparently-discarded metal and plastic parts lay in large bins on the floor. It was obviously some sort of junk-shed.

Perfect for disposing of a couple of inconvenient witnesses, she thought sarcastically as the pressure of Luthor's gun against her temple made her jerk forward.

"Antoinette, tie Ms Lane's… companion to that post over there," Luthor ordered coolly, coming to a halt and, with a hand on Lois's shoulder, forcing her to stop as well.

Again, Clark did exactly as he was told. Lois was barely able to believe that this man, whom she barely knew and to whom she'd been anything but pleasant, was actually putting his own life on the line just so that she'd be spared for what was obviously going to be a very short time. Unless Kent was naive enough to think that Luthor wouldn't have them killed?

Regardless, the fact that he hadn't made a bid for his own freedom, that he'd done exactly as he was told because of the threat to *her*, made him shoot up very high in her estimation.

It also made her feel ashamed of her treatment of him.

Clark turned as he was obeying Baines' instructions, and for a moment his gaze met hers. He looked concerned, but she realised in shock that it was concern for *her*. And, for a second, it seemed that he was trying to tell her something. To tell her… no, he couldn't possibly mean that she shouldn't give up hope, could he?

But, too soon, she had to look away; Luthor was shoving her in the direction of the post, and Baines was forcing Clark to raise his arms and bend his head so that she could wrap metal chains around him. And then it was her turn to sit on the floor with her back to the post and be tied to it.

"Well, Ms Lane," Luthor drawled, "was it worth it? To get a story you hadn't a hope in hell of proving anyway? You know," he added, not giving her a chance to respond, "it's a shame that you're wearing such… ugly apparel. I would have liked to see the real Lois Lane — I've heard that you're quite attractive. Not that you look it now, of course…" His voice trailed off in a sardonic drawl.

Then, without warning, he bent and ripped off the rest of Lois's fake beard. She yelped in pain, but then bit down hard on her lip to prevent herself from showing any other sign of pain or fear.

Luthor ignored her reaction, however. He studied her for a long moment, then caught her chin in his hand. "Yes, I can see why they describe you as beautiful, but ice-cold," he observed casually. "I wonder if you're really as cold as you pretend?"

Without warning, he bent his head and laid his lips against hers. She didn't react — refused to react in any way. It was a brief brush of his lips on hers at first, and she released her breath in relief as he drew back. But he hadn't finished; his mouth returned, grinding against her own as he forced his tongue into her mouth.

She promptly bit it. Hard.

He moved back without a word, but his hand on her chin slid to her throat and squeezed again, reminding her of the collection of bruises she already had there. Then, stepping back, he turned to Baines. "I presume that you have some concoction or other of chemicals which could create an unfortunate accident?"

"Leave it to me, Lex," Baines purred, giving Lois a venomous look.

Lois could only watch helplessly as Baines poured a couple of different chemicals onto the floor at different sides of the shed. The floor was uneven, sloping down towards the centre, and it was obvious that in not very many minutes the two trails would meet. Explosively, she thought dryly.

Baines confirmed that a moment later when she faced Lois and Clark, a triumphant grin on her face.

"Well, Ms Lane; not so clever now, are you? Make the most of the next fifteen minutes or so, because they're the last you'll have. Once those two little spills meet, this place is going sky-high."

Luthor caught her arm. "Time to leave, Antoinette. And I take it that you'll be upgrading your security system after tonight?"

Baines pulled the door shut behind herself and Luthor as they left, and the voices faded away. Lois shivered and looked from one trail of chemical to the other; they were still a couple of yards apart, but still…

She glanced at Clark, who was silent next to her. "I guess this really is it," she said softly. "Bet you're wishing you'd never volunteered to come with me, huh?"

He shifted, turning towards her, and to her surprise his hand sneaked through the web of chains binding both of them, and he managed to cover hers with it. "Lois, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. But, you know, you shouldn't give up so easily."

"Easily??" She almost screamed the word at him, and she bit her lip again; she hadn't realised how close she was to losing control. "Clark, we're going to die," she added more quietly. "We'll never break these chains. If we had an hour or so, I could probably figure a way to get out of them, but there's no way we're going to be able to escape before this place blows!"

Clark's hand squeezed hers, and she was surprised at the reassurance she felt. But it didn't change anything; they were still going to die. At least she wasn't alone; the fact that Clark Kent was with her really did offer a degree of comfort.

"Lois, trust — " he began, but for Lois the floodgates had opened. Suddenly, tears began to flow down her cheeks.

"We're going to die, Clark," she blurted out; when had she started calling him Clark again? a part of her wondered. "And I… there's so much I haven't done… so many regrets…" She stumbled over the words as emotion overcame her.

"Regrets, Lois?" Clark's voice was very gentle.

"I never did get even close to that Pulitzer," she muttered.

"Work, Lois? Is that all that matters to you?" Clark said quietly, a faint chiding note in his voice.

"What else is there?" she exclaimed, now close to tears. She was — *they* were — less than ten minutes from death, and Kent was interrogating her!

"Life, Lois! Friends, family…"

"We're going to die, Clark!" she repeated again, tears trickling down her cheeks as she gripped his hand tightly. "And… and I know that, other than my sister, not one person will miss me."


Clark knew that his priority had to be getting Lois safely out of here before the shed blew. He'd already assessed the chemicals, using his special vision to read the information on their containers. His first thought, freezing them with his breath, wouldn't work; both had a freezing-point of considerably lower than water. He just couldn't do it. So he had to use more conventional — for him — means of escape, once he was sure that Luthor and Baines were safely out of the way.

But Lois had sounded so forlorn, so utterly miserable that he just couldn't bring himself to let the conversation go. Even after only a few days, he knew Lois well enough to be aware that once safely out of there she'd deny she'd ever said what she just had.

"Lois," he said softly, feeling a lump swelling in his throat as he turned to look at her and saw the tears she was trying to blink away. "Lois, that's not true! Of course you'd be missed! Your parents… Perry, the Planet… your friends…"

"What friends?" she muttered defiantly. "And Perry… He's been like the father I needed all my life, but I know I drive him crazy. Sometimes… sometimes I wonder how he puts up with me. The way I behaved…"

She trailed off without finishing her sentence, and Clark ached to know what she would have said. Would it have given him more insight into this insecure, under-confident woman who was suddenly nothing like the supremely self- assured Lois Lane he'd worked with for the past week?

And why was she so convinced that nobody cared about her? She hadn't mentioned her parents in response to his reference to them, for one thing; were they dead? He didn't like to ask. Why didn't she have friends? Everyone had friends, surely?

"I guess… You must know what I'm saying, Clark," she blurted out. "I mean, I haven't exactly been nice to you since we met. I even tried to steal your story, and then I made it clear that I didn't want you around. I'm like that — that's why no-one likes me!"

And that, she thought, was why no-one would grieve to hear that she was dead… Clark shook his head in disbelief. Did she really think that she was so disliked?

"Lois, people do like you!" he insisted. "I know that Perry thinks very highly of you. And, believe it or not, I admire and respect you."

"Yeah, but you don't like me," she countered.

"Want to bet?" he challenged softly. And it wasn't just a line; despite her reversion to mild unpleasantness that evening, his decision earlier that day that he liked Lois Lane still stood.

"But… I mean…" she stammered, hesitated, and then continued, "You liked me as Larry. I know that. I mean, you even tried to save me from being arrested. And then I treated you badly… I know you stopped liking me then. And I deserved it."

Clark glanced around quickly, checking the twin trickles of chemicals again. They had another eight minutes or so before he'd have to take urgent action, he estimated. And Lois seemed to need to have this conversation — or, at least, to receive some reassurance, he thought, frowning at her obvious self-doubt. "Lois, all that really doesn't matter. It's in the past — and anyway, I got a job at the Planet, so you didn't actually succeed."

But Lois didn't seem to hear him. "I scare people off, Clark. I scare *men* off. Lucy — my sister — always tells me that I frighten them. I'm too assertive and forceful. And that's why I'm still single and not a boyfriend in sight."

"Oh, Lois…" Clark squeezed her hand again. "Any man who could be scared off by you refusing to be a doormat doesn't deserve you. You know you don't scare me off."

She hadn't scared Luthor off, he thought, remembering with revulsion the sight of their captor kissing her. But then, that kiss had been all about power. Attraction had had nothing to do with it. And Lois had clearly loathed it — which gave him some quiet satisfaction, even in their present circumstances.

"I guess not…" she agreed. "But… well, it's not as if you're attracted to me, Clark, is it?"

"Huh?" Unable to believe what he'd heard, Clark stared at her.

"Well, you're not… I mean, I was… am… was…was attracted to you, but you're not interested -" Suddenly she halted, and Clark saw the flush of embarrassment on her face before she ducked her head to avoid his gaze.

"Lois, what are you talking about?" Clark exclaimed incredulously. He checked the chemical trails again; he had a few minutes' margin. And he was very sure that, once they were safely out of the warehouse, Lois would deny that this conversation had ever happened. It had been clear to him that morning that she was a woman who hated to show vulnerability, and that, he was sure, was why she'd cooled towards him by the evening. He'd be frozen out completely if he ever referred to this discussion once they were back in the real world!

"You like men… I mean, you were attracted to Larry!" she muttered abruptly. "Weren't you?"

Clark shook his head in disbelief. "Remind me to tell you one of these days just how I felt when I thought I was attracted to a nineteen- year-old guy! You have no idea what you put me through!" he muttered.

"See? That's just what I said!"

"Lois." Clark spoke firmly, trying to persuade her to look up at him. She raised her head slightly. "Lois, you would not believe how attracted I am to you…" he began, but the sceptical expression on her face showed her rejection of his words.

There was only one thing for it. Leaning forward, and careless of whether she noticed what he was doing, he snapped his chains and reached for her. Before she could say another word, he had covered her mouth with his and was kissing her passionately, with all the suppressed desire he'd been living with for the past ten days.

And, after her first muffled exclamation of shock, she kissed him back.


Lois was drowning. Buried in a haze of passion, all she could do was cling to Clark and kiss him. He tasted of coffee and toothpaste and… well, just Clark Kent, and his kiss was the most dizzying she'd ever experienced in her life.

Five minutes earlier, she'd had Lex Luthor forcing his tongue down her throat; it had made her want to gag. She'd heard women talk of a sense of being violated by an unwanted advance; now she knew how it felt. But this… this was completely different.

Clark's kiss seared her lips, scorched its way into her soul. There was nothing, in that moment, that she wanted to do more than kiss him back. She wanted to plead with him never to stop.

<Hell of a way to go> some part of her conscious mind thought. They could only have a minute or two left at most before the place blew. Who cared, when for the first time in her life she'd discovered what real passion meant?

She managed to pull one arm out from under the chains somehow, and wrapped it around Clark's shoulders, pulling him closer. They were trapped. There was no way that they were going to get out of this shed. In a minute or perhaps less, they'd be blown to smithereens.

His lips shifted, slanting over hers again and clearly wanting to deepen the kiss. She needed this. She needed *him*. She wanted the world to go away… she wanted *Clark*.

She parted her lips further and invited him in.


Something very important was nagging at the back of Clark's brain. He tried to push it away; right at this moment, the only thing he wanted was Lois. Nothing was more important than doing what he'd wanted to do almost from the moment he'd met 'Larry Long': kissing Lois Lane.

She'd needed reassurance, and that was exactly what she would get from him. For as long as she wanted — as long as he could possibly carry on kissing her. She was every bit as responsive as he'd dreamed she would be. She was soft and yielding in his arms, and he knew that he was falling in love.

And he knew, with some subconscious intelligence, that he would love this woman for the rest of his life.

His life!!

Suddenly recalled to his surroundings and to the reason why it was absolutely imperative to get Lois out of there right now, Clark moved rapidly. Letting his mouth trail lightly across Lois's face, he groped for her chains, snapping them effortlessly. Then, scrambling to his feet, he swung her up into his arms and claimed her mouth again — if he could distract her from his use of superhuman abilities, so much the better.

Half-running, half-floating, he had them outside the warehouse just seconds before the explosion.

The force of the blast nearly threw him off his feet, but he increased his speed and almost flew across the compound. He'd tucked Lois's head into the hollow just below his shoulder, so she was safe, protected from the explosion and flying debris by his body. Only when they were well out of the way of any danger did he stop and turn to look at the burning building.

It was almost destroyed, flames licking every corner and bits of shed and contents scattered over a very wide area. A quick glance around told Clark that a building nearby could be in danger of catching fire as well, but he didn't dare do anything about it. As it was, he was hoping that Lois wouldn't have noticed anything suspicious about his behaviour. Despite his resolve to tell her his secret if that was what it took to get her out of there alive, now he didn't want her to know if it could at all be helped. He planned to tell her that the chain was defective and that it had suddenly broken loose.

He'd made it out of there with barely seconds to spare, he realised suddenly, and his heart skipped a beat. He'd been so wrapped up with kissing Lois that he'd almost failed to save her. She could have been killed…!

She shifted in his arms, struggling to get down. "Clark… what happened?!" she demanded, disbelief in her tone.


Lois had no idea just what had happened back there. She'd been kissing Clark Kent as if her life depended on it; she was aware of that much. And he'd been giving pretty much the same impression. But then, chained up as they were with bare minutes to live, that kind of desperate passion was probably only to be expected.

That was all it had been, of course. It wasn't as if he would have wanted to kiss her otherwise, was it? Regardless of the fact that she'd practically wanted to jump his bones from the moment she'd met him.

Although his kisses had been amazing… She'd never, ever felt like that in a man's arms before. She'd never become so engrossed in a kiss that she'd been oblivious to her surroundings — and it wasn't just because she'd been wallowing in self-pity, something she hated, before he'd kissed her.

No. There was an attraction between the two of them so fiery they'd almost combusted before the chemicals had done it for them. So didn't that mean that Clark really was attracted to her too, as he'd insisted?

But that was one thing. And it certainly wasn't the most important thing at the moment! She'd thought that she was — they were — going to die. Just how had they managed to get out? And what was she doing in Clark's arms? Had he carried her out? Everything had happened so quickly that she simply hadn't been able to work out what was going on.

And across the yard the shed they'd been held prisoner in was burning to the ground. The scale of the explosion, together with the intensity of the flames now, left no doubt in her head that, had they still been in there, they would have been charcoal skeletons by now.

She shuddered at the thought, feeling an ice- cold chill run through her. Lois had come close to death before, but this… This was her closest shave yet. And, even though she still didn't know how they'd escaped, she had a strong feeling that she owed her life to Clark Kent.

Clark let her slide to the ground, steadying her with his arm around her waist. "Oh my god…" she breathed softly as they stood watching the building burn. "Clark, how did we get out of there?"

He gave a faint shrug. "I noticed when we were… uh, kissing… well, I was kind of struggling to get closer to you. And anyway, the chains just… uh… seemed to give way. And I just grabbed you and ran."

Lois turned and stared at him. He wasn't looking at her, instead still gazing at the fire. She wasn't quite sure, but something really didn't seem to ring quite true… And she had a nagging sensation that there were other things about the entire evening which didn't really add up.

But she could think about that later. For now, they had a big story to break.

"We need to get out of here," she told Clark urgently.

He nodded. "I was just about to suggest that," he said, beginning to turn and lead her away. "I think the gate we came in through is that way."

"No way am I leaving yet!" Lois exclaimed determinedly. "Not without my proof! It's all in Baines' office — unless she took it away with her," she added disgustedly.

Clark took a deep breath, and Lois knew that he was intending to argue with her. Breaking away from his hold, she began to stride back towards the main building.

"Lois, don't you have the photographs you took?" he called after her. "I know Luthor took the camera, but you didn't leave the film in it, did you?"

Yes, Clark was definitely a lot smarter than she'd given him credit for. "No, I didn't. And I have my tape-recorder still, too. But you know as well as I do that tape-recordings aren't admissible as evidence. I want that file!"

He sighed audibly and, as she looked back to see what he was doing, he grimaced and began to trail after her.

"I don't like this," he informed her as he caught up. "But if you insist…"

"I insist."

"Then you're not going in alone."

"Good," she announced, and had the pleasure of seeing him look taken aback. Well, it was about time that she'd managed to surprise Clark Kent again!

"Oh, and thanks for saving my life," she added, and caught another startled expression on his face before he smiled and shrugged.

"You're very welcome, Lois," he assured her softly.


Clark scanned what he could see of the interior of the building before pulling open the door Luthor and Baines had brought them out through. From what he could see, the place was empty. Okay. All they had to do was get to Baines' office, grab the files, and make their escape. He hoped that it would actually be as easy as it sounded.

So far, he reflected with relief as he waved Lois ahead of him, his secret appeared to be safe. Lois had received his explanation for their escape without comment; he supposed that she was just so grateful to be alive that she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak. He hoped that would continue.

Of course, the other thing she hadn't mentioned was that passionate, desperate kiss they'd shared just before he'd broken them out of there. Not that there had really been time or opportunity, he reminded himself. After all, they'd just narrowly escaped death — well, he hadn't, but Lois didn't know that, of course. And she'd clearly been shocked at the sight of the burning building and the realisation that they could have been in that inferno. And, being Lois Lane, star investigative journalist, her thoughts had immediately returned to the story. That was only to be expected.

Would she ignore their kiss completely? Did she intend to behave as if it had never happened?

He knew that she wasn't in love with him. That wasn't what he was either expecting or hoping for. But she had admitted that she was attracted to him. And then she'd kissed him as if her life had depended on it. Or, he reflected, it might be more accurate to say that she'd kissed him as if it had been her last opportunity to share any sort of intimacy with a man — which, to her mind, had been the truth.

So had it been just desperation borne out of her belief that she was going to die? Or was it possible that the kiss might have meant more than that to her? That she might want to repeat the experience, once they'd dealt with the more pressing matter of getting their evidence and making their escape?

He didn't know. And, for now, there was nothing he could do to find out. However, there was one shred of hope, he thought: she was calling him Clark again. And not with any of the sarcastic inflexions she'd used a few times earlier that evening when calling him Kent.

Well, maybe he shouldn't lose all hope just yet, he told himself optimistically.

Clark smelt it as they neared Baines' office, and he broke into a run, leaving Lois rushing to catch up. "What's up?" she demanded as she hurried along behind him.

"Something's wrong," he said, not looking back. As they got to the door, which was closed, he put out a hand to stop Lois. "Stay here."

"You're kidding!" she exclaimed. "I need to get that file!"

"I'll get it!" he told her. Seeing that she wasn't about to do as he'd asked, he sighed. "Lois, can't you smell it?"

"Smell what?"


Lois rolled her eyes at him. "Clark, of *course* I can smell smoke! There's an entire building going up in flames over there, remember? The one in which we were almost barbecued?"

"No, Lois," Clark said with exaggerated patience. "I mean, there's a smell of smoke coming *from this room*. I can smell it."

She gave him a sceptical look, then reached for the door-handle before he could stop her. Her hand was snatched back almost immediately. "It's hot!"

Clark bit back the words "That's what I've been trying to tell you," and pulled off his jacket. "Let me do it," he said. "I'll get the file — assuming it's not already been destroyed, that is."

"Clark, it could be dangerous," Lois protested, even as he was gripping the door-handle. "At least let me find a fire extinguisher…"

"Go and look for one," he suggested, grateful for the idea; it should distract her long enough for him to do what he had to do.

The room was full of smoke, and flames licked the papers on the desk. Yellowy tendrils were also trailing up the blinds and advancing across the floor. The bookcase close to the door was in flames; Clark guessed, from the state of the room, that the fire had started there. A couple of burning books had clearly fallen to the floor, causing the fire to spread.

The file should be in the cabinet, he knew — unless, of course, whoever had started the fire had taken it with them. The fire had been deliberately started. That was apparent to him, even if he hadn't already spotted the microscopic, burnt-out incendiary device on one of the bookshelves.

The sprinklers were on, but at a guess Clark would have said that they'd been tampered with; no more than a faint trickle of water came out of just a few holes, rendering them almost completely ineffective. Whoever had set the fire had known what they were doing.

Who had started it? Luthor or Baines? Or both? They were the only ones with motive, the motive being to destroy evidence, of course. But if that was so, then why not simply remove the incriminating documents? Clark wondered as he opened the cabinet again. Unless, he thought, the intention was that the fire should spread throughout the massive building, destroying the hulk of the Messenger too, so that no evidence would exist to support a claim that it had been sabotaged? It made sense; Lex Luthor wasn't the type to leave loose ends, and someone who'd been found in the kind of incriminating situation that Luthor had been in tonight wouldn't assume that nobody else knew what the two reporters had clearly been checking out.

It was hot in the office as well, which was only to be expected; the fire was getting worse by the second, especially now that the door stood ajar. He just hoped that Lois had the sense to stay well back.

His fingers had just fastened around the file they needed — much to his amazement, it was still there — when Lois reappeared at the door, holding a fire extinguisher.

"Clark!" she yelled. "Clark! Are you okay? Hurry up!" As she spoke, she began to spray foam into the office, directing it straight at him.

She was *worried* about him? Unbidden, his heart leapt. Did that mean she cared? Maybe that kiss had meant more to her than he'd been assuming.

He could hope…

One quick movement and he was back outside the door. Pulling it closed behind him, he caught Lois's arm. "Come on — we'd better get out of here. I don't suppose you want to explain to the police or fire department what we're doing here?"

"Of course not!" She joined him, hurrying out of the building and across the courtyard, making their escape through the gate just as fire sirens could be heard in the distance.


They'd just made it. Lois hit the accelerator with Clark barely inside the car, and as she screeched away with a squeal of tyres she saw fire-trucks in her rear mirror. Their fingerprints were no doubt everywhere, but that was okay; by the time anyone actually got around to taking prints, they'd have the story written and the police briefed.

She still had no idea how they'd managed to get out of that shed alive. They'd clearly done it by the skin of their teeth — or rather, Clark had done it. Lois herself had had nothing to do with it.

And that was twice this evening that he'd saved her life, she thought. It hadn't been at all clear to her whether Lex Luthor would have killed her with his bare hands when he'd been choking her, but at the time she'd been afraid for her life. She hadn't expected any kind of help to come from Clark; not because she thought he wouldn't care, but because it just hadn't made sense for him to reveal his presence as well when at least one of them could have got away and told the story. Besides, there really hadn't been a lot he could have done.

And yet he'd tried. With the odds stacked heavily against him, he'd risked his own life to try to save hers. That had either been very foolish or incredibly brave. Something about Clark Kent was encouraging her to believe that it was the latter.

No, she *knew* that it was the latter. After all, he could easily have made a break for safety himself when Luthor and Baines had been taking them to the shed. The only weapon had been trained on her. And Clark was an athletic- looking guy, pretty strong too from what she'd seen. He could easily have made a run for it, using the buildings and the semi-darkness as cover. She might have died, but he could have reasoned that she was going to die anyway.

He'd risked his own life for the faint chance that he might be able to save hers.

Yes, Clark Kent was definitely one of that very rare breed: a decent man with principles, who could be relied upon. And *that* was something Lois needed to take away and think about.

He also seemed to have something of a charmed life — or at least luck had been on his side tonight. When she'd returned to Baines' office with the fire-extinguisher, the flames had been pretty intense and she'd been sure that he had to be in danger of getting badly burned. And yet he'd come out carrying the file under his jacket, looking perfectly okay. All right, his clothes were a little scorched and she thought she could smell singeing, but he was clearly completely unhurt. He wasn't even coughing!

But she didn't have time now to ponder on the enigma that Clark Kent seemed to pose. In just over ten minutes they'd be back at the Daily Planet, armed with one of the biggest stories Lois had ever encountered. It was going to be a frantic few hours, and she needed to consider just what her first move was going to be. Clearly Perry would have to be called, and she also had photographs to develop and a tape to take care of. The police would have to be informed, and the Planet's lawyers would have to be consulted as well. She couldn't see either of them — Clark or herself — getting any sleep that night.

Not that it mattered. If she didn't win at least a Kerth for this, she'd eat that darned bust-binder she was wearing!


Five hours later, Clark finally unwound himself from his chair, which had been pulled up next to Lois's desk since shortly after they'd arrived back at the newsroom. The delayed last morning edition had just gone to press, and at last he and Lois could go home, with Perry's permission not to return until afternoon.

Perry had been extremely excited, but at the same time cautious, and every single word had been scrutinised over and over by the lawyers. The police team, led by an Inspector Henderson, had also insisted on seeing every scrap of evidence Lois and Clark had, and Lois had resisted every step of the way, arguing that she had every right to hold onto it until she'd written her story.

"I'm not withholding anything," she'd insisted in response to Henderson's blunt statement. "Don't forget, you guys wouldn't know anything about this if it wasn't for Clark and me. So you owe me!"

If Lois had had her way, four pages or more of the day's edition would have been taken up with the Luthor-EPRAD-Messenger scoop. However, the police had been insistent, and had been supported by the paper's lawyers in their position that neither Luthor nor Baines be named at that point, and that evidence which would be crucial to a trial not be explained in detail. Anything which would be deemed to be prejudicial to a fair trial, or which would give Luthor's legal team an opportunity to retaliate first, was not to be published. Lois had only been partly mollified by the promise of full exclusives every step of the way, from the arrests to, as everyone hoped, the convictions.

Henderson had despatched teams of officers, armed with warrants, to EPRAD, Lex Luthor's various properties and Dr Baines' home within minutes of being summoned to the Planet newsroom. Clark knew that Lois had been hoping for news of arrests to come in before their final deadline, and he'd seen her chagrin when the police had nothing to report. Dr Baines wasn't at her home, and her car was missing; an APB had so far failed to turn up any trace of her. Lex Luthor's staff were doing an excellent job of denying knowledge of his whereabouts, and additional squad cars had been sent to the private airfield where his helicopter and Lear jet fleets were kept.

Nevertheless, the story of how the Messenger really had been sabotaged, with callous disregard for the lives of all of its crew and the grief of their families, made it to print, along with some of the evidence which had been uncovered to prove it. While the identities of those who'd planned the sabotage were withheld, the story made it perfectly clear that the absence of names was 'for legal reasons only'; in other words, the Daily Planet knew exactly who had done it, but it was now a matter for the police and the courts.

Other column inches were taken up with news of the mysterious explosion and fires in two separate parts of the EPRAD complex, with the story behind the first one summarised without the kind of detail which would give Henderson nightmares, and some speculative conclusions were hinted at in relation to the second fire, all the time making clear that no forensic investigation had yet taken place and no cause could be stated.

They were great articles, Clark thought with some pride. And he and Lois had worked on them together. That had been one of the most surprising things about the past five hours. As soon as they'd got back to the newsroom, Lois's first action had been to call Perry, instructing Clark in the meantime to boot up her computer. Then she'd told him to pull a chair up to her desk. At his puzzled look, she'd said, only sounding mildly irritated, "Well, how do you expect this to work if you're sitting over there?"

They'd discussed together the presentation of their stories; they'd argued as one with the police, lawyers and Perry, even though Clark believed that in some areas at least Lois was in the wrong; they'd worked together on assembling the material they were left with into reasonable order and writing the different stories and sidebars. Sometimes he'd been at the keyboard and sometimes she had, but regardless of who had been typing, they'd both had input into the finished work.

And the biggest surprise of all had been after Clark had got back from the conference room, where he'd been giving his own statement to the officer who had been given the job of interviewing Lois and himself. Lois, just about to go to give her own statement, had shown him the final version of their work to check through before it was sent to the duty sub and then Perry. Below the space she'd left at the top for headlines to be inserted were the words 'By Lois Lane and Clark Kent'. On *every* article.

He'd been delighted. He was still stunned.

Lois Lane, who'd insisted throughout that this was *her* story and that he was only there on sufferance because she'd needed backup, was crediting him with equal authorship, and thus ownership, of the work. And that meant, he realised as he moved over to Lois's desk to bid her goodnight — for what was left of the night — that if she did get nominated for awards for the story, any nominations would also be his. She would have to *share* them with him. Clearly she was aware of that, and yet she'd given him full credit anyway.

She'd have been perfectly within her rights to claim full authorship herself and simply accord him a credit for assistance; or, as appeared on some stories, a note under the main story saying 'Additional reporting by Clark Kent'. As someone who was still very much a new boy at the Planet, and certainly junior to the renowned Lois Lane, that had been about as much as he could have expected. For probably the third time that day, Lois had completely gone against his expectations of her.

"Lois, I'm heading home," he said quietly. She was gathering together her own things, but she turned to look at him as he spoke, and Clark was filled with admiration for her once again. It was almost four in the morning. She'd had almost no sleep the night before, and she'd been working flat out all day and then again from nine that evening. Yet she didn't look remotely tired. He could understand that she'd been running on adrenalin since they'd got back to the Planet; her excitement had been palpable and completely understandable. Yet even now, when she should have been flagging at the very least, if not asleep on her feet, there was still a febrile light of exhilaration in her eyes.

She straightened. "Want a ride?" The offer was casual, but friendly. "It's not much out of my way," she added.

He'd been planning on flying, but the thought of spending a further twenty minutes in Lois's company was too tempting. "Sure! Thanks."

"Thanks for the byline, by the way," he said, as they walked over to the elevator, trying to sound casual although he was aware that he was failing miserably.

Lois shrugged. "It's as much your story as it is mine now. I can't deny that, and even if I tried to Perry wouldn't let me."

Her casual act didn't fool Clark, and it made him feel a little better about his own lack of 'cool'. Clearly Lois wasn't used to sharing bylines, and just as obviously she'd felt that she owed it to him after the night they'd had. They really had worked as a team on the investigation, and not just when they'd been in the EPRAD complex. The hours they'd just spent in the newsroom had been pure teamwork from start to finish.

And it had felt great.

"I owed you, anyway," Lois added, and this time the appearance of casualness in her voice was even less convincing. "I'd be dead if it wasn't for you. So thank you again."

Clark wanted to make a big deal of it even less than Lois obviously did. "You're welcome. But it was nothing."

"Still. Thank you," she said quietly.

They travelled in silence in the elevator down to the parking garage, and conversation in the Jeep quickly turned to the likelihood of Lex Luthor being arrested.

"People like him always land on their feet," Lois said cynically. "He's probably halfway to some Pacific haven by now."

"You may be right, but I hope not," Clark replied. "He and Baines need to be brought to justice for what they did — and for what they're planning to do. It's simply not fair that people like them get away with murder."

Lois shook her head. "You're still too soft for your own good, Kent. You need to wake up and learn that life's not fair. It's not what you've done or how nice a person you are that matters; it's how much money and influence you have. Nice guys just don't get anywhere in this world," she added with even more cynicism.

"I'm not going to give up hope that they'll be arrested," Clark said, refusing to continue the generalisation that she'd started. He knew that his principles and beliefs were pretty rare in today's world, especially in the big cities, but he still preferred to be an optimist rather than a cynic. But he still wondered what had happened to Lois to turn her into such a pessimist, so unwilling to believe in the innate good in most people.

For a while, earlier that night, he might even have had a chance to find out. She'd confessed to him things he was sure that she'd never before told anyone. Fears, insecurities, the belief that she wasn't even liked, let alone loved. And, of course, the fact that she was attracted to him…

In the mood she'd been in, she would have told him why she was so cynical about life. Instead, she'd come apart in his arms, kissing him in a way which had made him feel as if he'd died and gone to heaven. And, as he sat next to her in the confined space of the Jeep, all thoughts of getting to the bottom of Lois's cynicism disappeared as he was filled with the longing to reach for her and pull her back into his arms and cover her lips with his once again.

Not that he could. Although Lois hadn't once returned to her previous attitude towards him after their escape, neither had she given any indication that she so much as remembered their kiss, let alone had liked it or wanted to repeat it.

The silence in the car shook him out of his reverie, and he realised that they were parked outside the Apollo Hotel and Lois was giving him a quizzical look. "Earth to Clark!" she said as he blinked and looked at her. "Falling asleep?"

"Uh… no," he admitted. "I was just distracted for a minute. Sorry."

"Good," she said decisively. "We need to talk, and I think we'd better do it now."

Startled, Clark stared at her. Had he been wrong? Did she want to discuss their kiss after all? Or… was it just that she was regretting her near-deathbed confidences and wanted to make sure that he'd never breathe a word of any of it?

"You don't have to worry, Lois. I won't say a thing…" he began.

But she cut across him, her words striking fear into his heart.

"You did some pretty amazing things tonight. You thought I didn't notice, but I did. Just who — or what — are you, Clark Kent?"


She hadn't been sure. Not completely; it had been speculation and — one of her trademarks — reaching. But the look on Clark's face as she finished speaking told her that she'd been absolutely right.

He looked like a wild animal trapped with no escape. His eyes held panic, fear and the burning desire to escape; she could almost sense him casting around for any means of fleeing. Even as she watched him, his eyes flicked from side to side. Was he debating the merits of simply leaping from the Jeep and running? But what good would that do him?

She'd had the past five hours to mull over in her mind all of the events of the night — *all* of them, including things which had at the time just appeared to be weird coincidences. Just how *had* he got them out of that shed? Even at the time, she hadn't believed his story about there being a weak link in the chains. She'd tried the chains herself when she'd been tied up; there hadn't been anything weak at all about their fastenings. She'd barely had room to move — so how had he managed to manoeuvre himself so that he could hold her? And kiss her?

And then there'd been their miraculous escape. Not just the fact that he'd somehow managed to break the unbreakable chains, but the speed at which they'd ended up out of the shed and on the other side of the compound altogether. She'd been distracted at the time, true; but she knew that she'd been vaguely conscious of something rather like rushing wind, and a sensation of moving at an incredible speed. Something like being propelled along on one of those runaway trains at a theme park.

When she'd been able to see what had happened, she'd been in his arms. Clark had been holding her, with little apparent effort on his part, it seemed. Okay, he was tall and muscular, so lifting her wouldn't be much of a problem for him; but running out of the shed with her in his arms and then standing holding her — and not even being short of breath? Something wasn't quite right there.

Other coincidences had also begun to look less coincidental: all those mysterious happenings in Baines' office, for instance. A light which had suddenly blown out. A book falling off a shelf. A desk lamp falling over. Other things: alarms disabled rather too easily, security lights which had suddenly failed, a file found in less time than she could possibly have managed.

Yes, there was definitely something different about Clark Kent. And his reaction to her question had just proved it.

Lois had never believed in the paranormal. So- called psychics sent her kookie-alert up to full blast. 'New-age' gurus left her rolling her eyes. And yet here she was all but accepting that Clark Kent was capable of some sort of… well, telekinesis was the only possible explanation she could think of.

It sounded crazy — it *was* crazy! But how else could she explain what she *knew* had been going on?

"Lois… I…" Finally, he spoke, but seemed completely at a loss as to what to say. Then he sighed and said, "You'd better come inside. We can't talk in here."

Remembering what his room had looked like, Lois grimaced. "I'd say we'd be more comfortable right where we are! That place is a flea-pit!"

"I know." He looked even more uncomfortable, if that were possible. "I'm — I was — looking for an apartment to rent."

Making a sudden decision, Lois started the engine again. "We can talk at my place."


Clark slumped into his seat as Lois executed a U-turn, steering the Jeep back into the street and towards her apartment. After all his caution, all the lectures and good advice from his parents. After little more than a week in Metropolis, in the best job he'd ever had, he'd given himself away. He'd revealed his secret, and not to just anyone, either.

No; he'd had to reveal it to the top investigative journalist in the city. A woman known for her refusal ever to let go of a scoop.

She'd make mincemeat of him.

She'd hang him out to dry. In the full public gaze of Metropolis.

He wanted to jump out of her car right now. Fly to Smallville, tell his parents what had happened, and then fly straight to the other side of the world. Change his name — he'd done that before, too — and start again.

But he owed it to his parents at least to try to persuade Lois to be circumspect. He had no hope that she'd keep her knowledge to herself, but if she at least agreed to give him a false name so that his parents wouldn't be identified, that would help…

Though, he reminded himself, she had no proof at the moment. Only suspicions. And he hadn't said anything to confirm them.

Or had he? He hadn't denied it. He'd been unable to come up with anything at all to say, hadn't he? And Lois was too clever not to have drawn her own conclusions from his reaction and his no doubt panicked and guilty expression.

Okay. She knew — well, she knew enough to be certain that there was something different about him. But she had no proof; nothing that she could take to the Planet and have Perry print. He guessed that if she went to the editor with what she had so far, Perry would laugh in her face and direct her to the National Whisper, with its weekly tales of alien invasion and how Elvis Presley was living in someone's back yard and serving lattes at the Moondoe's down the road.

So he should talk to her, find out how much she knew and how much was guesswork, and then he could quietly make arrangements to leave Metropolis before she was able to trap him into anything that *would* give her proof.

After all, what could she possibly know for sure? Very little. She had no idea, for instance, that he might be a government experiment or an alien. She couldn't possibly know that he could fly.

Yes. That was what he should do. If he took the offensive…

Taking the offensive. Suddenly, Clark had an idea…


Lois led the way into her apartment, shutting the door behind Clark as he joined her. For a minute there in her Jeep, she'd wondered if he was on the point of bolting, and she'd almost reached for the central locking control; but then he'd seemed to relax and she'd decided not to bother.

Just what was he? Who was he? How had he managed to do all of those strange things? What was he doing in Metropolis, working as a reporter, if he could do the sort of things he'd done tonight? Surely he could make much more money — and achieve fame too, if that appealed to him — by making his powers, or whatever they were, public?

Or he could do it by turning to a life of crime, using his abilities, whatever they were, to help him. Though admittedly that didn't sound like the Clark Kent she knew; the Clark Kent who'd even tried to dissuade 'Larry Long' away from car-theft.

*How* was he able to do all those things? And just what had he done, anyway? Was it telekinesis? Or something more easily explained?

She turned to him, ready to release her barrage of questions.

"Lois, why do you think you're not attractive?" he asked before she could say a word.

Lois blinked. What had that got to do with anything? "I don't know what you're talking ab — Look, we came here to talk about you!"

"But I want to talk about you," he said blandly, but his expression suggested that he wouldn't be distracted from his question. "Why, Lois? You have to know how attractive you are. What makes you think otherwise?"

"I don't!" she protested, stung. "Clark, this isn't about me -"

"I find you very attractive," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "I was amazed that you didn't realise that."

She was fast losing control of this conversation, Lois realised. "Clark, we need to talk about you! Like, just how did you manage to do all those things tonight?"

"I'd rather talk about you," he countered. "And the fact that you kissed me earlier."

"Hey! You were the one doing the kissing, buster!" Lois objected.

"And you were the one kissing me back." He grinned at her. "You're not going to try to deny it, are you?"

"I…" she began, then floundered, looking away. That kiss. That scorching, passionate, intense kiss…

She'd thought she was going to die! That they were both going to be blown to smithereens — incinerated — in a matter of minutes! It was hardly surprising that she'd kissed him back, was it? Given the circumstances, anything that had taken her mind off her fate would have been grabbed with both hands.

That was all it had been. A kiss borne of fear and desperation. Nothing more.

Then she focused her gaze on Clark again. And realised instantly that doing so had been a mistake.

His brown eyes, the eyes she'd found so compelling from the first moment she'd met 'Charlie King', gazed at her. They held memories of passion and longing, of fiery attraction. And she knew, looking at him, that he'd kiss her again if she gave him even the slightest encouragement.

And she wanted him to kiss her again.

No! This was *not* what they were there to discuss!

What was this man doing to her? Hypnotising her?

Was that it? Could it be that part of the explanation for the incredible things he'd been able to do was that he was skilled in hypnosis? And now, was he trying to use his power to persuade her to forget about what she knew about him?

And just what other powers might he have? With a sense of shock, it occurred to her that if his abilities were based on psychic powers — even though it still went against her nature to believe that — then he might also be telepathic.

Could he read her thoughts?

Was that how he knew that she was attracted to him? And… if so… what else did he know about her?

She wanted to sink through the floor in humiliation.

She *had* to get back to the subject of what he could do, and how!

"Clark…" she began weakly, but then dragged her gaze from his compelling stare and found her resolve. That was it. He'd clearly been hypnotising her simply by keeping her gaze focused on his. And making her remember their kiss… making her want to repeat the experience.

She *did* want to repeat the experience…

"Clark, stop this," she insisted, dragging up the mental strength to keep her voice firm. "I want to know how you did the things you did tonight. How you got us out of that shed. And how you escaped from the fire in Baines' office unscathed. How you manage to move so quickly — or fool people into thinking that. And why all those lights blew out… and everything else."


Clark sighed deeply, resignedly. He'd tried very hard to distract her from her chosen course, behaving in a way which was totally uncharacteristic for him; he'd expected at any moment that Lois might slap his face or yell at him for the way he was coming on to her. Mentioning things he knew full well that she wanted to forget. Behaving like a predator.

Obviously, he hadn't been very good at it. If he had been, she wouldn't have reverted to the reason he was here in her apartment in the first place. He was dealing with Mad Dog Lane, but still, it had to be possible. Of course, someone better at playing those sort of games than himself would no doubt have taken the initiative even further, distracted her thoroughly by kissing her again.

Not that he hadn't been tempted… but he hadn't quite been able to find the nerve to do it. And now, after all his efforts, they were back on the subject of himself again. And what he could do — what he had done.

She'd noticed an awful lot more than he'd thought. His backup plan had been to try to convince her that whatever she'd thought she'd seen had been her imagination and no more. But it was going to be darned difficult to persuade her of that with so many questions in her mind.

There was nothing for it. He'd have to tell her the truth, or at least some of it, and start making his contingency plans.

"Okay, Lois. You want to know; I'll tell you," he said heavily.

"At last! It's telekinesis, it's it? And hypnotism?"

"Huh?" Clark stared at her. "You're kidding! No… I don't have any kind of… of psychic powers. I'm not even sure anything like that exists."

"Then what is it?"

"I'm not really sure how to explain it," he said awkwardly. "I… you're the first person I've even had to try to explain it to."

Lois hesitated, then said, "Let me make some coffee. Then we can sit down, and *you* can talk, buster!"


Lois used the time it took her to make coffee to regroup her thoughts and focus on the task of getting information out of Clark Kent. That was the way to do it, she told herself: treat him like any other interview subject who had something to hide, and where it was her job to find out whatever it was they didn't want her to know.

Well, no-one got the better of Lois Lane when she was determined to get to the truth. Clark Kent certainly wouldn't be an exception.

She laid the coffee-tray on the dining table; it was best to keep this business-like, instead of conducting the conversation on the sofa. Clark, who had been gazing out of the window, came to join her, surprising her by pulling out a chair for her before sitting himself.

"Okay, so just what is it that you do? And how do you do it?" Lois asked him, not giving him time even to take a sip of his coffee. Take him off guard, that was the tactic, she told herself…

Clark cupped his palms around his mug, gazing down at the dark liquid as if, Lois thought, it might give him inspiration. Then, after the silence had lengthened more than Lois was comfortable with, he said quietly, "I have these… abilities."


"Yeah." He fell silent again. Then, just as she was about to prompt him again, he continued. "Things I can do. That normal people can't."

"Such as?"

Clark shrugged. "Lots of things. Uh… well, it's probably easier if I show you." He got up and crossed into the lounge area, paused…

…and then suddenly he was holding one of her sofas aloft in one hand.

Lois gasped. Even though she'd *known* that there was something different — unusual, if not unique — about Clark Kent, actually seeing evidence of it was something else again.

"So… uh… you're strong," she said, as he lowered her sofa back into place and stood looking at her.

"Yeah," he confirmed. He sounded very nervous, she thought.

"So, how do you do it?" she asked.

"How…? Uh… I just lift things," he said, clearly confused.

"Yeah, but there's got to be a trick to it. Like all illusions, once you know how it's done, you're not fooled any more," Lois commented scathingly.

Clark shook his head. "It's not an illusion, Lois. I really am that strong."

Okay… Well, he did have a good muscle structure. She had noticed that in passing. So maybe he worked out a lot. But still…

"That doesn't explain anything you did tonight," she pointed out.

Clark hesitated, then asked, "Have you got a knife? I mean, an ordinary dinner knife? One you don't mind losing?"

Lois shrugged and went into the kitchen, taking an old knife from her drawer. As she brought it to him, he paused before accepting it. "Try to bend it," he instructed.

She did. It was a heavy knife, made of good- quality stainless steel. She couldn't do a thing to it.

Clark took it from her, exerted what looked like very little pressure on the handle… and it snapped in two. Lois took one of the halves from it; it had very definitely broken, very cleanly, and without any sign of twisting or force.

He *was* strong. And that kind of strength couldn't be gained from workouts, she was sure. It was… well, the only word she could come up with to describe it was superhuman.

"Okay… so what else can you do?" she asked, a lot less breezily than when she'd started the conversation.

"Remember the lights which kept burning out?" he asked.

"Of course! But how on earth did you do that?"

Clark gestured towards his face. "With my eyes."


"I don't know how to explain it," he said. "But I can look at things and make them… well, burn."

"Show me," Lois said instantly. This was… well, to say that it was incredible was putting it mildly. A man who could set things on fire by *looking* at them?

"Watch that newspaper over there," he instructed, gesturing at a messed-up several days' old copy of the Planet which lay on the kitchen counter.

She did. And in under a second, a thin spiral of smoke was eddying upwards. Followed by an amber flicker.

"Oh my god!" she exclaimed. "You… it… it's on fire!"

"Yeah." He was walking over towards the paper now. It looked to Lois as if he was blowing on it; suddenly, the smoke and flame disappeared, and in its place was blackened ash and newsprint.

"That's how I do it. And if I do that to something like a lightbulb, it will explode. And that's how I sabotaged the security lights earlier."

"And the desk-lamp in Baines' office?"

"Yes, that too. I didn't make it explode; I just wanted to make the bulb burn out."

"And what about… I mean, you were in Baines' office when it was on fire, and you came out unhurt… how did you do that?"

He gave a slight shrug. "I'm invulnerable."

"You're… what?"

"Invulnerable. I can't be hurt, Lois," he explained. "So the flames couldn't have harmed me." He picked up the broken knife again and handed it to her. "Stab me with it."

Shocked, she exclaimed, "I can't!"

"Yes, you can." He extended his arm towards her. "Anywhere you want."

Torn between horror and a kind of fascination, Lois raised the knife and then brought it down sharply, aiming for Clark's palm.

The knife buckled, sending a jarring pain through her arm.

"Sorry. I should have warned you about that," he said contritely as she dropped the remains of the knife to the floor.

Lois took a sharp intake of breath. "So you wouldn't have been hurt by the explosion?"

He shook his head. Lois gasped. "So much for me thinking that you were being brave, staying with me and not trying to run away! I thought you were risking your life when you didn't need to!"

Clark grimaced; probably because he'd been found out, she thought cynically. But then he said, "No, I wasn't risking my *life*, Lois, but I was risking my safety, and that of my family. I've always kept what I can do a secret — and for good reason. But I knew that if I was going to get you out of there, I'd have to use my abilities — and that I probably wouldn't be able to hide it. So I did make a sacrifice, and as far as my parents' safety is concerned, that's worth more than my life."

"Oh." Yes, that made a difference, she supposed. And of course people would be interested in a man who could do the things that Clark Kent could. He'd be the story of a lifetime, if anyone managed to prove it. And… Lois shook her head slowly as more implications of all of this slowly sank in. If Clark could do all these things… just think what a fantastic investigative reporter he could be!

He'd be more than competition for her… that was alarming.

On the other hand, he'd make a great partner. In fact, she already knew he made a great partner, and not only because of what he'd been able to do to help that evening.

She didn't know what she was going to do about him yet. Friend or foe? Partner or competition?

And that was before she even thought about the kiss!

But she didn't want to think about the kiss. No. Not at all. She wasn't going to go there. Better to get back to the topic at hand.

"And the chains?" she asked. "Your strength?"

"Yeah. I just had to tug and they…" He picked up the broken half of the knife again, and snapped the piece in two. "Snapped. Just like that."

"How did we get out of the warehouse? You couldn't possibly have got us to the other side of the compound that quickly!" Lois objected.

Clark shook his head. "Yes, I could. I can move very quickly when I want to. Watch."

And, suddenly, he disappeared.

One second, he was standing right in front of her; a split second later, he'd vanished.

"I'm here." His voice came from behind her.

"Huh?" Lois spun around to look at him. "What…? Teleportation or something like that?"

"You watch way too much sci-fi on TV, Lois," he told her dryly. "No, really, I just move very quickly. That time, it was faster than the human eye can see."

Stunned, she could only stare at him.

"This is unbelievable, Clark! I can barely take it in! You can do all this stuff…?"

He simply nodded.

Lois reached behind her for a chair-back, then leaned against it. "This is amazing! Next you'll tell me you can fly," she murmured, feeling stunned.

"Well, actually…" He trailed off, and her jaw dropped as she saw that his feet had left the floor.

Clark Kent was hovering several inches off the floor in her living-room.


The look on Lois's face was almost worth all the trauma he was putting himself through over confessing to her. She hadn't believed anything he'd been telling her about his abilities, he'd seen that. Even when he'd demonstrated, she'd convinced herself that it was all some sort of illusion. She probably still imagined that he was hypnotising her.

She probably still thought that now, despite her slack-jawed expression!

"Come here, Lois," he instructed her. She came closer.

"Feel under my feet," he told her. "There's nothing there. I'm not standing on anything. You're not imagining that there's just thin air between me and the floor."

She did as he instructed, crouching on the floor and exploring the area beneath him thoroughly. "There's nothing," she confirmed. "How are you doing this?"

"I really can fly," Clark assured her. "Let me show you."

She was still looking disbelieving, but also very unsure of her ground, as she got to her feet and stared up at him. Clark drifted down until his feet were touching solid ground, and then he held out his hand to her. After a hesitation, she accepted it. He drew her closer, until she was standing in front of him.

"Put your arms around my neck," he said. She did, and he took her waist between his hands, holding her securely. Then he floated off the floor again and 'walked' on the air around Lois's living-room. Just so that she could have no doubts about what they were doing, he rose upwards and floated over one of the sofas, and then came to rest on top of her coffee-table, allowing Lois to feel the solidity of the wood beneath her feet, before he lifted her upwards again.

"Now do you believe me?" he asked her, before setting her down in the kitchen.

Her expression stunned, she nodded. "You really can fly."

"Yes. And lots of other things too. I flew us out of that shed, then ran the rest of the way."

"That's incredible," she gasped, almost beneath her breath. "But… how…?"

"That's what I don't know," Clark said, looking away from her. Even after all this time, it still bothered him more than he could explain that he knew nothing about his origins, about what made him so different from normal people. He didn't even know if he was human!

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"Just that, Lois." He shook his head briefly, then realised that he'd said enough to mean that he couldn't get away with leaving it there. Not given his interlocutor. "I was a foundling. My parents found me, as a baby, in a field near our home. In a… spaceship."

"A *spaceship*?" she repeated, disbelief in her voice.

"That's what it looked like to them."

"You've never seen it?"

"Once," he admitted. "I was curious — it was when I was about ten or so. My folks never made any secret that I was adopted, and by the time I was ten we already knew that I was… well, different. I could run faster than all the other kids. I was starting to hear things we all knew I shouldn't be able to."

"*Hear* things?" Lois interrupted to ask. "You mean… voices in your head or something like that?"

Now she was back to thinking he was crazy! "No, nothing like that. I mean that I can hear things from a long way away. If I concentrate, I'd be able to hear the conversation your neighbours are having as they walk up to the front door of your apartment building," he added, giving her a wry look. "A man and a woman, and they've both had too much to drink."

Lois's expression screamed disbelief — but then the clearly-audible sound of the front door, just along the hall, being unlocked made her freeze. Two voices, one male, one female, echoed along the silent hallway, the sounds of people who were trying to be quiet but were too drunk to realise the noise they were making.

A few seconds later, a door slammed, and silence again reigned.

Lois broke it. "So… you can hear things too."

"Yes. And I can see through objects. And see from a long way away," he said, glancing around looking for something he could 'X-ray' in order to prove it. After all, she'd demanded proof of everything else.

But this time she didn't. "I'll take your word for it," she said, still sounding overwhelmed. "So… you said you saw your spaceship?"

"Yeah. Well, it was becoming very obvious that I wasn't like other kids. So my parents told me exactly how they'd found me, and Dad got the spaceship — he'd kept it locked in — well, he kept it locked away," Clark amended, remembering that he certainly didn't need to give away all the family secrets.

"What was it like?"

"Small," he said, remembering the vaguely egg- shaped object. "Metallic. With a lid which opened when I touched it — inside, it was lined with dark blue fabric which felt like silk but was much stronger. And warmer. And the outside had some strange hieroglyphics on it. I remember asking Mom and Dad if it could be Russian — you know, Cyrillic script — but they said it wasn't. They'd checked it out themselves — they'd wondered if I could be a Russian experiment. Anyway, it didn't look like any form of writing they could identify, and they'd got dozens of books on different character types, even those from ancient civilisations."

"So… your spaceship might not even be from Earth?" Clark glanced sharply at Lois; she looked as if she couldn't believe she was even saying the words.

"That's possible, I guess. I mean," Clark added, "if humans were travelling through space, if we landed on the moon in 1969, what's to say that other civilisations couldn't have mastered space travel too?"

"Yeah… I suppose," Lois said, still sounding as if she was struggling to accept everything. "It'd even have been around the same time, wouldn't it?"

"1966," he said. "Not that long before. But — assuming that there is intelligent life on some other planet out there — there's no reason to suggest that they'd have to be at the same stage of technological development as the Earth. I mean, if they were able to send an unmanned craft to another planet, and equip it with the means necessary to transport a baby…"

"So you really think you're from another planet?" Lois asked.

Clark shook his head. "I don't know what to think. I don't know what I am. I don't think I'm human, but I just don't know. And I have no idea how I can find out."


This had to be a dream. Lois stood facing Clark, wondering whether she could surreptitiously pinch herself. After all, she couldn't really be in the kitchen of her apartment at after four in the morning, listening to a work colleague tell her that he might be from another planet. He hadn't really flown her around her apartment, had he?

No, of course he hadn't. It was impossible. It was contrary to all the laws of physics. Humans couldn't fly under their own steam.

But he'd said he didn't think he was human…

No. It wasn't possible. Aliens from outer space? Next he'd be telling her that Mork was his first cousin!

And yet it was real. At least, unless she was dreaming that pinch too.

"I… just can't take this in," she said, castigating herself for sounding weak. "I mean, what you can do… it's just not possible! It's against all the laws of physics!"

"You think I haven't told myself that all my life, Lois?" Clark asked her. "Look, if you need more demonstrations, I can give them — but I've answered your questions. You wanted to know how I got us out of there; well, I told you. What more do you want?"

He sounded frustrated, and his words reminded Lois that he hadn't wanted to explain anything in the first place. She'd been the one to refuse to accept his evasions and attempts to change the subject. So it was hardly as if he was boasting, trying to make her believe things which were simply ridiculous.

So, if she wasn't dreaming, and he wasn't lying to her, and he wasn't hypnotising her…

… then he must be telling the truth.

Clark Kent really possessed amazing abilities which no-one else on Earth had. He could fly. And he really could be from another planet.


Clark turned away from Lois, frustrated as much with himself as with her. Why was he trying so hard to convince a woman who didn't want to believe him? Wasn't it actually preferable that she didn't believe what he was telling her?

If she didn't believe him, then surely he was safe? As were his parents. He wouldn't have to leave Metropolis just as he'd got his dream job. He should be encouraging her in her disbelief, shouldn't he, instead of doing his best to prove it all to her!

<Idiot!> he told himself.

But it wasn't too late to retrieve the situation — maybe. Chances were she wouldn't believe him, but it was worth a try…

Assuming a defeated expression, he said, "All right, Lois, I give in. You're right. I'm making it all up. I've been taking advantage of the fact that you're dead on your feet to convince you that you're seeing me do things that I'm not."

She gave him an astounded look. Then she picked up the broken knife again and walked straight over to him. "Am I imagining things now? Are you hypnotising me?" she demanded, thrusting the broken edge of the knife against his chest.

It fell to the floor with a clatter, and Lois winced and held her hand protectively.

Clark stared at the knife, then slowly looked at Lois as he admitted to himself that he'd failed. Or maybe he'd just been being sarcastic. Somehow, he wasn't really sure what he'd been trying to do. Had he really believed that he could convince her that he'd been lying? He knew better than that. Didn't he?

"Well?" she said, raising one eyebrow. "Still going to tell me that you made it all up?"

"I guess not," he said heavily. This was it. After all those years of hiding, of making sure that no-one ever found out the truth, the game was finally up. "Look, just give me a few days, okay?"

"Huh?" Confusion writ on her face, she frowned at him.

"Just a few days, that's all. I need to make sure that my parents are safe. And then you can do whatever you want — not that you can do much without proof, unless you were taping me, and I don't think you were." That was one relief, he thought. At least he wouldn't be plastered all over the front page of the Daily Planet; not without further proof, which he had no intention of allowing Lois to get.

"Clark, I haven't the faintest clue of what you're talking about!" Lois said impatiently. "Do you mind starting again?"

"Before you write your story," he explained frustratedly. "I know you need proof and I don't think you have that, but still — I don't want my parents' lives destroyed, Lois! It doesn't matter about me. I mean, I've always expected it anyway, and it's not as if I haven't moved on before when someone found out too much about me, but -"

Lois cut across him. "Clark, don't be -"

The telephone rang.


"Who the heck is calling me at this time of night?" Lois muttered impatiently. She really hadn't wanted to be interrupted right then! But it was probably important, she realised quickly, crossing to answer the insistent ringing before her neighbours started banging on the walls. Not that this — dealing with Clark and his amazing powers, plus his conviction that she was going to expose him — wasn't also important!

"Lois Lane," she announced brusquely.

"Lane, it's Henderson."

Clark mumbled something from behind her, his words indistinct given that she was trying to focus on her caller. "Not now, Clark! Wait a minute!" she said quickly, then spoke into the receiver. "What you got, Henderson?"

"Baines' burned-out car was found a couple of hours ago," he said tersely. "We assume the corpse inside is her, but we won't know for sure until forensics and the medical examiner have done their bit."

"Wait — a couple of hours ago? A couple of hours ago I was talking to you at the Planet!" Lois protested.

"I know, but I'm not omniscient, much as I might like to be," Henderson replied dryly. "The car had been found, but since the licence plate was half-burned, there wasn't much to tell anyone whose car it was. It's only in the last twenty minutes that we made the connection. And I called you. Like I said I would. So can I get back to doing my job now?"

The sound of her apartment door closing made Lois whirl around. Clark was gone.

Her first instinct was to throw down the phone and run after him. She needed to talk to him — he really seemed to believe that she intended to tell the whole world about what he could do.

But… did she?

It would make a great story, assuming that she could prove it. She'd already acknowledged that. But he was right: it would ruin his life. And his parents'. And anyway… it was slowly dawning on her that there might be advantages in *not* having it known.

Henderson's voice in her ear reminded her that she really didn't have time to think about Clark right now. "Lane? You still there? Do I have your permission to get back to doing important things?" he was drawling sardonically.

"No! Wait, Bill," she said quickly. "What caused the fire?" Highly coincidental — or ironic — that there should be three fires in the one night, all associated with Baines… or should that be Luthor? she thought.

"Too soon to say," he said. "But put it this way: if the forensic guys say something was planted in the car, there's a bet I'm going to win."

Just what she'd thought herself. "And what about Luthor?"

"Nothing. No-one's reported any sightings or suspicious movements. But every unit in the state is looking for him, and the FBI's getting on it as well. He won't get away."

Yeah, sure, Lois thought. She'd met wealthy criminals like Luthor before; they were the sort who believed themselves to be untouchable, and frequently they were. It was sheer luck that they'd been able to identify Luthor and prove that he was involved in the Messenger sabotage; he'd only been there, against his better judgement, because Baines had persuaded him. And he no doubt believed that he'd eliminated all witnesses.

Luthor would have had all his escape routes set up long ago, and a whole raft of contingency plans would be in place to ensure that, after his departure, a range of subordinates would be implicated in criminal acts — acts which would, of course, have been perpetrated or ordered by Luthor himself, but the subordinates would take the fall. And Luthor himself would be safely away in some tropical island without an extradition treaty with the US.

Well, not if she had anything to do with it!

She ended the call, then stood staring unseeingly out the window of her apartment. Dawn was breaking, but she was only barely conscious of it. She and Clark needed to track Luthor down.

Which reminded her… she had to find Clark. Right now!

Before he did anything stupid…


Clark paced the length of his small bedroom at the Apollo Hotel, then returned to the window, staring out at the grey dawn. There was a faint hint of gold on the horizon, but he averted his gaze from it. His mood was bleak; he didn't want the cheering light of the sun breaking in on it.

He had to leave. That was clear — and the sooner the better, too. Lois had given him no promises; in fact, she hadn't even answered when he'd pleaded with her for time. So he had no choice. He had to pack up his things — not that that would take more than a few seconds anyway — and leave Metropolis.

He'd have to go to Smallville first, to talk to his parents; let them know that there was a possibility — no, more than a possibility — that his secret was out. Not that he had any idea of what he was going to advise them to do. Although they should be safe enough; all they had to do was deny all knowledge of his whereabouts. They might have reporters staking out the farm for a few weeks, but the press would give up once they realised that there was no sign of their prey.

Why had he done it? What on earth had possessed him to tell Lois Lane everything about himself? He'd played right into her hands. He'd stood there and actually demonstrated what he could do! If she'd had a camera, or her tape- recorder, he'd already be front-page news.

Oh, he'd tried to avoid telling her. But she'd been too persistent and, in the end, too perceptive. And he'd got carried away by some sort of crazy desire to overcome her scepticism, and even a ludicrous attempt to impress her. Impress her? What had he thought he was doing?

She genuinely deserved her reputation as the best investigative reporter around, he accepted. She'd managed to draw him out, and by her alternately sceptical and sympathetic manner she'd got him to confess things he'd sworn never to tell anyone. And, as a result, his parents were at risk, and he was having to sacrifice the life he'd been beginning to build for himself here in Metropolis.

All because he hadn't been able to resist the guile of a beautiful woman.

Clark sighed again, finally conceding that he had to be honest with himself. He hadn't had to tell her. There were lots of other things he could have said, other explanations he could have made up. Or he could have persisted in his attempt to distract her. But he'd panicked, somehow ending up believing that he had no escape… and he'd told her everything.

And now, he was facing the need to run away yet again — but this time, his parents were also under threat.

Why hadn't he thought of that before opening his big mouth?

Sighing, Clark turned away from the window and contemplated the task of packing his belongings again.

And then he heard a knock on the outer door.

He briefly considered ignoring it. Then, conscious that it could be one of the hotel staff — after all, who else would be up and about at five in the morning? — he headed to the door.

Lois stood there.

He stared at her, at first unable to think of any reason why she should have followed him. Then it struck him. He beckoned her in, closing the door behind her, then turned to her.

"Didn't you get enough information? You want more true confessions?" he threw at her, bitterness in his tone as the acid taste of resentment flooded his throat.

She gave him a glare. "What are you talking about?"

"I asked you to give me time. Just a couple of days; that's all I asked for!" he said curtly. "And you couldn't even agree to that. And now you're here again — looking for more? What do you want this time? A signed confession?"

"Why are you so convinced that I want to tell the whole world about what you can do?" Lois retorted, her indignation cutting across his anger.

But of course she was! Why would she do anything else?

Taken aback, he frowned at her. "You're an award-winning reporter, Lois. You never let a story slip through your fingers. I can't believe you'd ignore this — me."

Lois began to pace, an activity which, Clark realised, made him nervous. "First, as you said a couple of times, Clark, I have no proof. And can you imagine how I'd look walking into Perry's office and telling him that I have this amazing story about a man who can fly and can put out fires with his breath — and that I have no evidence at all except what he told me? Perry would have me certified!" She paused briefly for breath before continuing. "And second, has it occurred to you that, even if I could get proof, I might have good reasons for *not* writing about you?"

"Such as?" he challenged her. Why would Lois Lane give up the chance of what he knew, without any egotism, would be a major story, as long as she could prove it?

He sensed her trying to rein in her temper, but refused to let that affect him. He was bitter with resentment, and he had every right to be. She'd made him tell her things he shouldn't have told anyone, and by doing so she'd put everything he held of value in danger. But when Lois spoke, she took him aback with her words.

"You're very confident with all the things you can do, Clark. So I guess you've been using your abilities a lot over the years?"

"What's this? An interview? You didn't get enough information earlier?" His lip curled sardonically, and he moved closer to Lois, knowing that he would be intimidating her by his physical size and presence.

"I could shake you, Clark Kent!" Lois exclaimed, apparently unmoved. "What do I have to do to get it into your thick head that I *don't* intend to blazon you across the front page of the Daily Planet?"

Clark blinked. "You don't?"

She didn't? He couldn't believe that. Could he? There was just no way that someone of Lois Lane's reputation would throw up a story like this one. She couldn't possibly be serious. Could she?

"That's what I've been trying to tell you!"

"Oh!" The indignation in her expression convinced him at last. Surprised, embarrassed, he took a step backwards. "Then… what were you talking about?"

"Just answer my question, okay?" she demanded.

"Okay." He had no idea what she was up to, but after his accusations he thought he owed her a straight answer. "Yes. I… I try to help. I mean, if someone's in trouble and I can save them, I do it. I can't leave people hurt, maybe even dying, when there's something I can do. And that's why I've had to move around so much; I get careless, and someone gets suspicious."

"Mmm-hmmm." Clark got the impression that he'd simply confirmed what Lois had already guessed.

"So… why did you ask?"

"Because it struck me that we could achieve two things here, if we think hard enough about it," Lois said calmly. "One, you can help people, but do it openly — no hiding, no being afraid of being discovered — and two, we get a terrific exclusive, a guaranteed front-page story."

Clark stared at her. "You're kidding! Let everyone know what I can do…? No-one I know would ever be safe!"

"No, not if it's you, Clark Kent, doing things," Lois answered casually. "But the beauty of my idea is — it wouldn't be you."


The idea had come to her on the way over to the Apollo Hotel. She'd first of all been fixated on the need to convince Clark that she wasn't going to turn him into Freak of the Week, but at the same time she'd been thinking about Lex Luthor and her worry that he'd escape detection. And it had occurred to her that, with Clark's abilities, he might well be able to track Luthor down.

And, come to that, there was a lot more he could be doing — and probably had already been trying to do, undetected, for a very long time. She was sure of that; it meshed with his character, or what of it she'd learned over the past week or so.

Clark Kent was a congenital 'helper'. He couldn't see someone in trouble and not try to lend a hand. He'd done that only that morning — well, yesterday morning now, she admitted — when he'd seen her looking upset and defeated. He'd asked her what was wrong, and had then offered to help, with no personal agenda involved. He'd been genuinely affected by Samuel Platt's fate and the situation Platt's family was in. And, of course, he'd shown more concern than was sensible for a kid he'd thought was a car-thief.

Yes, Clark would always want to help people where he could, and she could easily believe that he'd been using his abilities in secret over the years, and it fitted in well with a comment he'd made a few days earlier about having moved around a lot. He'd have done something — been a little indiscreet in the use of his abilities — and that would have been it. Someone would have come close to knowing that Clark Kent was 'different'. And so he'd had to move on.

In fact, she even remembered some reports from the news agencies about inexplicable events in remote or faraway corners of the world: stories about a man who could move faster than the human eye could see, a bird who could talk and carry people, someone with superhuman strength. Those reports had all been dismissed by the world's media as fantasy, the products of superstition or overactive imaginations.

But they weren't, she now realised. They'd all been Clark Kent, doing what he could to help. He'd saved lives, alleviated the worst of natural disasters, prevented catastrophes from occurring. And he'd done it all in secret, hiding what he could do from the people around him, and running away when someone got too close to the truth. He had a compulsion to help, to use his abilities for good.

That being so, what if there was a way for him to carry on doing it, but without having to risk detection?

And that had led her to the idea she was bursting to put to him — well, had been, until he'd accused her of planning to ruin his life by exposing him. She hadn't been best pleased about that. So, instead, she'd proceeded by being mysterious. And had felt rewarded by his bemused, appalled stare.

But then, she reasoned in respect of his suspicion of her, she would have felt exactly the same way. After all, how could he possibly know that he could trust her? They'd known each other a little over a week, that was all. And she hadn't believed that she could trust him not to abandon her to her fate earlier, at the EPRAD complex. They had a lot to learn about each other, she reminded herself. So she should cut him some slack and tell him about her idea.

Then she caught herself sharply. A lot to learn about each other… why, exactly? He was a colleague. Maybe a partner, if her plan came to fruition; apart from the fact that she'd prefer that he was working with her and not in competition now that she knew how good he was, the potential offered by the combination of his abilities and her talent would make them an unbeatable reporting team. Plus, he was the only reporter she'd ever been able to stand working with.

Since Claude, anyway.

But there was no need for her to get to know Clark Kent better for any other reason.

Her gaze fell to his lips, and she forced herself to look away again.

So he was a good kisser — so what? She didn't *want* to remember those kisses, nor what had preceded them. She'd humiliated herself completely with all she'd said, and if there was some way in which she could erase the memory of that entire conversation from Clark's brain, she would have done it.

Though now, of course, she had the perfect blackmail material… She wouldn't mention his secret if he kept his mouth shut about what she'd said.

<Should have thought of that before you blurted out to him that you wouldn't tell anyone about what he could do!> her inner voice pointed out tartly.

"Lois?" Clark's worried, impatient voice broke in on her musings. "What do you mean — it wouldn't be me?"

"Just that," she said, gaining a sense of pleasure — or revenge for his accusations? — from delaying her explanation. "Clark, have you ever thought of using some sort of disguise?"


A disguise.

Doing things — using his powers to help people — wearing a disguise.

No-one would know that it was him — that it was Clark Kent.

He could use his powers as much as he wanted; help all those people whose cries he heard but was simply unable to assist without discovery. That car on the bridge the previous afternoon; it had crashed through the safety barrier and was left hanging, front wheels off the road, tilting dangerously. It had taken the emergency services two hours to get it safely back onto the bridge; the occupants had been inside for most of that time, as it had been too dangerous to attempt to evacuate them. Clark knew that he would have been able to rescue them in seconds.

Or the young woman with her little girl who'd been so badly injured when their home had been wrecked in an explosion; he could have got them out and flown them to the hospital; the child's mother might even have lived.

Yes; if he could use his powers openly, there was so much he could do…

"What sort of disguise?" he asked slowly, thoughtfully.

Lois didn't answer immediately; she began pacing around the small kitchenette, an expression of concentration on her face. As it was a small room, she had made several circuits before she finally spoke.

"How about a mask? Or a hood?"

Clark hesitated. It sounded attractive; no-one would see his face, and therefore he wouldn't be recognised. "I'm not sure that I'd be able to see properly. At least, not without using my vision abilities all the time, and I don't like doing that." In case he saw something he shouldn't, or didn't want to — but he had no intention of telling Lois that.

"Yeah, true. And anyway," she added, "I'm not sure that would work. If I saw someone wearing a mask or a hood, I'd want to know who was under it."

"Yes, and I'd assume that they had something to hide," Clark added.

"Yeah. We can't have people thinking that," Lois agreed.

Since when had this become 'we'? Clark wondered. Still, if it meant that Lois was willing to help him, then he should take advantage of it. After all, having one of the best reporters in the country on *his* side should only help when it came to avoiding pursuit from other reporters.

"Okay, so what other kind of disguise would work?" he asked, thinking aloud. "It has to be something which makes me look different, but won't make people try to find out who I am."

Lois paced the length of the small room again, pausing as she reached the end. "So… maybe not a disguise exactly, but a…" She trailed off, then spun on her heel suddenly and faced him.

"I've got it!"

"What?" he asked.

She answered by throwing another question at him. "Who do we see every day of the week, and yet we wouldn't recognise them if we saw them dressed differently?"


"What about uniformed cops, the security guards at the Planet, firefighters, nurses… do people recognise them out of their uniform or out of context?"

Clark considered her words. He did normally tend to recognise people out of context, but he'd long known that he had a very good memory. Lois was right: most people never actually looked at the faces of officials they dealt with. They concentrated on the uniforms and the position the officials occupied.

"So… you think that some sort of uniform would help…?"

"Yeah, I think a uniform is exactly what you need," she said, looking at him assessingly. "And if you can lose the glasses when you wear it…"

"That's not a problem," Clark admitted. "I only wear them to remind me not to use my vision powers accidentally. So if I wear them as myself and take them off when I put on the disguise, that would help to make me look different, I guess."

"Very," Lois agreed. "I couldn't believe, earlier, just how different you looked without your glasses. It's just as well you'd put them back on before we went back to the Planet. And your hair, and the clothes you were wearing… I might have had a hard time recognising you if I passed you in the street."

Surprised, Clark stared at her. "I looked that different?"

"Yes — and, believe me, I notice these things. It would work… especially if you could act differently too — I don't know, maybe more formally? Be distant with people? That would stop them asking too many questions, as well as making you seem even less like Clark Kent."

Hiding in plain sight — that was what Lois was suggesting. And she really made it sound as if it could work, too. It was very tempting — too tempting to resist.

"I think I know where I can get this… uniform you're suggesting," he said thoughtfully.

"You do?"

"Yeah." A broad smile creased his face. "You want to come with me? I mean, maybe you'd have some more great ideas like this one."

Lois grinned. "Just try and stop me! But first, we have something more important to do."



For Lois, the use of the plural pronoun felt very strange indeed. She wasn't used to working with someone else — a partner. And yet, with Clark Kent it was already beginning to feel right. Natural.

They weren't partners! she reminded herself hurriedly. She'd just asked for him to work with her that night because of the EPRAD investigation, and their outstanding task related to that story. That was all.

And yet… She'd already recognised, earlier, that he would make a great partner. He was a good reporter, and she could stand him far better than anyone else she'd ever had to work with. He didn't get on her nerves anything like as bad as some of the morons Perry had assigned to work with her. He was intelligent, quick- thinking and could even make suggestions which hadn't occurred to her. And he was definitely a cool head in a crisis.

He could save her life in a crisis.

And he was right. What he'd said to her earlier — and she hadn't paid much attention to — had been very true. He'd saved her life at the risk of his secret. He might not have been at risk of being killed, but he had risked exposure: the destruction of his life and all that he held dear, the damage which such exposure would have done to his parents.

He'd risked all that to save her life.

And, she realised with a sudden jolt, he hadn't *had* to. He could have protected his secret and been perfectly safe. All he'd had to do was wait until the bomb went off, and then he could just have quietly made his escape unharmed. Of course, she would have been dead, but Clark's secret would have been safe. He might have had to move on afterwards, though even that wasn't a foregone conclusion; Lex Luthor hadn't known who he was.

Instead, he'd rescued her, knowing that she would very probably realise that there was something very different about him.

If she still had any question in her mind as to whether she could trust Clark Kent, that fact would give her the answer she needed.

"Lois?" Her musings were interrupted by Clark calling her name; and by the sound of his tone, it wasn't for the first time.

"Sorry. I was just thinking… Anyway," she added quickly, "We need to find Lex Luthor."


"Oh! Of course, you don't know," she said, remembering that he'd left as she'd been speaking to Henderson. Briefly, she filled him in on the phone conversation.

"So Luthor's still out there, and we need to find him," she finished.

"I see." Clark's expression had turned grim during her summary, and now he ran his hand through his hair in agitation. "So yet another murder chalked up to Luthor's account?"

"It looks like it," Lois agreed. "But it's not as if Baines was a saint, after all. Remember, she was implicated up to her neck in the Messenger sabotage!"

"I know," Clark agreed, but his tone was heavy. "That still doesn't mean that she deserved to die. Sure, she deserved to go to jail, but that's different. That way the full facts about what happened would have come out properly too, and the victims' families might have got a sense of closure."

"They still can, if we catch Luthor," Lois pointed out.

"And he has to be caught," Clark added grimly. "I should have thought about this before." Sounding angry with himself, he continued, "There I was, getting ready to leave Metropolis, and I never even thought about the danger to you."

Lois frowned. "Danger?"

"Yes! Sooner or later, Luthor's going to realise that Dr Baines' little explosion didn't kill us after all. And he's going to come after you — or, more likely, send one of his henchmen after you. Your life isn't going to be safe until he's in custody, Lois — and maybe not even after that, if his minions are still loyal to him."

That was something she hadn't thought about, and yet of course it was true. As soon as the Planet hit the streets, which would be in about — she checked her watch — an hour for the first edition, Luthor would know that she and Clark were alive. Well, that she was alive; as far as she knew, he'd never actually found out Clark's identity.

So Clark was right: her life would be in danger. She was surprised that Perry or Henderson hadn't insisted that she go into hiding — but then she remembered that Perry had insisted that she and Clark needed to take the morning off, and Henderson had at that point muttered something about her needing to stay put so he'd know where she'd be. So it probably was taken care of.

"So that makes it even more important that we find him," she said resolutely.

"I agree. But what makes you think we can succeed where the police can't?"

"You!" Lois retorted, gesturing at him. "Think about it, Clark — we have an advantage no-one else has here. How many other men do you know who can fly? Or who can see or hear things at long distances, and who can see *through* things? Don't you think that with that sort of advantage we could find Luthor?"

A flash of a grin appeared on Clark's face. "I guess that's true. And I should have guessed that you'd find a way to turn what I can do to advantage!"

"So?" she prompted. "Are we going?"

In response, he came over to her and extended his arms. "Can I offer you a ride, ma'am?"

With a silent 'Wow!', Lois allowed Clark to lift her and hold her against his chest. Then, wrapping her arms around his neck, she braced herself for what she was sure would be the ride of a lifetime.


"I'll have to fly high," Clark said as he stepped up onto the sill with Lois in his arms. "It's getting too light to stay low — I can't risk being seen."

"Will you be able to see clearly enough?" Lois asked anxiously.

"Oh, sure. My eyesight's pretty good too," he told her with a self-depracating smile. "So, where do you suggest we start?"

"LexCorp," she said immediately. "I know the police have already searched there, but you might find something they missed. With one of those extra abilities of yours, I mean."

If there was anything to find, he probably could find it, Clark acknowledged. What really surprised him, though, was Lois's matter-of- fact acceptance of what he could do. Oh, she'd been amazed back in her apartment, clearly finding it hard to take everything in. But now, although there was some remaining fascination, her attitude seemed focused entirely on what he could do to help their investigation. On how he could be useful to her.

Well, almost entirely. He had a sneaking suspicion that she was excited about the prospect of flying with him; of flying without the aid of any mechanical or electronic propulsion aids. The possibility of being held up only by someone else's arms and that person's abilities of free flight.

He had to admit that he was looking forward to flying with Lois too. Until this moment, the only people he'd ever taken flying had been his parents. And, while it was certainly nice to be able to share his abilities with them, it was hardly the same thing as flying with an attractive woman.

An attractive woman he was *attracted* to.

Though he'd have to put that out of his mind for the time being. Apart from the embarrassment he'd suffer if Lois realised, they had a job to do. And this was, after all, the first time he'd been using his abilities in front of someone else in order to do a job. He'd feel as if he was on display; under inspection, in fact.

Lois was looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to make a move. And, yes, there was very definitely an excited gleam in her eyes, and her hands were gripping his shoulders tightly. Not with fear; with anticipation. Exhilaration, maybe.

He could think of other women who would have been scared stiff at the very idea of flying like this, with no visible means of protection; having to place absolute and complete trust in the man holding them. But not Lois Lane. He already knew that she had nerves of steel and a very high threshold for danger — although he also knew that she wasn't entirely careless when it came to the prospect of her own death. She'd cared very much, earlier that evening, about the knowledge that she might die.

But still, being Lois Lane, her main focus would be on her work: getting the story. And, as such, his sole usefulness to her lay in how he could help her to do that.

Not that he objected, especially. In fact, it was a real novelty to have someone view his abilities as something useful, instead of something he needed to hide. It wasn't that his parents weren't sympathetic to his desire to use what he could do to help; they were. But at the same time they were terrified that one day he'd go too far and be caught, exposed. So they continually urged him to be careful, not to take risks, to behave as normally as he could.

It wasn't just that people might want to use him for experimentation — which was certainly a risk. It was also that they'd seen too many instances, both in the US and elsewhere, of how society reacted to people who were in any way different. Different in appearance, accent, behaviour, lifestyle or a myriad other ways; those people faced misunderstanding, resentment and even outright hostility.

But now, Lois Lane knew what he could do, and she didn't think he was weird. She hadn't run screaming in the opposite direction because he might be from another planet. She — so far — had accepted him as he was. And she'd even come up with an idea to allow him to use his abilities for good in a way which would keep his own identity secret.

The only question was: would the rest of the world — or at least Metropolis — accept him in his disguise? That remained to be seen.

For now, he had to concentrate on finding Lex Luthor — and giving Lois Lane the flight of her lifetime.

He took a step forward and jumped off the windowsill.



There was no other word for it.

Flying in Clark Kent's arms was the most amazing experience of her life.

She'd flown in small craft before, as well as in large jet planes. Helicopters, single-engine planes, even a hang-glider. But this put all of those in the shade.

Clark held her close against his chest, and she had her arms looped around his neck, of course. The wind rushed past them but, to Lois's surprise, she barely felt it. Her hair blew about, but otherwise she barely even noticed the chill. Instead, she focused on the ground falling steeply away from them as Clark climbed until they were somewhere around cloud level.

"This is fantastic!" she exclaimed after a while.

"You're okay?" he asked, sounding a little concerned. "Not too cold — no problems with the speed I'm flying?"

"I don't understand it — but I'm fine. I don't even feel cold," she assured him.

"That's something I've noticed," he said thoughtfully. "If I'm holding something — or someone — close to me, they don't seem to get harmed by things that might hurt them normally. It might sound weird, but it's as if I have some sort of… well, an aura which protects them."

Yes, it did sound weird, but it could be possible, Lois thought. After all, this man was already breaking so many laws of physics she'd lost count. Why couldn't one more rule be discarded where he was concerned?

"Clark?" she said after a few moments.

"Yeah?" He glanced at her briefly, then resumed his careful scanning of the city below.

"I just want you to know — I'm going to bug you to take me flying at least once a week."

He dropped a few feet suddenly, before resuming his previous height; the movement felt almost like turbulence in aeroplanes. "Really? You like it that much?"

"Sure! It's an incredible experience!"

"I've always thought so," he agreed. "And I think my parents like it. But… well, I guess I kind of expected other people to be scared of me — of what I can do. I mean, I'm not *normal*."

That made Lois pause. So he didn't only hide what he could do because it might put him, or his parents, in danger; he hid because he believed himself to be some sort of freak. It fitted, she thought; after all, he'd been anxious when he'd told her that he suspected he might be from another planet.

He expected to be treated as a freak.

"What's normal?" she said, deliberately casual, not wanting him to think that she was feeling sorry for him. "I mean, look at Ralph — can you honestly describe him as 'normal'?"

A bark of laughter answered her. "I guess that's a fair point! Okay," he added, "that's the LexCorp building below. He has a penthouse apartment there, doesn't he?"

"Yes, he does…" Lois trailed off as a thought occurred to her. A thought which should probably have occurred to her a few hours ago.

"Clark," she said urgently.

"Yes?" He paused in mid-air, and the sudden stillness took her by surprise. It felt as if they were suspended, unmoving, from a cloud, with the whole of the city laid out, still, beneath them. It was beautiful; awe-inspiring.


But she didn't have time to focus on that now. There were more urgent matters needing attention.

"I just thought… We're all assuming that Luthor's getting away. Escaping. But what if he isn't?"

"Huh?" Clark sounded confused.

"Think about it," she said impatiently. "As far as he knows, we're dead and so is Baines. So who knows about his involvement in the Messenger sabotage? What witnesses are there to what happened tonight?"

"None," Clark replied slowly, and Lois could tell that he'd caught her meaning and was thinking through the implications, just as she was. "So he could be right under everyone's nose, oblivious to the manhunt that's going on for him?"

"It's possible," Lois said. "It's not even six in the morning. And Henderson didn't say that the police had searched Luthor's homes. All he said was that they were in the process of getting warrants, and that Luthor's staff were unhelpful."

"So… what if Luthor is safely asleep in his own bed and has been all along?" Clark completed her train of thought. He sounded unconvinced, though, and explained his tone by adding, "But surely his staff would have wakened him to tell him that the police were looking for him? Especially if they had warrants."

"Maybe… but maybe not," Lois answered. "What if he gave them instructions not to disturb him once he's gone to bed? Would anyone wake him then?"

"If they thought it was important enough, I'd think so," Clark replied. "But, you know, there is one easy way to find out," he added, and as she looked up at him she could see that he was grinning.

Of course, there was…

"So, what's keeping you?" she demanded.

Soft laughter accompanied their sudden dive downwards through the wispy clouds.


Clark had no idea whether Lois was likely to be right. It seemed improbable that the man everyone was looking for could possibly be just asleep in his bed. But since it would hardly involve any effort on his part to find out, it was worth a try.

Dipping down, but being careful to use any cover offered and not to go so low as to be seen, Clark scanned the LexCorp building. The tallest in Metopolis, he noted; even taller than the LNN Tower which, he knew, had held that record for several years. He was grateful for the building's height, of course, since it meant a far lower risk of being seen.

That was obviously the study; this the dining room. And next to that was what looked like a sumptuous lounge. Then another reception room, and another… and then, finally, what looked like a suite containing a bedroom.

Clark focused his vision, looking closer. And… yes… it looked as if there was a figure in the bed in that darkened bedroom. Dark hair — yes, it was wavy. And the shape, so far as he could make it out under the covers, seemed to fit Lex Luthor.

"I think he's there," he murmured.

"Huh? Clark!" He felt something poking at his side; looking down, remembering at the last second to disengage his vision abilities, he realised that Lois was trying to attract his attention, using her index finger between his ribs.


"What did you say? What did you *see*?" she demanded impatiently.

"There's someone there. And I think it's Luthor," he told her, unable to prevent the excitement from creeping into his tone.

"You're not sure?" She sounded disappointed, almost critical.

"I can't quite tell — the room's dark, and he's pretty much buried under the covers," Clark defended himself by protesting.

"Well, look harder!" Lois ordered. Then, seemingly realising how that sounded, she amended. "Try. Please? This is important!"

"I know. And I will try."

He looked again, focusing more closely this time, straining his eyes to see clearly in the dark bedroom. And he thought he could just make out the familiar features of Lex Luthor —

- and then suddenly the bed's occupant turned over, rolling onto his back with a grunt and lying prone with his arms thrown to his sides. Clark realised that he must have been augmented his hearing abilities as well; in addition to the grunt, he could now hear snoring. Loud, snorting snores, what was more. But the bonus was that he could now see the man's face clearly.

Yes, it was definitely Lex Luthor.

They had him. Now, all they had to do was inform the police.

And there lay the problem, Clark thought as he flew back up above the cloud cover. Just what did they tell the police?

"What's the matter?" Lois asked, looking around, seeming to be surprised at his retreat. "Couldn't you see him?"

"I saw him. And it's definitely Luthor."

"That's great!" she crowed. "So what are we doing up here?"

"We need to work out what to do next," he told her.

She stared at him. "That's a no-brainer, Clark! We tell Henderson, so he can get his people over here pronto!"

"And just what do you suggest that we tell him, huh?" Clark challenged.

He could tell the instant his point had hit home. Her expression changed from impatience to chagrin, and she bit her lip. "Yeah," she said thoughtfully. Then she brightened. "Take me to a payphone, Clark."

"Lois…" he protested, worried at the thought of what she might do.

"What now?" she exclaimed, giving him a glare. "Don't you trust me?"

Did he trust her? Now, that was the big question, and Clark knew it.

But he'd already confronted that question, hadn't he? And he hadn't trusted her; he'd been all set to run when she'd come charging over to his hotel room and given him a lecture on her intentions. She'd assured him that she had no intention of deliberately telling the world his secret. And he'd believed her.

However, what if it was accidental? What if she said too much, was careless?

He checked himself. This was Lois Lane, he reminded himself once again; award-winning reporter, with three Kerths and as many Merriwethers to her name. And she didn't get to where she was by carelessly giving away information.

Yes, of course he should trust her.

Giving her a smile, he flew a short distance from the LexCorp building before looking for somewhere safe to land. "Of course I trust you, Lois," he told her as he dropped gently to the ground and began to slide her to her feet. "I trust you with everything."


He trusted her. The rush of emotion which hit her at his words took Lois by surprise. Why did Clark Kent's trust matter so much? He was nothing to her, after all. Just a man — well, maybe an alien, but still a man — who had a few special abilities and who worked with her.

And to whom she owed her life.

Nevertheless, he was just someone she worked with, and might work with rather more closely in future, given that they seemed to make a good team. And that they could help each other. That was all he was to her. Wasn't it?

And yet…

He hadn't trusted her after he'd told her the truth about himself. His first reaction had been to assume that she'd expose him. And even when she'd assured him that she wouldn't, he'd been sceptical, reluctant to believe her. She'd seen that in his wary expression, and although she'd thought he'd accepted that she was telling the truth, his reaction just now when she'd asked him to take her to a payphone had shown her that he still doubted her.

Had still doubted her. If he was sincere — and the way he'd looked at her as he'd spoken told her without any reservation that he was — then he now believed her.

It felt like a momentous achievement, a moment of great significance in their relationship.

<What relationship?>

Lois tried to brush the thought away. There was nothing momentous here. They were just two colleagues who were getting used to working together, and the kind of close working relationship dictated by the demands of investigative journalism always had teething problems. People had to adjust their expectations of each other, smooth away their rough edges and overcome preconceived ideas. It was a big and awkward transition to make — involving about the same kind of work needed in order to make a personal relationship to work. In some ways, it was like marriage.

<Without the fun of the sex>

Her cheeks burning, Lois squashed that thought. Her relationship with Clark Kent was all business. And that was all it would be. Oh, sure, she'd offered him help in coming up with some sort of disguise so that he could use his abilities openly to help people in need, but she'd get something out of that too; she had every intention of ensuring that the scoop on the new freelance emergency rescuer would go to her. And the first exclusive one-on-one interview, too.

"Lois? Are you okay?" Clark's concerned voice interrupted her thoughts, and she glanced at him, feeling herself blush again.

"Uh… sure. Where's the phone?" she demanded abruptly.

"Ah… right there," he said, sounding puzzled and indicating at a point just behind her right shoulder. She turned and looked, then mentally kicked herself as she saw the familiar Bell logo just inches away.

"Thanks," she muttered awkwardly, picking up the receiver.

<Dial, Lois> she told herself. Focus. Just focus. No, not on Clark Kent! she told herself as once more she saw an image in her head of her temporary partner as he'd looked when he'd floated in her living-room. And then as that one was banished, she had a flashback to their kiss…

…his mouth on hers, giving, taking, tasting, devouring, consuming… his arms around her, pulling her against him, pulling her into him, as she gripped onto him as if she could drag herself right inside him. Wanting him, needing him, never wanting to let him go or to lose the heat, the mindless, passionate fervour of their kiss…

<*Focus*!> she yelled silently, squirming with embarrassment. She hoped fervently that he'd told her the truth when he'd said that he couldn't read minds.

"28th Precinct. Caller?" The impatient voice on the other end of the line told Lois that her thoughts had been elsewhere for too long and that the operator was about to hang up.

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "Henderson, please."

"And who may I say is calling?" The faintly bored, faintly aggressive voice on the other end of the line seemed to be sending the message that speaking to Henderson was a privilege unlikely to be granted.

"Tell him it's Lane. And to get his butt on the line right now," Lois snapped abruptly. Maybe by being aggressive to some minion who was getting in her way, she'd be able to push those inconvenient — and disturbing — memories out of her head.

"I heard that, Lane," a sardonic male voice drawled down the phone-line. "Never imagined you were that interested in my body — is this a social call, then?"

"Not in a million years, Henderson!" Lois barked, mentally thanking the man; his barbs always succeeded in taking her mind off other things. "I've got a suggestion for you, though."

"You're too late, Lane," the detective commented. "I've been taking long walks off short piers for years. Too bad I always seem to survive."

Despite herself, Lois grinned. "Just make sure your bad luck doesn't give out one of these days, Bill," she quipped.

"Am I hearing things?" An incredulous tone greeted her remark. "Is Lois Lane actually admitting that she'd miss me?"

"Hardly," she informed him dryly. "You're just the only cop in the city with more than half a brain, that's all."

Henderson's dry laugh warmed her, reassuring her that she was back to being Lois Lane, highly professional reporter on the top of her game, instead of some stupid adolescent mooning over a first kiss.

"Anyway, stimulating as this exchange is, Lois, is there a point to this call? I do have more important things to be doing."

All business now, Lois explained. "Have your teams actually searched Luthor's apartment?"

She could sense Henderson rolling his eyes. "We've had units out to all his homes."

"Yeah, but have you actually searched inside?"

"His staff denied knowledge of his whereabouts. And they wouldn't let anyone in without a warrant."

"I thought you had warrants!" Lois exclaimed.

"Arrest warrants, yes. But not search warrants, and we decided against making a forced entry where there was no evidence that the guy was actually there. It's standard police procedure, Lane. I do know how to do my job, you know!" Henderson drawled sarcastically. "Anyway, as I told you earlier, the guy's probably making his way out of state by now."

"But what if he isn't, Bill?" Lois put to him. "Look, just listen for a minute. And think about it. Okay?"

"Shoot," the detective said immediately.

"As far as Luthor knows, he's safe. He took care of all witnesses, didn't he? He thinks that Clark and I are dead, and so is Baines. And he set fires to destroy the evidence in Baines' office. So why would he assume that he's in any danger?"

"And so you think he might be…" Henderson began slowly, but Lois could hear the alertness in his tone.

"Sound asleep in his own bed," Lois finished.

"It's as good a thought as any," Henderson agreed. "Let me have it checked out, okay?"

"That's all I want, Bill," she said.

"I'll get back to you if there's any news," Henderson offered, then added quickly, "Unless I don't need to… and knowing you, I probably won't."

"I shouldn't think so," she told him dryly, a hint of laughter in her voice.

"You know, there are times when I think you chose the wrong career, Lois," Henderson said with dry humour. "And I'll deny I ever said that if you repeat it!"


"Nice work, Lois," Clark said admiringly as she hung up and turned back to him. He'd been unable to prevent himself listening to both sides of the conversation, and he was very impressed by the way she'd convinced the hard- bitten detective to take her seriously. Henderson clearly had a lot of respect for Lois, obviously built up over several years of acquaintance. And that respect was mutual, despite Lois's seemingly disparaging attitude towards the police officer.

"Thanks." She grinned at him, clearly very pleased with herself.

"So what now?"

"We wait," she said firmly. "Can you fly us up again so we can watch what happens?"

"Sure," Clark agreed, taking a step towards her and only then realising that to do what she asked of him would mean holding her in his arms again. It was odd: earlier, when he'd picked her up to fly with her, he'd managed to block out what it had meant to hold her close to him, and he'd barely registered the sensation of having her in his arms.

At least, so he'd thought at the time. Now, his mind was filled with images of holding her closely against him, and the memory of the sensations it had evoked.

The memory it had also evoked of their passionate kisses in the shed at EPRAD, when she'd also pressed her body tightly against his. He wanted, quite desperately, to kiss her again.

The attraction he'd felt to her right at the beginning, when he'd thought that she was a gangster kid named Larry, was still there, stronger than ever now. And he knew that she wasn't indifferent to him: her kisses had shown him that, as had her reaction in her apartment when he'd tried to distract her from questioning him about his abilities.

But being attracted to him and wanting to act on it were two quite different things, Clark acknowledged as he scooped Lois up in his arms again and slowly drifted upwards. Lois might well have lots of perfectly good reasons why she had no desire to get involved with him. She might be in love with someone else — though he thought that seemed unlikely; no-one at the Planet had mentioned a boyfriend. In fact, quite the opposite; her reputation seemed such that she frightened most men off.

She didn't frighten him off…

Though that still didn't mean that there was any reason why she should be interested in him, beyond a passing attraction. Apart from anything else, she now had more reason than most to avoid him on a personal level, Clark reminded himself grimly. She knew that he wasn't… normal. Might not be human.

But, he acknowledged, she hadn't shown any kind of distaste on learning that. She'd been fascinated by the knowledge of what he could do, but she'd shown no signs of being unhappy about what he was. And he had recognised earlier that her attitude to what he'd revealed about himself was nothing like he'd anticipated.

A memory from his teenage years came rushing back, and he closed his eyes, wincing. He must have made an awkward movement in flight, because Lois tightened her grip on him.

"Clark? What happened?"

"Oh… uh, nothing," he reassured her, finding his bearings again and focusing on getting them close enough to the LexCorp building so that they could watch what was happening. He noticed a building opposite which had a water-tower on its roof, and landed just behind that. It would offer cover, so that they wouldn't be seen, and the building was just high enough to allow him to see into the penthouse without seeing only its ceiling.

"Now we wait," she said quietly, sliding out of his arms.

"Yeah," he agreed, murmuring his response.

Nothing was going to happen at least for a few minutes; a quick scan of the area showed him that there were no police-cars anywhere. Lois showed little inclination to talk; she seemed to be entirely focused on waiting for the police to arrive. And so Clark had no choice but to confront the memory which had assailed him.

He'd taken Lana to see Starman when they'd both been teenagers. He'd been all of seventeen and she sixteen at the time. It had been a deliberate choice of movie, though Lana herself hadn't objected; she thought Jeff Bridges was hot, as he remembered. She'd been fairly quiet as they came out of the cinema, and in his naivety he'd actually found himself wondering — hoping — that she might actually have guessed why he'd wanted her to see the film.

If she might at last be putting two and two together where he was concerned…

He'd asked her then, as they'd got into his dad's truck, what she would have done in Karen Allen's position. If she'd been the woman who'd discovered the alien. What had the na‹ve, teenage Clark Kent expected? That she'd find the whole idea of meeting an alien romantic? That she'd have rushed to help and protect him? That she'd insist that she'd have tried even harder than the Karen Allen character to protect him — that she'd have fallen in love with him immediately, rather than after a while, as the character in the film had?

Yes, that had been incredibly naive.

And foolish, too, he'd discovered. For Lana's response had been to tell him that she'd thought Jenny had been crazy for trying to shelter the Starman. If she'd been in Jenny's position, Lana had insisted, she'd have run a mile in the opposite direction. No; first, she would have exposed him to the FBI and the military, and then got as far away from him as she possibly could.

That day, Clark had given up all hope of ever being able to tell Lana the truth about himself. He'd also realised then that their relationship was doomed to be short-lived.

How could he possibly have a relationship with someone when he couldn't even be honest with them about who he really was?

And it was then when he'd accepted that he might never be able to have the kind of relationship his parents had. After all, what normal woman would want to be involved with a freak? Even if he wasn't talking love, marriage, happy ever after, what he was would be a problem even in forming close friendships, he'd realised. Friends — close friends — should also be honest with each other, and that would be a problem for him. So he'd resigned himself to going through life as a loner.

Now, Lois Lane had thrown a very large spanner into that particular life-plan.

She knew his secret, and she hadn't run screaming. She'd flown with him, and had made clear her enjoyment of the experience. And there seemed to be a possibility that they could even be friends.

She didn't think that he was a freak. She was *excited* by what he could do! He'd actually met someone to whom his strange abilities weren't a turn-off. Lois wouldn't run screaming from what he could do, and it was clear that even the possibility that he was from another planet didn't worry her in the slightest.

And she trusted him. That realisation struck him suddenly. Of course she trusted him: she'd put her life in his hands when she'd agreed to fly with him! But he also got the impression that she trusted him in other ways too. Such as not to use his abilities to steal her story right from under her. And to do exactly what he'd told her he would do.

But, as she'd pointedly drawn to his attention only a few minutes earlier, he didn't trust her. Did he?

He'd gone running as soon as he'd told her his secret, jumping to the conclusion that she'd publish it. He'd reacted badly when she'd turned up at his hotel room, assuming without evidence that she'd come to get more dirt on him. And then, when she'd asked to be taken to a phone, he'd assumed that she'd be careless in what she revealed to the police.

She'd deserved none of those suspicions. She'd shown, each time, that she was more trustworthy than he'd anticipated… more so, probably, than he deserved.

Yes, he needed to give Lois Lane his trust.

That also meant, he reminded himself, that he needed to stop coming to his own conclusions about what she would want, or whether she would be interested in him. He needed to give her credit for being an adult, capable of making her own decisions, and of doing her own rejecting, if she wanted to do it. He shouldn't assume in advance that she would reject him, and then not even give her the opportunity to make her own mind up!

"They're here!"

Lois was pulling on his arm, and Clark blinked, returning his attention to his surroundings. He'd been so lost in thought that he'd missed the arrival of the police; despite his natural advantages, Lois had seen them before he had, despite the fact that, to her, they would have been little more than dots.

No fewer than four cars had pulled up just outside the LexCorp building. Watching closely, Clark saw Henderson emerge from one. He gave directions to a couple of other men, then went over to the entrance. Clark saw the flash of a badge and an official document, then the detective disappeared inside, followed by two uniformed officers.

"What's happening?" Lois demanded. He turned to look at her, grinning at her enthusiasm, combined with her automatic assumption that he would use his abilities to keep her informed.

"Okay, well, they've just gone inside," he told her, narrating the scene unfolding below. "And Henderson's spoken to a security guard… Yeah, the guard's going to go up with them in the elevator."

"Clark!" She grabbed his arm. "They'll warn Luthor! He'll get away!"

He switched his attention to the penthouse suite. An older man with silvery hair was on the telephone, while two others, dressed in livery, were heading towards Lex Luthor's bedroom.

He couldn't interfere; it was too dangerous. But he could keep an eye on what was happening…

Then his attention was distracted, and he lost his focus on the penthouse. Lois was tugging on his arm, her tone impatient.

"Clark! What's happening now?"

"Lois, let me watch, please! I'll tell you what I can, but I can't concentrate and give you a running commentary at the same time!" he told her hurriedly.

"Oh, okay." She didn't sound especially happy, but that hardly mattered.

Back in the penthouse, Luthor was out of bed — Clark averted his eyes briefly from the man's near-naked body — and was being helped into a robe. Using all his reserves of concentration, he tried to listen in on the conversation, but could only hear snatches.

"Police… warrant… just some questions… way up…" one servant was saying.

"St John… on the telephone…"

Then the bedroom door was pushed open and the silvery-haired man strode in. His voice was crisp and much clearer; Clark was able to hear most of his words. "My apologies for this intrusion, sir. Clearly some of Metropolis's police have forgotten their manners."

Luthor waved his hand, although Clark was sure the man's expression was irritated. "It's a trifling matter, Nigel. I cannot imagine what this officer — ?"

"An Inspector Henderson," the man called Nigel supplied.

"Indeed. I simply have no idea what he can want with me. But, of course, we must always endeavour to assist our worthy public servants!"

Luthor shrugged then, adding, "Lead the way, Nigel. I assume that they will be escorted to my office?"

So he wasn't going to try to make a run for it, Clark thought, relieved. But was Luthor really so confident of having covered his tracks that he wasn't even concerned about what Henderson might want?

The two men were walking together out of Luthor's bedroom, and Clark had to strain harder to hear their conversation. "…the helicopter ready?" Luthor was saying.

"Naturally, sir; it did occur to me that some precautions might be necessary."

"Excellent, Nigel." Luthor stepped into the light afforded by a large standard lamp, and the satisfied, confident smile on his face was clearly visible to Clark. "Remind me to increase your salary next month."

"I've already taken care of that, sir," the man called Nigel replied.

"As ever, you anticipate my needs." They had reached the door which, Clark could see, led to Luthor's office. A dig in his ribs made him lose focus again.

"Lois!" he exclaimed.

"What's going on? You've said nothing for ages! And then you started to look worried… He'd better not be getting away!"

Clark sighed. "Actually, I am a bit worried — he's got a helicopter ready to go. Though he's going to talk to Inspector Henderson first, so…"

"So that means he has an escape plan," Lois said decisively. "And that he's going to neutralise Henderson somehow. I just hope he doesn't kill Henderson — the guy may be a cop, but he's one of the good guys all the same."

"Lois, you know I wouldn't let that happen!" Clark said immediately. "Come on, you have to know that!"

Her small hand covered his large one suddenly. "Yes, I do know that," Lois said softly. "You saved my life. And you didn't have to. I know what it cost you in terms of letting me in on your secret."

Looking at her, he saw the sincerity and the look of apology in her gaze. Shaking his head slightly, he smiled softly in return.

"Lois, I couldn't have let you die." To Clark's surprise, his words came out huskily. "Even if I'd had to let Luthor find out what I can do too."

"You really are one of the good guys, Clark." Lois squeezed his hand briefly before stepping back. "Now, get back to watching Luthor!"

"Yes, ma'am!" He grinned quickly at her, then turned his attention back to the penthouse floor — and very quickly realised that he shouldn't have looked away. Henderson and the two other officers were in Luthor's office, but the man called Nigel was holding the other officers at bay with one handgun, while Luthor had Henderson at gunpoint.

"…so the deal is, Inspector, you will accompany me — as guarantor of my safety, of course. And your colleagues will remain here, to be looked after by my staff. You understand, of course?" Luthor was saying, in a tone which was as urbane as if he were addressing a society gathering. Clark felt his fists clench.

"You do know that taking me hostage won't get you anywhere, don't you, Luthor?" Henderson drawled. "Like any other ordinary police officer, I'm expendable."

"Well, we'll soon find out how true that is," Luthor said casually, before jabbing his gun into Henderson's side. "Now, if you wouldn't mind moving…?"

He had to do something. But just what that something would be, Clark wasn't sure…

"Lois, stay here!" he told her urgently.

"What's going on?" she demanded, as he'd known she would.

"Trouble," he said briefly, before running off the top of the building and swooping up towards the penthouse. Being seen was a worry; it was broad daylight now, after all. But if he stuck close to the wall and moved either extremely quickly, faster than the human eye could see, or else so slowly that it didn't attract attention, he should be fine.

What could he do? He did have one very effective way of persuading someone to drop a gun, of course. But could he do it? He'd never tried it through glass before. Would it work? Would he end up burning a hole in the glass too? That would be a bad idea — the last thing he wanted was for anyone to realise that he was out there.

Maybe it wouldn't affect the glass. After all, he could use what his parents called his X-ray vision through glass, without any ill-effects either on himself or on the glass.

Clark took a deep breath. Okay, he'd give it a try…

Concentrating, he lowered his glasses and sent a dart of heat vision through the window, aimed straight at Lex Luthor's pistol-hand. And, seconds later, he had the satisfaction of seeing the businessman wince and drop the gun, cradling his hand protectively against his side. Before anyone else in the room could react, Clark turned his attention to the man called Nigel, giving him the same treatment.

He was pleased to see that the police officers acted very swiftly, drawing their own weapons and overpowering Luthor and Nigel. All was well; he smiled, then took flight at almost supersonic speed to return to Lois.


Okay. She really didn't have a clue what he was doing, Lois thought in irritation as she stared up at the speck which was Clark, apparently clinging to the side of the penthouse wall. She *hated* not knowing what was going on. Couldn't he have told her what was happening? What he intended to do?

Well, he would darned well tell her *everything* just as soon as he came back! Or else he'd be shredded wheat!

The wind stirred beside her, and when it died down again, Clark was standing there, a smug grin on his face.

"What was that all about?" she demanded.

"Luthor and his associate set a trap for Henderson." Clark explained what had happened, and his own remedial action.

"Wow." Lois shook her head. "Is there anything you can't do?"

At that, Clark looked almost embarrassed. "I'm not some sort of superhuman being, you know, Lois."

"Could've fooled me." Superhuman… That set her thinking. He was pretty super, and the things he could do were *definitely* superhuman. Maybe…

But that was for later. "So, Luthor's under arrest?"

"He was when I came back up here." Clark looked away for a moment, over towards the LexCorp building; then he turned back to her. "They're on their way down. And yes, Luthor and his functionary are definitely in custody!" He grinned at her, clearly as delighted as she was.

"We did it!" Lois exclaimed excitedly.

"Yeah!" And suddenly, without Lois having any idea how it had happened, they were in each other's arms, hugging joyfully.

"See how much help you can be?" she said to Clark, smiling happily up at him.

He smiled back, his eyes alight. "I couldn't have done it without you. You had the bright idea that Luthor might still be here. And you suggested that we look for him."

"We make a great team," she told him.

"Fantastic." His arms tightened around her, and she slid her own arms up and around his neck. She met his gaze with hers, enjoying the way his brown eyes sparkled with delight and happiness. Yes, they were a great team.

And suddenly their surroundings seemed to fade, and Clark's eyes lost that excited light and turned darker, more intense. And Lois felt a sense of tension growing deep inside her, as if she was waiting with anticipation for something to happen…

…and, as her chin tilted up towards Clark almost of its own accord, and he lowered his head to meet her, she knew what it was.

Their lips touched. And lightning struck. And Lois knew that their fevered, desperate kisses in the EPRAD shed hadn't just been the result of a near-death encounter. Clark Kent's kisses really had the power to stir her as no other man's ever had.

The kiss grew deeper within seconds, both eager to know the other and unable to countenance delay. Her lips were parted beneath his, and she was exploring him just as frantically as he was her. Her knees felt weak, and she clung to him, wanting — needing — to get closer still. One of his hands had slid up her back and was holding her head, fingers combing through the strands of her hair. She pulled her arms back from around his neck, sliding her palms up to caress his face, uncaring about the rasp of stubble which scratched her; just needing to be closer to him.

And she was lost. Tumbling headlong into lust — or even into love — with Clark Kent.


He was kissing her again. And she was kissing him back, just as fiercely as before.

Part of him had been wondering, ever since their escape from EPRAD, whether Lois's response to his kisses — her own kisses in return — had been borne solely of desperation, an uncontrollable need for human contact and succour in what she'd believed were her last few minutes of life.

Her life wasn't in danger now. And yet she was clinging to him as if her survival depended on it. As if he was essential to her well-being.

Just as she was to his.

He hadn't been imagining it over the past couple of weeks; he really was falling in love with Lois Lane.

She was soft and yielding in his arms, clinging to him as if she didn't want to let go either. Could she possibly feel the same way?

Reality began to intrude, however, as the sound of police radios sparked off his hearing. Things were happening down below that they couldn't ignore — that Lois certainly wouldn't want to ignore.

Reluctantly, he dragged his mouth from hers. But Lois tightened her grip on him, trying to tug him back to her.

"Lois… the police… Luthor…" he managed to say, before her lips invaded his again. But she pulled back after one last kiss.

"You're right," she agreed, clearly loath to say so; he couldn't help but notice that she was flushed and breathing heavily. "We've got to get the scoop on him being arrested. There is *no way* that I'm missing out on that! Not when the guy tried to kill us!"

Clark grinned. "Consider me at your service. Where would you like to go?"

"Down there." She pointed. "I want to talk to Henderson before he leaves."

"Your wish, again, is my command." He made a little bow before scooping her up into his arms. "Let's go."


They'd got another scoop, and this time it was even bigger. The fall of Lex Luthor, the city's richest citizen, friend of politicians and winner of the Man of the Year for the last half-dozen years. Lois couldn't wait to get the exclusive from Henderson so that they could go back to the Planet and write it up.

It wasn't until Clark set her down in an alley just around the corner from the LexCorp building that Lois realised her excitement about getting the Luthor story had even surpassed that of flying with Clark. How quickly she was becoming blas‚ about something which, less than an hour earlier, had been beyond the realms of fantasy.

As he released her, Clark grinned knowingly and Lois realised that he understood just what was going through her mind. Stunned, she had to pause for a moment. She'd known Clark Kent less than two weeks — and for at least four days of that time she hadn't known he was anything other than a low-life car thief. How could he possibly understand her so well?

And yet he clearly did. As he gestured for her to precede him out of the alley, he murmured, "Another Kerth award on its way to you, I assume. Is this your biggest scoop yet?"

"Yet," she agreed, then gave him a wink. "Just wait until I write the exclusive on Superman. *That* will knock all the others into the shade!"

Clark halted abruptly. "*Superman*?"

"Yep." She grinned. "That's what I'm going to call you. I decided it back there, when we were up on the roof. You keep telling me that you're just a man, an ordinary guy, and yet you can do so many superhuman things… well, that makes you Superman, in my opinion."

Clark's expression indicated that he wasn't all that happy with her idea. "I'm not really sure about that, Lois. The name… well, it's kind of egotistical, isn't it?"

"Not if you're not the one to come up with it," she pointed out.

"But still… Lois, I might not even *be* human. Remember?"

She shrugged. "Does it matter? You look like a man. Don't you?"

To her amazement, he blushed. "Um… yeah."

"Then Superman it is."

But he surprised her by sticking to his resistance. "We'll talk about it. Okay? Now, don't you have somewhere you wanted to be?"

"Come on." She grabbed his arm. "We have a story to get."

Henderson rolled his eyes as they approached the parked cars. "Jeez, Lane, don't you ever go to sleep?"

"Could say the same for you, Henderson," she drawled.

He ignored her response. "Kent, don't let this crazy woman drag you into bad habits."

"Do I get a choice?" Clark quipped.

"I should have guessed you two would be somewhere about, after that tip-off," the detective added.

"Of course!" Lois said immediately. "So, what about that exclusive you promised us?"

"You can come by the precinct later today," Henderson offered. "I'll talk to you then."

"You can talk to us now!"

"Hey!" An indignant voice called from one of the cars. Lois glanced over, seeing a somewhat dishevelled-looking Lex Luthor trying to lean out past his police escort. "Just what is the delay here?"

"What's the matter, Luthor?" she called, strolling over towards the car. "Don't like it when you have to wait on someone else's timetable for a change?"

The look on his face was worth all the trauma she'd gone through that night. "Lois Lane!" he exclaimed, his famous control actually dropping as he showed incredulity.

"In the flesh," she drawled. "And you were never actually introduced to my partner, were you?" she added as Clark moved over to join her. "Clark Kent, also of the Daily Planet."

She could almost feel Luthor gritting his teeth. Then he said, very casually, "One might wonder just how you managed to escape from the very unfortunate situation I understand Dr Baines had placed you in."

"On your instructions, you mean," Lois hissed. Then, mimicking her questioner's casual air, she added, "Maybe this should teach you never to underestimate award-winning investigative journalists."

Clark caught her arm lightly as she turned back to Henderson; the detective had been watching the exchange with a grin which was quickly stifled as the two of them returned. "Lois, I'm not an award-winning reporter," Clark pointed out.

"Not yet," she told him with a grin. "But you will be. That's a given. Just stick with me, kid, and you'll go far," she drawled.

"As far as the nearest clink, if you're not careful, Lane," Henderson commented with a flash of humour. "I just know that one of these days I'm going to get a call from Perry White — or maybe Kent here — telling me that you're locked up for interfering in police business or breaking and entering. And I'm looking forward to seeing you with bars across your face, you know."

Lois shrugged, untroubled by the familiar banter with the detective; they had a long relationship which, although was characterised by barbs and caustic exchanges, was securely based on mutual trust and respect. "I've been in jail before now."

She almost felt the raise of eyebrows on Clark's face. "You can fill me in on that later," he said, before turning to Henderson. "Okay, what can you tell us for now? What will the charges be?"

"Can't you let us charge him first?" Henderson said sardonically. "Okay, it's no secret that we'll be charging him with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. Probably Murder One as well, if we can tie him to Baines' death. And I'll probably manage to slip in something about threatening and attempted abduction of a police officer too."

Lois remembered just in time that she wasn't supposed to know anything about that. "Oh?"

"Look, if the two of you come to see me this evening, I'll fill you in on the details, okay?" Henderson said. "Right now, I have to take these… *gentlemen* down to the precinct. You've got your scoop anyway — it'll make the Planet's evening edition, right? And I'll save you some exclusive material, so you don't have to worry that LNN will get the jump on you," he finished, his voice laced heavily with irony.

"I can't wait to see how LNN reports this," Lois commented with a grin at Clark. "What's the betting that they make it the filler before the last commercial break?"

"I won't even touch that one!"


The day staff were just arriving in the newsroom when Lois and Clark had finished writing up the arrest of Lex Luthor. Clark had noticed Lois stifling several yawns as she insisted on reading over their story for the third time, and so as soon as she hit send, he tapped her shoulder.

"Come on. I'm taking you home."

She smothered another yawn. "You are?" Excitement gleamed in her eyes and she made a strange gesture with her hand, which he guessed that he was supposed to interpret as a flying movement.

"Yeah." He winked. "It'll be quicker than calling you a cab, anyway. If you're happy about letting me… uh, take you."

"Happy?" She raised her eyebrows, and then ended up yawning again. "I wasn't kidding earlier when I said I'd be continually bugging you, Clark!"

And he finally acknowledged that she meant it. She really did see his abilities as a positive thing, and not something to be alarmed about. Okay, she'd done her best to convince him of that earlier, and he'd even begun to believe it then, but almost an hour spent at the Planet working on their latest report had given him time to think. And, he admitted, to obsess. To decide that maybe she'd just been polite, not wanting to be unkind to him.

But then, he should know by now that being nice just for the sake of it wasn't really Lois Lane's way of doing things, shouldn't he? She didn't believe in polite fictions. If she said something, she generally meant it.

He smiled. "Okay. Let's hit the stairs; we can take off from the roof." At her weary look, he grinned. "Don't worry — once we're in the stairwell, I'll carry you!"

She'd fallen asleep in his arms even before he'd got them above cloud cover. Flying slowly so as not to wake her, Clark gazed fondly at the woman he was carrying.

Lois Lane had entered his life like a whirlwind, and she'd set all his expectations, all his plans, on their ears. He'd never expected to find anyone who would accept him just as he was, difference and all — and yet she had. He'd never expected that he would ever find a way to use his abilities openly to help people; that he'd have to go through his life continually tortured by knowing that there were people in trouble and that he couldn't help them without risking everything that he cared about. And yet Lois had come up with what looked like the perfect solution.

He'd never expected to fall headlong in love. Not after Lana. And yet he was falling headlong in love with Lois Lane.

No; he was already headlong in love with Lois Lane.

He tested that feeling, expecting it to terrify him. Expecting to feel the fear coursing through him, the dread that she would never feel the same way about him, that she could never want to date a man as… as *not-human* as he was.

And yet all he felt was calm. Calm and a submerged sense of excitement.

Lois was not indifferent to him. He knew that. Okay, he could easily write off her statement that she was attracted to him, and their first heady kisses, as simply the product of what had seemed to her to be impending death. With the second kisses, there'd been no danger to her. And she'd known about him, about everything which made him different, about everything he simply didn't know about himself.

Maybe, just maybe…

She stirred slightly in his arms, giving a little whimper, and then settled her head back into the crook of his shoulder. He was tempted to stop flying altogether and simply float up in the clouds with her in his embrace. But he couldn't do that, he told himself. Lois was exhausted. She needed to be in her bed, asleep where she could be comfortable.

Dragging his thoughts away from the woman he loved, he thought again about her idea of a disguise. It would be fantastic if it worked. He'd never again have to ignore someone's plea for help purely on the basis that he was afraid of disclosing his identity and putting himself and his family at risk.

But would it work? What sort of disguise was Lois thinking of? What she'd said about him looking very different without his glasses had been extremely interesting; but would that be enough? Even with his hair styled differently?

She was right about uniforms. People never did notice the faces of the uniformed officials they dealt with. But what sort of uniform? Was she suggesting that he don the uniform of a police officer? Or a soldier? But, apart from the fact that impersonating an official of that type was a criminal offence and definitely something he didn't want to do, that could send the wrong message. Not all of the sort of people in danger that he could be called upon to help saw officialdom as something they could trust.

So he'd need a unique uniform. One he could make his own, and by which he'd be instantly recognisable — but wouldn't that make him stand out *more*? Surely people would notice his face if he was the only one wearing the uniform? He'd get photographed. His image would be plastered on every newspaper's front page and on every TV news show. He'd be IDed as soon as anyone who knew Clark Kent saw it, surely?

But… maybe not. If he ensured that his behaviour, his posture, even his tone of voice were all different when he wore his uniform — when he was… well, Superman, if that was what Lois was insisting on calling him, though he was still far from happy with the name. Then maybe, just maybe, it could work…

As he approached Lois's apartment building, he realised that he was going to have to wake her. He'd need to land in that alley just behind her building and get her to find her keys; there was no way that he was going to search through her clothes to find where she'd stashed them.

Clark realised then that he should probably have flown them to the Apollo Hotel — he *really* needed to find an apartment! — and picked up her Jeep; he could have driven it for her. She'd need it at home, not outside her colleague's hotel. But then, he could find a way of returning it for her later, he guessed.

Then his eye was caught by a window which was slightly ajar; flying closer, he identified it as Lois's living-room window. He didn't need to wake her. He could just fly in through the window and carry her to her bed.

He could carry Lois into her bedroom… His breath caught at the thought, and he found himself visualising laying Lois down on the bedspread, taking off her shoes, probably taking off her coat…

No. That was a very bad idea.

But he couldn't just leave her dressed as she was, and he certainly couldn't lay her down on one of her sofas. From what he'd seen earlier, they weren't long enough for her to lie flat, and he had no intention of letting her risk getting a stiff neck.

He'd just have to do what he needed to do and then get out of her apartment and go and take a cold shower somewhere. Preferably in the Arctic Sea.

"'lark?" The lithe body in his arms stirred, and Clark looked down. Lois was gazing sleepily up at him. "Where are we?"

"In your apartment." He smiled affectionately at her.

"I fell asleep?" She sounded horrified, her eyes now open wide, and she tried to slide out of his arms.

"You know that you weigh less than a feather, to me," Clark reminded her. "Carrying you isn't a problem."

"Yeah, but I missed a flight with you!" She sounded chagrined.

Clark laughed aloud. "If that's the only problem, consider it remedied! I'll take you flying whenever you want to go. And anyway, you've already promised to come with me to get this 'uniform' sorted out — that'll mean a flight to Kansas."

"Kansas?" Lois blinked as he allowed her to slide to her feet. "Isn't that where you come from?"

"Yeah." He smiled at her. "I'm going to ask my mom to make something for me. She's great with a sewing machine!"

Lois looked taken aback. "You want me to come with you to your mother's house?"

"My parents' place — the farm," he explained. "And sure! I'd love you to!"

She smiled shyly at him, then followed it with a yawn. "Okay, I really have to get some sleep," she told him.

"Sure. I'll just…" He gestured towards the window.

"Wait." She caught his arm.

Clark paused, giving her a quizzical look.

"You can't just… I mean, after all that's happened…" Now she was looking awkward, even a little embarrassed. She dropped her hand and backed away from him just a little.

He wasn't sure what was on her mind — whether it was their story, or the fact that he'd saved her life, or his abilities — but what he was sure of was that she should be in bed, asleep. "It'll keep, Lois," he assured her.

"No, it won't." She sounded surprisingly resolute, despite her tiredness. "Clark… it's been… uh, a pretty eventful night."

"Yeah, it has," he agreed. "But, hey, look what we got out of it! The exclusive story on Lex Luthor's arrest! Okay, it won't appear until the afternoon edition, and it may get onto one of the TV news shows before then, but we have the inside track. They'll all be following the Planet's lead." He grinned at her.

"Sure, but that wasn't what I was talking about." Somewhat shyly, he thought, she placed a hand on his arm again.

"What were you talking about?" he asked softly.

"Us… I mean, you and me. *Is* there a you and me?" Her words were hesitant, and Clark had a flashback to those moments inside the shed at EPRAD when he'd seen another glimpse of a Lois who lacked confidence in her own attractiveness. She scared men off, she'd thought. He wasn't attracted to her, she'd imagined.

She couldn't still think that, could she?

"Lois…" he began, feeling very unsure about what was the right thing to say. Of course he was attracted to her. Of course he wanted there to be a "you and me", as she'd phrased it. But what if this was all the product of euphoria and too little sleep on Lois's part?

On the other hand, he'd never be able to forgive himself if his caution brought back that terrible hurt look to her eyes.

"If it was up to me, there'd definitely be a you and me," he told her without any further hesitation.

"What do you mean, if it was up to you?" she questioned.

"Lois, you've had two nights with next to no sleep. You're dead on your feet. Plus it's been a heck of a traumatic night. I can't hold you to anything you might say or do in this state! You need to get some sleep. We can talk later, okay?" he suggested.

"Clark!" Lois exclaimed. "Are you trying to give me the brush-off for my own good here?"

"Uh…" He floundered a little as he realised that her interpretation could be seen as valid. "Not really. It's just that… oh, heck, Lois! You must know that I'm attracted to you! But I can't let you make any sort of commitment now, when you're almost asleep on your feet -"



"Shut up!"

And suddenly he had an armful of soft, yielding woman in his arms again, her lips on his, her arms around his neck. And he wasn't going to argue with that!


Lois almost floated into her bedroom after Clark left; she wasn't sure whether it was her state of beyond-exhaustion or the sensations his kiss induced in her.

His kiss. He'd insisted on keeping it to one, despite all her powers of persuasion. He'd been right, of course; she desperately needed her sleep, and in fact he'd been pretty much holding her upright as he'd returned her kiss. But she couldn't have let him leave without that kiss — for her own sake as much as his.

She knew that if she'd waited until the next time she saw him, she'd never have had the nerve to take the initiative. And it was clear that Clark wouldn't have.

But it still hadn't been easy. She'd almost let him go. He'd clearly been reluctant to touch her beyond what had been necessary to get her home and, if necessary, into her bedroom. But, despite all her reservations about men, and especially about men she worked with, Lois had known that she couldn't let *this* man just turn tail and fly — literally — out of her life.

She wanted him. As a friend… and as more than a friend.

His kisses had stirred her more than any other man's, ever. And what she knew of him told her that he was nothing like Paul, nothing like Claude. He was a good guy, and he could be trusted.

What was more, she already knew inside, in a way she couldn't explain, that she trusted him implicitly. Not only not to betray her professionally — she'd accepted the day before that Clark wouldn't behave like that — but she also trusted him not to betray her personally. He wouldn't walk out on her, or use her and discard her. In fact, she'd thought while contemplating her action, he was probably more afraid that *she* would hurt him.

He'd given her the very strong impression that what he expected from people — from women in particular — was rejection. He'd expected her to be afraid of him, or of what he could do. Or maybe fear wasn't the right emotion; maybe prejudice was what he'd expected.

He hadn't said so, but she had a sneaking suspicion that he'd been rejected at some point by a woman, and very probably for something to do with his differences. So he had simply expected her to do the same.

Hadn't he?

That, she thought, was what was really behind his reluctance to kiss her before he'd left. He'd persuaded himself that, once she'd caught up on some sleep and seen the night's events in the perspective which came with distance, she'd 'realise' that she really wasn't interested in the enigma that was Clark Kent: the man who might not be human.

And she had no intention of letting him believe that. Or of letting him try to convince her of it. So, when he hadn't taken her up on her very blatant offer — which she'd barely been able to believe that she'd made — she'd had to kiss him herself.

It had been worth it. His lips had softened under hers, despite his attempt at resistance, and his arms had tightened around her. He'd been hers in that moment.

But only for that moment. He'd pulled back shortly afterwards, reluctance clear in his expression, and set her from him.

He had to leave, he'd insisted. She had to get some sleep. They could talk later… maybe? if she wanted to? he'd asked.

Try to stop her! she'd insisted.

They'd arranged to meet up later that day, before Clark had insisted that she go to bed. He'd hesitated, looking concerned, just as he'd turned to walk back to the window.

"Are you sure you can make it there on your own? You don't need me to carry you?"

"To my bedroom?" She'd laughed at him, smothering a yawn at the same time. "I think I can make it that far."

She'd sensed that he wanted to leave, anyway — and something told her that it was more a case of *not* wanting to leave, but getting out of her apartment while he still could. And that was good news.

Yes, she was falling in love with Clark Kent. As she climbed into bed, Lois admitted that to herself at last.

The good news was that, unless her instincts were completely askew — which wouldn't be unheard of where personal relationships were concerned — Clark was far from being indifferent to her.

If her guess was right, he just needed to be persuaded that she wouldn't reject him. And that was just too ironic for words — Lois Lane, the woman who'd been rejected by just about every man she'd cared about. But then, her experience did mean that she understood how he might feel.

Later… they'd talk later…


"Great work, you two! Sales of the afternoon edition are up by 10%!"

Clark smiled with pleasure at Perry White as he and Lois entered the newsroom. Lex Luthor's arrest had dominated the media all day, from what he'd been able to tell. When he'd driven Lois's Jeep over to her place — she'd given him her key for that purpose earlier — he'd stopped to pick up a copy of the Planet's evening edition on the way. Their story was on the front page, and occupied two further inside pages as well, even though they hadn't been able to say much about the nature of the charges when they'd written that story.

So far, among other things, they hadn't identified Lex Luthor as the mastermind behind the Messenger explosion and the attempt on his and Lois's life the previous evening — and they wouldn't be able to do that for a while yet, since they had no intention of jeopardising the fairness of Luthor's trial. But, once they were free to write everything they knew, they had the exclusive on the whole story — their own eyewitness accounts and evidence as well as Henderson's promise that they'd get full co- operation and that no other media organisation would get the information from the police.

Now, they had to write up what could be printed in the Planet's morning edition, and then he'd promised Lois the best takeout she'd ever had.

And they would talk.

She'd insisted on it. She'd been ready to go when he'd come for her, looking tired but exhilarated. But, once they were in the Jeep ready to drive off, she'd paused before turning the key in the ignition.

"We've got a couple of hours' work to do, Clark," she'd pointed out, although he'd been well aware of that. "But once that's over, you and I are going to have another talk."

"We are?" he'd asked, unsure what she was getting at.

"We are. I told you that this morning, remember?"


"You and me, naturally," she'd said. And he'd had to be content with that explanation.

He was still barely daring to hope. Despite his decision that morning not to attempt to prejudge or predict Lois's feelings towards him, it was very difficult to set aside years of conditioning and the decision he'd come to after Lana. Lois was attracted to him; she'd proved that by taking the initiative and kissing him after he'd taken her home. But she'd been dead on her feet — she couldn't have been thinking straight!

And anyway, there was a huge difference between being attracted to someone and actually wanting a relationship with them.

And, of course, he knew that Lois hadn't had nearly enough time yet to come to terms with what he was.


Probably not even human.

What woman would want to build a relationship with someone like him?

At least, that was what he'd always thought. Was it possible that Lois was the one woman who could accept him as he was?

Those thoughts had occupied his consciousness all the way to the precinct, and Lois had had to speak to him twice to attract his attention. Thereafter, he'd tried to push thoughts of anything personal between them out of his mind. Not that it had been easy — but it did help that Lois was such a consummate professional.

So they'd got the information they'd needed, plus some more for later use, from Inspector Henderson, whom Clark was coming to respect more and more. Lex Luthor, it seemed, already had his own lawyer, one Sheldon Bender, on the case and, according to Henderson, was doing his best to tie things up in procedure — but the DA's office, the detective told them, was completely on board, having seen some of the evidence against Luthor. It might take time, Henderson had said, but they would get a conviction.

The arraignment hearing was the following afternoon — he and Lois planned to be there — and the DA's office was opposing bail. Bender, of course, would pull out all the stops to convince the judge, but Henderson's view was that in the light of the charges and the obvious flight risk — especially Luthor's attempt to escape and take a police officer hostage in the process — prosecutors were confident that bail would be denied. Which was fortunate, in Clark's view; he was very sure that Luthor would seek revenge on Lois. Not that being confined in prison was likely to hamper someone of Lex Luthor's resources, of course, and he was determined to keep a very close guard on Lois for the time being.

So far, though, things had gone very well. A murderer and conspirator was in custody, having been charged and awaiting arraignment, almost entirely due to his and Lois's work. And, Lois had added as they'd headed back to the Planet, Lane and Kent would certainly get a Kerth nomination.

Lane and Kent.

It sounded good. No, it sounded *great*, Clark decided as he finished off the section of the story he and Lois had agreed that he would write. And things were sounding as if he and Lois would be a permanent team. Lois had earlier hinted pretty clearly that she liked that idea, but it wasn't her decision, he knew. Work assignments and any teamworking were up to the editor.

However, Perry White seemed well pleased with his newest writing team. Calling Lois and Clark into his office once they'd both finished their stories and agreed the final versions, the editor beamed at both of them.

"Good work, you two. I took a call earlier today from the paper's major shareholder, and he asked me to pass on his personal congratulations to the two of you."

Lois beamed, and Clark couldn't help grinning in response, both to the compliment on their work and also at his partner's delight.

"Just doing our job, Chief," Lois said matter- of-factly, to Clark's amusement.

"Well, that's fine, as long as you keep it up!" Perry replied, but with a grin. "So, Lois, you decided that Chuck Carlton was right about Kent here?"

Clark grimaced inwardly; why did the editor have to remind her about their inauspicious beginning as colleagues? But Lois shrugged. "Even Homer sometimes nods, Chief."

"And even Lois Lane occasionally gets things wrong," Perry added with a wink. "Okay, kids, you've done a couple of days of excellent work, and I can see that you're tired. Now get out of here — I don't want to see you until tomorrow afternoon."

"Thanks," Clark said. "I appreciate it, Perry. But we were just doing our job, like Lois said."

"Okay, okay." The editor brushed his token protest aside. "One more thing. You two obviously make a great team. Either of you have any objections to being partnered permanently?"

The question was addressed to both of them, but Clark noticed that Perry's attention was primarily directed at Lois. He wondered if the editor was expecting resistance from her. She smiled, however, shaking her head. "I think that's an excellent idea, Chief."

"Are you feeling all right, Lois?" Perry asked, concerned.

"Never felt better, Chief," Lois said airily. "Why?"

Perry rolled his eyes, Clark noticed. "Doesn't matter. I'll see you tomorrow!"


At last they were on their way out of the Planet building. Normally, Lois would have been itching to stay, to see what else was going on and what the other big stories for the morning edition were. She'd have wanted to watch the TV screens to see how the story of Luthor's arrest, broken in full by the Planet and followed by every other media outlet in the city, was being covered, and she'd have revelled in once again being the Planet's star reporter.

But not tonight.

Now, all she wanted to do was to get Clark Kent alone and have that long talk with him she'd been promising herself.

She was in love with Clark. His kisses had the power to drive her to the brink of insanity. And if he so much as *tried* to tell her — for her own good, as he insisted on putting it — that she shouldn't get involved with him, she'd tell him what happened to the last person who tried to make her do something 'for her own good'. That particular individual was still walking with a stick last time Lois had seen him.

Not that those kind of tactics would work on Clark… Maybe she should just kiss him senseless instead, she decided as they emerged into the parking garage.

That thought made her grin.


She came out of her abstraction and saw that Clark was giving her an enquiring look.

"Nothing." She waved a hand idly. "Just thinking. So… you're coming back to my place with me, yeah?"

He nodded. "If you still want me to."

"You don't get away that easily!" she told him.

He grinned. "Okay. How about I get takeout? If you're hungry, that is."

"What kind of takeout?"

Clark shrugged. "Whatever you like. Chinese, Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, Mexican…"

It suddenly occurred to Lois that he probably wasn't talking about calling a restaurant somewhere down the road. "You… you mean you'd go to *Bangkok* if I asked for a Thai green curry?" she asked, incredulous.

"Sure! Want any side orders?"

Metaphorically putting her jaw back in place, Lois caught Clark's arm before he could fly off. "Maybe another time. Tonight… well, let's just have pizza delivered, okay?"

"If that's what you want."

Clark seemed nervous, Lois thought. "Hey, relax, partner! I'm not going to eat you!" she teased, then blushed as she realised the potential meaning of her words.

But Clark didn't appear to have noticed. "You know, that really surprised me. That Perry would make us partners just like that."

"Why not?" she responded, surprised, unlocking the Jeep as she spoke. "He knows what's good for the paper — and on the evidence of the last couple of days, you and me working together is definitely that. Why wouldn't he team us up?"

"Yeah, but you've been at the Planet for years; you've won three Kerth awards. Whereas — to quote an Irish friend of my dad's — I've only been there a wet weekend." Clark gave her a wry smile as he slid into the passenger seat.

"If that mattered, I'd still be covering dog shows, while Ralph got all the plum assignments," Lois countered with a grin.

"I guess you're right." Clark flashed her a smile, the same one which still made her feel weak at the knees every time. It was just as well she was sitting down — although, since she was in the process of reversing the Jeep out of a parking space, she had to ease her foot off the accelerator for a moment while she regained her composure.

It really was just as well that mind-reading wasn't among Clark's many talents. She fully intended to tell him how she felt about him — well, at some point, anyway — but she had no desire for him to know just how much she already needed to be with him. How necessary he'd already become to her happiness…

…and how much the whole thing scared her.

The conversation remained neutral as Lois steered the Jeep through the Metropolis streets, which were now getting darker as dusk fell. Lois had no intention of discussing anything personal until they were safely inside her apartment, and she got the feeling that Clark felt the same way. At any rate, he seemed happy to continue chatting about the newsroom reaction to their Luthor story and speculating on what might happen at the arraignment.

Until, suddenly, he broke off in mid-sentence.

Lois jerked her head around to look at him after a couple of seconds had gone by and he still hadn't spoken. "Clark?"

Then she noticed the expression on his face… distant, apparently listening, and desperately torn.

"Someone's in trouble?" she asked.

He nodded. "Mugging — just a block away."

"Can you help without being seen?"

"I think so." His need to do something was written all over his face.

"Go," she said instantly, pulling the Jeep over to the kerb. "Meet me back at my apartment, okay? I'll order pizza."

He opened the door and was out on the sidewalk in under a second. "Thanks," he said briefly, and then ducked into a nearby alley so quickly she almost couldn't see him move.

Was this going to be the future of her relationship with Clark? Lois wondered as she pulled out into the road again and continued on her way home. Both professional and personal? Seeing him rush off to help people; seeing his anguished expression when there was nothing he could do? Comforting him afterwards if he hadn't been able to save someone? — she already knew Clark well enough to understand that the immense reserves of compassion he possessed would also make him very vulnerable.

And, if he did need to disappear from time to time to rescue people, chances were that it wouldn't always happen at the most convenient times. It was quite probable that she might frequently be left on her own when they were supposed to be working — and in the circumstances, she reflected, it was very fortunate that Perry had partnered Clark with her. At least she'd know why he had to leave; she couldn't imagine anyone who wasn't aware of the situation putting up with continuing vanishing acts.

Yes; she knew why he'd be dashing off occasionally, and that also meant that she could cover for him. She'd probably better start thinking up some good excuses!


Dealing with the mugger was child's play. The combination of the gloom of dusk and the dark alley the mugger had dragged his victim into meant that Clark was barely visible. He dragged the young punk away from the woman victim, used the kid's own belt to tie him to a lamp-post and then told the woman to call the police. She wanted to know who he was, of course, and to thank him, and to ask if he'd be a witness for her — and how he'd managed to pull her attacker off her in the first place. But he didn't answer any of her questions, simply stealing away into the darkness once he was sure that she was safe from further harm.

And then he took off, into the night sky, heading for Lois's apartment.

He had somewhere to go; somewhere in the big city where he was welcome. Where his host knew all about him — how he was different, and that he might not be human — and she still wanted his company. His companionship. Maybe even his friendship.

He just hoped that he wouldn't blow it. Like he'd blown it with Lana, by hoping for too much.

Landing in an alley just along the street from Lois's building, he checked Carter Avenue carefully before emerging and hurrying up the steps of No. 1058. Lois was already there, he knew; he'd seen her Jeep parked outside.

"Hey." She opened the door wide in answer to his knock. "Everything okay?"

He filled her in on his rescue of the woman, and she patted his arm approvingly. "Nice work! You weren't seen?" she added anxiously.

He shook his head. "Not so that I could be identified. And I'm not sure anyone would really believe that I did anything out of the ordinary — if they noticed anything, they'll probably convince themselves that it was no more than their imagination."

"You're used to that, huh?"

He grinned. "I've had plenty of practice! But sooner or later people started talking, and they'd put things together until there were a few reports of strange things happening, and that was always when I had to move on."

"Well, this time you won't need to move anywhere," Lois said firmly. "I've just found the only partner I've ever been able to work with, and there's no way on earth I'm going to let you get away!"

"Thanks, Lois. I don't want to have to leave either." Awkwardly, he moved further into the apartment. This was the first time he and Lois had been properly alone since the early hours of the morning — when she'd thrown herself into his arms and demanded that he kiss her.

The memory of that kiss was as fresh in his mind as if it had only happened five minutes ago.

And standing close to her, inhaling her sweet fragrance, as completely aware of her as he was, it was sheer torture trying to prevent himself from reaching out to take her in his arms again.

He still wasn't sure why she wanted to talk. He knew that it was about *them*, but was he wishing for the moon in longing for her to want to pursue their wonderful kisses from last night? How could she — how could any woman — possibly want a relationship with someone like him? A freak like him?

<Last night, you said you wouldn't assume anything where she was concerned! So why are you assuming she's going to reject you? Or, worse still, thinking about making that decision for her?>

Old habits died hard, Clark thought as he turned to gaze out the window. He'd kept himself distant from others at university: making friendships, but avoiding any kind of intimacy. No close friends, no girlfriends, and definitely no lovers. He had no right, he'd thought, to raise expectations in a woman — to expect things of a woman — without telling her the truth about himself. And then she'd reject him anyway, so what was the point?

As for close friends, his fear there was that if he got too close to someone, then sooner or later he'd do something to betray himself. And that was far too dangerous to contemplate.

So he was far too used to keeping his distance, to avoiding relationships, and to assuming that in any case no woman he was interested in would be able to accept him the way he was.

Lois, on the other hand, knew what there was to know about him. And she not only accepted it; she seemed to revel in what he could do. So didn't that suggest…?

A rap at the door broke into his thoughts. Lois, he noticed as he turned back to her, looked almost relieved at the interruption. He'd been very impolite, he realised. He'd practically ignored her for the past couple of minutes, and he was pretty sure that he'd been so lost in thought that he wouldn't even have heard her if she'd spoken to him.

"That'll be the pizza," she told him, going to answer the door. It was only then that he noticed she had the table set with cutlery and glasses; a couple of cans of diet soda were by the glasses.

She'd ordered two pizzas; "I didn't know what you like," she explained. "So this one's pepperoni and the other one's a vegetable supreme."

"They both sound good," he assured her. "Thanks, Lois."

She shrugged. "It's only pizza."

"I don't mean that. For putting up with me," he explained. "I haven't exactly been the perfect guest so far."

"I guess you have a lot to think about," she said casually. "I mean, you've been keeping this big secret all your life, and now suddenly someone else knows about it. And I want you to go public with what you can do — and even if it's in disguise, that kind of step can't be easy for you."

Grateful for the distraction she provided, he nodded. "You're telling me."

"It'll work out," she said confidently. "Now, come and have some pizza."

Taking her lead, he sat down with her at the table and they began to eat; to his relief, the conversation stayed light and impersonal for a few minutes. He let himself begin to relax.

"I dated a Planet reporter once before," Lois said, her tone apparently idle, before picking up another piece of pizza.

That 'once before' struck Clark instantly; she really did seem to be saying that she wanted them to date. He tensed again. Of course he wanted that too, but… She couldn't have thought about it properly; he'd have to make sure she understood exactly what it would mean, he resolved again. But that thought got pushed aside as he saw her expression. She seemed to be making strenuous efforts to look casual, he thought, but in her eyes there were shadows. Remembered pain? he wondered.

"Oh?" was all he allowed himself to say. He wanted to let her tell whatever story she had to tell, in her own time. And, suddenly, he had a feeling that he knew at least some of this story; the newsroom gossip he'd done his best to avoid hearing had made mention of a French reporter, once upon a time.

"I was in my first year at the Planet — fresh out of college, young, ambitious, but still too idealistic," Lois went on. "I still believed that everyone who worked at the Planet had the same kind of — well, ethics as I did. That we all believed in truth and integrity. Informing the public as openly as we could. That while advancing our own careers was good, we had a greater loyalty to the paper. That… well, I guess that we all worked on one big team. Stupidly idealistic," she finished dryly.

"Not stupid, Lois," Clark corrected instantly. "You believed in high standards — what's wrong with that?"

"Oh, Clark, life's not like that, and we both know it," she said with a wry shrug. "Anyway, there was this guy — he was about ten years older than me, and he was one of the paper's stars. Front-page stories every couple of weeks, got a number of the best assignments, you know the type I mean."

"I know." Clark nodded.

"He was sort of a hero to me. I mean, I wanted to be where he was. And he was a newsroom star but, Clark, he wasn't standoffish. He always smiled at me and asked how I was getting on. He actually talked to me about what I was working on — and then the kind of stories I was pulling really was in the dog-show beat. But I was also following another lead that Perry didn't know about. I'd overheard something in a bar one night about a scheme to pass off sweatshop-made clothes as genuine designer goods. I was checking it out, chasing down leads and I was really getting somewhere. And I told Claude about it."

He knew what was coming next. And suddenly, so much fell into place for Clark. Why she'd been so hostile when she'd discovered that he was a reporter too. Why she'd been so insistent that it was *her* story and he wasn't going to muscle in on it. Why she'd tried to push him out altogether. And why, once he'd been taken on by Perry White, she'd been distant and downright rude.

She'd been afraid that history was about to repeat itself.

"He stole your story, didn't he?" he said quietly.

The now-cold pizza lay forgotten on the table between them. Lois nodded. "It was even better than that. The first time I mentioned it to him, he asked me out for a drink — he said we'd have more time to talk in a social setting, and he could give me some advice if I wanted. You know, if I needed some tips on getting closer to the people I needed, or how to approach someone without giving away what I was up to. So we went for a drink. And then he took me for dinner — a romantic restaurant, soft lights, the works — and he walked me home. He kissed me, Clark. He didn't try to come in — he just kissed me at the door, told me I was beautiful, called me 'ma cherie', and left. And… it felt like a fairytale romance come true."

The only words which came to Clark's mind were, he thought, better left unsaid. Silently, he reached a hand across the table and covered Lois's. She smiled at him.

"It's okay. I mean, this is ancient history now. I just wanted to tell you so that you'd understand," she assured him. "Anyway, over the next couple of days I did a lot more work on my story, and I found the last missing piece of evidence. I wrote it all up — it was all ready to bring to Perry. And I told Claude. And that's when he moved in again. He said we should go to dinner to celebrate. And he asked me to bring my story — he said he was so proud of me that he wanted to read it.

"So," she continued, "we went to dinner. That same romantic restaurant. And he brought me home. And this time he said he was coming in for coffee so that he could read my story and congratulate me on it. And he read it. He liked it, I could tell. And then he kissed me. And -" She broke off, this time looking angry, but with herself, Clark sensed. "And he seduced me. I woke up in the morning and he was gone, and so was my story."

"He claimed it was his own work?" Clark asked, knowing the answer.

"Yes. He took it to Perry, and it was printed under his byline. I wanted to tell Perry that it was mine, but how could I, Clark? I'd been there less than a year. I was a junior — the only stories I'd had printed were piddling little court reports on things like speeding and parking violations. There was no way that Perry would have believed I'd written that story. Especially as Claude took everything — my notes, my list of contacts, everything I'd used to write it. I had no proof that it was mine."

Clark frowned. "Not even files on your computer?"

"I didn't have a computer of my own then. In the newsroom, I used any free terminal I could get hold of — so I wrote up the story at home, on an old portable typewriter. One of the first things I did after that was to buy a personal computer to use at home. They were even more expensive then than they are now — but it was worth it."

"So where's Claude now?" Clark asked. "I've never heard the name…?"

"Oh, he got a better job in California. He won a Kerth with my story -" Lois curled her lip bitterly. "And he was inundated with offers. I was glad he went. Not content with using me to get my story, he then told most of the guys in the newsroom that he'd got me into bed. And that I wasn't worth more than the one night." Her eyes glittered, and her hand clenched under Clark's.

Feeling anger welling up inside him, Clark said, "If you want, I can find him and teach him a lesson for you."

She turned her hand so that she was touching him, palm to palm. "No, Clark. It's not important any more. I just needed to tell you, that's all."

"So that I'd understand the way things were — the way you reacted — when you found out who I was," he said. "Yes, I understand. And it's really not important."

"It is important," she said, contradicting him. "But that's not the only reason why I needed to tell you. I think you have something you need to tell me too. About the reason why you can't let yourself trust me when I say that I'm attracted to you. The reason you assume that because you're different no woman could ever want to be with you. Don't you?"

Clark stared at her, dumbfounded at the way she'd managed to turn the conversation around to him in a matter of seconds. And at the fact that she was right. But then, he should have expected that of Lois Lane.

"Who was she, Clark? What did she do to you?"


She'd struck paydirt. His expression told her that much, loud and clear.

It had only been a guess on her part to assume that it was a woman. Though the clues had been there, she thought: if he was assuming that no woman could possibly be interested in Clark Kent, freak and quite possibly alien, then that was very probably because some woman in his past had led him to believe precisely that.

He expected any woman he might be interested in to reject him, because he wasn't normal — so his strategy was to get in first. And that, of course, was a strategy she was very familiar with, since it was precisely what she'd done ever since Claude.

Her sister Lucy had told her exactly what she was doing, and why it was a crazy move. No man, Lucy argued, would stick around with Lois sending out so many 'keep off' signals. But then, Lois had thought, if they didn't stick around, if they didn't try to find out what was underneath the exterior, then they weren't worth the effort.

Not that many men, in her experience, had been worth the effort…

Except Clark.

She was very sure that Clark was different. Not just because he was an outsider himself, although the fact that he'd experienced rejection meant that he could understand and empathise with her own experiences. Not just because he might be an alien. But because she'd seen a streak of decency and goodness which ran deep within him, which told her that he could be trusted.

In her case, of course, she knew that he was different, so he didn't have to avoid getting too close in case she worked it out; but because she knew, she guessed, he was expecting her to reject him.

He had, she remembered now, told her last night that if it was up to him there would definitely be a 'you and me'. She'd been half-asleep at the time, so it probably wasn't too surprising that she hadn't remembered that earlier.

So he did want a relationship with her. Just as she did with him.

But, like her, he had insecurities to overcome.

Maybe he thought that her interest in him was because he was a novelty? That she was just indulging herself, finding out what the freak — which was, she was sure, how he thought of himself at least some of the time — was really like, and taking advantage of his flying skills?

Or, if he didn't think she was that self- centred, maybe he really did think that she'd want to walk away from him once she'd had time to think about the consequences of being with him. And he wanted to stop things now before he got hurt.

She met his gaze again. He'd been silent ever since she'd asked that last question.

He pulled a face. "Sorry, Lois. I was just…" He seemed to falter.

"Too personal?" she asked quietly, feeling disappointed; after all, she'd just told him about things she'd told nobody else, ever. And she'd done it in order to make him feel comfortable about confiding in her. The least he could do was return the compliment!

"No, it's not that." He smiled then, ruefully. "I guess I was just wondering how you got to be so perceptive."

"Comes with the territory, Clark," she teased. "I am a reporter, after all."

"Yeah, I *think* I knew that," he replied with a grin. "Anyway," he added more soberly, "you're right. Something did happen — a woman. Well, a girl, really. It was a long time ago."

"But obviously left scars," she said. It wasn't a question.

Again, he was silent for a while. Then, slowly, he said, "It shouldn't. That's why I guess I feel foolish about talking about it. I mean, your experience with Claude was at least recent — you have every right to be wary. But me… this was ten years ago!"

A little longer ago than she'd expected, but still… "Clark, you were a teenager then! Of course it hurt, whatever she did to you."

"Teenage angst, huh?" he murmured wryly. His gaze fell to their now-ignored and cold pizza, before he raised his head to look at her again.

"Her name was Lana. I'd known her more or less all my life — well, when you grow up somewhere like Smallville, there aren't a lot of strangers. And her folks went to the same church in town, so even though the family lived in town I did run into her from time to time. And then we ended up in the same high school — there's a small elementary school the kids at the outlying farms go to, and there's a couple of junior highs in the town. But just one high school."

He spoke in level tones, but for Lois his story — and his voice — was none the less mesmerising for all that. She already knew that she hated Lana. How could any woman be cruel to this man?

"We started dating not long after we began high school," he continued. "And it was great — I mean, Lana was one of the prettiest girls in the school, but that wasn't my main attraction to her: I just liked her. She was fun to be with. But because she was attractive, the other guys were envious, and I kind of enjoyed that at the time. And after a while we went steady — I gave her my class ring and told her that I loved her. She said she loved me too."

Typical teenage romance, of course. Lois had been there herself. It all felt so real and vital at the time, but of course the feelings were usually immature and as such ephemeral. Very few teenage romances lasted, but it could be very painful, for one if not for both, when they ended, as they inevitably did.

"At the time, my life seemed great in so many ways. I mean, I had a gorgeous girlfriend who loved me and I loved her. I'd made reserve on the school football team with a great chance of being promoted onto the team itself. I had a lot of friends. But at the same time everything was changing for me." He paused, a faraway expression on his face.

"The thing that was so important about being with Lana is that she made me feel normal," Clark continued, and now his voice was showing signs of strain. "I was fifteen when we started dating, and I felt at the time as if I was the biggest freak around. For the previous couple of years just nothing had been normal about me — it felt as if I was discovering more and more weird things every other week. Moving so fast it felt as if I was teleporting, seeing through walls, hearing things I should never have been able to hear — I even set some straw alight just by looking at it! And the scariest of all was waking up in the middle of the night and falling several feet down to the bed when I realised I was floating."

Definitely scary stuff for a teenager, Lois agreed silently, just giving Clark a sympathetic nod. He didn't seem to need or want her to speak.

Dating Lana, being in love with Lana and having her love him back, had made him feel normal. It had made him feel as if he did belong — that he was just a normal kid, exactly like everyone else.

"You know the way your body changes during puberty?" Clark said, directing a question at her for the first time. She nodded.

"I guess it's pretty scary for girls as well as guys. Anyway, I was suddenly finding out all these freakish things at the same time as my body was… developing. And I was terrified that these weird difference about me would soon start to manifest in… well, in my appearance. That I'd suddenly grow a second head, or shoot up to about ten feet tall — I had a huge growth spurt when I was fifteen, which didn't help. Or something else equally weird — I'd seen Close Encounters and ET, and the aliens there *looked* alien. But there was V too — you know, the TV series? That started when I was fifteen. And there the aliens looked so *human*. Until later, when you discovered that they weren't after all — and then they didn't even look human any more. I started wondering if that was what I was going to end up looking like."

"And Lana made you feel normal?" Lois prompted.

"Being with her did, yeah," he agreed. "Don't get me wrong — my parents were terrific through all of this. They hated it when I called myself a freak, and I stopped doing it around them because I didn't want to hurt them — though it didn't stop me thinking it. They told me over and over that they loved me and they'd still love me no matter what we discovered about me. Whether I was from a laboratory or from Mars, they didn't care — I was their son and that was that. But to them I was different. They were understanding about the things I did, especially when accidents happened — I mean, one day I was coming downstairs and the banister shattered just because I put my hand on it. Dad said it didn't matter, and that I'd have to learn to understand my strength so I could control it. He rebuilt the banister that evening and got me to help him — he even let me hammer in nails so that I could get used to adjusting my strength to what was needed. They're the very best parents I could possibly have had," he finished emphatically.

"So what happened?" Lois asked, feeling that he needed prompting to continue again.

"I started feeling that I wanted Lana to know the truth about me. I needed to know that she could accept me as I really was — not the average kid, but a freak who might be from another planet."

Lois winced again at Clark's repeated use of 'freak' to describe himself. But she remained silent, allowing him to continue.

"I needed to know that. I mean, I loved her — or I thought I did. I guess now that it was just first love. She's married to someone else now, and I wasn't even the tiniest bit jealous when they announced their engagement. But, you see, I believed that because I loved her, I couldn't carry on deceiving her, not telling her everything about me. And I thought that because she loved me she'd accept it." He shrugged. "The na‹ve certainty of a teenager!"

"And she rejected you?" Lois said; she was absolutely certain of that. And she wanted to tear Lana limb from limb for what she'd done to the hopeful teenager Clark Kent had been.

"I didn't tell her," he said, and she could hear the relief in his voice.

"You changed your mind?" That didn't make sense. From the way he'd been behaving — and the way he'd reacted to her initial question — it had seemed obvious that this Lana must have rejected him.

"Sort of. Do you remember Starman? The movie?"

"Jeff Bridges and what's her name? About this alien who inhabits a human body and the wife of the man whose body he has who tries to shelter him from the police and FBI?" Things were starting to fall into place for Lois. There weren't exactly a lot of parallels between Clark's situation and that of the Starman, but there were a few superficial similarities.

"Yeah. I took Lana to see it. I thought it might be a good way of starting the conversation — you know, asking her what she would've done in Karen Allen's position. I guess I expected her to take the romantic line and say that she'd have fallen in love with him right from the start. Stupid, huh?" Clark said, shaking his head.

"No; actually, it sounds like a very good way of broaching it," Lois said immediately. "So… she didn't say what you were expecting?"

He shook his head again. "Made it clear she'd want to turn him in as soon as possible. And then get the heck out of Dodge."

"Ah." That explained it all, then. Okay, teenagers could be thoughtless, but still… "How old was she?"

"Sixteen," he answered. "And before you say it, I know that she was just a kid still. Teenagers think they know it all, and it's only when we get older that we realise how little we know, and we lose a lot of our prejudices. I don't feel angry at Lana now for saying what she said. It just… taught me a valuable lesson."

"Don't expect a woman to accept you as you are. Don't believe that you can have a real relationship with a woman. Don't ever believe that a woman could love you if she knows the full truth about you," Lois said. "Is that it?"

His expression gave her the answer she was expecting.

"Including me?" she asked.

He stood, walking away from the table. She should have felt shut out, but somehow his expression told her that it wasn't her he was distancing himself from. His thoughts? His desires? She wasn't sure.

Gazing out the window, he said quietly, a note of longing in his voice, "Lois, there is nothing I want more than to have you in my life — to love you and to have you love me back. I want to believe that it's possible — that you can look past my weirdness and accept me for the person I am —"

"Clark, I can! I do!" Lois exclaimed, getting to her feet and coming towards him.

He turned to look at her, and pain blazed from his expression. "I want to believe that, Lois. But… it terrifies me. I'm afraid that I'll let you into my heart and then you'll realise that you can't live with the way I am, and you'll dump me." He gestured helplessly with his hands. "I know I'm probably sounding like a stupid, insecure neurotic… but it's kind of hard to overcome ten years of conditioning." He gave her a weak smile.

"Do you think I don't know that?" Lois told him. "I told you about Claude, but I never mentioned the guy at college who slept with me and then dumped me for my best friend, or the way my father always made it clear — still does! — that I don't live up to his expectations of me. I find it pretty hard to trust men not to abandon me or treat me badly. And yet… I'm willing to try trusting you," she finished, then held her breath.

"I'm being an idiot, aren't I?" he said with a wry smile, then took a step towards her, reaching for her hands and holding them tightly in his. "Lois, I want to be with you. And I want to try trusting you too," he said softly.

Lois stifled a gasp. She'd hoped that being more honest still with him might make him rethink, but she hadn't expected this sort of progress so soon. "Clark… I want to be with you too. And I know it sounds crazy — it feels crazy to me too, seeing as we've only known each other less than two weeks, but that's the way I feel about you. And I want us to give it a chance."

"Then we'll make each other a promise," he said, his voice little louder than a murmur. "We will trust each other. We won't just make assumptions about each other and act on them. If we get scared or insecure, we'll talk to each other about it. And we'll remember first and foremost that we trust each other. Okay?"

"Sounds good to me," Lois said shakily, moved to the core by the sincerity in Clark's voice and the emotion in his eyes.

He bent his head, and their lips met in another soul-stirring kiss.


Yes, he'd been an idiot, and because of it he'd almost thrown away a chance of happiness with the most wonderful woman he'd ever met.

Lois wanted to be with him. With *him*. And he'd almost walked away from her.

Almost. Until she'd talked sense into him and reminded him that he shouldn't let past experience prejudice him — and that she would be taking a risk with him too.

And when it came to a kiss, there was no other possible choice. How could he walk away from this? How could he miss the opportunity to hold Lois in his arms and kiss her until they were both breathless?

He couldn't. It was as simple as that. To walk away from Lois now would be like walking away from life.

Her kisses tasted faintly of pizza, as, he was sure, did his. Her arms were around his neck, fingers playing with his hair. And he held her pressed against him, her soft, slender body moulding itself against him as if nature had intended it to be there.

Nature probably had.

Clark didn't believe in pre-destiny, or soulmates, or anything of that nature. And yet… and yet…

How could he *not* believe that he and Lois were meant to be together?

He should have known from the moment of their first kiss.

He'd kissed other women since Lana, of course. Mostly in circumstances where the woman had seemed to expect it and to refuse would have seemed impolite. The kisses had never aroused any reaction in him; at most, a kind of mild pleasure, but very transient and never enough to make him want to repeat the experience.

No, he'd never been at all tempted to go back on his pledge, after Lana, to avoid a deeper relationship with a woman. Actually, adhering to his vow hadn't been a sacrifice at all, he now accepted. Until Lois, he'd never met a woman who'd made him *want* to try again.

Until Lois.

And with Lois he wanted everything.


Much later, Lois closed her apartment door behind Clark and padded, yawning and dazed, into her bedroom. It was late, later than either of them had realised when they'd finally emerged from their kiss-dazed embrace. Not that she regretted even a second of the time she'd spent in Clark's arms tonight!

She'd never known a man like Clark before. She'd never before known a man who could make her melt with just a touch. A man whose smile had the power to make her heart flutter. Whose voice, especially when lowered in that soft, husky tone he'd used a few times tonight, set her stomach atilt.

Deciding to tell Clark all about Claude hadn't been easy — but it had been well worth it. That was a story which she'd kept to herself ever since it had happened. People at the Planet just thought that she'd fallen for the Frenchman's smooth lines and thrown herself at him, foolish enough to believe that he might actually be interested in more than the obvious. No-one else knew the full truth; not even her sister. She'd never told Perry, mainly because now she felt extremely foolish for having allowed herself to be taken in by such a smooth operator. How could she have possibly believed that a reporter of Claude's standing would seriously have been interested in a junior reporter like her?

But she'd known that she needed to find out exactly what was behind Clark's reluctance to start a relationship with her. He wanted her. He was attracted to her; she'd known that beyond question. And yet something had been stopping him, and she'd got the impression that it had something to do with being unsure that it was what she really wanted.

Insecurity. Fear of rejection.

She'd recognised those feelings in Clark — hardly surprising, since they were reactions she'd been fighting in herself for years.

So, as an inducement to get Clark to tell her what was behind his fear, she'd decided that the best way was to explain the circumstances in her own past which had made her wary of men and relationships.

It had been a relief when he'd been so understanding, so outraged on her behalf. Even though she'd told herself that Clark would never condemn her for being so stupidly taken in, a part of her had still feared something along the lines of the behind-her-back jeers and scorn of other male inhabitants of the newsroom. Or the salacious looks and fake come- on lines they'd given her to her face.

If she'd talked about Claude sooner, Lois now realised, the incident — his treatment of her — would never have had the power to dictate her life and her relationships for so long. If she'd told someone she trusted long ago — Lucy, Perry, maybe even Cat who, she'd learned some time later from Jimmy, had surprisingly come to Lois's defence when the men had been discussing her behind her back. If she'd told someone sooner, and they'd reacted as Clark had, blaming Claude and reassuring her that she wasn't stupid or wrong for having been taken in, she might have been able to put it behind her long ago.

And, she suspected, the same might very possibly be true of Clark. She wished she'd thought to ask him whether he'd told his parents about that incident with Lana. Somehow, from what he'd told her of his parents — Jonathan and Martha Kent, farmers from Smallville, Kansas, and according to Clark the most loving and generous people he'd ever known — Lois was sure that if he had told them, they'd have convinced him not to judge the world by the actions of one silly teenage girl.

She hoped he'd at least gone some way towards accepting the truth of that now.

Lois yawned as she began to undress. Tomorrow, she remembered. Tomorrow, Clark was taking her to Smallville. They had to go to work in the morning, to check up on any further developments in the Luthor case and write them up for publication. Perry had let them have the afternoon off, and Clark was flying her to Smallville.

So that she could help his mother design a costume for him — a disguise.

So that she could meet his parents.

In the act of brushing her teeth, she halted abruptly.

What on earth would Jonathan and Martha Kent think of this strange city woman who'd forced her way into their son's life, had caused him to tell her secret, dangerous things about himself and who now wanted him to use his abilities openly? Had Clark told them anything about her previously? Had he mentioned how downright mean she'd been to him when he'd first joined the Planet? Did they know that she'd tried to steal his story?

If they did, they'd hate her.

And why wouldn't they hate her anyway? According to Clark, they'd advised him to keep his abilities a secret, for his own sake and for those who loved him. She alone had persuaded him to go public. That meant that they would be in danger.

They'd see her as interfering, someone who had no right to intrude in their family. She'd known Clark only two weeks, and already she was telling him how to live his life, suggesting that he make major changes to it.

They would hate her.

She spat into the sink, her actions seeming to mirror her thoughts.

If she was sensible, she wouldn't go. She'd tell Clark that he didn't need her; that he and his mother would manage just as well without her. In fact, they'd probably manage better — after all, what did she know about sewing and outfit-making and about what fabrics would go together? Not to mention which fabrics would be durable enough to withstand the kind of treatment they'd probably get from 'Superman' — assuming Clark agreed to the name.

No. She'd tell Clark that she'd changed her mind. He could go alone — it wasn't as if he really needed her anyway. It would be better that way, and she was sure that his parents would prefer it.

That decided, Lois climbed into bed, snapped off the light and went to sleep.


"That's Smallville, down there." Clark pointed in the direction of his home town. He was both nervous and excited at the prospect of introducing Lois to his parents and, if they had time, showing her around a little. He could borrow the farm truck and take her into town later that evening, perhaps.

If she wanted to. She'd been strangely reluctant to come with him after all.

As they'd gathered their things together to leave the Planet, Clark had said that he'd come by her apartment in half an hour or so. She'd looked hesitant, then said, "You don't really need me there, do you?"

Taken aback, he'd said, "I guess not… but I was hoping that you wanted to come…" Despite all his efforts to prevent it, Clark hadn't been able to keep the disappointment entirely out of his tone.

He'd seen her bite her lip. Then she'd taken a deep breath. "Okay. I'll be ready."

Now, scanning the area to ensure that it was safe for him to dip lower, Clark wondered again what it was which had made her have second thoughts. Was she changing her mind about him?

But then he made himself remember the promises they'd made to each other the previous evening. About trust. And about not making assumptions. He owed it to her to trust her, and so he would do that.

"So." Her voice seemed a little shaky. "What did you tell your parents about me coming?"


To tell the truth — and he wasn't sure that he wanted to tell Lois, though he recognised that he was going to have to — he hadn't.

"Yes?" Now her tone was sharp; irritation — or anxiety?

"Uh… well, I didn't exactly tell them…"

"You didn't… exactly… tell them what?" Lois demanded, and now he could definitely identify her tone as anxious.

"That I was bringing you with me," Clark confessed. He stopped flying and simply floated, far enough above land that they couldn't be seen.

"Wha-? Clark, take me home *this minute*!" Lois yelled.

Why hadn't he anticipated that she would be as nervous about her meeting his parents as he was? Maybe even more so.

"I'm sorry, Lois," he said instantly. "I didn't tell them I was bringing you because it would've meant telling them over the phone that you know about me. And that wasn't a conversation I wanted to have over the phone."

"Because they're going to hate that you've told me," she said flatly.

He tightened his arms around her. "No. They won't. Lois, my parents trust me. I know they want me to find someone to love, to trust — someone I can be myself with. And…" He hesitated, then decided that however nervous he was about saying it aloud, Lois needed to hear it. "And in you I've found that person. And I need them to know that. Trust me, they'll be delighted. And they'll love you."

"So why not tell them?" Now her voice was more subdued. Her expression showed pleasure and relief at his avowal, but she was clearly still nervous.

"Because I'd prefer to explain everything face to face, that's all. Relax, Lois, it's not a problem," he assured her.

"I'll believe that when I see it," she muttered, burying her face in his shoulder.

"Come on. Let's get down there — you'll see I'm right," he insisted with a grin.


Sure. And maybe next she'd be the one developing flying powers, Lois thought sardonically.

She could see the farm spread out beneath them now as Clark lost altitude, preparing to land. Lois had never been very keen on farms; she associated them with dirt, mud and unpleasant smells. Put that together with the hostility Clark's parents would undoubtedly have towards her and she was in for a terrible time.

But it was too late to back out now. Clark had just touched down in what looked like a back yard and he was letting her slide to the ground. She looked nervously at the door just ahead, but then Clark took her hand, squeezing it warmly.

"Lois," he said softly. "Trust me. I wouldn't have brought you if I hadn't thought my parents would love you."

"But they must know… you must have told them about the way I treated you…" she protested.

His free hand came up and he stroked the back of his fingers against her cheek. "I also told them that we're partners. And that all that stuff in the beginning was just a misunderstanding. That I think you're wonderful."

Lois's eyes widened. "When did you tell them that?" Clark thought she was wonderful. A warm glow spread through her. Though she thought he was pretty wonderful too — well, apart from when he did something like springing her on his parents unannounced.

"When I called them last night," he explained. "I told them I was coming and that I had some important stuff to discuss with them — and I also told them about Lex Luthor and about Perry teaming us up."

"Okay." Well, maybe his parents wouldn't throw her out before Clark had even finished introducing her, she thought. "Well… I guess we'd better…" She gestured towards the farmhouse.

"Wait." He tugged on her hand, drawing her back to him.


"This." The word was whispered against her lips as his head descended. And then all thoughts of nervousness fled as she parted her lips for Clark's kiss.

He hadn't kissed her all day; when he'd come to pick her up, they'd left immediately. She'd felt just a little neglected, and she hadn't been able to help wondering whether he was having second thoughts about their relationship again. Surely he wasn't still thinking that she wouldn't want to be with him because of his differences? She'd thought that she'd managed to talk him out of that, and yet…

But it seemed as if she'd been worrying for nothing. Clark's kiss was hungry, and his arms were wrapped securely around her, holding her against him loosely but possessively. She returned his kiss gladly, loving the way it made her feel.

Loving the way that being in love with Clark made her feel.

All too soon, he drew back. "I guess we'd better go in."

"In?" Lois blinked, momentarily confused as she opened her eyes again.

Clark grinned ruefully. "Yeah — my folks' place. Remember?"

"Yeah. I remember." Lois took a deep breath. "Okay, lead the way."

Taking her hand again, Clark led her up to the back door, knocking once as he opened it and strode in. The door led to a kitchen unlike any Lois had ever been in before. This wasn't a kitchen fitted out with all modern conveniences and seemingly purely for show. Nor was it a basic, functional kitchen whose user spent as little time in it as possible, doing little more than warming up food in the microwave or cooking 'short-cut' meals.

It was a kitchen which people actually lived in: cooked, ate, talked and behaved as a family. It looked like the well-loved centre of family life; the aroma of good cooking still lingered, and the coffee-pot on the large pine table hinted at a meal not long finished, at which the diners had lingered for a few minutes over coffee and conversation. On the walls there were pictures; not designer art or expensive posters, but what were clearly family photographs and child-like drawings.

This was a home.

Clark might have some lingering insecurities from his late childhood, but he'd clearly grown up with loving parents in a homely environment. And Lois couldn't help envying him.

The kitchen door opened suddenly, and a woman of about Lois's own height, or a little shorter, came in. She seemed to be in her mid to late fifties, with casually-styled blonde hair and a welcoming expression. "Clark! I thought I heard you!" she called cheerfully as she entered the room.

Then she halted. "Clark? You didn't say you were bringing a friend." There was surprise in her tone, but not, Lois noted, hostility or even any sense that the unexpected visitor was unwelcome.

"Sorry, Mom." Clark's tone was easy; casual. He went to his mother, hugging her warmly before continuing. "It would've meant explaining how Lois was going to get here, and I wanted to tell you all about that here, not over the phone. Mom, this is Lois Lane, my partner from the Planet — and my friend. Lois, my mom — Martha Kent."

"Lois, it's lovely to meet you!" Clark's mother exclaimed, coming right over and holding out both hands. "Clark's told us so much about you!"

Lois blinked at the warm welcome. "He has? And you still let me in the house?"

Clark's mother chuckled. "Oh, Lois, anyone who my son calls both brilliant and stubborn has to have something going for her! And anyway, he told us last night that, whatever happened when you first knew each other, you'd become friends. That's enough for me. And besides," she added with a smile, "Clark wouldn't have told you about himself unless you were special. Oh, of course he's told you!" she added quickly, obviously seeing both Lois and Clark's puzzled expressions in response. "You must have flown here with him."

"I did," Lois confirmed.

"Well, how else would she get here?" Clark said with a grin. "I'll explain how she knows later, when Dad's around, okay?"

"Sure." She smiled at her son, then turned back to Lois. "And you're very welcome. I'm just thrilled to meet you!"

Lois bit her lip. "But I was so mean to Clark…"

Martha Kent smiled. "But you told him you were sorry, didn't you? I'm sure you did. So it doesn't matter now, does it? Come on in — you will have some coffee, won't you? Clark, would you go and call your father? He's in the barn."

And, just like that, Clark's mother had managed to separate her son from the woman he'd brought to the family home, Lois thought in stunned admiration as Mrs Kent ushered her further into the kitchen and Clark disappeared out through the door. Now it would come, she was sure. Now, she'd be interrogated about her attitude to Clark and in particular towards his secret.

Well, a pre-emptive strike might well be the best tactic here…

"Mrs Kent, I know what you're thinking," Lois began, pasting a confident but friendly smile on her face and hoping that her nervousness wasn't obvious. "Just who is this woman who's got her hooks into Clark? And is she planning on splashing everything about him all over the front page of the Planet?"

But Martha Kent turned a placid smile on Lois. "Call me Martha, please. And no, of course not! I know that Clark would never have brought you here if he'd thought you'd do that. He's told us that you're his friend, and that's all there is to it. Now, how do you like your coffee?"

"Uh — low-fat milk and artificial sweetener," Lois answered, feeling completely off-balance.

"Oh, I'm sorry, dear; we only have whole milk!" Martha apologised. "I'll have to make sure we have some for the next time you come."

There would be a next time? "Black will be fine, Martha. Thank you."

The coffees poured, Martha produced some home- made cookies and invited Lois to sit at the large table. Joining her, the older woman then said, "So what do you think about who Clark might be?"

Martha Kent didn't believe in beating around the bush, Lois thought, trying not to show her surprise. But then, that was usually her preferred way of dealing with things when she was investigating or interviewing someone for a story, so she could cope with that, she thought. "He told me he doesn't know — that he could be an experiment or even from another planet."

Martha nodded. "And what do you think?"

"I really have no idea." Taken aback again, Lois shook her head. "I don't know much about genetics — my father's a doctor and a scientist, and he's done some work in that field, but more recently he's specialised in robotics. I guess some of what Clark can do could be explained by robotic technology, but not the flying. As for aliens from another planet… I never believed in extra- terrestrials," she said slowly. "But then, I never believed that a man could fly, or start fires with his eyes, either."

"That's true," Martha agreed. "It was a shock to all of us when Clark found that he could do things like that. I remember the day he set his homework on fire."

Lois giggled; she was about to ask for more details, but Martha spoke again.

"Does it bother you that he's different? That he might not be human?"

Did it bother Clark's parents? That thought hadn't occurred to Lois before, and yet now she wondered… Why would Martha have brought the subject up, otherwise?

"No," Lois said firmly, looking her host directly in the eye. "Clark is… Clark. He's a wonderful, warm, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive and funny man. He has some amazing talents and abilities — abilities which would allow him to rule the world if he wanted to, and yet all he wants to do is help. And live a normal life. He's the most special man I've ever met, and I'm proud to call him my friend. And my partner. And I'll do everything I can to protect him from anyone who would want to harm him just because he's different."

A brilliant, joyful smile broke out on Martha's face. "Oh, Lois, honey, I knew you were just the woman Clark needs!"

Lois blinked. "I am? I mean, yes, I hope I am, but…?"

"Lois, Clark was hurt badly, years ago, by a young woman — not much more than a girl, really — who couldn't accept him as he was. His father and I have always been terrified that it might happen again: that he'd find someone and fall in love, and have her reject him. I needed to know that you wouldn't do that, Lois."

"You knew about Lana?" Lois asked, taken aback. She'd thought Clark had said his parents hadn't known…

"Of course we knew! Oh, Clark never told us the details, but we could work it out. Or at least some of it. We never knew exactly what he'd told her about himself, or if he'd told her anything at all. But we did know that somehow he'd found out that she would never accept his differences. And it hurt him deeply. For a long time, Jonathan and I were afraid that he'd never let himself fall in love again. And then… well, then he met you, and even when he was telling us how unwelcoming you were to him, it was obvious that you were breaking through his defences, Lois. That's why I was so pleased to see you here today."

Amazed, Lois could only stare at Martha.

"If you can teach Clark to love again, and persuade him that you really do love him too — just as he is — you'll make me very happy, Lois."

"But… how do you know I…?" Lois was almost lost for words.

"How do I know that you love my son, Lois?" Martha smiled again. "It was there in every word you said about him just a minute ago. It was there in your eyes, too. You're not going to deny it, are you?"

Shaking her head, Lois said, "No. And… I think — I hope — he's already learning to love again."

Martha reached across the table, squeezing Lois's hand briefly. "I think Clark's chosen much more wisely this time. Welcome to the family, Lois."


"Hi, Dad."

Jonathan Kent, busily engaged in repairing a partition, turned to smile at his son. "Clark! It's good to see you."

"Want a hand?" Clark moved to stand beside his father, assessing the damage. "What happened?"

He knew only too well that he'd been sent outside primarily to allow his mother the opportunity to get to know Lois without him around, and as such he might as well make himself useful. And in any case, he could do this sort of work far more quickly than his father.

"Had to replace a few supports," Jonathan explained. "Woodworm."

"Okay, stand back." Clark grinned, then took the nails from his father. Two seconds later, all of them had been banged in and the partition was securely in place.

Jonathan grinned in response. "I've missed having you around the farm, son!"

Clark embraced him. "I miss being here too. But —"

"But your life's not here. I know that. Once we started to discover your talents, I knew you'd never be happy running a small farm in the country," his father said fondly.

Clark shrugged. "I love the farm, Dad, and it's nothing to do with these abilities of mine —"

"Didn't mean those." Jonathan started to tidy away his tools. "You're book-intelligent and college-educated, son. And you love writing. And finding things out — exploring, investigating. You're not the kind of person who'd be happy living here his whole life. And that's just fine. You know your mom and I are so proud of you. Working at the Daily Planet and all — and we saw those front-page articles you had the past couple of days with Lois Lane. You've shown her that you're as good as her any day."

"But I don't want to compete with Lois, Dad," Clark said softly. "We're friends. And we're partners now, too. I couldn't be happier about the way things have worked out."

Jonathan gave Clark a broad smile. "So your mother was right!"


"After you called us last night, your mom said you're in love with this Lois."

Clark returned his father's grin with a sheepish one of his own. "I can't hide anything from you guys, can I?"

"Well, the thing you most need to remember is that those eyes in the back of her head we always told you your mom had haven't gone away just because you grew up," Jonathan said in deadpan tones.

Clark burst out laughing. "Yeah, I never could fool Mom!" Sobering, he added softly, "And Lois loves me too. That's what amazes me. She knows everything about me — what I can do, what I might be -"

Jonathan looked up from his tidying. "You told her?" He sounded worried, and Clark nodded, hastening to reassure him.

"I needed to. Don't worry — she won't tell anyone. I trust her absolutely. And I'm glad I told her, Dad! She doesn't have a problem with any of it. In fact, she's had some pretty terrific ideas. *And*, better still, she still loves me, regardless of what I am."

Having finished tidying, his father straightened. Giving Clark a straight look, he said, in an innocent-sounding tone which didn't fool Clark for an instant, "And why wouldn't she?"

"Dad, you know why!" he said, sighing. "Who the heck would really want to be with someone like me? A freak?"

"Clark!" Jonathan interrupted, sounding irritated. "How many times have we told you that you're *not* a freak? I really wish you wouldn't use that word. You know your mom hates it."

"Yeah, I know." Clark smiled. "Don't worry, Dad; I think I'm finally getting over all that stuff. Lois has a lot to do with that. She doesn't like me calling myself a freak either." He grinned. "And she thinks that what I can do is great. She loves flying with me — and she says I'm a great asset as a partner." He winked. "I think she likes me, too. I mean," he added, almost shyly, "she *really* likes me."

His father patted him warmly on the back. "Like I said, why wouldn't she? Anyway, you coming into the house? I bet your mom has fresh coffee made by now."

She and Lois would probably be on their second cup, Clark thought with an inward grin. He'd had no real qualms about leaving Lois alone with his mother; Lois was well capable of holding her own, and he was confident that his mother would like her.

"Oh, by the way, Lois is here, Dad," he said as they headed towards the barn door. "She's in the kitchen with Mom."

"She's here?!" Jonathan did a double-take. "And you left her with your mom? You know Martha will have your baby photos out by now, don't you?"

"Oh, heck," Clark muttered. "Let's get in there, then!"


"…and so I made him tell me everything," Lois finished.

"Well, I did try to come up with more excuses," Clark added quickly, with a sheepish grin. "But it was clear that Lois wasn't going to believe them. I can tell you, I was pretty scared that she was going to write about me in the Planet… but I misjudged her there."

"That'll teach you to jump to conclusions, Kent." Lois jabbed her forefinger into his upper arm and grinned at him.

Martha, smiling broadly, watched the interplay between her adopted son and his girlfriend. She'd been waiting for years to see something like this. Clark was in love, and Lois loved him right back. It was just wonderful to see.

For a long time, Martha had worried that Clark would never let his guard down again sufficiently to get close to a woman. She'd been afraid that he would never allow himself to fall in love.

Lana had really done a number on him, all those years ago, she mused. Not that Martha blamed the teenage girl Lana had been. After all, at that age kids often said or did hurtful things without having any idea of the real pain caused as a consequence.

She had no real idea of what had actually transpired between Clark and Lana, but she was pretty sure that Clark hadn't actually got as far as telling Lana about himself. Lana's own behaviour, her obvious puzzlement when Clark had begun to withdraw from the relationship, had told Martha that. But it had been equally clear that something Lana had either said or done had given Clark reason to believe that she couldn't accept him as he really was.

Clark had become withdrawn and reluctant to discuss his abilities. He'd tried to suppress what he could do, to the point of denying that he was discovering the ability to levitate. When he'd had an accident by failing to control his strength, he'd pretended that the mishap had nothing to do with him and that the fact that he was surrounded by shards of ceramic had everything to do with the mug being faulty.

And when he'd graduated from college and set off around the world, Martha had just known that he'd kept people at arms' length. Oh, he'd made friends — Clark was too good-natured and warm-hearted for that not to be the case — but she knew that he'd never let anyone get close. Not close enough for any kind of intimacy, either emotional or physical.

And now, with the entrance of Lois Lane into Clark's life, all of that seemed to have changed.

Clark, for the first time in his life, had opened up to someone other than his parents. He'd taken a leap of faith where Lois was concerned, and it had been fully justified; Lois had returned his trust with her own, and with her love.

It didn't hurt that they looked wonderful together too, Martha thought in satisfaction. They were so sweet, holding hands under the table — and she was very sure that it never occurred to either of them that she or Jonathan knew that was what they were doing. And they kept exchanging secret, meaningful smiles; if they were alone, they'd have been kissing by now.

Actually, she mused, perhaps it was time that she hauled Jonathan out of the kitchen on some pretext for a few minutes; it was hardly fair on the two love-birds to make them be on their best behaviour for this long.

She was about to suggest such an excuse when Clark spoke again.

"Mom, Dad, the other thing we wanted to talk to you about is that Lois has had a terrific idea! She thought of a way I can use my abilities to help people, without giving away who I am."

"Really?" Martha thought that Jonathan sounded sceptical, and she wasn't really surprised. If there was a way in which Clark could use the gifts he'd been given to do good, that was wonderful, in her opinion. But she was well aware of the unwanted attention, the suspicion and undoubted danger which would follow if it became known that Clark Kent could do these amazing things. She and Jonathan would be in danger, and Clark would never be able to have the normal life he craved.

"Yeah," Lois replied. "See, I was thinking… what he needs is a disguise. Some sort of uniform, so that people associate him with the uniform and not… well, himself. You know the way when a traffic cop stops you, all you see is the cop's uniform — you rarely even notice his face."

Martha stifled a grin; was Lois frequently stopped by traffic cops, then? But her idea was interesting… in fact, it just might work…

"So, you mean that Clark just needs some sort of eye-catching uniform… What about a mask? Or a hood?"

Lois shook her head adamantly. "No. Nothing like that. If he wears a mask, that tells everyone that there's someone under the mask. It says there's a secret that he's hiding, and everyone will want to know what that is — *who* he is. As long as Clark doesn't try to hide his face, then no-one will think that he might have something to hide."

"Interesting…" Martha murmured. And Lois did have a point. But…

"Yeah, but he'd be recognised immediately, wouldn't he?" Jonathan objected, voicing Martha's fear.

"Not necessarily," Lois disagreed. "Look."

She got to her feet and, standing beside Clark, pulled off his glasses. As she did so, he turned and smiled up at her; that smile made Martha glad that she was sitting down. It was full of love and admiration, and the kind of trust she'd been afraid that Clark would never be able to feel.

With one hand, Lois swept Clark's hair back from his forehead. "If Clark slicks his hair back, like this, and without his glasses… well, what do you think?"

Clark looked directly at his parents, his expression becoming authoritative — mimicking the way he would behave when in his uniform? And Lois was right: he looked so unlike her son that Martha was amazed.

"You could be a completely different person, son," Jonathan said slowly. "You know, this could just work…"

"It *will* work," Lois insisted. "And don't forget, I can help to make sure it does. We both can. Clark and I are reporters. We work for the Daily Planet — one of the best papers in the country, if not the best. And if we write about Superman as if we have no idea who he is and that being Superman is all that he is, that'll set the tone for other coverage."

"Superman?" Martha queried. She noticed that Clark had rolled his eyes at the name.

"Well, that's what I came up with as a name," Lois explained. "He needs a name — and I can't really see Clark coming up with anything for himself. Sorry, Clark," she added, patting his arm, a gesture which made Martha smile.

"Yes, I could!" Clark objected.

Martha stood up, deciding not to let the two of them continue the argument. "Well, if you need some sort of costume, or uniform… I guess you want me to get my sewing machine out?"

"Thanks, Mom," Clark said gratefully. "I was thinking something tasteful in maybe dark blue?"


Clark looked ruefully down at the clingy electric-blue Spandex in which he was now clad.

This was tasteful?

Well, he had to agree with his mother and Lois that there was little chance that anyone would be looking at his face. It was exactly where they'd be looking instead which worried him.


That was who he was now.

He still didn't care for the name; it sounded far too egotistical for his liking. But Lois liked it, and his mom seemed to agree. And once she'd brought out that odd stylised S-emblem from his baby blanket, it had been settled. He was Superman.

The clinginess of the costume embarrassed him, and the cape felt weird. But both his parents and Lois had exclaimed in delight over it, so he supposed it must be okay.

"You really think I won't be recognised?" he asked again, still worried about that aspect.

"Not a chance, Clark," Lois insisted. "You don't look anything like Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet. Or even Clark Kent of Smallville, I guess. You look… well, it's strange, but dressed like this you look taller, more commanding… distant, as if you could be very intimidating. Yeah, especially when you look at me like that," she added, laughing as he frowned in her direction.

"Okay, I guess the major test will be the first time I use the outfit," he said wryly. "I just hope it works!"

"It will," Lois said confidently. "Trust me!"

"It'll work, son," his father said. "Lois is right — you don't look anything like yourself."

"Thanks, Mom." Clark went to his mother and hugged her warmly. "I really appreciate all the trouble you've gone to."

Martha shrugged. "I enjoyed doing it! And I can't wait to see Superman in action."

"Me too," Lois said, grinning; Clark stretched out one arm and hooked it around her shoulders, drawing her close to him.

"Thanks, Lois. I'd never have thought of this without you."

She gave his shoulder a gentle head-butt. "Hey, there's self-interest at work here too — I'm going to get a great story out of you!"

"*We* are going to get a great story out of me," he reminded her.

She smiled. "You bet, partner! You didn't think I'd try to cut you out, did you?"

He smiled back. "Naah. Not now."

"And don't you forget it." She leaned up and pressed a swift kiss to his cheek. Even with that brief touch, Clark felt his heart do flip- flops.

Over supper, his mom asked, "How's the apartment-hunting going?"

"Apartment-hunting?" Lois interrupted before Clark could answer.

"Yeah." He nodded. "Come on — you didn't think I'd stay in that flea-pit indefinitely, did you? Once I knew I'd be staying, I started looking, but finding anything in Metropolis to rent that's both decent *and* affordable isn't easy. And I've been pretty busy over the past couple of days," he added, directing his comment to his parents. "So I haven't really had time to get out and look at anything."

"Should've told me," Lois said calmly. "I could've found something for you in no time."


"Of course!" She gave him a look as if to say that he should have known that. "Have you seen my contacts list, Clark? I know guys who know guys… and let's say that some of these guys owe me favours. Look, I'll make a few calls tomorrow and see what happens, but I bet you'll end up with a great apartment in less than two days. Deal?!

Clark shook his head. "I know better than to bet against you! Thanks, Lois. I appreciate it."

She grinned. "Hey, I get something out of it, too. You imagine I want to keep risking my car wheels picking you up from the Apollo?"


Clark insisted on wearing his new uniform under his clothes on the journey back to Metropolis later that night. Although Lois argued that he shouldn't risk being seen flying as Clark Kent, he reminded her that they wanted to be able to choose for themselves when Superman would make his first appearance.

To Lois's surprise, both of Clark's parents hugged her warmly. Martha even urged her to get Clark to bring her to dinner again soon.

"I really like your parents, Clark," she told him as he scooped her up into his arms in the back yard and drifted slowly into the air.

"And they really like you," he said, then grinned at her. "What did I tell you?"

"Don't be smart, Kent!" she retorted, but then softened. "I really didn't expect that kind of reaction, Clark. Not after the way I was when we met. But apart from that… well, they're so *normal*!"

She noticed him frown. "You mean that to be my parents they'd have to be… well, weird or something? Like me?"

"Clark!" Lois thumped his upper arm, then winced. "No, I did *not* mean that! I just meant… well, you'd have to meet my parents to understand what I meant, I guess. They're… anything but normal."

He must have heard the wistfulness in her voice, for his arms tightened around her briefly. "That's sad," he said quietly. "But, you know, I'm not sure I agree with you that my folks are normal either. They're… extraordinary. I mean, what ordinary couple would take in a baby they found in a spaceship and bring him up as their own son? And never bat an eyelid at all the weird things that kid grows up doing? They're incredible people, Lois. And I owe them everything."

The love which had radiated from Martha Kent when she'd spoken of her son earlier was quite definitely reciprocated, Lois could see. And she envied Clark once more.

He'd be amazed if she told him that, Lois thought with an inward smile; although he clearly loved his parents, he seemed to feel that his differences had made his childhood more difficult than that of most kids. She wondered what he'd think of hers: a womanising father, who'd barely been around the family home before he'd finally abandoned it for his latest mistress; a mother who'd turned to alcohol to hide her feelings of abandonment and worthlessness; two teenage girls largely left to bring themselves up. And then the experience of having to fight for what she wanted to study at college as opposed to what her father wanted her to do, together with having lived all her life with the knowledge that as far as Sam Lane was concerned she'd been born the wrong sex and that nothing she ever did could satisfy her father or make him believe that she was good enough.

She was finally putting all of that behind her, though — and having Clark around was a very great part of that. With Clark she didn't feel as if she had to prove anything. He'd respected her professional ability right from the start, and she'd never had the feeling that he was trying to compete or to prove something around her.

Unlike other male reporters Perry had paired her with over the years — until he'd accepted that she didn't want a partner — she knew that Clark wasn't just hoping that she'd make a mistake or get something wrong just so that he could claim credit for getting it right. And even when he had helped her, by assembling and interpreting Dr Platt's notes, he hadn't acted as if he'd done her an enormous favour and he wanted her to admit that he was better than her; he'd just done it because he'd seen that she was exhausted and needed some assistance.

Clark was the perfect partner — and the perfect friend. And, she thought, the only man she'd ever met that she could imagine wanting to live with permanently. She'd been in love before, but never like this. Never confident that the man she loved also loved her — and although Clark hadn't said so, something told her that he did. Maybe it was the way he looked at her sometimes, when he thought she wasn't watching; or the way, in his behaviour and in his whole manner towards her, he cherished her. Never feeling secure that the man she loved wouldn't betray her in some way. Clark, she felt, hadn't a deceitful bone in his body. He was loyal and steadfast — she'd seen the way he was with his parents. A man like that would treat his partner — girlfriend? wife? — with the same respect, love and loyalty.

He nudged her suddenly, and she realised that in her introspection she was missing the flight. It was dark now, and the landscape was spread out below in patches of shadow, punctuated by long, winding ribbons of light. The sheer beauty of it caused her to gasp.

"You okay?" Clark asked, sounding amused.

"You mean other than awe-struck?"

He laughed, then added, "I guess I'm used to this by now. I forget what it must be like for someone seeing it for the first time."

"It's not as if I haven't flown before, of course," she explained quickly. "But this is *nothing* like seeing the view from the tiny window on a plane. I can't imagine ever taking this for granted," Lois murmured. "Even if you take me flying dozens of times."

Turning to look at him, she could see his smile, a flash of white teeth in the darkness. "Shtick with me, baby, and you'll forget there ever was another way to fly," he drawled in a bad impression of a gangster accent. Lois laughed with him.


He was flying more slowly than usual, mostly so that Lois could appreciate the majesty of the view spread beneath them, but also so that he could prolong the sensation of holding her in his arms.

He was in love.

Loving Lois was nothing whatsoever like the insipid teenage infatuation he'd had for Lana Lang. That relationship, those feelings, he'd built up in his mind over the years until he'd imagined that it was some sort of grand passion. And as such, Lana's rejection had been magnified in its importance until he'd believed that if *she*, the woman he'd loved and who'd loved him, couldn't have accepted him as he really was, then no woman could.

Now, of course, Lois had shown him how wrong he'd been. He'd been wrong, too, in ways she hadn't pointed out, and yet somehow he knew that she was equally aware of them. He'd simply assumed that Lana, talking in the abstract, would have behaved in the same way if she'd been confronted with the reality of having an alien for a boyfriend. Who knew how she'd have reacted if she'd been told that Clark, her childhood friend and then boyfriend, could be from another planet? That was a very different proposition from encountering a complete stranger and discovering that he was an alien.

Second, of course, Lana had been a teenager, just like him, and he should never have placed so much reliance on the unthinking words of a sixteen-year-old. Teenagers thought they knew everything, he reflected. And then as they grew older, they realised just how much they didn't know.

Lois didn't care where he came from. She accepted him — maybe even loved him, if by some amazing chance he really did turn out to be the luckiest man alive — just as he was. Lois —

Abruptly, he snapped out of his thoughts. Something was happening below. He stopped flying, floating in mid-air, and focused on the ground hundreds of feet below them.

"What is it, Clark?" Lois asked, sounding puzzled.

They were almost at Metropolis, and what he was looking at was the west side of the city's orbital freeway. "A pile-up," he explained. "Looks like a couple of trucks and several cars — I think there're people trapped. And -" He paused, focusing his vision and hearing on the scene beneath. " — one of the trucks is carrying gasoline."

He heard Lois inhale sharply. "That could blow!"

"I know." He took a deep breath himself. "I think I need to help…"

"Superman!" Lois said quickly.


"This is it. Your big debut!"

Struck by her suggestion, he considered the possibility. To act in his new guise, instead of trying to do what he could covertly, risking discovery… On the other hand, he wasn't sure that he was ready to go public yet. He hadn't planned, thought about it, psyched himself up for it…

"Think about it!" she added as he didn't immediately respond. "You can do so much more to help if you're not trying to make sure no- one sees you."

"Yes." It made so much sense. He had to do it, lack of preparation regardless. "Let me put you somewhere safe first, okay?"

"No, you don't, buster!" Lois exclaimed. "The deal is Lane and Kent get the exclusive on Superman's first appearance, remember? You take me with you. You save the lives, I'll write the story."

"Got it," he agreed, a broad grin on his face, and swooped downwards.

Where could he land safely, without being seen? There were too many people about. On the other hand, it was dark — well, dark apart from all the lights at the scene. And they were both wearing dark-coloured clothing, too.

"There." He realised that Lois was pointing at something. "Just behind the exit ramp — it's dark enough, isn't it? And at least this is a less built-up area."

He nodded. "That works." The lack of buildings was fortunate for him. Only a mile further along the Lex Luthor Freeway — now, he just bet that a name-change would be on the agenda of the city council's next meeting! — there were a couple of motels, three gas stations and half a dozen or so fast-food outlets.

It was dark, and it was also easy to get to without being seen. In under a second, he had landed and was allowing Lois to slide to the ground. Glancing down at himself, he debated briefly — rip off his outer clothes? Undress normally? Speed was clearly of the essence here, but at the same time he felt… awkward about undressing in front of Lois. Which was crazy! He would only be stripping down to the blue and red uniform, and she'd already seen him in that. Several times, in fact, over the couple of hours and numerous tryings-on his mom had insisted were necessary to get it exactly right.

Screams of terror and pain reminded him of where the priority lay. "Here goes," he muttered anxiously, and pulled his sweatshirt over his head. Somewhere along the way, a burst of speed kicked in, and he realised that his jeans lay on the ground, along with his sneakers, and that Lois was staring at him, slackjawed.

"Well, you said you were fast…" she muttered. Then, glancing behind him, she urged, "Go!"


Left behind as the newly-created Superman swooped into the sky with what sounded suspiciously like a sonic boom, Lois bundled Clark's clothes into the capacious backpack she'd brought with her and then hurried up onto the freeway, anxious not to miss anything important.

And she was just in time. She'd only managed to get close enough to see what was going on when a loud 'whoosh' sounded, and out of the sky came a blue-suited, red-caped apparition. Martha had been exactly right, Lois thought as she watched Clark hovering over the accident scene. The cape was the perfect addition. It fluttered behind him, giving an even greater appearance of majesty, of something… well, out of this world.

He looked stunning. The only word to describe him, in fact, as he paused in mid-air above the centre of the pile-up, was awe-inspiring. He took her breath away, and this wasn't the first time she'd seen him in his costume. And she was already familiar with his powers.

Just what were other people going to make of him?

No-one had seen him yet, and she waited almost with bated breath for the first cry of "What on earth is *that*?" But it didn't come, and she acknowledged that people were too busy trying to get trapped passengers out of cars, or nursing their own injuries, or yelling and screaming and wondering why the paramedics and firefighters weren't there yet.

And then a flicker of orange caught her eye. Just behind where Clark was hovering, assessing the scene and clearly deciding where to go first, something had caught fire. Flames were flickering angrily, getting closer to the overturned gas tanker by the second.

"Cla — " Lois began to yell, before stopping abruptly as she realised that she *couldn't* call him Clark here.

His head turned. He'd seen it anyway. As had a few of the people at the scene; a couple of men were tackling the flames with miniature fire- extinguishers. It was a vain effort, of course; their actions had little more effect than applying a Band-Aid to a near-severed limb.

But she had no idea how Clark was going to deal with it. What could even he do against a fire of that intensity? How could he possibly stop the tanker from going up in a massive explosion?

Shouldn't he be yelling at people to get away? Shouldn't he be picking up those who couldn't walk themselves; using what little time he had to clear the area?

She inhaled sharply, then opened her mouth to scream, to shout at people to get away, clear the area, before the tanker blew.

And then he did it. Something. Whatever it was, Lois couldn't see, couldn't work out. But suddenly the flames were doused. Smothered, as if he'd dropped a massive, soaking-wet blanket on top of them. Hissing steam arose from the site of the flames, but they were dead.

And then he darted over to the gas tanker and… lifted it. Set it back upright again. As heavy as it was… and he'd lifted it as if it weighed less than a toy version. She watched as he flew around it, clearly checking for leaks, and then stared at one part of the casing for several seconds, before flying over to another part of the crash scene.

Now, he'd been seen. Now, some of those who seconds before had been having hysterics were staring at him, pointing and looking incredulous.

"Is he… flying?"

"Who is that?"

"Is it some kind of trick?"

"It's some new army secret weapon, isn't it?"

"Gotta be an experiment. Who knows what those geeks at MIT get up to?"

Well, they'd all know exactly who he was when they read tomorrow's Daily Planet, Lois thought in satisfaction; then she remembered what she was supposed to be doing. Digging in her backpack, she found the small 35mm camera she went nowhere without. As Clark — *Superman* — darted here and there, sometimes flying, sometimes running, at times moving so swiftly he could barely be seen, she snapped photo after photo. Superman in the air. Superman peeling away the roof of a Mustang as if it were the covering on a sardine-can and gently, carefully, lifting out the trapped victim, taking her to the side of the road where a woman, who had identified herself as a doctor, was assessing the injured.

How had he known that it was safe to move the driver? Lois wondered. If the woman had any broken bones… Then she remembered that Clark had told her that he could see through things. X-ray vision, he'd said casually. Had he… *X- rayed* the woman to establish her injuries before moving her?

And then she understood why, injuries or no injuries, Clark had moved that driver; smoke was coming from the hood of the car. It didn't stay long; Clark darted back over and, it seemed to Lois, blew on the hood — and the smoke vanished. But by the time she was sure it had disappeared, Clark was already several feet away, disentangling more wrecked cars and lifting people to safety.

And then the sound of sirens came. First the police, and then the paramedics and fire trucks. Lois hurried closer and watched, listened, as Clark landed in front of the senior officer and, without giving the man time to ask who he was, gave a full briefing of what had been done and where help was most needed. Paramedics and firefighters, all looking stunned, hurried off in different directions in response to Clark's instructions.

The senior officer stayed put, staring at Clark, and Lois could only imagine what he was thinking, faced with this strange man in skin- tight Spandex, who had *flown* over to land in front of him and who appeared to have done singlehandedly, and in the space of a few minutes, the work of an entire fire crew with their hoses and cutting equipment. "Just who are you?" the officer asked, amazement and disbelief written all over his face.

The wary expression on his face told Lois that Clark still hadn't come to terms with the fact that he no longer needed to hide. After a long pause, he replied, "A friend."

"Where have you come from? How…? What…? You can do all these incredible things…" The officer seemed almost lost for words.

"I just want to help," he said softly; then lifted smoothly into the air again.


He'd actually carried it off — used his powers for good at a time when they were really needed, and he hadn't been laughed at, or shot at, or dragged off to some laboratory. People had listened to his instructions and then carried them out. They had looked to him for advice and guidance. And, because of what he could do, a number of people were alive who might not otherwise have been.

He wasn't exaggerating the importance of what he'd done; he knew very well that if that tanker had blown up, it would have killed those people nearest to it. Many others, those who hadn't yet been able to escape from damaged and even crushed cars, would have been injured, perhaps suffered horrible burns. That woman he'd pulled out of her car would have died, too. She'd been completely trapped — not badly injured, he'd discovered, but pinned in her seat by the steering-wheel and dashboard, and there'd been signs of fire from the engine of her Mustang.

The firefighters were dousing with foam the area where the gas had leaked, although Clark was confident that there was no danger from that now. But it never hurt to be careful, and anyway, there was no reason why these guys should just take his word for it that the area was safe. After all, they had no idea what he could do.

He hovered above the scene, watching things and assessing whether he was needed any more. If not, he could just fly off and reappear as Clark Kent — once he found his clothes, of course, he remembered just in time.

And then he saw firefighters and paramedics clustered around an SUV which had been close to the back of the pile-up. Focusing in on their conversation, he realised that there was a small child in the back whose booster seat had been forced forward and wedged solidly, face down, between the two front seats as the result of a rear-end impact. The child, a little girl, was distressed, bleeding and in obvious pain, but the firefighters were saying that it wasn't going to be possible to get her out without cutting equipment.

"Maybe I can help?" Clark landed beside the SUV, noting as he did so the anxious, tearful couple who were obviously the child's parents; both had visible cuts and abrasions and looked as if they were in some pain, but their entire focus was on their daughter and the firefighter who was trying to give them some indication of what needed to be done to rescue her, at the same time trying to dampen their expectations, Clark could see. It was clear that the child would have lost a lot of blood by the time she could be freed, and there was no knowing what her injuries were.

"You… Who *are* you?" the little girl's father demanded.

He still had no idea how to answer that one. Lois's name for him was too… Well, he was *not* going to announce himself as Superman! "I'm… a friend." He gestured towards the car. "Let me take a look."

The child, aged about five, he guessed, was well and truly trapped. Looking closer, Clark caught his breath as he saw something he was convinced the emergency services weren't aware of. A piece of metal, protruding from one of the front seats, had penetrated her upper arm, and that was where the blood was coming from.

By the time the firefighters could extract her safely, she could have bled to death.

Clark gestured at the senior fire officer, indicating that they should talk privately. Once they were standing some distance from the car, he filled the officer in on his discovery.

"Not good." The officer frowned. "We can't move any faster, though."

"You don't need to. I can get her out in a couple of minutes."

"Safely?" the officer demanded suspiciously.

"Very." Clark explained what he wanted to do. "I realise that it's going to be hard for you to trust me, since you don't know what I can do. But I'm asking you to do just that."

"Whoever you are, help her, please!" The sobbing voice came from behind him, and Clark swung around to see the tearful face of the little girl's mother. "I saw what you did earlier. I saw you get that woman out of her car. Please, get Jenny out! Please! I don't want her to die — you can't let her die!"

"I need to do this," Clark said quietly to the fire officer. "Okay?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sure that I could stop you. And… well, seems you're her only hope." The final words were spoken almost sotto voce.

Not waiting for any further permission, Clark hurried back to the car. Another quick assessment of the situation, and then he carefully peeled back the roof of the car. To him, it was no more difficult than turning a page in a book, but he knew that he had to make sure that no bits of metal went anywhere they shouldn't. He'd already checked the state of the fuel tank, ensuring that there was no gas or oil spilled anywhere around.

The child was still sobbing and whimpering in pain as he threw the roof on the ground. Clark's heart twisted, but he reminded himself that she would be out and safe soon, getting the medical treatment she needed.

"Jenny? Jenny, can you hear me?" He spoke loudly, but gently, trying not to alarm her.

She didn't answer. Clark turned around and gestured towards her parents. "Can you come and talk to her? She might be happier if she can hear your voices."

And it would at least make the parents feel as if they were doing something, he reflected silently.

As they began to talk to Jenny, Clark examined the interior of the car and the exact nature of her position. The easiest way to get the child out, he decided, was to apply just a little brute force…

"Climb onto the seat," he instructed her father. "Now, hold her — just with your hands around her waist, okay? Make sure she doesn't move."

He didn't think the precaution was necessary, but it was best to be safe… and also, it might stop Jenny's parents from focusing on exactly what he was about to do. He didn't want them afraid that she was going to be hurt — or, worse still, interfering in any way.

He grasped the passenger seat — the one which wasn't sticking into Jenny — and applied pressure. There was a slight grinding sound, and it moved an inch, then another. A couple of seconds more, and Jenny was no longer firmly wedged.

Changing position slightly, he motioned Jenny's father to move a little way to the right, thus giving himself a clear view of the metal spike. A small amount of heat vision was enough to sever it. In under a second, he had Jenny in his arms and was floating over towards the nearest ambulance.

"The spike's still sticking into her arm," he explained. "I just cut it away from the chair. She doesn't seem to have any internal injuries that I can see, so other than her arm she should be fine."

"And you got her out fast enough for us to help her there," a paramedic said gratefully, already beginning to treat Jenny. "Whoever you are, you've done a great job here today."

"Yes, he has, hasn't he?" a familiar voice interjected. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Not to us, Ms Lane — we need to take this little girl to the nearest hospital immediately," the paramedic said instantly. "You can say that our friend here may have saved her life, if you like."

"Thanks." Clark saw that Lois had a miniature tape-recorder in her hand, and he stifled a grin. Trust his partner to be prepared for any eventuality!

"I don't want to delay you," she was saying to Jenny's parents. "I know you want to go with her. But could I have just one quote, please? And a picture?"

The mother nodded. "I just want to say that he… whoever he is… he saved my little girl, and I'll always be grateful. Thank you," she added, turning to Clark.

"You're welcome," he assured her. "Just take good care of her, okay?"

"And I'd like to ask you some questions too," Lois added, fixing him with a determined look. "So… who are you? And how can you do all these things?"

They hadn't rehearsed this. They hadn't planned what he was going to say. Clark wanted to interrupt, to stop her, to ask for more time to think about it… but he knew that it was futile. They were in the situation; he was surrounded by fire officers, paramedics, the police and members of the public, all watching from a not-very-discreet distance. So he had to answer.

"I'm… a friend. From — " He took a deep breath. "From another planet. And I have certain… abilities which I want to use to help. Like here."

"What's your name?" she asked.

He gulped and stared at her. She wasn't supposed to ask him that.

"You have an S on your… costume," she said, studying him and then taking some more photographs. "Since you won't tell me your name… well, I guess I'll just have to *give* you a name." Again, she seemed to look thoughtful. "I know. Superman!" she announced, as if the idea had just occurred to her.

"That sounds kind of… egotistical, wouldn't you say, Ms Lane?" he murmured, with a half- smile.

"Perhaps. But just ask any of these people here what they think," she suggested. "Or better still, Jenny's parents. I think Superman describes you and what you can do pretty well."

"If you insist," he said, still smiling. "Is that all you need? Because I think I'm needed over there…" He gestured to a small group several yards away. He was pretty sure that the emergency services were managing without him, but it gave him an excuse to end the interview.

"Okay. But I'll be watching you, Superman!" Lois said cheerfully, moving away and going to interview some of the bystanders.

He was well aware of that. And, Clark thought, he liked the idea.

He liked it a *lot*.


It was a good thing that she'd known Clark as himself first, Lois thought as she watched the new Superhero at work. If she'd met him first as Superman, or whatever he would have called himself, she'd have been in complete awe of him.

He was so completely in control of the situation, at the same time both commanding and compassionate. He was self-assured and confident, and everyone around rushed to do his bidding, deferred to him for advice and expected him to find solutions. They treated him as if he was miracle-worker and commander- in-chief combined.

There was no way that Lois could have contemplated having such a… a *god* as a boyfriend. Oh, she could imagine having a crush on him, sure; but as for imagining a relationship of equals… no way.

But as she knew he was Clark, she had no concerns there. Clark, for all that he might be from another planet, was more human than anyone else she knew. He was kind, thoughtful, caring and had vulnerabilities. He wasn't some super- confident being to whom she could never aspire to be an equal. He was… Clark. Her partner. Her friend.

And her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend: a man from another planet who could do amazing, *incredible* things. He could lift heavy objects as if they weighed nothing. He could see through solid objects. He could set things on fire with his eyes… and put the fires out with his breath. He could see and hear things at huge distances. And he could *fly*.

He was the best thing that had ever happened to the world, Lois thought as she watched him. He wanted to do good: to save lives, prevent disasters, to help out where he was needed. Incredible abilities combined with a strong ethical streak — possibly inculcated by his parents — and a powerful sense of compassion.

He was also the best thing that had ever happened to her. And she intended to hang onto him. This was one man Lucy wouldn't be able to accuse her of scaring off!

She carried on interviewing victims of the crash and emergency workers, keeping half an eye on Clark as she did so. This was going to be a great story, and she was right on the spot *and* she had eyewitness accounts and photographs. There was no way that anyone was going to be able to say that 'Superman' couldn't possibly exist. His debut would be the talk of the city — if not all of America — for some time. And the credit for the story — the exclusive — would all be hers and Clark's.

They were very fortunate, of course, that none of the local TV companies or networks had sent anyone to the scene. Of course, traffic accidents happened all the time, although a pile-up such as this was bad even for Metropolis. But all it would have taken was for someone to get on the phone to LNN and tell them about the incredible flying man who was at the scene; an outside broadcast van would have been sent immediately, assuming the person who took the call even halfway believed what he was hearing.

Now, if she and Clark could get straight to the Planet once they were finished here, they could have the story ready for the morning edition, together with photographs. Of course, it would have made it into the public domain before that; she was resigned to that being the case. People would call the TV and radio news and talk programmes with their stories. The emergency workers would certainly be including references to Superman in their reports. His existence would be old news by morning — but the Planet would be the only media outlet with photographs, an interview, and a *name*.

Clark seemed to be indicating his intention to hand over to the emergency services and leave. Lois took a couple of photographs of him being shaken by the hand by the director of operations, and then of him lifting into the sky again, before slipping away to go back to the ramp where they'd landed earlier. She hoped he intended to meet her there — if he didn't, she'd have a heck of a time getting back to the Planet.

He was there waiting for her, still dressed in the costume, of course, and looking exhilarated.

"We did it! It worked!" he exclaimed. "They just… accepted me as I was. They let me help. And no-one called the police or the National Guard!"

"What did I tell you?" she retorted, then threw her arms around him. "You were magnificent!"

He hugged her back, blushing. "Thanks. But we better get out of here, just in case…"

"Yeah." Lois glanced around anxiously, but they were still alone.

"Uh… where are my clothes?" he asked, his awkward, almost embarrassed expression at odds with the splendid Superhero costume.

"I have them." She handed her backpack to him. "Just be careful of my camera, okay? If you damage that, I don't care who you are, you're dead."

That made him grin. "I wouldn't dare!" As he rummaged in the pack, he added, "And don't think I didn't notice you running around taking photographs. And interviewing people! You're always prepared for a story, aren't you?"

"Of course! How do you think I won all those Kerths? Never miss a story opportunity, that's what makes you successful."

He extracted his clothes and handed the backpack to her, looking ruefully at his shirt and jeans. "I've got to figure out a way to do this. I can't just strip off each time I'm needed. And if you're not with me, where do I leave my clothes?"

"I guess we didn't think of that," Lois said thoughtfully. And he was right: it was a problem. Well, more of a minor detail, unless he had to leave his clothes somewhere unsafe and someone found them and recognised them as what Clark Kent had been wearing.

And then she was distracted by a virtual whirlwind in front of her. It stopped within seconds, though, leaving Clark standing in front of her dressed as he had been earlier, and wearing his glasses.

"Well, that sort of worked," he said with a grin.

"What… did you… just do?" she asked, dumbfounded by what she'd just seen — or almost seen.

"I spun," he said proudly. "Fast, so you couldn't see what I was doing. And while I was spinning, I got dressed. And I think I know what I can do with my clothes now, too."

"What?" she demanded eagerly.

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," he said with an exaggerated leer. "Come on — let's get to the Planet!"


Whirlwind-Lois rushed into action as soon as they reached the Planet. First, they stopped off at the darkroom, where she handed in her camera with dire threats of eternal torture for anyone who dared present her with anything less than perfect prints. Then, once on the newsroom floor, she went to the night editor and ordered him to call Perry in.

"Whatever you've got, I can handle it," the editor protested, clearly offended at being told — not asked — to call in his boss.

Deciding to stay out of this discussion, Clark leaned casually against the door-frame and watched Mad Dog Lane in action.

"Forget it, Samuels. This one needs Perry. And he'd want to know why you haven't called him in."

"What's it about?" Samuels demanded, holding his ground. At Lois's stubborn look, he added, "You know I won't phone up Perry White just on your say-so. I need to be able to tell him what this is about. And you know darned well he'd have my hide if I called him up without knowing what it's about and whether it justifies him coming in!"

"Okay," she conceded. "Did you hear about that pile-up on the Luthor Freeway?"

"That? Come on, Lane, that's not major news! There's a traffic pile-up every other week! Besides, the TV news will have talked it to death by the time the morning edition hits the streets. If anyone's interested in the first place."

"Then you don't know what happened," Lois said triumphantly. "What if we were to tell you that a flying man appeared from nowhere, put out all the fires and ripped open cars like sardine cans to rescue trapped victims?"

Samuels gave her a scathing look. "I'd start dialling the funny farm. Lane, what do you think I am?"

"Only someone who's got the biggest story of the year under his nose and is about to pass it up!" Lois retorted, her tone indicating exactly what she thought of the hapless night editor.

"Oh? I thought that was the downfall of Lex Luthor!" Samuels observed.

"This is bigger. Look, have you been listening to any news tonight?"

"I've been editing a newspaper!" Samuels pointed out.

"Okay. Clark — " Lois directed a look at him. "Turn on the TVs, okay? LNN should do, unless they're still shell-shocked from their boss's exposure as a murderer."

Clark went out into the newsroom and hit the switch; a second later, an excitable voice filled the room.

"…I tell you, I saw him! He wore a blue and red suit — with a *cape*, for god's sake — and he was flying! He ripped open that car — " Clark could see the picture now; it seemed that LNN had belatedly managed to get an outside broadcast team to the site. The Mustang whose roof he'd pulled off to free its driver was shown on the screen. " — as if it was made of paper. He was incredible!"

The reporter's voice took over from the bystander. "And this report is echoed by just about every bystander I've spoken to, Howard, so unless they've all suffered from a collective hallucination I don't think they're making it up. And the police confirmed the sighting," she was saying.

"What do they think he — it — was?" Howard, back in the studio, asked.

"Nobody knows, although there's a rumour that he told someone he was from another planet."

"Wait a minute," Howard protested. "You're telling me that there's an *alien* in Metropolis? A little green man from Mars?"

"Well, from what eyewitnesses have told me, he's more like a big white man from Hunk of the week!" the reporter responded. Then, winding up her report, she concluded, "This is Linda Montoya, reporting from the Lex Luthor Freeway on what could be the most amazing alien sighting ever seen on Earth… or the biggest hoax."

"That's what you're talking about?" Samuels said, sounding stunned.

"Yes," Lois said, only semi-patiently. "We have an eyewitness account, plus interviews with victims, photographs of him in action *and* an interview with Superman himself."

"Superman?" Now Samuels was scathing.

Lois shrugged. "See what you think when you see the photographs."

The night editor shook his head slowly, slumping into a nearby chair. "I'm dreaming, aren't I? This can't be happening."

"It's happening, all right," Clark said, feeling that he should at least back Lois up.

"Look, you know what? I don't want to know. Just wake me up when it's all over, okay?"

"So I can call Perry?" Lois persisted.

"If you insist. I mean, this is just a crazy dream, right? So even if Perry chews me out for not doing my job, it can't affect my record, can it?"

But Clark could see that Lois was no longer listening to Samuels. She had grabbed a phone and was feverishly dialling. Yep, this was Mad Dog Lane at work, all right…

And he loved it.


Convincing Perry that the Superman story was genuine was somewhat easier; he'd seen the LNN report and had heard a paramedic who'd been at the scene interviewed on the radio on his way in.

"So what's going on, you two? I hope you're going to tell me that you got the inside scoop on this flying man!" he barked as soon as he came out of the elevator.

"That's exactly what we've got for you," Lois said triumphantly. "And I know you never do it any more, but you *have* to hold the front page for this one."

"I don't know about that," he said thoughtfully. "You know how uppity the suits upstairs get about anything that puts costs up."

"This'll be worth it." Lois was supremely confident, grinning at Perry in the sure knowledge that he was going to be delighted with her. "We don't just have the story…" She paused for dramatic effect. "We have photographs and an interview!"

"Well, what are you waiting for? Get on those computers and start writing!" Perry ordered. "And let me see those photographs!"

"Can't. The darkroom people are developing them now."

"Okay, I'll get onto them and tell them to get their butts in gear. And why are you two still standing here?"

Lois caught Clark's arm. "Come on, partner. You heard him!"

Two hours later, they were ready to go to press. Perry had selected a blown-up colour photograph of Superman hovering over several mangled cars for the front page, but on the inside pages were several smaller pictures of the superhero in action. The photos had come out very well, Lois thought, especially considering that she wasn't a photographer by profession; she'd managed to portray the sheer majesty of Superman combined with the awe in the expressions of those watching. The banner headline on the front page was "Superman!" with, in smaller bold text underneath, "He flies, he blows out fires, he can bend steel with his bare hands. Is he really from another planet?".

The byline on the story was Lane and Kent, and it had truly been a joint effort. Clark had been inclined to underplay what he'd done, which Lois had refused to allow; on the other hand, he had been of much more help in explaining exactly the situation he'd faced at the accident scene and how he'd had to deal with it — although they'd deliberately kept some of the details vague, just in case anyone wondered how they knew so much.

Superman's debut had been thoroughly chronicled, Lois felt by the time they were finished. Perry was delighted with their eyewitness account, and even more so with the photographs; by the time she and Clark were packing up, he was waxing lyrically about increased circulation figures and stock values. At the same point, he was debating aloud as to whether it was possible to get radio ads aired in time to boost sales of the morning edition still further.

"You two did a good job," he said finally, when Lois told him they were leaving. "But you know as well as I do that today's headline is tomorrow's tramp's bed. So I want you to get out there and find this guy! I want to know who he is, what his real name is, what's his agenda — what he eats for breakfast! First thing tomorrow, you're on it, okay?" The command was barked out gruffly.

"You got it, Perry," Lois said smartly, nudging Clark in the ribs to ensure that he echoed her agreement. He did, clearly reluctantly, but as they entered the elevator he looked disquieted.

"I'm not sure I like this." He leaned against the elevator wall, hands thrust deep into his jeans pockets.

"What? Perry setting us on a hunt for Superman?" Lois shrugged. "You knew that would happen. Come on, Clark, you're a reporter! Every media organisation in the country will be trying to hunt him down."

"That's what I'm afraid of," he muttered.

The elevator stopped at the ground floor. Lois hooked her arm through Clark's and dragged him with her out of the car. "Look, they're not going to find him, are they? So what's the problem?"

"They might," Clark answered glumly, holding the front door open so that she could precede him onto the street.

"Not a chance! Look, we're the only ones who know the truth," she said in an undertone. "And we're not going to tell anyone. And we have the added advantage that we can throw people off the scent if we like. You know — have Superman say something in an 'interview' — " She crooked the fingers of her free hand to indicate quotes. " — which means no-one would even think of looking for a secret identity. Don't be so worried, Clark!"

"I guess you're right." He freed his arm from her grasp, wrapping it around her shoulders instead. "I should stop obsessing about it."

"It can't be easy," Lois acknowledged. "You've been afraid of exposure most of your life."

"True. But," he added, clearly making an effort to smile, "now I've got a great disguise, and an even better support network." The mini-hug he gave her made it clear that she was included in that network.

"Hey, what are friends for?" she said lightly, but she knew she was blushing.

"Friends?" He paused, giving her a quizzical look. "I thought we were more than friends?"

Lois caught her breath. The illumination provided by a nearby street light allowed her to see his face, and the way he was looking at her made her feel weak at the knees. She'd thought earlier that he might be in love with her, but in a way she'd had that thought without any consideration of what it actually meant.

The way he was looking at her told her exactly what it meant.

Clark was looking at her as if she was the most precious thing in the world. His gaze held a combination of awe, wonder, desire, longing and admiration. And possession, too; she was his woman, and he wanted her to know it. Even if there was a degree of uncertainty there, too.

She moved closer to him. "Yes, I think you could definitely say we're more than friends," she told him, her voice husky. "But being friends is important too."

"Definitely," he agreed, and his voice was gravelly too. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Lois. Even though we've only known each other a couple of weeks… I've never felt so comfortable with anyone."

She moved closer still. "Me too, Clark… I like having you as my friend."

He smiled, a slow, dizzying smile. "And I like having you as mine." His head dipped, and his lips claimed hers.

The kiss was long and slow and completely wonderful. Lois wrapped her arms around Clark, uncaring that they were in the street in the middle of Metropolis; the whole world could see them kissing for all she cared. The only thing that mattered was being in Clark's arms.

Too soon, and yet it was after a long time, he raised his head and smiled dazedly down at her. "I should have followed my instincts and kissed you the very first time we met," he murmured softly.

"What? When you found out that I was a woman?"

But he shook his head. "Nope. The moment I was introduced to Larry Long, I felt this crazy, unbelievable desire to haul him into my arms and kiss him senseless." He gave her a rueful grin. "Can you imagine how that felt?"

"Well, since I found myself having X-rated fantasies about a man I thought was a worthless criminal, yeah, I can!" Lois confessed.

Clark blinked, then grinned at her. "X-rated, hmmm? So exactly what were you imagining, Lois? Anything you'd want to… try out, perhaps?"

She felt herself blushing, but laughed. "Don't push your luck, Kent!"

He laughed in response, and then offered her his arm again. "Come on. Let's get you home. After all, looks like we have a busy day tomorrow!"

Lois snuggled up to him, and was rewarded with his arm around her shoulders instead. "Going home sounds like a great idea," she said, in a teasing tone. She had every intention of ensuring that Clark stayed for at least an hour of kissing and cuddling.

But he, it seemed, had other ideas. "I won't come in, Lois," he said, his tone regretful. "I'd like to, but I'm thinking maybe Superman — if you really insist on that name! — should be seen out and about a little. And I want to keep an eye on Hewitt Dock — you know there've been attacks there over the last few days."

"You're really getting into this, aren't you?" Lois said, feeling a combination of admiration and amusement. She couldn't help feeling a sense of satisfaction at the same time: after all, Superman was in a way her creation. She was the one who had inspired Clark to create a hero-style persona for himself.

She supposed she could forgo the kisses in a good cause. Just as long as he made up for it another time — and as long as that was soon.

Clark walked with her to her apartment building, then insisted on accompanying her up to her door. She smiled coyly up at him as she slid the first key into its lock. "You can't walk all the way up here and then say you don't want to come in! Twenty minutes — I'll make coffee. Or not, if you prefer." She grinned.

He looked tempted, but then shook his head. "Thanks all the same, Lois, but I really should get going. Tell you what, though," he added. "How about I take a rain-check on that coffee? I could come by later, if you like. Maybe in a couple of hours or so?"

Lois gave him a slow, sweet smile. "I'll hold you to that, Kent."

His answering smile was broad and full of promise. "I'll be here." Tipping up her chin with his fingertips, he lowered his head and took her lips in another kiss.

This was too brief, Lois thought as Clark pulled away a couple of minutes later. She wanted to drag him inside her apartment and lock the doors… but that wouldn't do her much good, she realised, since he could just jump out of the window and fly away anyway.

"Okay, if you're insisting on leaving, get going," she told him, pushing lightly against his chest. He caught her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing her fingers.

"See you later," he promised, before walking back down the corridor.

Lois let herself into her apartment, deciding to spend an hour or so checking out the news on TV and radio to see what was being said about Superman. Closing the door behind her, she began to fasten the various bolts.

And then a hand slid around her face and clamped itself over her lips.

She froze.

Who could it be? Obviously someone to whom five deadbolts presented no difficulty whatsoever. So it wasn't a petty burglar. And, if it was someone who harboured a grudge against her, he — she was sure that it was a man — was very determined. And skilled.

And probably going to kill her, she acknowledged. Criminals didn't just break in and make their presence known in this manner if all they wanted to do was yell obscenities at her.

He hadn't spoken yet. That was the most unnerving thing of all.

Time to take aggressive action. Lois bent from the waist, then twisted her body and kicked out behind, aiming for her assailant's vulnerable spots. But he was martial arts-trained too, because he took evasive action and in seconds had her flat on her front on the floor, his knee pressed against her lower spine and one arm twisted painfully behind her back.

"Who are you?" she demanded. "What do you want?"

"Oh, you do disappoint me, Ms Lane. I would have thought that an award-winning investigative reporter like you would have already worked all of that out. I suppose you're just not as good as you think you are," the man behind her, pinning her to the floor, drawled.

And she knew that voice.

Lex Luthor was out of prison somehow, and he'd come looking for revenge.

And he was currently holding a gun to her head.



That was what flying in the blue and red suit, however garish, felt like to Clark. For all his life, at least since he'd been able to fly, he'd had to keep to the shadows and make sure that no-one ever guessed that there was such a thing as a flying man.

Now, he could soar openly through the skies.

At least, he could if he could get over the reticence he was still feeling at being seen in public in this superhero persona.

The disguise had worked, of course — worked extremely well. Far better than his wildest expectations. He'd been welcomed. His skills had been appreciated — in fact, demanded. He'd been accepted.


Something all his life he thought he'd be denied — at least, denied for his true self, as opposed to the normal human he pretended to be. And yet he'd not only been accepted, but wanted. Needed.

And it felt good.

Life was good.

He flew in a wide circle around the city, keeping both eyes and ears open for signs of problems below. The Luthor Freeway, he noticed, was open for traffic again; hard to imagine that a mere three hours or so ago it had been the scene of appalling carnage. Well, not that bad really, he supposed. Three people had been killed which, for a pile-up of that size, was pretty low. Of course, more would have died if he hadn't been able to use his abilities to help; of that he was sure. The woman in the Mustang. Probably little Jenny, trapped in the SUV. And the tanker would have exploded, killing most of those in its immediate vicinity and injuring many others, leaving them with painful burns.

He'd saved lives. People were still walking around — or would be once they'd been discharged from the hospital — because of him.

It wasn't, of course, the first time he'd saved lives, and of course he'd saved Lois's life only the previous night. But this was the first time he'd done it visibly, in full view of anyone who cared to look. This was the first time he'd taken credit — not that he wanted the credit, but it made such a difference not having to run away afterwards to the sound of people asking each other "What *was* that?".

And no-one had run screaming from him, despite what he could do. Despite even his admission — which several bystanders had heard — that he might be from another planet.

Best of all, no-one had asked him who he really was underneath the costume.

Of course, he hadn't yet run into anyone who knew him as Clark Kent. That would be the real test: could he pull off his other persona in front of someone he knew? But he'd face that when he came to it — and anyway, he'd found, oddly enough, that assuming a different personality when in the costume came very easily. Though Lois would no doubt tell him that, far from assuming a different personality, he was actually just discovering a side of himself he'd always suppressed — giving his true nature the freedom to exist.

As for the disguise, he could probably get away with it. As Lois had said several times, who would expect to see Clark Kent in a Spandex suit and performing all sorts of amazing feats?


He smiled at that thought. He was pretty sure that he'd be safe.

Life was very good right now. Not only could he use his abilities openly, to help people, in the way he'd always longed to, but the most wonderful woman in the world knew all about him and wanted him anyway. Okay, Lois hadn't mentioned the L-word yet — but then, neither had he. But he knew that she cared. Heck, she hadn't wanted him to leave just now! If that wasn't a sign of how she felt about him, nothing was.

He circled around and made his way towards Hewitt Dock. A couple of hours keeping watch should about do it for tonight, and then he could go back to Lois's for that promised coffee.

Or maybe they'd both just forget about the coffee… He could think of several far more interesting ways to spend the time.


<Think, Lois, think!>

She had to stay Luthor's hand somehow. Distract him from his intention — if he did intend to kill her immediately. She could do nothing with his gun held to the back of her head. He'd have the trigger pulled in a fraction of a second, and she'd be dead moments later.

Delay him. Distract him. That was what she had to do. <*Think, Lois!*>

Clark. She needed Clark.

<Oh, Clark, why couldn't you have come in? Even for just one minute?>

Clark. Her secret weapon. Luthor didn't know anything about Superman, did he? All she had to do was call him.

But if she called him now, she'd be dead before she'd even got Superman's name out.

Clark had said he'd come back…

Maybe… maybe, if she could stall Luthor for long enough, she could keep herself alive until Clark got back. It was a long shot, but it was worth it…

Anything was worth it when she was lying on the floor of her apartment with the cold steel of a gun pressed against the back of her head!

*Distract him!*

"You do disappoint me, Ms Lane," Luthor drawled from behind her, his knee pressing even more painfully into her lumbar region. "No tears? No pleas for mercy? But then, I shouldn't have expected that from the intrepid Lois Lane. I did expect some spunk, though. You know — empty threats and so forth." He laughed. "But then, you're just some pathetic little reporter, after all. Once you don't have the upper hand, you're nothing. I can barely understand why I bothered."

Oh, this was better. He was beginning to lose his focus. He wanted to savour his victory before actually claiming it.

Fool! Didn't he know how easily hubris came before a fall?

"Maybe I am, Luthor," Lois replied, the words coming in gasps due to the pressure on her rib- cage. "But if I am, doesn't the fact that I'm the one who brought you down make you look even worse?"

"Just tell me one thing," Luthor barked, and she could feel spittle on the back of her neck as he spoke. "How did you and Kent get out of that warehouse?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Lois threw back at him.

"Yes, I would." His tone was dangerous. The pressure on her back increased, and the gun- barrel pressed harder against her head.

Making her tone as casual as she could in the circumstances, Lois said, "Okay. I'll tell you. As long as you tell me how you got out of jail."

There was a pause. Then, after a moment, Luthor said, "That's a fair exchange. All right. Go ahead."

"You first," Lois said. "And take that gun away from my head. It makes me nervous."

Luthor laughed. "That sounds like something I'd want to happen, Ms Lane. Do you really think I'm stupid enough to give you another chance to attack me?"

"Keep me covered and I won't be able to," she pointed out. "I'd just like to be able to breathe."

He stood up abruptly, the pressure on her back disappearing. The gun was taken away in the same moment. Lois heaved several gulping breaths and waited for instructions.

"Turn over," he barked. "You can sit up, but keep your hands and feet where I can see them. And if you move a muscle, you'll be dead."

"You're going to kill me anyway, aren't you?" Lois challenged him, moving very slowly into a sitting position — not only because she was in some pain still from the battering her spine and upper arm had taken, but because she was stalling in the vain hope that Clark might arrive soon. He'd promised to come over, after all…

He'd promised. Clark would always keep his promises. Wouldn't he? He wasn't like all the other men she'd known, to whom promises were mere words. Meaningless words.

Clark would come.

<Hurry, Clark!>

"Then why don't you just shoot now?" she asked. "Oh, of course…" she added, as if the idea had only just occurred to her.

"What?" he snapped from the seated position he'd taken up on one of her couches.

"You can't abide not knowing how we escaped. If you kill me now, you'll never know, will you?"

He gave her a look of loathing, then waved the gun in her direction. "Go on. Start talking."

"Oh, no," Lois said airily, though her heart was thumping. "You first. After all, anticipation should be savoured, shouldn't it? I'm sure I remember you saying that in a magazine interview some time ago. Time, was it? Or maybe it was The Economist. Or… no, I think it was GQ, wasn't it? Something frivolous like that, anyway. Maybe it was Playgirl."

She knew that she was angering him, but so much the better. The angrier he got, the less in control he'd be. Of course, she was well aware that she was also running the risk that he'd just lose his temper completely and shoot her out of fury. But, from what she knew of Lex Luthor, she was pretty sure that he wouldn't. He was used to getting his own way. He hated being thwarted. And the fact that she and Clark had escaped alive from what should have been a death-trap was eating away at him. The injury that had done to his pride had been exacerbated by the fact that the two of them had also organised his arrest.

No, he wouldn't kill her until he found out what he wanted to know.

"Well, Lex?" she enquired sweetly, deliberately using his first name, knowing that it would enrage him. "Are you going to start?"

He glared at her. "I was released on bail."

Lois almost felt her jaw dropping. "You were *what*? I don't believe it! With what you were charged with, there's no way any judge in the state would have let you out on bail!"

He shrugged casually, his expression smug. "It's not difficult when you have the right connections."

"Connections?" Oh, of course, Lois thought cynically, the penny dropping. "You mean a judge on your payroll," she said flatly.

"As I said, it helps to have the right connections. My lawyer has been working on it all day, and bail was agreed this evening."

"There was nothing about it on the news," Lois pointed out.

"The hearing was in camera," Luthor said with another shrug. "I doubt if even that dedicated Mr Plod of yours knows about it yet." He waved his gun at her. "Now it's your turn. Get a move on!"

<Okay> Lois told herself. <Think. Stall. Find a way to…>

"You want to know how we escaped from that warehouse before it exploded?" she enquired.

"You know I do. Stop delaying!"

She couldn't give Clark's secret away, of course. She needed a story, something reasonably convincing, just to allow her another couple of minutes' breathing-space. Just until Clark came to rescue her.

Wait a minute… Why was she depending on a man to come and rescue her anyway? she suddenly thought indignantly. This was far from the first time that she'd faced down a gunman determined to kill her. And she'd always managed to get away before. Why should this time be any different?

<You never faced Lex Luthor before>

He was just another angry crook with a gun, she told herself fiercely. And she was smarter than him. She could get the better of him. All she needed was to get him to put that gun down, and then she could take him…

<Some chance, Lois. He's not going to let go of it>

"Get on with it!" Luthor barked suddenly. "Don't think I'll wait all night. I'm not that desperate to know how you escaped. What was it? Kent prove himself to be Mr Universe or something and break the chains with his bare hands?" he scoffed. "I doubt it somehow. I could almost see you doing it, though — don't they call you Mad Dog Lane?" he added scornfully.

If only he knew how close he was to the truth, Lois mused in dark amusement.

And then the thought struck her.

The truth!

Or, at least, a version of it…

"Actually, no," she drawled. "I save my metal- chewing for when there's an R in the month. No," she added. "We just yelled, *Help!! Superman!*" She screamed the words, hoping desperately that Clark would hear her.

Luthor stared at her in outright disbelief. "Do you think I was born yesterday? Who the hell is Superman?"

Lois met his stare, her eyes wide. "You've never heard of Superman?"

He waved the gun at her again. "You're trying to take me for a fool. It won't work. Have you forgotten that I've been running multi-billion- dollar corporations for years? No-one puts one over on me."

"Really? Then they clearly haven't tried hard enough," Lois retorted, but at the same time she was muttering to herself, over and over, <Clark! Where are you? Help! Please help…>

"Superman is…" she began, stalling for time again and alarmed at the deliberate way the gun was now being aimed at her. "He is… well, he's just — " She took a deep breath and yelled at the top of her voice, "*SUPERMAN!!!*"

<Clark, please hear… please hear! Clark! I need you, Clark…>

"It's a mistake to mess with me, Ms Lane," Luthor said, his voice cold steel, just like the gun he was aiming steadily at her. "Say your last goodbyes."

Lois stifled a whimper. This was it; he was really going to kill her.

Scenes from her life began to flash before her eyes. Most of all Clark; walking with Clark, flying with him, kissing him… falling in love with him.

It was just *bloody* Murphy's Law, wasn't it? No sooner had she finally found a man she could trust, a man who clearly thought she was wonderful and who, she could tell, wanted to be with her every bit as much as she wanted to be with him — no sooner had she found the one man she *loved* — then some *creep* of an egotistical, arrogant, lower-than-pocket-lint criminal wanted to take it all away from her.

<Clark, I love you… Please, help me!>

And, as her lips formed the word 'Superman' once more, Luthor pulled back the safety-catch, and his fingers began to squeeze the trigger.


Clark was sitting on top of the tallest building in the Dock area, watching the roads below like a hawk. Waiting for something to happen… or not happen.

He wasn't sure whether this was the most effective use of his time: hanging around out of sight just in case he might catch a mugger at work. That was something he'd have to work out, though — how best to use his abilities to help *prevent* crime as much as to deal with the aftermath.

Although he figured that Lois's Inspector Henderson would probably tell him that preventing crime was none of his business…

He couldn't accept that, though. Surely it was better to offer a deterrent than to deal with the consequences afterwards? If he could help prevent people getting hurt — or worse, killed — surely that was of benefit to the whole community? Including the police, who simply didn't have the resources to put officers on every street corner. And even if they could, Clark thought ruefully, some people would start complaining about Big Brother and a police state.

So, was it best to lurk and catch someone in the act and let the word go around that there was a new guy in town who wasn't going to stand for that kind of activity? Or would it be better to make himself very visible from time to time, being seen cruising around the skies above Metropolis, so that the criminal fraternity would never know where he'd turn up next and would be well aware that they could be caught? He wasn't sure. He really needed to work out a strategy for all of this.

Lois. Lois would help — in fact, she probably already had a strategy half-formed in her head! He should have stayed for coffee. Though he was going to see her in an hour or so, he reminded himself; they could discuss it then. It wasn't as if he had no ideas himself — it was just that he wanted to be able to bounce some thoughts around with someone who'd understand.

With Lois.

The Spandex costume itself, of course, wasn't designed for lurking in the shadows, Clark reminded himself — and anyway, one of the main advantages of this disguise, surely, was that he no longer had to lurk in the shadows when trying to help, wasn't it? So maybe it would be better to be seen. To do that, though, he needed people to be aware of who he was, and that he presented no threat. The Planet's morning edition should help there, he hoped.

Nothing was stirring below. Maybe it was time to go back to Lois's place, after all. He didn't imagine that she'd object if he arrived earlier than he'd promised.

Thoughts of Lois filled his mind, and suddenly it almost felt as if he could hear her voice in his head. It was faint, but he thought that she was calling him Superman. Of course, he was Superman right at the moment. He smiled ruefully. She did like that name she'd invented for him, didn't she?

Then he heard her voice again. And he realised the truth.

He wasn't imagining it. Lois was really calling for him.

Her tone was panicked, pleading for help.

Lois was in danger! And she needed him!

He leapt upwards, taking flight at the same instant. Barrelling through the air towards her apartment, he cursed himself. Lois was in trouble. The woman he *loved* was terrified, in danger, and he'd ignored her scream for him!

He just hoped he could get there in time… He *had* to get there in time!

"Lois!" he screamed, the words lost due to the speed he was travelling.

It took far too long to reach her apartment. Mere seconds, but even a split-second could be too long. If her life was in danger… if he failed to save her…

<I love you, Lois!>

He'd only just found her. The woman he loved more than anything else in the world. The one woman who accepted him just as he was — who *wanted* him as he was. Who thought that his abilities were something special, not something to be ashamed of.

*His* woman.

He was straining his vision to see what was going on long before he was within sight of Lois's apartment. It was so darned *frustrating* that he couldn't see…

And then he did see. Lex Luthor, with a gun trained on Lois.

And Luthor was saying, "Say your last goodbyes."

He could see his own name — the name of the character they'd created together for him — forming on her lips.

He put on one final burst of speed, aiming himself directly at her apartment window.


Several things happened at once.

Taking a deep breath, Lois swung her foot out, kicking hard.

There was a ferocious sound of shattering glass.

And a gunshot echoed through the living-room.

A blue and red blur was all she could see for several seconds. Then the blur stopped, and she could see Lex Luthor on the ground, tied up with strips of Clark's cape, and Clark himself — well, Superman — was glaring furiously down at his prisoner.

Then he looked at her, and the anguish combined with relief in his expression settled any lingering doubts she might have had about his feelings for her. "Are you all right, Lois? He didn't hurt you? That gunshot… I was aiming at the gun, but I couldn't -"

"I'm fine," she said quickly. "I don't know where the bullet went, but it didn't hit me."

"You caught his elbow with that kick," Clark explained. "Nice work! But I should have been here sooner. I almost wasn't in time…"

Distress was stark in his voice; Lois wanted to go to him, comfort him — and comfort herself in the process. But the timing was wrong. He was there in his costume, as Superman. The last thing they could afford to do was have anyone link Superman too closely with Lois Lane. Apart from anything else, if she was dating Clark and someone made the connection…

Focus on the here and now. There were things to be done, she told herself.

She glanced around and behind her, then noticed a hole in the plaster just to the right of the now-shattered window. "I hope my landlord has a good insurance policy," she murmured with a grin. She could feel herself giddy with relief at having survived; she'd been so sure that she was going to die.

"If you don't mind," an indignant voice interrupted, "this is getting boring. Just who is this… this badly-dressed Neanderthal?"

"Let me introduce you, Lex," Lois exclaimed with a grin. Jumping to her feet, she added, "Lex Luthor… meet Superman."

"You are increasingly tedious," Luthor complained. "You really expect me to believe that someone masquerades under that ridiculous name? Why… *Super*man?" he asked contemptuously.

Lois shrugged. "Because he's Super, of course." She turned to Clark. "Show him, Superman."

"With pleasure," Clark growled. Bending, he picked up Luthor's gun and, as Lois and Luthor both watched, he crushed it in one hand.

Lois glanced back at Luthor and noticed with great satisfaction that his face had blanched. He cowered and almost seemed to shrink into the carpet.

"You'd better lie very still until the police come, Mr Luthor," Clark said very coldly. "I'm sure you can imagine what I could do to you if you made me even more angry than I am right now."

The police… of course. Lois hurried to the phone and within seconds was connected to Henderson.

"What's the problem, Lane?" the officer enquired, sounding distracted.

"It's currently lying tied up on my apartment floor, actually," she told him.

"Huh? What the heck are you talking about, Lois?"

"Lex Luthor," she informed him. "Did you know that he was out on bail?"

"The DA's office just told us." By the sound of Henderson's tone, he'd been even less impressed with that news than she herself had. "Wait a second," the detective added quickly. "Are you saying that he's at your place?"

"That's what I just said. He's not a very happy bunny at the moment, though, so you might want to send some of your boys around here ASAP."

There was a pause, and she could hear Henderson's muffled voice clearly shouting instructions to some hapless minion. Then he came back on the line. "Are you okay, Lois?" He actually sounded anxious.

"I'm fine," she reassured him. "A little shaken up — and if you ever repeat that, Bill, you're dead."

"Your secret's safe with me," he said dryly. "Now, you said Luthor's tied up? He's not any danger to anyone?"

"He's not going anywhere," she pronounced with satisfaction. "He's tied up, and his gun is out of commission. A… friend is standing guard over him, and he'll stay until your guys get here."

"Thanks, Lois. I owe you one," the detective said, and she could tell that the words were sincere.

"*Another* one, you mean," Lois pointed out. "Think nothing of it. Just try to keep him in jail this time, huh?"


An hour later, things had finally quietened down, to Clark's relief. A blustering Lex Luthor — though he'd stopped blustering once 'Superman' had stared him down — had been escorted out of Lois's apartment and off to the police station to be charged with attempted murder in addition to all the other charges already pending against him.

Henderson, who'd arrived about five minutes behind the uniformed officers, had made the acquaintance of Superman and taken initial statements from both Clark and Lois. He'd shown little reaction when he'd walked into the apartment and seen the caped figure; one eyebrow had crawled up infinitesimally and he'd said to Lois, "This is your friend, I assume?"

"Meet Superman," Lois had said instantly, looking pleased to have, she'd obviously thought, got one up on the inspector.

Extending his hand to Superman, Henderson had drawled, "Yes, so I heard. You're on our side, I hope?" That had been to Clark.

"Our side?"

"The side of law and order, of course."

"I believe in trying to do what's right," Clark had answered. "And, yes, I believe in justice and protecting life, and that's usually the side of law and order, isn't it?"

The shrewd look Henderson had given him in response had contained both respect and a tacit warning.

But one thing had relieved Clark. Both the inspector and Luthor had seen him as Clark Kent — and had seen him in Lois's company. Yet neither of them had shown any sign of recognition when they'd looked at him as Superman. The disguise obviously worked with people who knew him too.

Not that either Henderson or Luthor knew him well. But Clark was very sure that both men rarely forgot a face. Henderson was too shrewd, and knew his job too well, for that; and as for Luthor, it was in the interests of a man like him, who maintained the fa‡ade of a respectable businessman while running a crime empire, to remember everyone he met. Neither of them, however, had realised that they'd seen Superman before.

All the same, all he'd wanted was to be alone with Lois. But they'd had to endure a frustrating wait while the forensic team had taken fingerprints from the apartment, removed the bullet from the apartment wall and worked out how Luthor had got into the apartment in the first place — up the fire escape and through the bedroom window, which he'd somehow managed to loosen from its frame. Then the entire scene had been photographed several times, including Lois's shattered window and the glass all over the floor. And after a while, it had occurred to Clark that, if he didn't want his disguise to be blown on his first day on the job, he shouldn't hang around Lois's apartment, so he'd made his excuses and flown off.

And then, while airborne, he'd heard a scream for help, and had ended up rescuing a man from a mugger in Hewitt Dock after all.

Now, finally, he was back and knocking on Lois's door again. A quick glance through the wall had shown him that the police had all gone, and that Lois was crouched on the floor sweeping up the broken glass. That was a task he wasn't too happy to see her doing. He'd have that cleaned up for her in under a second.

He knocked, and watched her get to her feet in response. As soon as she opened the door, Clark stepped forward and swept her into his arms, kicking the door shut behind him. "I've needed this for the last hour!" he groaned, burying his face in her hair. "I was so scared… he could have killed you! He almost did!"

She stroked his hair, her free arm wrapped tightly around him. "I'm fine, Clark. He didn't hurt me. I'm *fine*!"

"I know. But you nearly weren't!" He pulled back, gazing at her beloved features, making sure that there wasn't even the faintest bruise. "I was almost too late, Lois!"

She ran her fingertips over his face, her touch the sweetest caress he'd ever experienced. "You weren't too late, Clark. And anyway, I managed to wreck his aim."

"You did." Clark smiled, despite his inner anguish. "That was some kick."

"Yeah." She grinned. "He thought he was better than me in a fight, but I showed him." As if she'd just remembered something, Lois added, "What did you mean earlier? When you said you aimed at the gun?"

Clark gestured to his eyes. "Heat vision. I was going to make him drop it before he fired. But then I saw you kick out, so I cut it off and I was about to grab the bullet." He took a deep breath, the events, which had happened so quickly at the time and yet to him had seemed to take place in one endless moment, causing him remembered pain.

"You would have saved me, Clark. I know that," Lois assured him.

"Yeah. I would." He nodded; reliving the scene in his memory had reassured him of that much. If Lois hadn't kicked, he would have burned the gun out of Luthor's hand before the man had pulled the trigger, or he could have sealed up the end with his heat vision. Or, if those hadn't worked, he could have got in front of Lois in less than a heartbeat, stopping the bullet for her. Or simply just pulled her out of the way.

He would have saved her. Even if she hadn't saved herself, she would still have been alive.

Sliding his hands down her arms, he linked his hands with hers, intertwining their fingers. She gazed up at him, her eyes wide with concern for him.

For him! After all that she'd gone through this evening!

"Lois." He heard the faint choke in his voice, and paused to take another steadying breath. "Lois, I love you."

Her lips curved into an awed, delighted smile. "I love you, too, Clark."


Everything else was just details, Lois decided as she melted into Clark's arms. They would write up the story of Luthor's attempt on her life in the morning — it wouldn't make it into the paper any earlier than tomorrow's afternoon edition in any case.

There were other things they needed to do too, she thought dizzily. They probably needed to talk some more about Superman and how to play the story to ensure that the message got across that he was there to help, not to be a threat. She needed to help Clark find an apartment — they'd do that over the next few days, and she didn't envisage it being a problem.

And one of these days she and Clark might actually manage to go out on a date.

But none of that was important right at this moment.

Only just over an hour ago, she'd thought that she was seconds away from death — for the second time in two days. She'd survived both times, but both times she'd been confronted with the knowledge of what was most important in life. Not awards; not a successful career; not being better than everyone else in the business.

None of that mattered remotely beside two very important facts.

Clark loved her. She loved Clark.

And she knew that, somehow, they were destined to be together.

After all, he'd come many billions of miles from wherever it was he was born to end up on Earth. From there, he'd come from Smallville to Metropolis, where out of all the millions of women in the city he'd met her.

Just what were the chances of that happening by accident?

No; she had to believe that they were meant to be together.

Lois had never believed in any sort of concept of destiny or 'soulmates', but yet where she and Clark were concerned it just felt right.

Somehow, by some plan of Fate, Larry had been destined to meet Charlie. And to fall in love.

And, she was determined, they would live happily ever after.

Well, once she'd had enough of kissing him for tonight, that was.

But, to her surprise, he broke off the kiss.

"Lois?" Clark sounded amused and just a little chagrined. "You're kind of not with me," he complained.

"Sorry." She gave him a sheepish smile. "Was just thinking."

"Oh?" He still seemed mildly put out. Men and their egos, she thought wryly.

"About us," she explained.

"Ah." Now he looked happier. "I don't know, though… right now, I'd rather kiss you than think about you."

"That can be arranged," she told him, and promptly reached up to kiss him.

He kissed her back enthusiastically, but drew back after a few minutes. "Thinking about us?"

"Yeah." She moved out of his arms and, taking his hand, led him to one of her sofas. Once seated, he immediately drew her back against his chest, resting his head on top of hers.

"I guess I was just thinking about how amazing it is that we met and fell in love," she explained. "I mean, the chances against us running into each other had to be astronomical. Just think — if you'd never come to Metropolis… if you'd never come to Earth!"

Clark was silent for a moment; then he said slowly, "I'm not so sure. I mean, I know I never believed that I'd find a woman who could accept me as I am — who could *love* me despite everything that I am -"

Lois interrupted him before he could continue. "*Despite* what you are, Clark?" She shook her head, then nudged him gently, chastisingly, with her elbow. "Don't you know that I love you precisely *because* of everything you are? Because of your courage and your need to do what's right, your loyalty and steadfastness — and the fact that under your incredible strength you're so vulnerable, Clark. And that makes me believe that you need me just as much as I need you."

His arms tightened around her. "Lois, you know that I need you! What we did today — inventing Superman — I couldn't have done that without you. You gave me the courage to use my abilities publicly." He kissed the top of her head, then added, "Anyway, back to how amazing it is that we met, and we were both single… I think now that I've just been waiting for you. No other woman meant anything to me… because she wasn't you."

"You believe that everyone has a soulmate?" Lois asked.

"I don't know. What I do know is this: if I can come to this planet from wherever I came from — maybe millions of miles away — and find the one woman I know I'll love for the rest of my life, then there has to be a chance at happiness for everyone." He fell silent, nuzzling at her hair.

Lois was silent too, wondering at his words. He would love her for the rest of his life.

Well, that was how she felt too, but to hear Clark say the words aloud… It was scary, and at the same time the most wonderful words she could ever have heard.

"Yeah, well, in our case it's probably just as well," she said, teasing. "After all, we were both convinced that no-one else would have us, weren't we?"

She felt him smile against her head. "No-one else is getting the chance!" he growled.

"Yeah, well, you make sure you don't encourage any Superman groupies," Lois warned in response.

"Hmmm…" he murmured consideringly. "Does that include a certain reporter who loves to fly?"

"Hey!" She reached behind and punched his arm. "I'm not a groupie!"

His hand curved around her chin, turning her towards him. "No, you're not," he told her softly. "You're my woman."

"And you're my man."

His gaze holding hers, Clark took Lois's hand in his and raised it to his lips, brushing the back of her hand with a soft kiss. "I love you, Larry Long. And I love you, Lois Lane."

Lois reached around and up, covering Clark's lips with hers in a sweet kiss. "And I love you, Charlie King." Interspersing her words with kisses, she continued. "And I love you, Superman. And, most of all, I love you, Clark Kent."

Before she'd finished her final words, Clark's arms had come tightly around her again, and within seconds she was lost in his kiss once more.

Which was exactly where she wanted to be.