Buried Secrets By Nan Smith hachiban@earthlink.net Rated: PG
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally claim them. Part of this story contains scenes and dialogue from both the pilot and the episode "Strange Visitor". Any dialogue from those episodes, or any other episode of the series is hereby credited to the writers of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman". Any new characters, scenes, dialogue and the story itself belong to me.

This is the sequel to Teamwork. It begins the morning after the capture of Barbara Trevino. Superman doesn't exist yet. Lois and Clark have gone to Smallville and Lois and Martha are in the process of making him a costume.

Buried Secrets By Nan Smith

"I don't know," Clark said, studying himself doubtfully in the full-length mirror. At least, the red, yellow and blue costume wasn't as outrageous as the stripes or the leopard- skin pattern. That one had reminded him vividly of Cat Grant's coat.

Martha Kent surveyed her tall, muscular son in the skin- tight outfit and nudged Lois. "Well, one thing's for sure. No one's going to be looking at his face."

"Mom!" Clark protested.

His mother laughed. "Well, they don't call 'em tights for nothing!"

Lois grinned, looking him up and down. "She's right, Clark. I like this one the best of all of them."

Martha Kent stood back, examining the outfit clinically. "There's something missing. Something ... " Abruptly, she broke off and hurried to the bed. As Clark watched, she dragged an old suitcase from beneath it and unsnapped the catches.

"What's that?" he asked.

Martha opened it and took a folded blanket from within. "The baby blanket we found you in so long ago. And this."

'This' was a roughly triangular shaped decal in yellow, and on it, a stylized S. Martha Kent held it up to his chest. "I think this is perfect."

"What is it?" Lois asked.

"It was in the ship," Martha said. "There was another symbol like it on the ship itself, so it must have meant something important, but I can't imagine what. Still, it's associated with your origins, so I think it's appropriate. What do you think, Lois?"

"I think it's a good idea," Lois said. "Just what the outfit needs."

"Okay," Martha said. "Go change out of it, Clark, and I'll put in the final stitching."

Clark hesitated. "Are you sure?" He fingered the scarlet cape. "I'm not so sure about the cape."

"I think it looks terrific," Lois informed him with a wide grin. She gave him a once over and her grin widened. "Very dashing."

"I love it!" Martha said, with enthusiasm. "It'll look great when you're flying!"

"Does it have to be quite so tight?" he asked, knowing how weak his protest sounded.

Martha nodded. "It cuts down on wind resistance," she stated, unequivocally.

Clark sighed and wisely gave up the battle. He knew when he'd been outvoted, and he was no match for two determined women. Sometimes there were disadvantages to having a mother and a girlfriend who were as strong-willed as these two, he thought. He took one more look at himself in the mirror and sighed again. Oh well, as his mother had said, no one was going to be looking at his face. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. The suit certainly left little to the imagination, and the thought of Cat Grant's reaction made him cringe.

Lois seemed to read his thoughts. "It's not a bit fair that you have such a gorgeous physique and you don't even have to work for it," she remarked. "Cat's going to step on her tongue when she sees you wearing that. I can't say that I'll be able to blame her, either."

"Lois!" he protested, aware that his face was bright pink.

She laughed again, looking him over in a way that made him blush more deeply. "It's okay, Clark. I won't tease you anymore. Seriously, you look wonderful. More than wonderful. Now go change so your mom can finish the outfit."

Obediently, he retired to the other room to change, aware that his mother and Lois were giggling in the bedroom. He peeled off the spandex, careful not to disturb the basting that held it together. It looked like his plan might work out all right, he thought. With the other alterations to his appearance, it didn't seem as if anyone was likely to recognize him. As Lois had pointed out earlier this morning when he'd put on that outfit that looked sort of like a modern day Robin Hood, it was as much the attitude as the clothing. He'd have to maintain a somewhat impersonal and distant air, quite unlike his normal self, but that would have to be his alter ego's personality to keep him separate from Clark Kent. With Lois to back him up, they could manage this, he was certain of it.

A moment later, he emerged into the bedroom again to hand over the suit. Lois had been looking him over speculatively since he'd tried on the first of the trial costumes, he thought, which was slightly intimidating. Then he reminded himself that she'd already seen him in considerably less and blushed again. He'd been doing that a lot this morning.

Martha took the costume. "This won't take long. Why don't you take Lois out and show her the farm, Clark? Or, you could take her to town. I know a small town Christmas isn't a match for Christmas in the city, but you might want to introduce her around to some of our friends."

"You want to?" Clark asked. "We could drop by Maisie's coffee shop. Everybody goes there."

"Well ... "

"Go ahead," Martha urged. "Let Clark buy you a hot fudge sundae. Maisie makes the best hot fudge sundae in three counties."

That did the trick. "Okay, why not," Lois said. "But how are you going to explain being here when you're supposed to be in Metropolis?"

"We flew in for our day off," Clark said, breezily. "Everybody knows I have friends who are private pilots."

"Yeah, right," Lois said. "I remember when we were trying to find out if you knew anything about planes, last week."

"Actually, I do," Clark said. "A friend of mine really is a private pilot. He's given me some lessons. He said I was a fast learner."

"I'll bet," Lois said. "Why didn't you remember when you got in the cockpit, then?"

Clark shrugged. "I have no idea."

**********

"Mm! This is delicious, Clark!" Lois dug into her hot fudge sundae with enthusiasm.

Clark nodded, smiling. "As long as I can remember, Maisie's has made one of the best hot fudge sundaes that I've ever tasted," he said.

"Clark!" a female voice said. "I thought you were in Metropolis!"

Lois glanced around, a spoonful of ice cream halfway to her mouth. A slender, blond woman wearing a sheriff's uniform was standing behind them, her fists planted firmly on her hips.

Clark also turned. "Hi, Rachel. I had a couple of days off, so I flew back home to pick up some of my stuff." He turned back to Lois. "Lois, this is Rachel Harris, our town sheriff. Rachel, Lois Lane, a colleague of mine at the Daily Planet."

Rachel Harris had raised her brows questioningly. "She came with you?"

"Sure. Lois and I are old friends," Clark said, blithely. "She's been looking forward to seeing Smallville and there was a free seat available, so ... " He let the sentence hang.

Lois smiled at Rachel, wondering where the sheriff fit into Clark Kent's history. She obviously knew him and had very possibly grown up knowing him. Still, he'd already said that he'd never met the right woman for him until he'd met Lois, so it followed that Rachel wasn't a threat.

Rachel Harris was quite obviously evaluating Lois as well. She smiled reservedly. "Oh, I see. Strictly professional, huh? Well, Clark and I are old friends. He took me to his high school prom."

"How nice," Lois said. "He and I met a few years ago at a journalism convention in New Orleans. We're partners at the Planet, now."

She saw Clark hide a smile but he didn't comment.

"Wait a minute," Rachel said. "I saw that thing about the Rainforest Consortium on TV last night. That was you, wasn't it?"

"Huh?"

"It was you and Clark that broke it open, wasn't it? I thought your name sounded sort of familiar."

Clark was nodding. "That's right. It was Lois who figured out that Barbara Trevino was selling out the rainforests for personal profit."

Was Clark bragging about *her*? Lois maintained a modest silence but she couldn't help feeling a little smug.

Rachel nodded approvingly. "Nice work. Well, I have to get back to work. We're organizing the police coverage of the Christmas Eve Parade. Are you going to be here this Christmas, Clark?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Clark assured her.

The conversation was interrupted by the squawk of the radio that Rachel carried on her belt and the sheriff excused herself to answer. Lois watched her as she left the little shop and then turned back to Clark. "I guess Smallville is more modern than I'd expected."

"Yup," Clark agreed, his Midwestern accent becoming more pronounced. "We even have real indoor plumbing and gen-u- ine telephone service to most of the outlying homes now. Before long we'll probably even have them new-fangled computers."

Lois jabbed him in the ribs. "You know what I mean, Kent. I wouldn't have expected a female sheriff."

"Smallville isn't that different from most small towns," Clark said. "Rachel's been the sheriff for a couple of years now. Her mom died when she was little and her father was the sheriff while we were growing up. She's wanted to follow in his footsteps all her life. She packs a mean left cross, too."

"Was she your high school girlfriend?" Lois asked. "She seemed kind of ... well ... proprietary."

Clark shook his head. "No, not really. We were friends for years, but I didn't actually have a steady girlfriend in high school. Lana Lang and I dated during my senior year and I'd invited her to the prom, but at the last minute she came down with a terrific case of poison ivy. Rachel's date had rolled his car out on River Road four days before the prom and was in the hospital with two broken legs, and she was kind of at loose ends, too, so we ended up going together."

"Oh," Lois said.

"How are you two doing?" Maisie asked. She glanced at Lois's sundae. "Is anything wrong with it?"

"Oh, no, not at all!" Lois assured her, quickly dipping her spoon into the softening ice cream. "This is one of the best hot fudge sundaes I've ever had. Clark was just introducing me to Sheriff Harris."

"Oh, I see," Maisie said. "Rachel's all business these days, ever since she and Roy broke up two days ago," she told Clark. "I hear they were fighting about her job, again."

"Roy Decker?" Clark inquired.

"Who else? You'd think that if he wants her to be happy, he'd get over being jealous of her being sheriff."

"I thought he'd finally given up trying to get her to quit," Clark said.

"You know Roy. 'A woman's place is in the home, not a squad car.' You'd think he grew up in the nineteenth century instead of the twentieth." Maisie mopped up a drop of ice cream on the little table. "I told Rachel a long time ago that she should dump him and find herself a man with a brain but you wait, they'll be back together in another week and fighting over her job again in two."

"They'll work it out," Clark said. He looked across at Lois. "Nobody's business is secret in Smallville."

"Oh?" she asked. "Then how come I haven't heard any dirt on you?"

Maisie laughed. "With Clark here, what you see is what you get. You wait, though. Everybody in town will know he brought you here to see his place before the day is out."

"'What you see is what you get,'" Lois quoted, after Maisie had gone to help another customer. "Interesting."

Clark shrugged. "So, do you want to come back here for Christmas?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject. "Christmas is always the biggest party in Smallville."

"I don't know," Lois said. "I'd be intruding into a family thing. I wouldn't want to do that."

Clark shook his head. "You wouldn't be intruding. Mom was asking me about it this morning while you were still asleep. Unless you have plans with your family."

Lois hesitated. "Not if I can help it. Mother will probably be out of rehab by then, Dad will be 'working' again, and the last I heard of Lucy, she was off in Northern California living in one of those religious communes and chanting for inner peace or some such thing."

"Then I can tell Mom you'll come?" Clark asked.

"Well ... I guess so. If you're sure I wouldn't be in the way."

"It's a date, then," Clark said. "I'll tell Mom when we get back to the house."

**********

Smallville, decked up for Christmas, reminded her of something out of a postcard or a painting, Lois thought as she and Clark strolled about the town. The storm two nights ago had coated the landscape in white. The snowplows had been busy and the main street was mostly clear but the roofs of stores and houses were thick with layers of snow and the park looked like a winter wonderland. Children were playing, building snowmen and snow forts, and they passed a group of kids in the middle of a spirited snowball fight. The air was chilly but the afternoon sun was warm on her face and she couldn't help wishing for a moment that she had grown up in a place like this. Metropolis was her home and she wouldn't want to stay away from it for very long, but if her father had been a doctor in Smallville, with the town grapevine as vigorous as it evidently was, maybe he wouldn't have found it so easy to conduct his extramarital affairs. Maybe her family would have stayed together instead of becoming the train wreck it had been.

Looking up at Clark, strolling beside her, she found herself envying him his childhood. He'd been a foundling whose origins were shrouded in mystery and yet he and his adoptive parents had been a real family. She shook her head abruptly. It wasn't the town or the city; it was the people. If they had lived in Metropolis, the Kents would have been no less a family than they were in Smallville.

And Clark wanted that kind of relationship with her.

She'd had a real family, once, but she'd long since given up the dream of ever having one again. Her mother and father had made a disaster of their marriage and her few attempts at a real relationship as an adult had been similarly disastrous. She'd concluded, after Claude, that she simply wasn't lovable and that that kind of thing wasn't for her. She'd resigned herself to it and thought that she had armored herself against those feelings and hopes forever -- and then, Clark had literally dropped into her life and turned all that on its head. If she was willing to take the chance, it was possible she could have all the things that she had begun to believe were out of her reach. With Clark. If she committed to him, she was pretty certain that it would be forever.

Forever. It was a scary thought, but it was dazzling at the same time. It was taking the chance that was the hurdle. She'd taken that chance with Claude and it had all blown up in her face. Clark was no Claude but she had the feeling that the Fates were just sitting there, waiting and watching for the opportunity to ruin things again.

"Clark -- " she began.

He looked down at her questioningly.

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"For putting up with my superstitions."

"Oh." He dropped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a slight hug. "Well, as long as you admit it's a superstition."

"It's really silly, but I can't help it," she admitted, guiltily. "It's when things seem to be perfect that something always happens to ruin it."

"Just as long as it doesn't go on forever," he said.

"It won't, I promise. Just until I'm -- "

"I know. Until you're a little more comfortable with it."

"More sure of it," she amended. "I just have this awful feeling that if we say it out loud, things will fall apart. Thanks for not saying anything. It *won't* be forever -- I promise."

"Good things are worth waiting for," he told her, quite seriously. "I don't give up easily, once I've made up my mind."

"Oh, Clark ... "

She slipped an arm through his, resting a gloved hand on his sleeve. He glanced down at her again, smiling, and she found herself smiling back.

"So, what do you think of my hometown?" he asked, changing the subject quite deliberately.

"It's nice," she said. "Not a bit like Metropolis, though."

"No. It's funny, you know. I love Smallville, but I already like Metropolis, too. There's something about the city that appeals to me ... the excitement; everyone is going somewhere. Something is always happening."

Lois nodded. "I know. That's exactly how I feel. I've never wanted to leave Metropolis -- at least not permanently."

"Then I guess it's a good thing I decided to settle down permanently there," he said. "When we get back, I need to find an apartment. I can't live at the Apollo Hotel forever -- although I haven't spent a night there, since I was hired at the Planet."

"You've been too busy guarding me," Lois said, feeling guiltier than ever. Clark had protected her single- mindedly and she was letting her insecurities get in the way of the relationship they both wanted.

"Lois, it's all right. Really."

"No, it's not," she said. "I'll tell you what; I know guys who know guys. Maybe Big Louie can get you a deal on a good place. I feel like I owe you some help, considering that you've been too busy keeping me alive to do any apartment hunting. I'll contact him when we get back."

"'Big Louie'?" Clark asked.

"Yeah. His daughter was my doubles partner in college."

"Tennis?"

"Uh huh. Big Louie does -- well, 'business' in Metropolis. He's one of my sources."

"Oh." Clark raised an eyebrow. "I guess you must know some real characters around the city."

Lois nodded, wondering for an instant if he was angling for her to give him the names of her informants, then she kicked herself mentally. If he was going to be her partner, as she intended, he had every right to expect that she would introduce him to her contacts. He wouldn't try to steal them. Besides, he'd never given her a single reason to mistrust him and every reason to trust him. Clark was neither Claude nor (thank heaven) her father.

"Yeah, I'll take you to meet Louie," she promised. "And Bobby Bigmouth."

"Bobby *who*?"

"Bigmouth," Lois repeated. "I have no idea what his real name is. He's been Bobby Bigmouth as long as I've known him, and it's not because he's a snitch. He's skinny as a rail and eats practically nonstop."

"Maybe he has a tapeworm," Clark suggested.

"I don't think even that could explain it," Lois said. "The man puts away enough food for fifty tapeworms. I think he must have a black hole where his stomach should be."

Clark laughed. He had a nice laugh, she thought. His smile lit up his whole face and made her want to laugh with him. What had happened to the suspicious, prickly Lois Lane of a couple of weeks ago? That Lois was beginning to seem more and more like a bad dream, fading gradually away the longer she stayed in his company. She had been replaced by one who was uncertain, but hopeful. If this was being in love, then she had it bad for a man who had no idea where he came from.

Speaking of which ...

"Clark," she said, "could you show me where your parents found you?"

"Sure," he said. "Shuster's Field is only a little ways from the farm. We can take a short detour on the way home."

**********

Shuster's Field was a flat, snow-covered plain, dotted with trees and surrounded by a wooden fence. They pulled the battered Kent pickup truck up to the gate and Clark cut the engine.

"Mom and Dad were driving along this road when they saw what they thought was a meteor in the sky," Clark said pointing. "Come on."

"Where?" Lois asked.

"Dad said it landed just beyond that clump of trees. Let's go see."

"You've never seen the spot?"

He shook his head. "A couple of years after the ship landed, Old Man Shuster started using this pasture for pedigreed cattle. Nobody was allowed in here. He was paranoid about rustlers and anybody who even climbed the fence was in danger of getting hauled off by the sheriff for trespassing."

"Even his neighbors?"

"Yeah. He was kind of a grouch. It got to be a bit of a joke hereabouts. There was quite a flap a few years ago, when a couple of guys snooping around in there turned out to be from the DEA, looking for drugs. His stud bull chased them both up a tree. Shuster called the sheriff to arrest them -- he didn't know who they were, of course -- and the sheriff had to rescue them. It turned out they were in the wrong place, or so they said. The whole town was laughing about it."

Lois found herself grinning. "I'd like to have seen it. I don't want to get chased by a bull, though." She craned her neck. "How come I don't see any cows?"

"Well, for one thing, it's winter. You can't graze cattle in the wintertime," Clark explained. "Besides, Shuster died last year and his son sold off the property and the cattle. Dad bought the land. He says he's going to use part of it to raise corn. Anyway, the field's been empty ever since. Come on."

The gate was chained shut but Clark slipped an arm around her waist, took her hand and they floated easily over the barrier. He set her down carefully on the snowy ground and they started across the field toward the trees.

Lois found herself thankful that she had worn her boots. The field was rough and uneven under the deceptive layer of snow. Dead and broken stalks stuck through the crust, jabbing at her legs. After a few moments, Clark stopped. "Do you want to go back?" he asked. "It's not as easy as I thought it would be. There's probably nothing to see, anyway."

Lois shook her head. "No, now that we're here, I'd like to see the place."

"Okay." Clark kept a hand on her arm, obviously ready to catch her if she stumbled, and they continued across the field.

And in the end, it was Clark who stumbled. They were approaching the grove of trees that Clark had indicated was their goal when he suddenly staggered and nearly fell. Lois grabbed him. "Clark! What's wrong?"

"I don't know," he gasped. "I feel really weird."

"Weird how?" she demanded.

He leaned heavily against her. "Lois, something's wrong. Let's get out of here."

Lois put an arm around his waist and they turned to retrace their steps. They had gone only about ten feet when he stopped again. "I feel okay, now. Hold it a minute."

"Clark, what happened?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

He hesitated. "I don't know. I've never felt anything like that before."

"Like what?"

"I felt ... I don't know, exactly. Like my strength was draining away. My joints hurt, my muscles ached and I felt light-headed. It must be like how I've been told ordinary people feel when they're sick."

She was temporarily diverted. "You've never been sick?"

"No."

"And you feel okay, now?"

"Yeah."

"Then what could have caused it?"

"I don't know." He was frowning, biting his lower lip.

"Could it be something about this place? How far are we from where your ship came down?"

"Dad said it was just on the other side of these trees -- right by the big cottonwood tree."

"Okay, I'm going to go over there and look and see if there's anything to see. *You* --" She fixed him with a stern glare, "-- Stay here! Understand?"

"Okay." He looked worried. "Lois, be careful. Whatever this was, it sneaked up on me gradually. I didn't realize it for a few steps, but the closer I got to the trees, the weirder I felt. And it worked the other way, when we backed up. I think there might be something here that caused it."

"Well, I didn't feel anything, so whatever it is may not bother me. I'll be right back." She patted his arm. "I'll watch my step, Clark. Trust me."

He nodded, somewhat reluctantly. "Be careful," he repeated.

She marched determinedly toward the small grove of trees. As far as she could see, everything looked normal -- well, as normal as a snow-covered, country landscape could look to a city girl. Beyond the grove, a single tree stood. Nothing about it appeared to be unusual, but that was probably the tree under which Martha and Jonathan Kent had found the little ship bearing the baby whom they had made their son.

She stopped, looking around in all directions. Nothing seemed unusual. Slightly disappointed, she turned to retrace her steps to where Clark waited.

**********

"You're sure you feel all right, now?" Martha Kent asked.

"I feel fine," Clark assured her.

"You don't seem to be running a fever." She felt his forehead. "What do you think it could have been?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. I've never felt anything like it."

Lois broke in. "Martha, you and Jonathan probably remember Clark's childhood better than he does. Was he ever sick?"

"No," Martha said. "He fell out of a tree once when he was six and broke a leg, but he's never been sick."

"Never? Didn't he ever have a splinter that got infected?"

"No," Martha repeated. "He got a few splinters from carrying wood sometimes, or when he was 'helping' Jonathan with the chores -- " she smiled at her son, " --when he was small, but they never seemed to give him a problem."

"No cavities, even?"

"No," his mother said, shaking her head. "Our dentist was really pleased with the way he took care of his teeth. It was a good thing he never needed braces, though."

"I'll say," Lois agreed. "Anyway, I guess we can conclude that whatever the problem was, it's gone for now. But something about that place might have caused it. Could the ship have had something in it that might have been left behind?"

"I don't see how," Jonathan said. "We took Clark and his blankets and the decal -- and I buried the ship the next night."

"In Shuster's Field?" Lois asked.

"No. I didn't want to hide it anywhere that there might have been traces of the landing, or anyplace where it might have been associated with us. I buried it out in Porcupine Gulch, where nobody ever goes."

"Still," Martha Kent said, "something caused it, and that something might be in Shuster's Field, since this happened there and has never happened before."

"I flew over the field from four thousand feet and x-rayed it, especially around that grove," Clark said, "but I didn't see anything unusual -- especially since I didn't have any idea what to look for. The problem is, that field originally had one of the first settlements in the area on it. There's junk like you wouldn't believe down there."

"Yes, I know," his mother said. "I think there was a gambling hall there, originally, and a livery stable. They didn't establish the current town limits until 1809."

"Why?" Lois asked, diverted.

"The river changed course," Jonathan said. "Some settlers upstream dammed it up and there was a big flood. It completely washed out most of the town and killed a lot of people so when they rebuilt, they picked another spot."

"Hasn't it happened again?" Lois asked. "Why would Shuster graze his pedigreed cattle in a field that flooded?"

"The flood washed away the settlement upstream, too," Jonathan said. "I remember reading about the local history of Smallville in fifth grade. Anyway, a few floods later, it broke the dam and the river returned to its original course. But by that time, the town was already rebuilt on its new site."

"So whatever we're looking for could be buried somewhere around there?" Lois said. "I mean, it's been a long time since you found the ship."

"Not that long!" Clark protested. "I'm only twenty-seven!"

"Still, that's long enough to bury something pretty thoroughly," Lois pointed out. "Between the snow and dirt and rain and so forth, not to mention Mr. Shuster's pedigreed cows, it could get covered up pretty fast. Besides, we probably wouldn't recognize it if we saw it. If there's something there, it's dangerous. Clark almost passed out." She planted her fists on her hips and fixed him with the determined look that he was beginning to recognize. "I think you should stay away from Shuster's Field from now on until we can figure it out."

"I think that's a very good idea," Martha Kent said in a no-nonsense tone. "There's no reason for you to go back, is there?"

"I guess not." Clark looked at Lois. "Still, it's a little scary that there might be something out there that can hurt me."

"I don't see why," Lois said. "The rest of us have all kinds of things around that can hurt us, all the time. If there's only one thing that can hurt you, I think you're pretty lucky."

Clark laughed at her undeniable logic. Trust Lois to put everything in perspective. "I guess you're right."

"Of course I'm right," she said, somewhat smugly. "This is one mystery you're going to have to leave to us, though."

"I'll be cleaning up that field in a couple of months, getting it ready to plow and plant," Jonathan Kent said. "You can bet I'll be looking for anything unusual. We just don't want to draw any attention to it now by doing anything different than normal, if you're going public soon. I still remember those men who came around after your ship landed. We don't want them back."

**********

It was fairly quiet on Wednesday morning when she and Clark returned to the city. Lois always liked the times when she had a day off in the middle of the week. The streets were less crowded than the time after work when she had to fight her way through rush hour traffic to get home. Another benefit was the fact that she was able to tend to business more easily than on weekends, when many of the places of business had abbreviated hours -- and besides, every other person who worked during the week was trying to accomplish his or her own business at the same time.

A call to Big Louie produced the results that she had hoped for, and by eleven o'clock in the morning, she and Clark were climbing the steps to 344 Clinton Street, an apartment house in one of the older sections of Metropolis, only a few blocks from her own place. Floyd McDavitt, the manager, was an enormously fat man with a balding head who looked at them with a cynical expression in his brown eyes and made the mistake of addressing his questions to Lois.

Fortunately for the manager, Clark interceded before she committed homicide, by suggesting that he take them to look at the apartment. McDavitt hunted around for his keys and located them at last in a bottom drawer of his desk.

The apartment looked as if a Kansas cyclone had hit it, Lois thought as he opened the door and gestured them through. An F-4, at least, she amended. A short flight of steps descended into a sunken living room covered with debris. Dust and cobwebs coated every surface and the windows were so filthy that she couldn't see through the glass. A large, brown spider had constructed an intricate web in one upper corner and the remains of her victims hung pathetically from the strands. The carpet was torn and dirty, stained with what looked like coffee, and trash was scattered everywhere. The place smelled of mildew as well as other less pleasant odors, and Lois wrinkled her nose in distaste.

McDavitt gestured around. "Quietest building in Metropolis," he informed them, apparently unaware of the siren as an emergency vehicle tore past on the street outside.

Lois raised an eyebrow at Clark. McDavitt missed it, glancing around, apparently oblivious to the mess. "New to Metropolis?" he inquired, obviously sizing Clark up as an out-of-towner.

"Not completely," Clark said. "I've been to Metropolis on and off for years."

"Where do you work?"

"The Daily Planet." Clark's eyes met Lois's over the top of his head and his eyes gleamed with amusement. "I'm the new staff writer."

"Oh." The man regarded Lois, measuringly. "You married?"

"No."

"Girlfriend?"

Clark didn't hesitate or glance at Lois. "No."

"Boyfriend?"

This time, Clark did turn to give him a long look, a slightly incredulous expression on his face and Lois smothered the urge to laugh.

"I mind my own business," Floyd informed him. "Where you from?"

"Kansas," Clark said. He strolled into the kitchen. "Nice floor plan."

"A bit too open for my taste," Lois said. She opened a cupboard. The door fell off in her hand.

"A few screws is all," the manager said. Lois and Clark looked at each other. Clark moved to the sink and tried the faucet. A stream of murky brown liquid gushed from the tap.

"Minerals," the man said. "Good for the liver."

The balcony opened from one side of the living room on an empty alley with a thrilling view of a brick, windowless wall, Lois saw. McDavitt noticed her expression and spoke to Clark. "Nice view. You can see out, no one can see in. Walk around in the buff. I do."

The image produced by that remark was one Lois would rather not have envisioned and the expression on Clark's face nearly broke her control. She fixed her gaze on a peeling plaster wall and fought a masterly battle with the impulse to break into hysterical laughter.

"How much?" Clark asked.

"Nine-fifty," Floyd said.

"Nine hundred and fifty dollars?" Clark repeated, sounding slightly shocked.

"You want cheap, go back to Iowa."

"Kansas," Clark corrected.

"Whatever. This is Metropolis. Nine even. Take it or leave it."

"Maybe I'd better ask Big Louie about that," Lois said. "He might think nine hundred was a bit steep for this ... " She peeled a ragged piece of plaster from the wall and looked at Clark. " ... place."

Floyd gave her a sour look. "Eight-fifty. That's my last offer."

Clark took the plaster from her and crumbled it in one hand. "Do you mind if I make a few repairs?"

The man glanced at him and then at Lois, who raised an eyebrow at him.

"I guess not," he said, reluctantly.

Clark looked at Lois. She nodded infinitesimally. "Okay, I'll take it," he said. "When can I move in?"

"As soon as the check clears," the man said.

"Fine." Clark opened his checkbook and began to write.

"I'll have some extra keys made," Floyd said. He looked back at Lois, whom he appeared to realize was the more formidable of the two. "Is she gonna need one?"

"Of course," Lois said.

Floyd grunted. "Figures."

**********

"Now what?' Clark asked as they emerged out onto the street again.

Lois glanced at her watch. "I guess we could go get some lunch. Or we could make some sandwiches at my place. I always have a few chores to do on my days off."

Clark shrugged. "If you have some supplies, I can make something for us," he suggested. "I'm not as good a cook as Mom, but I know my way around a kitchen. Then I can help you with your chores, since I don't have much to do right now. It's the least I can do after you helped me get the apartment."

"Sure," Lois agreed. "I need to call Henderson and see if I can pick up my car, too. My insurance company has to 'evaluate' the damage before they'll pay to fix it."

"Does your policy pay for assassination attempts?" Clark asked.

"No, but it covers vandalism," she said.

"Close enough. Okay, why don't we stop by a market and I can pick up some food, and we'll go to your place. How do you feel about chicken salad sandwiches?"

The trip to the corner market didn't take long and some fifteen minutes later, Lois was unlocking her apartment door. Clark glanced at the window that he had covered with cardboard when they had left, but apparently the manager had seen to the repairs, Lois saw. Her fish were all right, as Clark had assured her before they had gone to Smallville. One of the cushions of her sofa lay on the floor. She didn't recall leaving it like that, but in the confusion of the moment, when someone had fired a rocket- propelled grenade through her window, it could easily have happened. She picked it up and restored it to its place. Clark took the bag of groceries to the kitchen while she headed to her bedroom to change clothing.

And stopped in the doorway.

Her dresser drawers had been pulled out and her clothing was scattered across the rug. The stack of printer paper with the research that Jimmy had done for her a couple of weeks before had been strewn everywhere and her closet door gaped open. The contents had been dumped carelessly on her bed. Even the drawer of the bedside table lay upside down on the floor.

"Clark!"

He was beside her so quickly that it startled her. She still hadn't accustomed herself to the speed of which he was capable. "What's the matter?"

"Look." She gestured around at the chaos that had been her bedroom.

Clark was silent for several seconds, taking in the mess. "It looks as if someone has been searching your apartment," he said, slowly. "I noticed the drawer of your desk was open, and your cupboards were, too. I guess we better call the police."

"Yeah, I guess so," Lois said, still stunned. "But what on Earth were they looking for?"

**********

"Is anything missing?" William Henderson stood motionless, looking around at Lois's bedroom.

"I don't think so," Lois said, uncertainly. "None of my jewelry is gone and my other valuables all seem to be here, too. If they took something, I haven't noticed it yet. I think they might have been looking for something."

The detective frowned. "Do you have any idea what it might have been?"

Clark spoke up. "Inspector, do you think it could be tied to the Trevino case?"

Henderson didn't answer at first. "You said when you talked to me two nights ago that you thought there might be a connection to LexCorp."

Clark nodded. "Hobbs Mining and Lexwood Logging are both subsidiaries of LexCorp. If someone higher up is involved, he might have been trying to find out if Lois had any evidence of a connection."

"Did you?" Henderson looked directly at her.

"No," Lois said. "Nothing concrete, anyway. And none of it was here."

The dour police officer shoved his hands into his pockets. "Just as well. Officially, my report doesn't mention LexCorp. A word to the wise, Lois: if you're going to investigate them, don't let anyone know that you might suspect that they're anything but what they seem."

"Why?"

"Let's just say that there have been other investigations of LexCorp that have ended badly. Nothing has ever been found that ever implicates anyone of importance but some odd coincidences have been fatal for some of the investigators."

"Are you saying -- "

Henderson shook his head. "I'm not saying anything. Just be careful." He turned toward the door. "I'll make a report of the break-in. If anything shows up missing, let me know."

"One question, Bill," Lois said. "Why didn't you just send a regular officer? Why come here yourself?"

One corner of his mouth twitched. "Let's say, I have my suspicions, too, and leave it at that."

**********

After the officer had gone, Lois and Clark stood looking at the mess around them and at each other for several minutes, without speaking. At last, Lois bent to pick up a dress shoe that had fallen into her bedside trash basket.

"Was Henderson saying what I think he was saying?" Clark asked, slowly.

"That the criminal activity comes from the highest level?" Lois said. "I think he was."

"But that would mean Lex Luthor, himself. Isn't he supposed to be a philanthropist?"

Lois shrugged, looking around at the chaos of her bedroom. "As far as I know, there isn't even a whisper about his integrity, but he wouldn't be the first person with a supposedly spotless reputation who turned out to have some skeletons in his closet."

"I guess we need to do some closer investigation," Clark said. "If he isn't behind it -- if it's one of his corporate officers -- we need to clear him and nail the subordinate. And if he *is* involved, we need to find out. I've heard a little about him, and I read his unauthorized biography a couple of nights ago -- all five of them. Rags to riches, wrong side of the tracks, self-made billionaire, owns dozens of companies, employs thousands of people. Man of the Year, every year, a finger in every pie but rarely appears in public. I can understand that part, I suppose, but if he dodges the media, it's going to be a little difficult to interview him."

"Maybe," Lois said. "Remember, I told you I've been trying to get the first one-on-one interview with him. I think I might have a way to do it."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. The Luthor Foundation is sponsoring the Christmas Charity Ball this year. It's tomorrow night and everybody who's anybody in Metropolis will be at it. I'm going to call Perry and see if I can get a couple of the Planet's complementary tickets." She waded across her room to the telephone. "After that, I guess the first thing to do is to clean up this mess."

"I'll go finish making lunch," Clark said. "We can eat and then I'll help you pick things up."

"Thanks, Clark." Lois glanced around her chaotic bedroom. She had been somewhat suspicious of LexCorp before, of course, but now she was much moreso. In a way, she supposed, the break-in had been a good thing. It told her that someone was still worried about what she knew and the lack of any evidence might go some way to convincing Mr. X of her ignorance. Hopefully, she thought, the fact that the intruder had found nothing and that her article had made no mention of any LexCorp connection, would cause whoever was behind this to conclude that she hadn't added up two and two. She might not have decided to probe quite so deeply if someone hadn't chosen to tear her apartment to shreds. That last, she knew, wasn't very likely, but at least, now she was sure that someone still had something to hide.

"I think," Clark said, "that I'm not going to quit watching out for you, yet -- until I'm sure that whoever our Mr. X is has decided that he's safe. I'm not going to relax and discover that he's blown up your apartment or something, tomorrow morning."

Lois sighed. "In that case, why don't you sleep in my living room tonight? I'd hate to think of you sitting outside on that bench all night. It's starting to cloud up again."

He hesitated. "Are you sure? I'd be okay. I don't feel the cold."

"Clark, even you need sleep occasionally," she said. "Besides, if it snowed, I'd probably feel so guilty I wouldn't be able to sleep. Now, you go and finish fixing lunch while I call Perry, okay? I'm not going to argue about it."

He looked for a moment as if he was going to protest, but she glared at him and at last, he gave in gracefully. "Okay, okay. Far be it from me to rob you of a night's sleep. I'll have lunch ready in a minute."

When Clark said a minute, that was literally what he meant, she thought. She picked up the receiver and punched in the number for the Planet's editor. As it rang, she heard the unmistakable sounds of Clark moving about at more than human speed, probably cleaning up her living room and kitchen from the aftermath of the search. A few seconds later, she heard the chop-chop-chop of a knife on a cutting board as he began to prepare the sandwiches. The chopping speed accelerated as she listened until it resembled the purr of a distant motor. She grinned slightly.

Someone picked up the phone on the other end. Jimmy's voice said, "Daily Planet, Editor's office."

"Jimmy, it's Lois. Is Perry around?"

"Oh, hi, Lois. Sure; he's in the conference room talking to a police detective."

"A police detective? Why?"

"We had a break-in last night."

"Where was the night staff?"

"Oh, Harry was out covering a fire and Martin has the flu. Anyway, they knocked our night watchman on the head and -- "

"What did they take?"

"Well ... they got your computer."

"*What*?"

"Yeah. They took your computer."

"Oh, *great*! Everything was on that computer! Even my -- " She broke off. "Jimmy, ask Perry to call me when he's finished talking to the detective. I need to talk to him about something important. Somebody broke into my apartment, too."

"You're kidding! What did they get?"

"As far as I can tell, nothing. I think I know what they might have been looking for, but they wouldn't have found anything about it. Give Perry my message, okay?"

Clark was standing behind her when she hung up. "Somebody stole your computer?" he asked.

"How did you ... " she began. He tapped his ear and realization dawned. "Oh, right."

"What was on it?" he asked.

"My novel!" Lois said, indignantly.

"Your *novel*?"

"And all my contacts and research!"

"Don't you back it up on a floppy?"

Lois shook her head, angrily. "I never needed to before!"

Clark opened his mouth and closed it again, wisely rethinking what he had been going to say. "Did it have any of that stuff about the LexCorp connection on it?"

"No. I put all the information Jimmy got for me into my bag. It's still there."

"So they wouldn't find anything?"

"No. Not a thing." She glowered at the mess around her. Somebody was going to pay for all this inconvenience; that was for sure.

"That's lucky, then. You better write down as many of your contacts as you can remember, I guess. I don't know what else to do about it."

Lois growled deep in her throat. "I do. It's personal, now. Whoever is behind this is toast."

**********

"A week!" Lois fumed as they left the repair shop three hours later. "How am I supposed to manage for a week with a subcompact while they fix my car? What's so complicated about replacing a broken windshield?"

Clark shifted uncomfortably in the tiny bucket seat. Soft, white flakes spatted against the windshield, leaving big globs of snow that began to melt upon contact with the warm glass. He didn't see how he was going to manage for a week crammed into this thing, either. He was discovering a completely unsuspected dislike for enclosed spaces, jammed in as he was with his knees pulled nearly to his chest.

Lois glanced at him, irritation written plainly on her features. "Clark, do you think if I park this thing at my apartment that we could fly to the Planet to pick up the tickets? I feel like I'm being squeezed on all sides."

"You took the words right out of my mouth," he said.

"I thought you looked a little uncomfortable," she said.

"That's an understatement," he muttered.

"Clark, are you claustrophobic?"

"Huh?"

"You know, afraid of closed spaces."

He nodded. "I think maybe I am. A little."

"Why? I can't see your parents locking you in a closet for punishment or something."

He laughed shortly. "No, I don't think so. But Dad says the ship was pretty small. Maybe that had something to do with it, if I was in it for a long time."

She turned onto the main drag and cussed as a larger car tried to change lanes into her. The woman in the passenger seat gave them a rude gesture as the vehicle cut sharply in front of her, making her step hard on the brakes. "I'm going to get killed if I drive this thing for a week. Yeah," she added, returning to the previous topic. "That's something I hadn't thought of. I wonder how long you were in it? How old did you say you were when they found you?"

"The doctor told Mom and Dad that I was a little under three months. Maybe ten or eleven weeks."

Lois shook her head. "Who would put a baby that age in a ship and shoot it into space? And why?"

"I guess that's the million dollar question," Clark said.

"I'd like to see that ship someday," she said, a little wistfully.

"Maybe in a few years I'll dig it up for you," he said. "After we're sure that no one is looking around in Smallville for my origins."

"Yeah," she agreed. "That's something we definitely don't want." She made a face. "The darned snow is getting thicker."

"It's just another two blocks," Clark said. He glanced uneasily out the window. This little car was definitely *not* his cup of tea. The sooner he was able to get out of it, the better.

The light ahead of them changed to red and Lois stepped on the brakes but the car continued forward toward the intersection, sliding over the thin sheet of water that coated the street, courtesy of the melting snow. "I can't stop!"

Clark shoved his door open and thrust one foot out onto the street, dragging it along to slow the car's momentum. They skidded to a halt against the curb. Lois simply looked at him in silence for a moment.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah." Slowly, she released her death grip on the wheel. "Let me guess. Your favorite cartoon show as a child was 'The Flintstones'."

"Actually, it was 'Tom and Jerry'," Clark said.

"You could have fooled me." Lois leaned back as far as she could in the tiny seat. "Wait until my heart slows down. I want to get this thing to my place and get out of it. I've faced down mad bombers and assassins but this car really scares me."

"That makes two of us." Slowly, Clark drew his foot back inside and closed the door. People passing by glanced incuriously at them.

After a moment, Lois pulled cautiously out onto the street again. A large bus blew his horn at her and she jumped, but fortunately the remainder of the trip was marred by no further incidents. As she shut off the engine, in front of her apartment house, Clark opened the door and stepped out into the snow. A moment later, Lois joined him.

"Well, amazingly, we're still alive," she said, acerbically. "Let's go up to the roof and you can fly us to the Planet."

"I think the alley will do just as well," Clark said. "Nobody's going to see us in this."

Together, they ducked into the alley and a moment later they were airborne. Clark took them straight up until they were well above most of the buildings that lay between Lois's apartment and the Daily Planet. It was unlikely that anyone would see them, but still, he thought, the sooner he started wearing his outfit, the better.

Lois seemed to have the uncanny ability to read his thoughts, he was reflecting an instant later. There was no other explanation for her next question.

"When are you going to start wearing your new outfit in public?" she asked.

"I don't know. I need to pick the right time to, um ... "

"Make your debut?" she filled in.

"Yeah, I guess so. How do you think I should do it?"

"Well, probably if you just show up at an accident or something, that would work," she said. "We'll have to talk this over. Remember, you promised I get the exclusive."

He touched down on the roof of the Planet. "You'll get it," he promised. "Just as soon as I figure out how I'm going to manage this."

"We'll come up with something," she said. "Let's go pick up those tickets and then go reserve a tux for you, unless you have one of your own."

He shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

Lois opened the door to the stairs. "No reason you should. Come on. I want to check over my desk and make sure the burglar didn't take anything besides my computer."

**********

Perry White looked around as the door to the stairs opened and Lois and Clark emerged from the stairwell. He raised his eyebrows at the sight. He had never seen Lois Lane so comfortable with even a temporary partner before, but she seemed to get along extremely well with the new guy, and the fact was, Kent appeared to be a winner, even after only a few days. He'd saved Lois's life several times while she was being stalked by Finn and together they had brought in a headline story. He'd had a feeling about the young man when he'd interviewed.

Still, there had been the break-in last night and then the information that Lois's apartment had been ransacked. Something was definitely up.

"Lois!" he barked, as the two reporters descended the ramp into the Pit. "In my office!"

He saw her say something to Clark, who nodded, and the two of them separated. Lois turned toward his office and Clark headed across the room toward Jimmy.

He held the door for Lois and let her precede him into the office. "Lois, by any chance do you have any idea what the guys who broke in here were after?" he inquired, closing the panel after him.

She didn't answer at once. When she did, he was surprised to see a glint of anger in her eyes. "Someone very powerful is trying to be certain I haven't made the connection between Barbara Trevino and him."

Perry felt his jaw drop. "*What*?"

"You heard me, Perry. Clark and I think that there's a much bigger fish behind this thing than just Trevino -- and a lot more going on. I think he doesn't want to kill me if he doesn't have to -- that might make someone suspect that there's more to it than just the attempt to mine the rainforest. Fortunately, I didn't have the information they were looking for on my computer or in my apartment."

Perry stared at her. "Do you mind fillin' me in?"

She shrugged. "The Trevino thing just scratched the surface. There's a lot more. Clark and I have some leads, and we're following them. We have evidence of a tie-in to a business conglomerate here in the United States."

"I see. You don't want to tell me anything."

She looked directly at him. "Chief, you're safer not knowing anything about it, believe me."

He stared back at her, trying to read her expression. "You're serious, aren't you?"

She nodded. "As a heart attack, as I've heard you say. This is bigger than any of us had any idea in the beginning."

"Hmm." Perry frowned at her. "You're sure you can handle it?"

"We can handle it," she assured him. "Clark and I work pretty well, together."

He had to consciously think about not letting his jaw drop a second time. Lois had had four partners in the last year and all four of them had sworn that Lane was crazy and that he'd quit before he worked with her again. Her opinion of each of them hadn't been even that complimentary. "You want to keep Kent as a partner?"

She nodded. "He saved my life six times in three days, Perry, and I wouldn't have gotten the Trevino story without him."

"*Six* times?"

"Six times." She looked straight at him. "I've never had a partner like him."

"I'll say. You usually chew them up and spit them out."

"They weren't Clark," she said, unarguably. "I needed a partner who could keep up with me, and none of the others could do that. They didn't have any imagination and they weren't willing to take the risks necessary to get the big stories. Clark does and he has the experience and skill to do what needs to be done. Our styles are different but they complement each other and we somehow manage to get along, even when we disagree. I want him as *my* partner, Perry. He'd be wasted on anybody else."

Perry grinned. "Lack of confidence isn't a big problem with you, is it?"

Lois shrugged. "I'm the best and you know it. Do I get him?"

"Who am I to argue with success?" He glanced into the newsroom where Kent was talking to Jimmy. "I guess he's yours."

"Thanks. By the way, can I pick up those tickets, now?"

"Oh -- uh, right." He reached into his desk drawer and produced the requested items.

She took them and tucked them into her purse. "We have a few things to work on today, Perry. We'll see you in the morning."

"I thought this was your day off," Perry said.

"It was, until I walked into my apartment this morning. It's probably a good thing I wasn't there last night."

Starting to settle into his desk chair, Perry stopped. "Uh ... do I want to know that?"

"Huh? Oh. I was staying with some friends. Clark suggested I shouldn't stay at my place alone until we were sure the hit man had been called off."

"I thought Finn was in custody."

"He is. I'm talking about the second hit man."

"*Second* hit man? Lois, what in the name o' Elvis's blue suede shoes is goin' on?"

"It's not important, now, Perry. What is important is that Clark and I attend the party tomorrow night. As soon as we have something more concrete, we'll let you know."

It wasn't until she was out the door that the next question popped into his mind. She was going to that party to try to meet Lex Luthor, the multi-billionaire philanthropist and businessman. Did it have anything to do with this mysterious figure that she and Kent were now linking to the Trevino case? Luthor?

The thought seemed beyond the realm of probability, but if Lois and her new partner were on to something involving LexCorp, she hadn't been kidding when she said it was big. For an instant, he considered the feasibility of calling her back and demanding an explanation, then rejected it. He wouldn't get one, if he knew Lois, until she was ready to talk. She worked best with the lightest of hands on the rein, as Perry had discovered early in her career at the Planet, and that technique had frequently resulted in stories for the Planet that left its competitors in the dust.

He glanced out into the newsroom again. Lois was rummaging through her desk drawers and he saw Jimmy hand Clark a large, thick envelope. Clark clapped the boy on one shoulder and crossed the room to Lois. His star reporter said something to her partner, who nodded and held up the envelope. Briefly, he thought back nostalgically to the days when he had been an investigative reporter. He had thrilled to the excitement of the chase, tracked down obscure leads that sometimes took him places he hadn't even considered. In many ways, Lois reminded him of himself when he had been in her place. That was one of the reasons that she had become his protegee.

He wondered for an instant if his behavior had ever been as frustrating to his own editor as Lois's was for him and then decided that it wasn't possible. That was one area where she definitely had the advantage.

With a sigh, he turned back to his computer. He still had Finkelstein's article to edit and as usual it needed a lot of help. Sometimes he wondered why on Earth he'd let Alice talk him into hiring her cousin's wife's brother. The guy's only talent seemed to be sniffing out scandals that belonged in the National Whisper far more than the Planet. He steeled himself for the task and began to read.

**********

"Is that what I think it is?" Lois asked, looking up from the search of her desk drawers.

"These are the photos of the files I took at Hobbs Mining's Brazilian office," Clark said. "Jimmy developed them for me. My bet is that the originals disappeared as soon as the authorities moved in on them."

"I wouldn't take you up on that bet," Lois said. "Anything interesting?"

"I'd rather wait until we're in private," Clark said. "Remember what Henderson suggested."

"Yeah." Lois said. "Good idea. As far as I can tell, nothing's missing here except my computer so I guess we can go. We still have to reserve a tux for you."

"Okay," Clark agreed. He glanced over his shoulder and the slightest of frowns flickered across his features. "You know, Finkelstein is beginning to annoy me. Doesn't the guy know of any kind of relationship between a man and a woman that doesn't involve immediate sex?"

"In a word," Lois said, "no. Even Cat has turned him down at least twice that I know of." She stood up and shoved her chair under her desk. "I hope Perry replaces my computer quickly. I'm going to need it."

They left the newsroom via the stairs and a moment later were launching from the roof into a snowstorm that had grown heavier during the time they had been in the Daily Planet. Lois pulled her coat tightly around her body and snuggled up against Clark. He smiled, pulling her a little closer. "Have I told you that I'm in love with you, Lois?" he said, softly. "I am, you know. For the first time in my life."

"I think it's the first time you've said it right out," Lois said. "I think I'm in love with you, too, Clark. If I'm not, it's a darned good imitation. I don't think I've ever said how much I appreciate it that you haven't pressured me, though. I've thought I was in love before ... but it wasn't like this."

"Is that a good thing?"

She nodded against his chest. "For one thing, I know you love me back; you aren't trying to get something from me."

"Well, I wouldn't say I'm not trying to get something," he said, a slight laugh in his voice. "I want *you*, for the rest of my life. Those are pretty big stakes for any guy."

"That's a little different," she said. "You know what I mean."

His arms tightened around her. "Yes, I do. I shouldn't joke. I know you're a little nervous about it -- and you have every right to be. But Lois, even if the other guys in your life were incredibly stupid, that doesn't mean I am -- at least about you. They didn't know what they had or they couldn't handle it; one or the other. It wasn't you that failed; it was *them* -- for trying to make you something you're not, for being too blind, or just too self-centered to realize what they had. I may not be the world's most insightful man; I've done plenty of dumb things in my life, but I know that much."

Held tightly in his arms, it was impossible to raise a hand to wipe away the teardrops that had begun to fill her eyes. He glanced down sharply. "Don't cry, Lois! What did I say?"

His voice sounded faintly alarmed. She sniffled slightly. "Nothing, really. You're really very convincing, you know that?"

"Oh." There was a smile in his voice. "I mean every word."

"You've known me barely more than a week!"

"I know. So what? I was sure in less than an hour. The only reasons I didn't say anything then were because I knew you'd think I was crazy -- and because I didn't know whether or not I was already married. I didn't really think I was, because I couldn't believe I'd fall so hard for someone if I were in love with someone else, but I needed to be sure."

She turned her face into his shoulder. "Maybe we could try that date thing you were hinting at the other day."

"Do you really want to?" She could hear the faint note of excitement in his voice.

She nodded. "Like I said, you're very convincing."

"Okay, how about Friday night?"

He certainly didn't waste time, she thought, and couldn't help smiling. "All right."

He had begun to descend, and a few seconds later, he set her gently on her feet in a narrow alley. The snow had become quite heavy and was beginning to collect against the walls and in the gutters. The sidewalk was lightly coated, as well, and the footprints of the few persons intrepid enough to brave the storm were starting to fill with fresh flakes. A brisk, slightly damp breeze blew more flakes into her face as they stepped out of the shelter of the alley.

"I hope we don't get snowed in," Lois said.

"Me, too," Clark said. He waved at a little shop halfway down the block. "There's Edgar's Tuxedo Rental. I've rented from them before."

"Really? I thought you said you're new to Metropolis," she said.

"I am. But I can go anywhere in the world to get things," he reminded her. "I've been in and out of Metropolis for years. I've even read your articles in the Daily Planet. I only wish we'd run into each other before."

"So do I," she said, wistfully. "That was you who saved Bertolli's Lear jet, wasn't it?"

He nodded. "Yes. I'd flown into Metropolis for a friend's wedding. I was on my way back to Smallville when I saw the plane hit by lightning."

Lois shook her head. She knew intellectually that he had pushed aside the Nightfall asteroid and most of the other, smaller ones in the swarm but it was still hard to wrap her mind around the fact that he was strong enough to land a jet plane. He *looked* like an ordinary, human man -- an exceptionally well-built and good-looking one, to be sure, but still a man. On the other hand, she had seen the other things he could do, including not only surviving a fall from the roof of a three-story building (she still winced at the memory of that) to shattering the blade of a battleaxe that hit him on the head. Not to mention the flying. Maybe she'd be more able to absorb it when she saw it, sometime, she thought.

The bell tinkled as they pushed through the door into Edgar's Tuxedo Rental and the woman behind the counter looked up. The store was almost empty. A single customer brushed past them, tucking a receipt into the pocket of his overcoat as he left the store.

"Can I help you?" the woman asked.

Clark gave her his wide smile. "Well, I think I need a tux."

"Have you rented here before?" she asked.

"Yes. My name is Clark Kent," he told her.

"Let me check our records," she said. She went to the little desk that sat near the entrance and flipped through a thick book that lay open on the surface. Lois looked around. The shop was small and tasteful, with thick, soft carpet, now somewhat muddy at the entrance. In the display window, two mannequins modeled the wares offered within. Racks of formal clothing hung on all sides. The thought of Clark in a tux caused her to stop and take a deep breath. Just the mental image made her feel slightly breathless.

The woman was back. "I see you've rented here several times. Are there any changes we need to take into account?"

"No," he assured her.

Lois let her attention wander as the little ritual continued. The snow outside was still growing thicker. Traffic had slowed as vehicles moved cautiously through the blowing flakes and the stuff was now collecting on the street as well, wherever the wheels of passing cars weren't beating it into a muddy slush. She glanced at her watch. It was now past four in the afternoon. Rush hour was in full swing and this storm was going to make it difficult to get anywhere in decent time.

Except, she reminded herself, that she didn't have to worry about traffic. There were definitely advantages to traveling by air. Especially, when you knew the pilot.

"Okay, all set," Clark said in her ear and she almost jumped. He was tucking a receipt into his pocket.

"Be careful out there," the woman said. "It's snowing pretty hard."

"Christmas weather," Clark said. He opened the door for Lois and followed her out into the snowstorm.

**********

The alley, which had been conveniently empty when Clark had landed, was now occupied by two transients and a large, cardboard box. The men had set up their makeshift shelter over a grating, from which arose a plume of steam. Lois pulled her coat more tightly around her, looking around for another place where they could take off. The snow was coming down steadily, tiny, glittering flakes that brushed against her face like ghostly fingers.

She leaned into the upward slope as the sidewalk began to slant uphill. Clark reached out to take her hand as they moved along the slippery walk -- which turned out to be a good thing when her foot went out from under her a few steps farther on and she stumbled against him. He steadied her, instantly. "Are you okay?"

"Sure." She gripped his arm, regaining her balance. "I guess you don't have trouble on ice, huh?"

"Not usually, no."

"Mind if I hang onto you?"

He grinned. "Be my guest."

The light at the corner changed to green and they stepped into the street. Lois glanced at the rows of cars, each driver squinting impatiently out through the veil of falling snow at the traffic and pedestrians.

Halfway across the street, the blast of a horn interrupted her thoughts and she glanced quickly up the hill at the lines of stopped cars. A bus was careening toward them. As she stared, paralyzed, the driver swerved into the center turn lane to avoid crashing into the bunched vehicles, but it was obvious that the measure was only prolonging the inevitable. In an almost detached way, she watched its approach, thinking abstractedly that there must be a problem with the brakes. The bus swayed dangerously as the driver maneuvered frantically right and left, and Lois saw people pause in mid-step, frozen in place at the sight of the juggernaut barreling toward them.

A gust of air beside her should have alerted her, but it took a split second to realize what was happening. A streak of blue and red shot toward the bus and an instant later, he was standing directly in its path. Her heart seemed to jump into her mouth as she saw the huge vehicle plunging toward her partner. Even knowing that he couldn't be hurt, all her instincts screamed at her that he was about to be crushed.

She barely heard the chorus of screams, as she stood frozen, staring at the tableau for disaster that loomed in front of her. The bus struck her partner and bore him backwards, but now she saw that it was deliberate on his part. His hands were sunk deeply into the front section of the bus and he leaned into it, bracing his feet against the slippery asphalt, gradually slowing its forward rush.

All at once, the frozen scene unfroze. People scattered in all directions, diving out of the path of the oncoming monster.

But the bus was slowing down. Even as she watched, Clark brought it to a halt in the middle of the crosswalk that a moment ago had been filled with people. For a second, nobody moved, then the crowd converged on her partner. Recollecting herself, Lois rushed forward as well, only to see Clark lift into the air. There was a collective gasp from the crowd as he rose over their heads, his scarlet cape flapping in the breeze. For an instant, he hovered and she saw him wave, and then he was disappearing upward into the cloud of flakes.

Lois stared after him, marveling at his command of drama. A second later, Clark appeared beside her, placidly watching the crowd of suddenly milling people.

"Hi," he said. "How was that?"

She stared at him, open-mouthed, for a long second and then began to laugh.

He raised his eyebrows. "What's so funny?"

"You!" she said, still chuckling. "You do something that incredible and you act like there was nothing special about it!"

He shrugged. "The only thing special about it is that I did it in public. What did you think?"

She took his arm. "It was great. Now what?"

"Now we go back to your place. The next time I'm needed, I'll just show up again. Sooner or later, people will notice."

"I think they already did," she said, dryly.

"You know what I mean. And after that, you can interview me and get the exclusive, just like I promised."

"You're sure you don't want your name on the article?"

"Positive. The less I'm connected with the guy in the red and blue outfit, the better it will be."

"I see your point," she said. Suddenly, she stopped short. "That bus," she said.

"What about it?"

"Not this one," Lois said, waving at the bus, now blocking traffic in the middle of the street. "The one a few months ago that nearly crashed into a bunch of people, right in front of the Planet! The one with the handprint in the front of it! Jimmy got a picture of it. That was you, too, wasn't it?"

He looked guilty. "Yeah."

"One witness saw you but she couldn't describe you, and nobody believed her," she said. "*I* didn't believe her."

"Well," he pointed out, "it really is kind of unbelievable."

"Not anymore," Lois said. "Or at least, not for long."

**********

"I don't know what Perry's going to think of these interviews," Lois was saying twenty minutes later as she and Clark walked away from the confusion around the bus.

"Mass hallucination?" Clark suggested.

"Maybe. But he won't be able to explain the picture I took of your handprints on the bus," Lois said. "And after you've been seen a few more times, he'll be gloating over the fact that I was there when you made your debut."

Clark grinned. This should be interesting, to say the least. He'd expected to be nervous when he made his first appearance in the suit, but when the event actually occurred, he'd been much too busy preventing a disaster to worry about what people were thinking. "Well, the first thing he's going to ask is if you've been drinking."

"Probably," Lois agreed. "But I wasn't just interviewing witnesses. I was a witness, too. There's a phone booth." She headed toward it with a determined stride, only to nearly slip in the icy deposit that coated the sidewalk. Clark caught her arm.

"Watch it!"

She regained her balance. "Yikes! Thanks, Char -- Clark."

"That's the first time you've called me Charlie in a couple of days," he said, amused.

She ducked her head. "I still think of you as Charlie a lot of the time but I'm working at it."

"I don't mind," he said. "Just as long as you don't call me Charlie in front of Perry or Jimmy."

"Or Cat," Lois said. "I won't." She glanced back at the crowd milling around the bus. "Speaking of which, we're going to have to think of a name for you while you're in the suit."

"A name?"

"Sure. People are going to want to know what to call you. 'Hey you' isn't particularly impressive."

"Impressive?" he said. "I've never thought of myself as impressive."

"Take it from me, you are. I'll think of something," she said, determinedly. "Right now I need to make that call to the Planet."

Clark didn't let go of her arm. "It's pretty slippery. Come on, let's get in the air and out of here. You can call the Planet from your apartment while I get a couple of things from my hotel."

The police had arrived and the crowd around the bus hadn't dissipated in the least as they walked away. Clark scanned the area and located an alley halfway down the block from which he could launch into the air. A short time later, they stepped through the door of Lois's apartment.

Lois headed straight for the telephone and dialed the Planet. While she talking, Clark opened the window and looked out. The snow was still coming down heavily, of course. He debated a moment and then grinned. An instant later, he was wearing the blue and red outfit and had taken to the air. If someone saw him flying, all the better, and he could make certain that no one saw him enter the Apollo Hotel. As a matter of fact, a slight detour might be in order...

Suiting the action to the thought, he flew past the Daily Planet, making sure to slow down as he went past the newsroom windows, aware of the startled expressions on the faces of three of his co-workers, and a few seconds later, he was quietly entering the Apollo Hotel. Quickly, he gathered up a change of clothing suitable for the office on the morrow, and a loose-fitting sweat suit. Satisfied that he had the supplies he needed for the next twenty-four hours, he departed openly via the front lobby and a few seconds later was heading back toward Lois's place.

Lois was just hanging up the telephone as he stepped back through the window. "Very cute, Kent," she said with a grin. "Perry thinks half the newsroom has lost its mind. Ralph and Eduardo are swearing they saw a flying man in blue and red go past the window."

"They did," Clark said.

"I know they did. Now all we have to do is be sure other people see you, as well." She crossed the room to snap on the television. "It looks like the storm is the big story right now, though."

As she spoke, the picture shifted to a newswoman standing in the snow, clutching a microphone and speaking excitedly.

"To repeat, the unidentified plane collided with flight 642's wing tip barely ten minutes ago. There was never any communication between the Tower and the other plane, and no one knows where it came from, but the results may be catastrophic for the 797, which is attempting to make an emergency landing here at Metropolis International Airport," she announced. "Fortunately, all other planes have been routed to other airports because of the storm, and the passenger plane, which was headed to Chicago, was near Metropolis International when the accident occurred. The spokesperson for the airline has given us a little more information. The pilot is Captain Avery Grant, of Duluth, a former Air Force veteran and a seven-year employee of Eastern Airlines. His co-pilot is Jennifer Timmons, also a veteran pilot. If anyone can get this aircraft down safely, these two have the best chance. The damage sustained by the plane ... "

Clark dropped the bundle of clothing. "Lois ..."

"Go," she said, immediately.

Impulsively, he leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on her cheek and then he was out the window and headed for the airport, a sonic boom echoing over the city in his wake.

**********

The 797 wasn't difficult for him to find, even in the nearly blinding snowstorm. For one thing, the snow might as well not exist as far as he was concerned, and for the other, it was the only aircraft in the vicinity. Clark poured on the speed, barely aware of the sonic boom that rattled windows all across the city as he exceeded the sound barrier in his hurry to reach the stricken jumbo jet.

The damaged wing was on fire, he saw, as he rocketed toward the plane, and part of it was gone. That the pilots were somehow able to maintain even marginal control was something of a miracle in his opinion, but the huge craft was making its approach when he arrived. Little pieces of the shredded wing were continuing to fall away, and it was going to take more than a miracle to get this bird safely on the ground without help.

Fortunately, the help had arrived.

Clark came up under the enormous belly of the plane just as another section of the wing came away and the aircraft began to slip sideways. Faintly, inside, he could hear the gasps and cries of the terrified passengers, but right now his real attention was on the plane, itself.

In a manner reminiscent of the Lear jet, he picked his spot, directly between the wings, and made contact. The smooth metal gave him no place to grab hold, but this time he had no reason to conceal his presence, so he literally sank his fingers into the plane, making his own handholds.

The huge craft was both heavier and more unwieldy than the smaller Lear jet had been but it was nothing next to Nightfall. Slowly, working with the plane's momentum, he steadied it and began the approach that it could no longer make on its own.

A quick blast of freezing breath put out the fire, thereby greatly lessening the chance of an explosion. Snow swirled around him and the jumbo jet; the remnants of the shattered wing groaned alarmingly in the wind, but he gritted his teeth and eased his burden toward the runway, forcing himself not to hurry. Any sudden move could cause more debris to fall off the already damaged structure and possibly hit someone or something on the ground.

Gently, as if he were carrying a baby, he descended, well aware of the confusion that must currently exist inside the cockpit. Well, that could all be explained later. Right now, the important thing was to get the plane and its passengers safely down.

**********

Watching on the television, the first indication Lois had that Clark had arrived at the scene of the emergency was the appearance of the 797 through the thick veil of blowing snow. It was floating toward the ground as lightly as a feather, and in the background, she could hear the confused chatter of voices with the frequently repeated phrase "flying itself". The plane drew closer and at last she could see the little speck of blue and red midway between the wings that told her -- as if she didn't already know -- that Clark was there, and that he was responsible for the apparent miracle.

Carmen Alvarado, the LNN newscaster, seemed to be struck speechless at the sight. The gigantic aircraft floated forward, toward the news camera and past, and at last, the camera's focus zoomed in on Clark's figure as he guided his burden toward the hangar. The bright red of his cape seemed to blaze against the white background, and Lois held her breath as he set the jumbo jet gently down on its belatedly lowered landing gear.

Fire trucks were converging on the plane, and for an instant, Lois was afraid that the LNN news crew would get the exclusive that Clark had promised her. She should have known better, however, she realized a few seconds later. As the first of the emergency personnel arrived, he lifted from the ground and hovered for an instant just above their heads, as he had after saving the bus a short time ago in order to allow the witnesses a good view of him, and gave a little wave. Then, he vanished straight up into the snowstorm, leaving the news people and the rescuers gaping after him.

"Wow," she murmured. "That is just super." She stopped almost in the middle of the thought. "That's it," she whispered. "Clark, I've just figured out what to call you. And it even matches the 'S'."

**********

It was over two hours later that he appeared in her window again, and Lois had been watching the television with growing bemusement. Some forty minutes after saving the jumbo jet, Clark had resurfaced, this time at a weather- related, multiple car accident on the expressway. After physically moving stalled traffic to allow emergency vehicles through, helping the emergency services extricate trapped drivers and passengers, and apparently rushing a number of the more critical patients to the emergency room, he had flown off once more.

Pictures of Clark bringing in the plane, lifting vehicles to clear the way for the paramedics and fire trucks and ripping doors and roofs off wrecked cars to free the injured were replaying every couple of minutes on the television, and commentators were speculating wildly about the mystery man in red and blue. She had just gotten off the phone with Perry for the third time when he stepped through the window and spun in place, emerging from the miniature whirlwind as her friend and partner.

"Wow," she said. "That's a new move."

"It's a quick way to change," he said. "I found something interesting, by the way."

"What?"

"The other plane."

"Huh?" For a moment she was confused, then she remembered. "Oh, the one that hit Flight 642?"

"Yeah. I found it. It was a small jet. They haven't identified it, yet."

"And?" she asked.

"It was mostly in pieces, of course -- scattered over about two miles of ocean floor. It must have hit the water at full speed -- but somehow, the cockpit was pretty much intact. The thing that I don't understand was that there wasn't any sign of the pilot."

"Couldn't he have bailed out?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't think so. The cockpit was squashed, but it was still closed. I don't see how he could have gotten out. Were you able to see on the television how badly destroyed the wing of the 797 was?"

"LNN showed it."

"Take it from me, nobody could have survived that kind of collision. What amazes me is that the passenger plane managed to stay in the air as long as it did. The rescue crews and the Coast Guard were still searching the area when I left, but I don't think they're going to find anything. There wasn't anything to find."

"Are you saying there wasn't a pilot? That it was some kind of drone?"

"I can't think of any other explanation. Of course, something may turn up later. I talked to a couple of the guys running the search. They told me to come back after they've had more time to look things over and check out the cockpit section I dredged up, and they'd let me know what they found. But, Lois, I searched the whole area pretty thoroughly on the slight chance that the pilot was somehow thrown clear. I even scanned the water a couple of miles outside the search area. I didn't find anyone, dead or alive."

"Could he have -- you know -- sunk?"

He shook his head. "I looked."

"How could you -- oh, yeah."

"As a matter of fact, I pulled the cockpit off the bottom of the ocean," he said. "There wasn't any way that I can see for the pilot to have escaped -- even if by some miracle he survived the collision."

"I'll take your word for it." She thought it over for several seconds. "Okay, suppose it wasn't an accident. Why would someone want to ram a 797? Insurance? Or, maybe ..." She broke off.

"To kill someone who was on it?"

"It sounds pretty farfetched, doesn't it?" she said.

"Kind of."

"Still, I've seen less likely scenarios." She reached for the phone. "I'm calling Jimmy. We're probably completely on the wrong track here, but if it wasn't an accident, it won't hurt to know something about that plane -- who was on it, who would profit if it crashed ... and then you and I have to sit down and do that interview. I just got off the phone to Perry before you got back. He was practically incoherent. You're big news ... Superman."

"Superman?" Both his eyebrows had crawled up.

"Well, the 'S' has to stand for something, and what you've been doing today has been pretty super. If you've got a better name, I'd like to hear it."

He looked for a moment as if he would like to protest, but at last, he shrugged. "Okay, you win. Superman it is."

**********

Perry White leaned against a desk in the nearly deserted newsroom and resisted the urge to tear his hair out, since he didn't have much to spare anymore.

Outside, the snowstorm blanketed the city and he wasn't looking forward to the drive home, but at the moment, his attention was focussed on the newsroom monitors.

The man in the red and blue suit that Lois had reported on had made two more spectacular appearances since the bus incident and he hadn't had a single reporter on either scene. He watched the monitors replaying the rescue of the plane and the man's assistance at the chain-reaction accident on the Expressway and shook his head. Lois's first story had struck him as ridiculous but then it had been *Lois* reporting it, so he'd been forced to give it a few seconds of consideration. But, now ...

He was still tempted to believe it was all some sort of elaborate hoax. A man who could fly, not to mention perform all the other incredible things he'd seen on television today, was almost beyond the realm of belief, but Lois had seen him in person, or so she said...

Through his open office door, he heard the beep from his computer that informed him that he was receiving a fax. With a sigh, he shoved himself upright and made his way back to his office, wondering who would be sending him anything at this time in the evening. Maybe he should leave it for the night editor ...

Two minutes later, he was reading the fax a second time in tense excitement. How she had done it he had no idea, but Lois had produced another miracle for the paper. The exclusive interview with 'Superman', the mysterious, flying man whose image was still showing on the monitors in the other room, would be splashed across the front page of the Daily Planet in the morning. Once more, thanks to Lois, the Daily Planet had scooped the competition and run rings around every other paper in town. It was this kind of thing that allowed him to put up with her sometimes outrageous behavior, her occasional temper tantrums and the frustration that frequently tempted him to climb the walls of his office ...

There was a knock on his doorframe. Perry looked up to see Jimmy standing there. He raised an eyebrow. "What're you still doing here?"

"Lois asked me to do some research on that plane that nearly crashed this afternoon. I thought I'd make a run to the corner deli and get some dinner, since I'm going to be here for a while longer. Did you want anything, Chief?"

Perry shook his head. "Thanks, son, but I'm just about ready to leave. Did she say why she wanted it?"

Jimmy shrugged. "When does she ever? She wants the passenger list and for me to find out who might profit if somebody were to crash the plane. Sounds like Mad Dog Lane might be on the trail of something big."

Perry glanced back at the fax. Was it possible that this Superman guy had told Lois something she hadn't put in the article? Trust Lois to turn the incredible super man into one of her sources. "Could be," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow, kid. Good night."

"Good night, sir." Jimmy grinned and turned away toward the elevator. Perry got to work, making a few, very minor changes to the story and wondering what more there might be to it that hadn't been said. Oh well, he'd talk to her tomorrow and tell her to try to find out more than the very sketchy amount of information on the man's background that was presented here, although the part about the rescue was riveting in its own right.

He finished and read it over one last time before sending it on to the printer. Getting to his feet a moment later, he reached for his coat, reflecting that it had been another normal, if interesting, day at the Daily Planet. Hopefully, Alice wouldn't have given up on him yet. He'd promised to try to make it home on time for once and he was at least an hour late. Oh well -- that was the newspaper business.

He left the office, turning the light out behind him.

**********

"Superman sure has made a splash," Lois said, glancing at the television, where the video of Clark's rescue of the 797 was replaying yet again.

Clark made a face. "I'm not sure I'm ready for all the notoriety," he said.

"You kind of have to expect it," Lois said, prosaically. "It goes with the territory. Just watch out for the teenage groupies."

Clark groaned slightly, dropping his face into his hands. "It's a good thing I'm fast on my feet."

"That's for sure. Being able to fly is a plus, too. I don't want a bunch of women slobbering over my guy -- except maybe from a distance."

"Your guy?" He lifted his head quickly. "Do you mean that?"

She nodded, firmly suppressing the slight twinge of reluctance to admit it. This superstitious behavior wasn't her style, really. Why should acknowledging that she and Clark Kent were in a relationship, albeit a very early one that was already serious, be so scary? She took risks to get her scoops, didn't she? Those risks reaped big dividends, so to speak. If she refused to take them, just because some of them had turned out badly, she'd be no better than some of her colleagues who fancifully styled themselves as reporters. Previous risks she had taken with her personal life hadn't turned out well, but that was before Clark Kent had fallen into her life. He was completely different from the other guys, and more than just because of his incredible abilities. Was she going to throw away this chance at happiness because of a fear of risks? That would be cowardly and Lois Lane wasn't a coward. She'd almost given up on finding the right guy. Hadn't she been thinking since a day or two after she had found him that she wished they had met sooner? Was she going to shove away the man she had been waiting for all her life now that she had him -- if she wanted him -- because she was suddenly developing a case of cold feet?

"Yes, I mean it."

He smiled at her. "I'm glad."

How did he *do* that? One smile and her heart was fluttering like a teenage girl's.

"Clark," she said, "are you sure?"

"Sure of what?"

"About me." She picked up her copy of the Daily Planet that lay on the sofa and folded it carefully. "You don't know me very well. You've seen me at my best; you haven't seen me at my worst. There's a reason that they call me Mad Dog Lane."

"I know. I can hear pretty well, you know. I've heard more people then Ralph talking. Quite a few have been speculating about how long it's going to be before I annoy you and you annihilate me."

"And that doesn't scare you? I mean, they know me better than you do."

He reached out to remove the paper from her hands and she realized she had been shredding the edges and that newspaper confetti lay all over the rug by her feet. "Do they really know you better than I do? Do they know that the aggressive woman who works in their office, who scares her partners half to death, feels as if she isn't someone worth being loved, or even liked? Do they know that she takes the risks she takes because she feels like she has to prove she's worthy of respect? -- a completely unnecessary task, by the way. And do they know she's loyal and courageous and intelligent, and absolutely fascinating?"

"They're too scared of me to even think of it," Lois said. "You're not?"

"If you decide to tear into me, I'm pretty sure I can take it, although I don't promise not to fight back." he said, quietly. "You don't just walk away from someone you love when you disagree, even if it's a pretty vigorous disagreement. You try to work it out. Mom and Dad have had fights, but they're still married because in spite of everything, they still love each other. They knew that even with all the anger and hurt feelings, the relationship was worth the effort and they managed to work things out." He rose from his chair and moved to sit beside her on the sofa. "That's how I feel about you, Lois. I don't know why it happened, but it did." He reached out to take her hand. "Maybe it's one of the differences about me; I don't know but I am sure of one thing: that it's for life."

She squeezed his hand. "You're incredible, did you know that? Somehow when you're talking to me, all the doubts sort of disappear. And Clark, I *want* you to fight back. I don't want a guy who lets me walk all over him. I want someone I can respect."

"I'll try to be that," he said. "And I promise to do my best to fight fair." Slowly, giving her the chance to move away, he slid an arm around her shoulders and scooted a little closer, pulling her against his side. Lois found herself relaxing against him, recalling the evening they had spent in front of the fireplace two nights ago.

"Can we watch something besides the news?" he asked. "I'm getting a bit tired of seeing myself in action."

"Okay." She picked up the remote control and switched the channel. "I think Lethal Weapon is playing. Is that all right with you?"

"No problem," he said.

Lois set the remote down. "It's kind of nice like this."

"Sure is." He pulled her gently back against him. "Do you mind this?"

"No." She rested her head against his shoulder. "It feels nice."

Silence descended on the room except for the chatter of the television. Lois glanced at him, wondering if he would try for more, now that they were alone together in her apartment, but he simply smiled at her, his arm resting lightly on her shoulders. Her return smile turned into a yawn. "Oops, sorry."

"That's okay." He glanced at the wall clock. "Do you know it's nearly ten?"

"The movie is half over," Lois said. She glanced at her window, but the darkness beyond was complete. Not even the usual glow of the city lights was visible through the falling snow. "It would just figure that we'd get snowed in when the Christmas Charity Ball is tomorrow night."

"It will probably be over by tomorrow," Clark said. "Hopefully, they won't cancel the party just for a little snow."

"I hope you're right." She yawned again.

"You're tired," he said. "It's been a busy day. Why don't you go to bed? I'll just settle down in here."

"Are you going to float in your sleep again?" she asked.

"If I do, I promise not to leave any dents in the ceiling," he said, solemnly, but his eyes were twinkling.

Lois found herself giggling. "I'd love to have to explain that!" She yawned again. "Why don't you take the bathroom first. You take a lot less time than I do."

"Okay." He stood up and gave her a hand up from the sofa. "Back in a few seconds." With one hand, he scooped up the bundle of clothing he had brought from his hotel and literally disappeared. Shaking her head slowly, she shut off the television and turned toward her bedroom. From the bathroom, she heard the water come on and a faint whooshing sound and then he was walking out of the bathroom, clad in the sweat suit, his hair ruffled and damp from the shower. "It's all yours."

"Wow," she said.

**********

The sun was shining brightly on a transformed city when Lois and Clark stepped from her apartment building the next morning and she squinted her eyes at the blaze of light reflecting from the snow that coated every flat surface except the street.

The snowplows were busy, she saw, and snow was piled high on both sides of the thoroughfare. Pedestrians were bundled up in coats, boots and mittens, with thick scarves wrapped around their necks as they made their way along the sidewalks.

"Are you sure you want to walk?" Clark asked.

She nodded vigorously. "People are going to be paying attention to the sky today," she said. "It wouldn't be a good idea, at least for a while."

He glanced at her feet. "Well, those are very stylish snow boots, anyway."

"You think so?" Lois regarded the footwear critically. "I got them a couple of months ago. They don't give me much height."

"Why do you want height?" he asked.

"Image," she said, dryly. "I'm a lot smaller than most of the male reporters."

"Believe me, you don't need it," he said. "You're formidable enough just as you are."

She looked down at the toes of the boots again to hide a smile. "I have to admit, they're more comfortable than the heels, and definitely a lot more stable in the snow."

The walked along in silence for some minutes. Lois found that, even with the boots, the icy sidewalk was slippery and availed herself of her partner's arm for stability. She pointed to her usual shortcut through the park as they approached it. "Shall we go the short way? I doubt there are any muggers with battleaxes waiting for us, today."

"Sure," he said.

"Lois!" a voice called, and she looked back to see Linda King hurrying toward them down the sidewalk.

"Oh, great."

"Huh?" Clark glanced around. "Isn't that ...?"

"Linda King. Watch your step."

The reporter for the Herald skidded to a stop beside them. "How did you do it?" the woman demanded.

"Do what?" Lois asked.

"Scored an interview with this Superman guy!" She glanced at Clark. "Do I know you?"

"No," Clark said.

"You were with Lois at the Trevino interview the other day, weren't you?" She held out a hand. "Linda King."

"Clark Kent," Clark said.

"Nice to meet you." Linda turned back to Lois. "How on Earth did you do it?"

"I was just in the right place at the right time," Lois said, truthfully, if unhelpfully. There was certainly no point in going into detail.

Linda stared at her. "You know what I mean. Every reporter in the city is willing to kill for an interview with him! How about an introduction? Professional courtesy, or something?"

"Sorry," Lois said, ironically. "I'm late for an appointment with my 'psychotherapist'. Can't miss any more of them, you know. I might suspect that something was going on with Barbara Trevino and the Rainforest Consortium. Oh," she added, snapping her fingers, "I guess something *was* going on with them." She raised an eyebrow at the other woman. "Too bad you didn't have a clue. Come on, Clark. We're going to be late if we don't hurry."

As they walked away, Clark gave a small grin. "Meow?" he suggested. "Do I sense a certain competitiveness between you two?"

"Just because I wouldn't have Paul on a silver platter, now, doesn't mean I've forgiven her for stealing my story," Lois said.

He laughed. "Whatever happened to Paul?" he asked. "Or, do you know?"

She shrugged. "I suppose he's on some paper or TV station somewhere, but I haven't heard of him since I graduated."

"I suspect he can't say the same of you," Clark murmured. "I heard about you even in Europe. I've seen your stuff in the international edition of the Planet. That thing where you saved the space station was amazing. It isn't surprising that Linda is jealous."

"You know," Lois said, "that's something I think I'd better look at again."

"What? Linda's jealousy?"

"The space program thing. Ever since we found the LexCorp connection to Barbara Trevino, it's been kind of bugging me. I didn't think of it at the time, but when the space station project got into trouble, there was an offer by Lex Luthor to build a private space station -- Space Station Luthor. After this latest thing, do you suppose he could have had something to do with the problems that they were having?"

"Possibly," Clark said, slowly. "It's an interesting point, anyway. But wasn't there a scientist who died in a helicopter explosion that was supposed to have been the saboteur?"

"Yes. Antoinette Baines -- just like Barbara Trevino was supposed to have been the ringleader in this latest thing. Somebody in LexCorp is behind this, Clark, I just know it."

"Maybe Luthor, himself," Clark said. "I'd say the evidence kind of points that way."

"Maybe. Or maybe some other high-ranking company officer. I don't want to make any specific assumptions until I have more information. I wonder how many times some scheme of our Mr. X has fallen through and a subordinate has taken the fall for whoever actually masterminded it?"

"That's a good question," Clark said. "He'd have to be very careful at covering his tracks, though."

"I'd call a helicopter explosion a pretty good way of getting rid of inconvenient loose ends, wouldn't you?" Lois said. "I hope Henderson is taking precautions with Barbara Trevino."

"Me, too. He sounded to me as if he has his suspicions, though."

"Maybe we need to do some research into Dr. Baines's associates in the weeks before she was killed in that accident."

"I think you're right," Clark said. "Did Jimmy ever get Barbara Trevino's phone records for us, do you know?"

"I think that once she was caught, he didn't think we needed them anymore."

"Well, I want them, too. And maybe Jimmy can hunt around and find Dr. Baines's phone records, if they're still available somewhere. I want to see if there's a connection ... "

**********

"Geez, you guys don't want much, do you?" Jimmy sighed. "Okay. Actually, I've still got Trevino's phone records. I'll get 'em for you, and I'll see what I can do about Dr. Baines. Here." He thrust several sheets of paper at Lois. "Here's the passenger list and the other stuff."

"Great." Lois took it and turned her head at Perry's bellow.

"Okay, everybody! Staff meeting in five minutes!"

"Gee," she said, "I wonder what that's about?"

"Three guesses," Clark murmured.

"I don't think I need them." Lois quirked an eyebrow at him. "Come on."

Perry had tacked the front page up onto the bulletin board along with several photographs taken from the LNN broadcasts and the one that Lois had taken with her 35 mm at the scene of the bus rescue. People filed in, all of them looking over the contents of the bulletin board as they took their seats. Cat Grant, she saw, was examining the picture of Clark in the red and blue suit, lifting a woman out through the roof of her crushed car. The gossip columnist was practically drooling. For once, she barely gave Clark a glance as he took his seat next to Lois at the conference table.

Lois considered that it was a refreshing change, but unlikely to be permanent. She leaned back in her chair, watching her coworkers as they filed in. Ralph gave the contents of the board a long look and then turned to whisper to Jerry Mitchell. The man glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. On the other hand, she saw Clark's brows snap together and he turned in his seat to direct a glare at Ralph.

"What?" she whispered.

"Ralph," he said. "Now it's you and Superman."

"*What*?" Her whisper was loud enough to draw a curious glance or two from persons seated nearby.

Perry hadn't missed the byplay. "Is there something you'd care to share with us, Lois?" he inquired.

She glared at Ralph. "I'll take it up with Finkelstein, later. My hearing is a lot better than he thought."

Ralph paled. Satisfied that she'd made her point, Lois turned back to Perry and smiled, brightly. "Never mind, Chief. I'm sure Ralph understands."

In the background, somebody snorted.

Perry glanced at the ceiling for an instant as if invoking Divine help and then jerked a thumb at the bulletin board. "I don't have to tell you people that this is the biggest story of the year. A man who can fly, lift a jumbo jet, rip doors and roofs off of cars -- and, according to what he told Lois, is here to help. Our publisher called me at home last night. He wants to know all about this guy, not just what he sees fit to tell us. I promised him that we at the Planet wouldn't rest until Superman was ours. Are we clear on this?"

Clark moved convulsively and Lois spoke up. "Chief, this isn't fair. I should have the exclusive on the follow-up. Those are the rules."

"The rules are off," Perry said. "This is too big."

"But --"

"Forget it, Lois. Superman's fair game. Every reporter for him or herself. Speaking of which, Kent, where were you while Lois was getting this interview?"

Clark hesitated for an instant and Lois jumped in. "Chief, it was his day off, too! I just happened to be at the right place at the right time! Clark has been needing to find an apartment and bodyguarding me since he got here hasn't left him a lot of time to do it."

"Oh." Perry glanced at Clark, who nodded briefly. "Hadn't thought of that. Okay, boys and girls, that's the word from on high. Find me Superman!"

The phone chose that moment to ring and he picked it up. "White."

The crowd of reporters was breaking up. Cat returned to her study of the photos of Superman and Lois stood up, tugging at Clark's arm. "Come on."

"Where?"

"Somewhere that we can talk."

He followed her from the conference room. Lois promptly marched to the adjoining one and locked the door behind them. "We should have expected this. I figure every paper in town has the same orders out to their people. They're all going to be after you."

"Yeah, I gathered that," he said, sounding resigned. "The problem is, I can't give anybody any more information about myself. I don't have any more -- at least, nothing that I'm willing to talk about and I'm not going to make up something just to make Perry happy."

"I don't expect you to," Lois said. "I had to act a little upset when Perry suspended the rules. It wouldn't have been in character for me not to get mad but I'm not going to pursue you -- except for current scoops, of course. You'll just have to make it a point to avoid the others."

"I'm not sure I can do that, forever," Clark said, "but I probably don't have a choice. I guess I didn't expect this much fuss."

"Well, now you know. We'll cope," Lois said. "It'll be all right. It might not be such a bad idea if you were to report on Superman once in awhile, yourself. You don't want to be the only reporter in town who never gets a scoop from him."

"You're probably right. What are you going to do to Ralph?" Clark asked.

"Give me time. I'll think of something artistic. Ralph's a gossip, which wouldn't be so bad if he'd confine it to his work but he seems to think it extends to his colleagues, as well."

Clark shrugged. "Mom always says the trouble with gossips is that while they'll talk to you about someone else, they'll also talk about you to others. Anything is fodder for a gossip, and if they haven't got anything to talk about, they'll invent something."

"Ralph should be working for the National Whisper," Lois said, crossly. "I have no idea why Perry hired the guy, but it was the worst idea he ever had." A knock on the door made her break off. Jimmy was waving several sheets of paper at them. Lois opened the door. "Are those Trevino's phone records?"

"Yeah. For the last six months. I'm working on the ones for Dr. Baines. It might take me a while, though."

"Thanks," Lois said, taking the offering. "Just get them for me as soon as you can. It's important."

"Will do. Um -- " Jimmy hesitated. "The Chief wants to talk to you in his office."

"We'll be right there," Lois said. She saw Clark lift his head. Was he doing what she thought he was doing?

"Um, Lois, I just remembered, I have to meet that source -- "

"Go ahead," she said, immediately. "I'll see what Perry wants."

"Thanks," he said, quickly and squeezed past Jimmy to hurry toward the ramp.

Lois left the conference room and headed toward Perry's office. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Clark disappear through the door to the stairs and an instant later, she heard a familiar sonic boom.

"What in Elvis's name was that?" Perry asked, as she entered his office.

"I think it was a sonic boom," Lois said.

"Some idiot pilot is going to be in trouble," Perry muttered. "That's illegal over the city."

"Um ... that's the sound Superman makes when he exceeds the sound barrier," Lois said. "He did that, yesterday. I heard it."

"The guy can really fly that fast?" Perry asked, sounding slightly incredulous.

She nodded. "Superman is pretty incredible."

"I can see that. Where's Kent?"

"He was supposed to meet one of our sources," Lois said. "What did you need?"

"I wanted to know if you can arrange another interview with Superman. Your article was good but the information was pretty sketchy. Where did he come from? How did he get here? How long has he been here? Did he have anything to do with the way Nightfall changed course? That's seems awfully coincidental, if you ask me. I want some follow- ups. And," he continued, "what did he tell you that you didn't put in the article?"

Lois rolled her eyes. "Chief, that's a lot of questions. He suspected that the plane that hit the passenger jet was a drone and that the collision was deliberate. Clark and I are trying to verify that, and find out who might be behind it."

"He told you that? Why?"

"He said he knew my reputation," Lois said. "Should there be any other reason?"

Perry sighed. "That was a silly question, wasn't it? Next time you see him, see what else he'll tell you. And ask him about Nightfall, would you?"

"Will do," Lois said. "Is there anything else? I need to look over this stuff Jimmy got me."

She had barely closed the door behind her when Perry jerked it open. His bellow of "Turn on the monitors!" nearly made her jump out of her skin. Jimmy rushed to obey and the monitors came on with a blast of sound. Hastily, Jimmy moderated the noise level while the occupants of the newsroom stared at Superman as he whisked in and out of the upper floors of a burning building, rescuing trapped people.

Jimmy bolted for the stairs, camera in hand. Perry tugged instinctively at his hair. "Why is this happening? We *still* don't have anybody at the scene! Friaz!"

"On my way, Chief." Eduardo grabbed a notebook and pen from his desk and followed Jimmy. The door closed behind him.

Lois pursed her lips and crossed to her desk. The chances were good that Superman would be gone by the time Jimmy and Eduardo got to the scene of the fire, but Clark could write up the details. Having Superman as a partner was looking better and better.

The scene on the monitors shifted to the LNN weather forecaster, and she lost interest. Seating herself at her desk, she began to study the names on the passenger list. If Clark was right, someone on this list might very well have been the target of attempted murder. The chances were that she wasn't likely to spot anything just by looking at the names, but maybe Jimmy could find a little information on them, like addresses or jobs, or ...

Her mental meandering skidded to a halt at the sight of one of the names on the list. Josef Carlin. Where had she heard that name before?

Carlin Investments, that was it. Hobbs Mining was a subsidiary of Carlin Investments, which was in turn a subsidiary of LexCorp. Was it possible there was some kind of connection between Josef Carlin and LexCorp? That was definitely something Jimmy was going to have to research for her when he got back. There might not be anything to it, but if someone on that plane had been targeted for murder, and might be connected to LexCorp, then she wanted to know what that connection was. If, for some reason, his continued existence could be awkward for someone in the upper echelons of the company, she might be able to pin down who it was -- besides Barbara Trevino, that is -- to whom she had posed a danger.

**********

Clark returned well before Jimmy or Eduardo. Lois looked up from her study of the phone records and beckoned to him as he stepped off the elevator.

He made his way quickly to her desk. "Got something?" he asked.

"Maybe. A name. And Barbara Trevino called a couple of numbers quite a lot in the past six months -- especially in the last couple of days before you caught her." She glanced briefly at the editor's office where, beyond the blinds, Perry could be seen pacing like a caged tiger and lowered her voice. "You should write up Superman's rescues at that fire. Better include a short quote. Perry's about to rupture a seam."

He had followed her glance. "Right. That shouldn't be a problem. What's the name?"

"Josef Carlin. It may be nothing but a coincidence, but do you remember Carlin Investments?"

"The company that owns Hobbs Mining? Sure. It's a subsidiary of ... "

"Exactly."

"The LexCorp connection again."

"Maybe," Lois said, cautiously. "That's what I want Jimmy to check out when he gets back. If we're going to take on LexCorp, we have to be absolutely certain of our facts."

"That's for sure," Clark agreed. "Look, I'll just write up the fire story and then we can get to work on this. Maybe the DataNet will have some stuff on him. Is there an address or anything else to go with that name?"

"Just where he bought the ticket. Jamaica. He had a round-trip ticket from Jamaica to Chicago. I wonder where he was going?"

"Well, if it turns out there's some kind of connection to LexCorp, maybe we can find out." He strode to his desk and dropped into the chair. A moment later, his fingers were flying over the keyboard almost at the limit of human speed. Finished in record time, he transmitted the article to Perry and leaned back. Lois rose and went to sit on the corner of his desk.

"Done?"

"Yep. Jimmy's photos should go well with it. He got there just as I was leaving. I think he may have gotten a couple of pictures."

"Did you see Eduardo anywhere? He left a minute or two after Jimmy."

He shook his head. "Nope. I'd have stayed but I heard a woman being mugged a few streets over and went to help."

In the editor's office, Perry had stopped pacing and was in his chair, leaning forward to read something on his computer screen. Lois felt her eyebrows climbing at the sight of a smile on his face. "Perry looks happy. Okay, let's get down to business. I wish I knew how to handle a computer the way Jimmy does."

"So do I," Clark said. "Still, I have a few advantages to compensate. Let's try the DataNet first ..."

**********

Jimmy returned some twenty minutes later, followed shortly by Eduardo Friaz. Jimmy was cautiously optimistic; he had managed to catch two good shots of Superman in flight as he left the scene of the fire, which, while not the dramatic photo he had hoped for, could at least be said to be more than other newspapers in the city had. Eduardo wasn't as pleased. His cab had been caught in a traffic jam and he'd only managed to arrive in time to interview the fire chief about the fire and Superman's assistance in evacuating victims. The superhero had been long gone.

Lois listened to Jimmy's breathless explanation and nodded. "Well, fortunately for you, Clark was talking to his source only a little ways off when Superman arrived, so between you and Eduardo and him, we're pretty well covered. As soon as you get those prints developed, Clark and I need you."

Jimmy winced. "Lois, I haven't even got the record of Dr. Baines's phone calls, yet. You need *more* research?"

"I'm afraid so," Clark told him, grinning slightly. "It's important, Jimmy, or we wouldn't bother you about it today. I know you're pretty swamped, but we really need the information."

"There's a name on the plane's passenger list that we need background on," Lois said. "We got some preliminary stuff on him from the DataNet, but we need you to find out more about him. His name's Josef Carlin, home of record: Jamaica. He's the CEO and part owner of Carlin Investments."

"Carlin?" Jimmy said, frowning. "That sounds familiar."

"Carlin Investments is a subsidiary of LexCorp," Clark said. "Believe me, this is getting more convoluted all the time."

"Everything sort of ties into LexCorp, doesn't it?" Jimmy said. "Trevino, and now this guy."

"Yeah, but don't talk about it," Lois said. "We aren't sure of anything, yet."

"My lip is zipped," Jimmy assured her. "Does this have anything to do with the break-in the other night?"

"Maybe." She hesitated. "Jimmy, this could be pretty big, if Clark and I are anywhere near right -- and it could be dangerous if the wrong people think you know anything about it."

"You're not kidding, are you?" They shook their heads in unison. He whistled softly. "Maybe I'd better take a few security precautions of my own -- other than my password, that is. I mean, nobody's likely to be snooping around on my computer, but --"

"If somebody knows you do the research, they might decide to see what you're looking into," Clark said. "A little security might not be a bad thing."

Jimmy shrugged. "Good point. Okay, as soon as I finish the pics, I'll get right on it."

**********

"Ready for lunch?" Clark asked. Lois nodded, dropping the passenger list onto her empty desk.

"I sure hope Perry gets me another computer pretty soon. This is getting really inconvenient."

"I heard him talking to Accounting about that," Clark told her in a low voice. "He's trying to get them to come up with the money from the discretionary fund and one of the paper-pushers is giving him the bureaucratic runaround. She wanted to know if it was really a necessary expense. He was muttering all kinds of dire threats when he hung up."

"So do I get my computer soon, or not?" Lois asked. "I guess I could bring in my laptop from home, but it's really slow."

"I think so, but you can use mine if you need one until then."

Jimmy emerged from the darkroom and headed for Perry's office. Lois reached for her handbag. In the background, the "ding" of the arriving elevator sounded but she paid no attention until its doors opened and at least a dozen men, all carrying firearms, swarmed out, charging down the ramp and the stairs. Lois stared, mouth open, as they spread out across the room, blocking exits and covering the occupants, but not before, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jimmy duck into the supply closet.

A large man had remained by the railing and now he stepped forward, waving a paper over his head.

"This is a warrant issued by Federal Court!" he announced. "Everyone step away from your desks!" He turned from the railing and strode confidently down the ramp.

The door of the Editor's Office burst open and Perry emerged, looking as outraged as Lois felt. "Nobody comes busting into my newsroom like this!"

"Take it up with Washington," the man said, thrusting the paper at Perry.

Perry took it. "Order to produce evidence ... compel testimony ... Lois Lane?"

One of the invaders pushed her aside and began to rifle through her desk. Lois reacted instinctively and lunged at him. Her assault was so unexpected, the man staggered back and sat down with a bruising thump on the floor.

"Get out of my desk!" she snarled.

A second man grabbed her and found himself with an armful of twisting, fighting woman. A third man moved in, only to discover himself face to face with the very solid form of Clark Kent. The agent holding Lois, hampered by the necessity of not harming his prisoner, allowed her to twist free.

Lois straightened up and discovered a grim-faced Clark now standing still, facing the man whom he had blocked and looking down the muzzle of a semiautomatic pistol. There was a long moment of complete silence.

The leader broke the tension. "Put it away. He's just a reporter."

The man holstered his weapon. Lois whirled to face the man whom she considered to be the perpetrator of this outrage. "Yeah, reporter! As in protected by the Constitution!"

He didn't quite sneer, but he might as well have. "Impressive document, the Constitution. It gives Federal courts the right to issue warrants like this one -- which says I get what I want!"

"And what exactly is that?" Clark asked.

The leader looked him over insolently. "You're Kent, correct? Lane's new partner?"

Clark nodded.

"I want Superman and I'm not leaving until Ms. Lane tells me where I can find him."

Lois pushed the instant fear out of her mind to deal with later. "Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you!" she snapped. "I don't answer questions from nameless bullies. Who the hell are you people?"

"That isn't important, Ms. Lane. What's important is that the government find this 'Superman'' immediately. It's a matter of national security."

"Well then, I guess we're at a standstill," Lois said. "I don't talk to anybody unless I know who I'm talking to."

The leader strode forward to loom threateningly over her. "Some people might call that treason."

Undaunted, Lois glared back. "Yeah, and some people might call you a -- " She glanced at Clark and bit off the sentence. "Forget it."

The leader gestured to two of his men. "In that case, we'll be taking your computer and your notes."

Lois grinned, nastily. "Be my guest, but you'll have to find it first. There was a break-in night before last and they got my computer. As for my notes, there's nothing there that I can't replace." She turned and raised her voice. "Somebody call the cops! No legitimate Federal agents would refuse to identify themselves!"

"Nice, Ms Lane," the leader said. "I'd advise no one to follow that order."

"Too late." To her surprise, she heard Jimmy's voice. The junior photographer stepped from the supply closet, a cellular phone in one hand. "I already did. They're on their way."

At that instant one of the men who had remained in the background stepped forward and spoke softly in his leader's ear.

Perry hadn't moved. Now, he cast an approving look at Jimmy and turned back to the bigger man. "Why don't you get the hell out of my newsroom now, buddy, so I can get our lawyers on the phone and start suin' your butts off!"

No one answered and the black-clad men were already moving swiftly and silently toward the elevator. As the Planet staff watched, motionless, they crowded quickly into the car and the doors closed behind them.

It was Cat who broke the silence. "It was horrible the way they treated us, Perry! That agent frisked me, twice!"

Perry grunted under his breath and turned to one of the other staffers. "Biederman, let's get Legal on this right away. Lois, you and Clark get out of here, now. Make yourselves scarce. If those goons come back with subpoenas, I don't want to know where you are and I don't want you anywhere they can serve you. Wear your beepers. I'll call you when we know something more."

**********

"See anybody?" Lois asked.

Clark pushed his glasses into place. "Nope; no sign of them. Let's go."

Quickly, they ducked through the Planet's side door and made their way down the alley toward their pre-planned escape route.

"I wish we could just fly," Lois grumbled. "But right now it wouldn't be a good idea."

"No kidding. Who do you suppose those guys were? Government?"

"Maybe. But there was something wrong with that whole deal." Lois paused at the exit from the alley and peeked out.

"You think they weren't legitimate?"

"I don't know," Lois said. "I don't know what they were, but there was definitely something weird with that situation -- or weirder than usual."

"Is life around the Planet always like this?" he asked.

"Not always. Sometimes it gets *really* strange." She looked over her shoulder at him. "Do you mind giving me some help here? I don't see anybody but that doesn't mean we're safe."

He lowered his glasses and swept the area. "No sign of them. Where are we going?"

"Back to my place long enough to pick up some clothes for me and then I guess we should find a place to hide out for awhile. But how about the Charity Ball tonight? I've been angling for a way to meet Lex Luthor for months and -- on the exact day I'm going to the same event he is -- these guys show up!"

"We'll go to it," Clark said. "You have to meet him. If that mob of goons decides to crash the party, we'll fly out a back window or something. The Lexor is a pretty big hotel. If we take off from the top floor, nobody's going to see us from the street -- especially at night."

"Unless they're using night-vision goggles or something," Lois said, pessimistically.

"From over a hundred stories up? I think we can manage all right. Trust me."

He was rewarded when she threw him a slight grin. "Believe it or not, I do. Okay, let's go. Keep alert."

"My eyes are peeled," he said.

The street in front of Lois's apartment house wasn't deserted but the traffic was fairly light when they reached their destination. Clark checked the entire area for any sign of suspicious individuals but saw no one watching them.

"That doesn't mean they aren't," Lois said. "I'm sure whoever they are, they probably have more people than the ones that showed up in the newsroom."

"I'll be listening for them," he assured Lois. "If I hear anything suspicious, I'll have us out of there before they get to your floor."

"Okay." She nodded, looking around anxiously. "Let's go."

They crossed the street and hurried through the front door of the apartment building. Clark scanned the stairwell for occupants and then whisked them to the fifth floor without waiting for the creaky elevator.

When Lois unlocked the door, he lowered his glasses again, taking a closer look at the interior of her apartment. He put a hand on her arm and touched a finger to his lips.

Lois paused in mid step. "What?"

He pulled the door closed. "Watch what you say in there. Your apartment is bugged."

"*What*?"

Clark's pager began to vibrate. He retrieved it and checked the number. "The Planet's calling. Shall I ...?" He gestured toward her door. Lois bit her lip for a moment and then nodded. Quickly, he pushed it open and made his way to the phone.

Perry answered on the third ring. "Kent? Tell Lois to turn on her pager. And come back to the office, right away. The warrant's a fake!"

"What?"

"It's as phony as a lock of Elvis's hair from a Memphis souvenir shop! Both of you get back here as fast as you can!"

"Um ... right, Perry. Will do." Clark hung up.

"What?" Lois asked.

"Perry wants us to do something for him." Clark spoke to fill in the gap in the conversation while he indicated the bug he had spotted under the edge of Lois's coffee table. Lois bent to examine the little device and he could see her frowning. Without speaking, she stood up and crossed the room to her fish tank. Still in silence, she sprinkled food into the tank and thrust the little cardboard container into the drawer of the nearest table.

"Let me get a couple of things and we can go," Lois said. She disappeared into the bedroom and Clark heard her rummaging around. The sound of drawers being pulled open and pushed shut was followed by the click of a closing door and then the snap of a catch. Lois emerged from the bedroom, carrying a suitcase. "Okay, let's go."

Without further speech, they left the apartment and Lois locked the door behind her. "I don't suppose it matters, since it didn't stop them last time," she said, dropping the key into her handbag, "but I don't want to leave it open."

"At least it should stop the ordinary burglar," Clark said. "Perry wants us to come back. The warrant's a fake."

"A *fake*!"

"Yeah," he said.

"Oh, well, that's a *whole* lot better," Lois said, her voice heavy with irony.

"Oh, definitely," Clark said, matching her irony. He held out a hand for the bag and Lois surrendered it. "What's in here?"

"Clothes for the charity thing tonight and night gear. I'm not staying anywhere near my place as long as some group of unidentified thugs is keeping an eye on it."

"Or an ear," Clark agreed. "Smallville, here we come for another night. At least they won't be able to find us there. Superman doesn't leave a trail."

"If your parents won't mind, I'd like to," Lois said. "In the meantime, though, we need to identify these people. If they think it's their job to hunt down Superman, we're going to find them first!"

**********