Pheromone, More Likely
By Nan Smith
Submitted: August, 2003
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else may have any legal right to claim them, nor am I profiting by their use. The story is based on the Lois and Clark script "Pheromone, My Lovely" and all parts taken from that script are hereby credited to the writers of the show. Any new characters, settings, and any changes in the story, belong to me.
The morning staff meeting was it's usual cheerful self, Lois thought. She yawned behind her hand and dumped artificial sweetener into the cup of coffee parked on the table in front of her. Perry glowered at his employees as they filed in and found seats around the table. Jimmy appeared to be half-asleep. Clark, on the other hand, looked disgustingly chipper.
Their editor lifted his cup of steaming coffee to his lips and sipped. He made a face. "This stuff is dishwater. What's the matter with that machine? How's a newspaper supposed to run without a decent cup of Java?"
Lois tested her coffee and made a face at the watery taste, as well. Clark made no comment but drank his coffee, obviously waiting for the grumbles to subside.
Wilma Connors moved past the table and pulled out a chair next to Clark, giving him a once over as she sat down. Really, Lois thought, the woman was nearly fifty, and a divorcee, to boot. What was she doing, looking over a twenty-something guy like a piece of meat? It was disgusting.
"Anyone for herbal tea?" Cat asked, innocently. "Does wonders for the complexion. You should try it, Lois. Really, you should."
If looks could kill, the one Lois shot at her would have left her stretched lifeless on the floor. Perry set his cup down, ignoring the byplay. "Clark, the dock worker strike."
"Negotiations have broken down," Clark said. "I'm interviewing the union and management reps ... separately."
"Good idea," Perry said. "Lois, about that article you wrote on the fruit fly infestation -- could you maybe, if it isn't too much trouble, give it another go? And this time, put some zing into it."
"Happy to, Chief," Lois said. "It's such an ..." She gave an artificial yawn. "... Exhilarating subject matter."
"If this Malathion spray is so safe, how come they tell you to put your pets inside when they're using it?" Jimmy asked.
"It's just a precautionary measure," Perry said.
The door opened, and the Planet's cleaning woman hesitated in the doorway. Perry waved her inside. "That's okay, Rehalia, come on in." He turned back to the people gathered around the conference table, as Rehalia moved around the room, emptying the trashcans. "Well, what do you think we oughtta lead off with, the counterrevolution in Russia?"
"I believe that's a counter, counter-revolution, Chief," Clark said.
"Who can keep track?" Perry said. He turned his head at the sudden commotion in the newsroom. "What the Sam Hill's goin' on?"
Cameras, lighting equipment and some kind of runway were being hauled into the Pit, followed by a mob of technicians, photographers, and sundry others.
"You remember, Chief," Cat said. "Today's the day they're using the newsroom as a backdrop to introduce that new fragrance ... 'Exclusive'. Marketing set it up."
"Marketing?" Perry said. "No, I don't remember."
"Oh, sure you do." Cat pushed her chair back and hurried to the window to look out at the organized confusion that had been their newsroom. "Yeah, yeah, it's been on for months. Ooh, look! There's Elle Taylor ... April Stephens! I've gotta get an interview!"
"All right, go ahead," Perry said, but he was speaking to her retreating back.
"We are never going to get any work done around here, today," Lois said, getting disgustedly to her feet.
"Who cares?" Jimmy said. He was staring at the models, and Lois could swear he was almost drooling. "Chief, look at her!"
"Ah, better not," Perry said. "Alice would have my hide."
"How would she find out, Chief?" Clark asked.
"Oh, she's got spies everywhere," Perry said.
Jimmy's eyes were still riveted to the models.
"You guys don't think that there's any small possibility that a girl like that would actually go out with a man like me?" He glanced over at them as he spoke. "I guess not."
Lois glanced at the clock. It was barely eleven-thirty, but it already felt as if she had put in a full day -- a singularly unproductive full day, at that.
The newsroom had been transformed into a perfume/fashion show. Beautiful models circulated through the crowd, spraying anyone and everyone with the new fragrance. Lois had been sprayed twice and forced herself to smile as she received a third dose, while a photographer snapped a picture. Her smile disappeared immediately as soon as the photographer went on to another victim. She didn't even care for the scent that much, and she was positively reeking with it. The first thing she was going to do when she got a chance was to head for the shower.
Clark and Jimmy were leaning against her desk at the best vantage point to view the scenery. Jimmy, of course, was loving every second of it and she noticed, with piqued amusement, that Clark, whom she had always thought of as, if not indifferent to feminine pulchritude, at least circumspect in his behavior, was making no attempt to hide the fact that he was also enjoying the show.
"Ah, the beautiful people," Lois said.
"Yeah," Jimmy said, with enthusiasm.
"It's such a sad commentary on society," Lois continued, casting him a disgusted look. "Dress a certain way, smell a certain way, and the world will love you."
One of the models passed Clark, looking him over with undisguised interest. Clark's head turned, following her progress and Lois firmly quelled a distinct sense of irritation. It wouldn't be so bad, she thought, if the women didn't clearly reciprocate his appreciation.
"Yeah, Lois, it's sad," Clark said. "Very, very sad."
"Anyway," she said, "like I said before, we'll never get anything done, today."
"So, why don't we take the day off?" Clark asked.
She gave him a stern look. "Because it's a workday, Clark."
He raised his eyebrows. "Haven't you ever played hooky, Lois?"
He cast her an incredulous look.
"Besides," she added, trying not to feel defensive, "what's so great about playing hooky?"
"Well, just being someplace you're not supposed to be, doing something you're not supposed to do. It's just ... fun."
"I had fun in high school," Lois said, feeling, for the first time, a little irritated. "Chess club, math club ..."
"Wow," Clark said.
Lois got to her feet confronting him. "What are you saying, Clark?" she asked. "That I'm not a fun person? That I don't know how to have fun?" She glared at him, and then at Jimmy, just beyond him. Jimmy held up his hands.
"I didn't say a word!"
A blond woman with a perfume atomizer in her hand emerged suddenly from the crowd. "Have you tried my new fragrance?"
"Lois ..." Perry appeared beside her desk. "About those fruit flies ..."
"Oh, no thank you," Lois said. "I don't wear ..." She gasped as the woman sprayed the atomizer, dousing them with her perfume.
"... Perfume," Lois finished, but the woman was already gone. She made a face at the unexpected scent on top of the one she was already involuntarily wearing. It smelled like a locker room after a boxing match.
"Whoa! What was that?" Perry wrinkled his nose and drew back. "Eau de sweat socks?"
"What died?" Jimmy inquired, as Clark fanned the air in a futile attempt to dissipate the odor.
"That stuff's probably three hundred dollars for a quarter ounce," Lois said. "Highway robbery!"
The three men abruptly vacated the area of her desk, and Lois re-seated herself, fanning the air. She caught a glimpse of the blond woman making her way around the room and up the ramp, spraying newsroom staffers indiscriminately as she went. Even Rehalia received her share, and the Ecuadorian woman leaped back with an exclamation in Spanish that sounded remarkably like an imprecation.
Half an hour later, the fashion show began to break up. Men dismantled the runway, preparing to leave. Lois found herself looking at Clark where he sat typing at his word processor. It was amazing, she thought, that she had never noticed before how attractive he was. Well, she'd sort of noticed, but it had seemed like a good idea to ignore it. Now she couldn't understand why. Slowly, she began to unbutton the top buttons of her blouse.
Wilma Connors approached behind Clark and rested her hands on his shoulders. Lois was conscious of a flash of irritation, verging on outright anger. How dare the woman lay her hands on Clark like that! He was sitting up straight, a startled expression on his face.
Lois stood up. Clearly, her co-worker needed rescuing. She had started across the floor toward him, when one of the models who had not yet departed, crossed the Pit toward the little scene and practically flung herself into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Clark appeared to have no idea what to do. One of the women from the secretarial pool appeared and pushed Wilma to one side, sliding her arms around Clark's neck from behind. Wilma pushed back, sending the secretary sprawling.
Faces turned toward the altercation. Another female office worker started toward the fracas. Clark stood up abruptly, barely avoiding dropping the model in his lap onto the floor, wiggled free from the various sets of female arms attempting to engulf him, and backed away.
"What's going on here?" he asked. "Is there some kind of game going on that I don't know about?"
Lois found herself homing in on him. There was no way she was going to let those harpies latch onto him, now that she knew where her interest lay.
Mona Heinrich from Business appeared from nowhere, her blouse undone nearly to her waist. The woman must be thirty-five at least, Lois thought, in outrage, as the other woman slipped an arm around Clark's waist. The secretary was on her feet again, and she shoved Wilma backwards as the older woman attempted to pry Mona off of Clark. The model insinuated herself between Mona and her prize, not an easy task, as the Business Editor appeared to be trying to imitate a boa constrictor imprisoning its prey.
Clark was endeavoring to extricate himself from the mob of women. Lois moved in, grasping Mona and literally peeling her arms away from Clark. He wiggled free of the model and nearly sprinted for the stairs. Lois, and the crowd of other women, raced after him. But, when they followed him through the swinging door, he was nowhere to be seen.
Clark shot upward from the roof of the Daily Planet. His heart was still racing and he told himself firmly to calm down. Something completely weird that he didn't understand in the slightest had happened back in the newsroom; that was for sure. Wilma might often check him out, but she wasn't normally obvious about it and he'd been able to ignore it until now. The same went for Mona and a number of other women. It seemed as if, all at once, a bunch of them had gone completely crazy. He'd have to remember to thank Lois for helping to rescue him from Mona, but it probably wouldn't be too smart to go back into the newsroom right now. Only, how was he going to explain his hasty exit to Perry?
He described a loop in the air and did a fast pass by the window of Perry's office, x-raying the newsroom as he did so, and nearly crashed into an adjoining building. He was just in time to see Rehalia land a clout to the side of his boss's face that should have flattened a rhinoceros. That startled him so much that he nearly missed the scene of Cat in the copy-room, and then he wished he had. The gossip columnist wasn't alone. Nor was Antonia, the fashion editor, in the storeroom.
Missing the corner of the office building by bare inches, he soared upward and paused in the sky over his place of work, wiping his heated forehead with the back of his hand. This was crazy! What on Earth was going on?
And, what should he do? His conscience said he shouldn't leave his co-workers in the lurch, but if what had happened a few minutes ago was any example, his mere presence might cause a riot. Besides, what could he do? Bursting in on Cat and her "friend" in the copy room would probably be embarrassing for everyone.
What he needed, he decided, was his partner. He and Lois had to talk this over and see if they could get to the bottom of their colleagues' very strange behavior. At least, he didn't need to worry that Lois would fall all over him. She'd made it very clear for some time that she regarded him as a brother. Quickly, he scanned the office, looking for her, but she didn't seem to be in the newsroom. Ah, there she was, in the elevator. Maybe she was looking for him. Quickly, he swooped into the alley nearest the Planet and made a hurried change to Clark Kent. He'd meet her in the lobby, he decided. Then, they could decide what to do.
Halfway to the Daily Planet entrance, the inevitable happened. The sound of a great many emergency sirens assaulted his ears. He should have expected it, he thought, in resignation. It never rained, but it poured. A moment later, Superman was on his way to a multiple car accident on the Expressway. The mystery in the newsroom would have to be shelved for the moment.
Three hours later, Clark Kent called the Daily Planet to file his story.
The phone rang and rang and rang. He was almost ready to hang up when someone picked up the receiver. A voice said, "City desk." A giggle and a squeal punctuated the words. The receiver clattered, and in the background he could hear ... sounds. After a moment, he hung up the phone.
This was crazy! Had the entire staff lost its mind? He had to find Lois; that was for sure.
He made a quick change to Superman and headed back to the office. Maybe by now, Mona and Wilma had recovered their sanity, he thought without much hope, as he eased open the door to the newsroom.
The room was nearly deserted. There were still a few people here, but they were definitely not engaged in work-related activities. He stood looking around the office for several minutes, his mind spinning. What could possibly have caused such a thing? Unless mass insanity had hit the Daily Planet, there had to be something else behind it. Lois wasn't here, thank heavens, and neither were Wilma, Mona or the model that had assaulted him, earlier. Perry was nowhere to be seen, either, nor was Jimmy, and from the copy room, he could hear the copy machine running full-tilt, but forbore from taking a look to see what was going on.
A pair of arms slipped around his waist from behind. His heart jumped and started to pound, and he turned his head to see who his assailant was.
His jaw dropped. It was Rehalia.
The cleaning woman snuggled up to his back, tightening her arms around him. He cleared his throat, trying to think of a way out of this that wouldn't offend her too much.
"Um ... Rehalia, don't you think your husband would mind?" he asked.
"My husband?" she said.
"Yes, your husband. And, don't you have a couple of kids, too?"
"But, I love you," Rehalia informed him in a dreamy voice.
Oh boy, this was worse than he'd thought. "Um, I have to go ... um ... report on ... um ... something," he informed her, gently peeling her arms loose. "I'll ... um ... be back later, okay?"
Rehalia's face fell, but she stepped back, and he quickly ducked into the stairwell and made a hasty exit to the roof for the second time that day. Once there, he stopped and blew out his breath, trying to calm down and think.
Rehalia? She had always been friendly with him, in a shy sort of way, but he knew that her American husband and her family were the most important things in her life. What in the world could have caused her to suddenly decide to fall in love with him?
The other things he'd seen in the newsroom flashed into his mind, and he blushed. This situation was completely out of hand. He had to do something. But what?
Well, the first thing was obvious. He needed to find Lois. His brilliant partner might be able to help him figure it out. Somehow, everybody in the Daily Planet newsroom had been affected by this whatever-it-was. It was as if they were all drunk, only on love, or hormones, or something, instead of alcohol. But, where would Lois be? She had apparently tried to follow him from the newsroom, after rescuing him from Mona. She might have gone to hunt for him, or she might have left the Planet after seeing what was going on in the newsroom on her return.
Well, he would first try to page her via her beeper. If that didn't work, he'd start looking in all the usual places. Sooner or later, she'd turn up.
Four hours and two rescues later, he was starting to get worried. She hadn't answered her beeper, which made sense, as he'd heard it going off in her desk drawer at the Daily Planet. Superman had been to every police station in the city, at City Hall, to The Fudge Castle, and any other place he could think of, including her apartment. He'd even hunted down Bobby Bigmouth, but her snitch hadn't seen her, either. Where could she possibly be?
Visions of the various felons that she had put in jail ran through his mind, and he cruised above the city in increasing circles, fighting down panic at the thought that one of them might have managed to get his hands on her. At least Bobby hadn't heard about anyone who might be after her and the thought finally occurred to him that she could have realized that something strange was going on at the Planet and was trying to figure out what. But where would she have gone?
Maybe, he thought, she had tried to page him. It wouldn't have done any good, because he'd accidentally dropped his pager in the Hob's River yesterday during a rescue and hadn't gotten a replacement yet. Well, maybe she'd left a message on his apartment phone. He would check there, next.
Having an apartment that opened on the outside was a distinct advantage, he thought. He didn't have to actually go through the rest of the building to get to his door, unlike the other tenants.
Clark unlocked the door to his apartment and entered, closing it behind him.
Someone had been here. He sniffed. Very faintly, he could smell the scent of the new perfume that had so permeated the fashion show this morning, and now that he thought about it, he could pick up the soft breathing of someone in the other room. He lowered his glasses.
There was someone in his bed, sleeping face down. He frowned. That almost looked like Lois, but it couldn't possibly be. The last place he was likely to find Lois was in his bed. Could one of the women from that fiasco in the newsroom have come here to wait for him? How had she gotten in? Quietly, he floated forward, half an inch from the floor and rounded the wall that separated his bedroom from the living room.
Clothing was draped haphazardly over one of his bedroom chairs, and a black, lacy bra lay carelessly on the floor in front of it. Clark averted his eyes from it and glanced cautiously at the occupant of his bed. She was wearing one of his shirts.
It couldn't be Lois, he assured himself again. It wasn't possible.
The figure raised her head and smiled sleepily at him. It was Lois.
He closed his eyes for an instant, telling himself that the world hadn't really begun to revolve in reverse. It just felt that way.
"Lois?" Clark said, in dismay. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi," his partner said, pushing herself upright. "I've been waiting for you. What took you so long?"
"Um ..." Clearly, there was a problem, here. Clark swallowed. "I've been busy. Working."
Lois sat up and slid her feet to the floor. "Didn't you want to play hooky?" she asked. "You said you did." He had to work to keep his eyes off her long legs and the way his shirt hiked up her thighs as she slipped out of the bed.
"Um ... " His throat wanted to constrict. She was clearly a lot more dangerous to him than the earlier mob of women had been. "Lois, do you feel all right?" Great, Kent, now that was a brilliant question!
"Never better," she said, looking him up and down, and he could have sworn she licked her lips. She glided across the carpet toward him, her hips swaying slightly. He jerked his eyes from the open neck of his shirt, unbuttoned tantalizingly low and fixed his gaze determinedly on her face. It was clear to him that whatever had affected the others had also affected Lois, and the most difficult thing of all was going to be resisting her, but if he didn't, she'd never speak to him again.
"Um, Lois," he faltered, "I was just going to go pick up some take-out. What would you like me to get for you?"
She slid her arms around his neck, and it became instantly obvious to him that she had nothing on under the shirt. "Just you," she informed him, running a finger down the side of his face. Clark felt himself break out in a sweat.
"Um ..." He unwrapped her arms and backed away. "Well, I'm starved. I'll be right back."
He darted out of the room and an instant later was airborne. Oh, man, what was he going to do now? For the sake of his own sanity, he was going to have to stay away from his apartment and Lois; there was no other choice. On the other hand, she was clearly not responsible for her behavior. He also needed to keep an eye on her to be sure she didn't get into trouble while her judgement was this clouded. But it was going to be sheer torture.
He was still watching her when she walked into the Daily Planet the next morning.
She had returned home after sleeping in his bed all night, and changed her clothes. When he had concluded that she was indeed engaged in dressing for work, he had gone back to his apartment for a quick shower, shave and to choose an outfit for the office before he returned to monitor his partner.
For a time, he had entertained the hope that whatever had affected her and the others in the office might have worn off by morning, but one glimpse of the outfit she was wearing when she stepped out of her apartment killed that hope stone dead. The white, lacy, low-cut dress was a lot more flattering and showed a great deal more of Lois than any of the professional suits that she normally wore to work. He resisted the urge to tear at his hair and followed his partner from two hundred feet as she drove to the Daily Planet, ready to help if she needed it.
But she didn't. She made it safely to the office and walked in, glancing hopefully around, and he saw her smile fade when she looked at his desk. She must, he thought, have been looking for him, and for a moment, he felt a stab of guilt. If only she would look at him the way she had last night when she was in her right mind, but no, then he would only be good old Clark, her work partner and platonic friend, when what he really wanted was ...
Sternly, he told his mind and libido to stop right there. Now wasn't the time to be indulging in such thoughts, when Lois and the others in the office clearly needed his help.
There weren't many people in the office today, but those who were had transformed the newsroom nearly out of recognition. Balloons in the shape of red and pink hearts floated everywhere. Flowers decorated the desks and tables, and somebody had hung a big banner proclaiming "Love Conquers All" across the middle of the room, although how they had managed to secure it without the attributes of a human fly, he wasn't sure. He could hear music from the "love station" playing in the background. Valentine's Day, it seemed, had arrived in November.
Perry, at least, was in his office, humming "Love Me Tender", and he could see Jimmy seated at his desk, leafing through a sheaf of what looked like photographs. Well, this was it.
Clark took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He was going to have to put in an appearance eventually. Maybe, in public, Lois's behavior would be a little more circumspect. He hoped. Besides, he still needed her help. Hopefully, other than her sudden, very frustrating desire for him, her mind would be working as well as it usually did. Maybe, if he could keep her attention on the subject of their colleagues' peculiar behavior, they could figure out what had happened.
He landed in an alley not far from the Planet and strode briskly toward the entranceway. As he neared it, he stopped at the newsstand, as he always did, to buy a copy of the morning edition. The headlines caught his eye, and he stood reading them for a second, his mind not really comprehending what he saw.
"Couple Re-United! Love Wins Out!" The 'o's in the headlines had been replaced with little hearts.
If Perry had allowed this thing to go to press, then their editor was as bad off as the rest of the staff. The vision of his boss receiving a haymaker from Rehalia flashed through his mind, and he shuddered faintly. Hopefully, Rehalia wouldn't show up to work today. He really didn't want to have to fight her, or anybody else off. What on Earth could have caused this craziness? It seemed likely that he was the only sane member of the entire news staff.
When the elevator doors opened on the newsroom, his worst fears were realized. Lois looked up at the sound of the elevator doors opening, and a brilliant smile lit her face. She jumped to her feet and ran toward him. Clark tried to keep his eyes fixed above her shoulders. The rest of the vision in white lace bouncing toward him was too stressful for him to allow himself to think of it.
Lois rushed up the steps and flung herself into his arms. "Clark! Where have you been, my darling?"
He was forced to catch her, as the other choice would have been to drop her. Quickly, he set her down, but her arms had fastened themselves around him in a way he found reminiscent of yesterday's mass attack. Gently, he peeled them loose. "Lois, we have to talk."
"Oh, yes," Lois agreed, "I have so much to say!"
He was sure of that, but it didn't mean anything. Whatever had caused Lois's sudden attraction for him would probably vanish just as quickly as it had appeared. He took her hand, leading her toward a spot at some distance from the activities going on in the newsroom. He averted his eyes from the passionate kiss being exchanged between Eduardo and one of the secretaries, thankful only that no one was pursuing him today, unless you counted Lois, and resolutely ignored the sounds issuing from the copy room, audible to him even over the noise of the copy machine. Hopefully the thing wouldn't burn out, but even if it did, nothing short of a full-scale emergency was going to make him go in there. He pulled out a chair for his partner and sat across from her.
"Lois," he said, earnestly, "you have to listen to me. Something very strange has happened to everyone in the newsroom. To you. You're not in control of yourself."
"I know," Lois agreed. "For the first time in my life, Clark. It's wonderful to be able to say what I really feel."
He tried again. "Lois, you're not yourself."
She leaned forward, displaying a generous amount of cleavage. He tried not to notice. "Yes I am, Clark. Just because I didn't say it doesn't mean I didn't feel it."
He swallowed. It would be wonderful if what she had said were really true, but he couldn't allow himself to hope. She'd made it extremely clear where he stood in relation to her.
"Lois," he said, trying to impress on her by his attitude the seriousness of the situation, "I need your help. I need you to concentrate."
"Okay," she said. She sat back, to his relief, and looked him in the eyes.
"Good." He glanced around for a second and hurriedly averted his eyes from Eduardo and the secretary. "Now, it all started yesterday. It seems to have affected almost everyone in the newsroom. Maybe something we drank or ate?"
She moved from her chair to sit in his lap, entwining her arms around his neck. "I had Chinese Chicken salad and you had a steak sandwich with fries."
He unwrapped her arms again. "I need to think, Lois, and I can't when you do that. Now, what else was going on? The models were here, with the perfume." He stared at her with a sense of discovery. "The perfume! That woman with the perfume that smelled like --"
"Dirty socks," Lois agreed, beginning to run her fingers through his hair. "Maybe Jimmy has a picture of her. He's got a whole stack of them." She started to unfasten his collar button.
Gently, he detached her hands from his shirt and moved her back to the other chair. "Sorry, Lois, but I think you'd kill me if I let you do that." He glanced across the room to where Jimmy sat, looking raptly at a set of photographs. "Jimmy, can I see those?"
The photos were of the models, mostly of one model. Jimmy happily displayed his prize to them. "Isn't she beautiful? And she's all mine."
Clark sighed. He had already learned that reasoning with Lois about the object of her affections -- him -- was worse than useless. "May I see them, Jimmy?"
Jimmy handed him the photos, reserving the close-up of April Stephens for himself. Clark riffled through them, and in the fourth one, he found what he sought: a slightly out-of-focus picture of the blond woman and her perfume atomizer.
Clark stood up. Lois also rose. "Where are you going?"
"Just to the magazine stand downstairs," Clark said.
"I'll go with you."
"I'll be right back," he assured her.
The elevator doors opened and Lex Luthor stepped out. Clark's eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion.
A pair of arms snaked themselves around his neck from behind, and turning his head in surprise, he recognized Hamilton Grimm, the quiet, middle-aged columnist who wrote the "Mystery Diner" feature for the Planet's Sunday edition. "Umm, Hamm, I'm working."
The food critic's arms tightened. "Aw, Clark, you're such a killjoy. Nobody's working. Why don't we just take the day off?"
Feeling distinctly harassed, Clark disengaged the other man's arms. "Because it's a workday, Hamm. If you'll excuse me ..." His exit toward the elevators was shamefully craven, he admitted later, but he'd dealt with too many shocks in the last twenty-four hours. His courage was running low.
"Aww, Clark," Hamilton said. "Why don't we just play hooky?"
Clark ducked into the elevator, feeling hunted.
A visit to the magazine stand in the lobby of the planet yielded a substantial number of women's magazines. Clark recalled his promise to Lois that he would return, and decided to get a cup of cappuccino before he did -- and to sit with his back against the wall. He'd had enough of admirers sneaking up on him for one day. Why on Earth were so many of them zeroing in on him, anyway? It wasn't as if he was the only guy in the office, after all.
Upon his return to the newsroom, he saw Luthor talking to Lois, and the man glanced at him with a cryptic smile on his lips. Clark controlled the urge to bristle. Any time the billionaire showed an interest in Lois the reaction was instinctive, but until he had the proof, there wasn't a lot he could do to convince Lois that the man wasn't the charming philanthropist that he showed to the world, but a cold, calculating criminal whose hands were stained with the blood of who knew how many innocent people.
As a matter of fact, his very presence here was suspicious, as was his lack of reaction to the obviously strange behavior of the inhabitants of the newsroom. Clark kept his face blank as Luthor turned and strode up the ramp toward the elevators, but his mind was racing. What had Luthor wanted here, anyway? Why had he walked in when he had and why was he leaving now, while apparently unconcerned with the weirdness going on around him? Something was definitely up, as Lois, in her more rational moments, would say.
He continued on down into the pit and set the pile of magazines on the corner of his desk. After a moment's hesitation, he walked through the Conference Room to the window and looked out, scanning the street.
A long, black limousine waited in the loading zone, and as he watched, Luthor exited the main doors of the Planet and strode toward the car. A uniformed chauffeur opened the rear door for him, and he got in.
There was someone waiting for him in the rear seat, and Clark lifted his glasses, scanning the interior of the limousine, looking for anything that might tell him what Luthor's purpose here might have been.
The other occupant of the rear seat was the woman who had sprayed the newsroom with her unusual perfume. Quickly, he shoved his glasses into place and turned to make a quick return to the elevator.
"Get your hands off of me!" Lois's voice rose in a combination of fury and outrage. Clark paused in mid-step.
"But I love you!" a male voice protested. "I want to spend my life with you. I'd swim the Pacific Ocean for just one kiss ..."
Lois's voice exclaimed in anger, and there was the sound of a healthy slap. Clark lowered his glasses, looking through the wall at the scene.
Lois was confronting Pete, the Sports editor. The man, undaunted, had backed her against the wall and was leaning in for a kiss. Lois didn't look in the least frightened, however. As Clark stared in an instant's frozen shock, Lois sucker-punched her amorous co-worker just under the ribs and ducked beneath his arm, making for the stairs. Pete, clutching his side, followed.
On the street below, Luthor's car pulled away from the curb. Clark cast a frustrated glance back over his shoulder, and then went to help Lois and Pete. The Sports editor might be enamored with Lois, but he was courting sudden death, if Clark knew his partner. As he stepped out into the Pit once more, Wally crossed the room toward Lois, who had stopped, facing Pete, her back against Clark's desk.
"Hey," Wally said. He elbowed Pete aside. "The lady isn't interested." He moved over to Lois and dropped to one knee. "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever known, Lois. Will you marry me?"
Pete shoved him sideways. "Lois and I were talking. Beat it!"
Wally sprawled awkwardly on the floor, recovered and scrambled to his feet. Pete had returned his attention to Lois. "Don't pay any attention to that loser. There's only one real man here who can appreciate you the way you should ..." Wally tackled him from the rear and the two men went down in a tangle of arms and legs, knocking Clark's chair sideways into a trashcan. The can crashed into Jimmy's desk, upsetting a pencil holder, and fell over, strewing its contents across the floor of the newsroom.
Clark, in full Superman regalia, moved across the room at super speed and bent down, picking up both men by the backs of their collars. Well aware by now of the futility of trying to reason with persons affected by the foul-smelling perfume, he zipped from the room, dropping one man on the fourth floor and one in the lobby. Hopefully, it would give the two of them time to cool off before they encountered each other again.
A chorus of screams from out on the sidewalk alerted him and he glanced in the direction of the sounds. People were staring upward and pointing. Clark whisked outside and followed the direction of the pointing fingers.
A body was hurtling downward, having apparently leaped from the roof of the Planet. Clark shot upward to catch the falling woman and with a start, recognized Amanda Nelson, one of the young women in Research.
"What happened?" he demanded. "Ms. Nelson, are you all right?"
She began to sob, hysterically. Through the incoherent sounds she was making, as he descended with her to the sidewalk, Clark gathered that the man for whom she had conceived a violent passion was only interested in her coworker.
This wasn't funny, Clark thought. The whole thing, up until now, had seemed relatively harmless, albeit embarrassing and inconvenient, but it was evident that in certain cases there could be serious consequences. If he hadn't been there, Amanda would have been dead.
He set her gently on her feet, looking around for a police officer or someone in authority to take charge of her, only to have her throw her arms around his neck.
"Superman," she announced, "I love you!"
Given that he had just saved her from falling to her death, abandoning her at this point didn't seem like a good idea, especially since her reaction to a previous rejection had been so extreme. He hesitated for a moment, and then spotted a uniformed officer making his way through the crowd.
A few moments later, assured that Amanda would be safe in the immediate future, and with a promise to come to the police station to explain, Superman took off. Maybe, if Luthor was headed back to his office, he could still find out what was going on between him and the blond woman. It couldn't be a coincidence that this craziness had occurred to his friends and co-workers yesterday, and the fact that the woman who seemed to be responsible was apparently associated with Lex Luthor at just this time. It certainly looked as if Luthor had come by the Planet to check up on them. It wasn't exactly proof, he thought, but it sure seemed suspicious to him.
But the limousine bearing Luthor and the mystery woman seemed to have vanished. A quick fly-by and scan of Lex Tower revealed no sign of the two, and it was a frustrated Clark who walked back into the newsroom half an hour later after Superman made a quick detour to the local precinct. He had come to the conclusion that he had better be available, just in case. He didn't want anything to happen to any of the other victims of this stuff, whatever it was. Hopefully, it would wear off eventually, but until then, he was going to have to keep an eye on them.
Which was going to be easier said than done. When he walked into the newsroom, Lois looked up with a smile of greeting, and instants after he sat down at his desk, she settled herself firmly in his lap.
"What are you doing?" she asked, beginning to run her fingers through his hair. Clark gritted his teeth, trying to maintain at least a minimum of concentration, which was more difficult than it sounded. With Lois's warm body snuggled up to him in a way he had dreamed of for months, it was hard to keep his mind on business, but if he didn't, she would undoubtedly kill him, later.
"That blond woman said the perfume was hers," he told Lois, striving to look her directly in the eyes and not at the part of her body nestled so close to his face. "If she makes perfume, maybe she advertises in these. I'm hoping I'll see her picture." He exhibited the slightly out of focus photograph that Jimmy had given him a couple of hours earlier. "It's the best chance we've got."
"You're such a party pooper," she told him, pouting slightly. Her hand graduated to the knot of his tie and she began to play with it. "You wanted to play hooky yesterday."
"That," he said, firmly removing her hand from the tie, "was yesterday. You managed to convince me to mend my ways." He hesitated. Would it be taking advantage of Lois's clouded judgement to ask her about Luthor? He'd fled the newsroom so fast to escape Hamm's advances that he'd failed to eavesdrop on Luthor, which he'd fully intended to do the instant he'd seen the billionaire. "Um ... what did Lex want?"
"He came to remind me that I'm having dinner with him tomorrow night," Lois said, indifferently. "He means nothing, Clark. You're the only man for me."
If only that were true, he thought, unhappily. When she was in her right mind, she would never have said such a thing. "Did he want anything else?" he asked.
"No," Lois informed him. "You don't have to be jealous." Her hands had drifted to his shirt buttons again, and he gently removed them.
She looked disappointed. He continued to hold the hand he had removed from his shirt for just a second. "Lois, I'm sorry. I care about you too much to let you do something you'll hate me for, later."
Her eyes grew large for an instant, and she smiled breathtakingly. "Then, I'm just going to have to convince you, aren't I?"
"Lois ..." He drew a deep breath and forced his mind back to the subject of the blond woman. "Want to help me look for the perfume lady?"
The door to the copy room opened at that point and Cat Grant stuck her head out. Her hair was tangled and disheveled, her makeup smeared, and her earrings were missing. "Anybody out there have anything they want copied?" she inquired. Clark felt his face burning. After several seconds, the door closed again. The copy machine went into action once more.
By quitting time, Clark felt as if he'd been through the proverbial wringer. Between fending off Lois's increasingly aggressive advances, dodging Hamm, breaking up two more battles between Pete and Wally, who seemed to have fixated on Lois as the love of their lives, avoiding an attempt by Wally to engage in fisticuffs with him for the honor of the fair lady in question, and Perry's arrival, accompanied by a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, performed a cappella on a desktop, he was ready to tear out his hair. The women's magazines from the stand in the Planet's lobby had yielded no results and he'd been forced to make three more trips to other magazine stands for other and more rarified women's publications. Some of the articles in these high fashion mags were as embarrassingly explicit as, if not worse than, some of the ones designed for men, and the peculiar looks he'd gotten from the proprietors of the stands had made him cringe. He just hoped he hadn't been recognized by anyone he knew.
He drove Lois home and saw to it that she was safely in her apartment before Superman took off for an evening patrol of the city. Rescuing a senior citizen from a mugging and breaking up a gang fight on the fringe of Suicide Slum was considerably easier than the day that he'd just spent, that was for sure. Luthor was in his penthouse apartment, he saw when he checked, eating a dinner that would have cost Clark Kent a month's salary and he wondered again what the billionaire was up to. Later tonight, when he was sure Lois and Jimmy and his other co-workers were safely asleep, he was going to employ a little of Lois's specialty. Covert break-ins weren't something he liked to engage in, but what had happened in the newsroom in the last two days was something he wasn't content to let lie. It seemed as if someone, possibly under the auspices of Lex Luthor, had sprayed them with some kind of mind-altering substance, and if he hadn't been Superman, the consequences could have been extremely serious. It didn't seem likely that it was a mere practical joke, either. Luthor didn't engage in purposeless practical jokes. The man had a reason for everything he did. If he could, he was going to find out what the purpose was behind this one.
A chorus of screams and the insistent blaring of a horn caught his attention, and he followed the sound in time to see Jimmy Olsen, dressed in an outfit that he would have described as "callow Miami Vice" frozen in the path of an enormous truck. He accelerated downward to snatch his young friend from the jaws of death and soared upward again, a shaken Jimmy gripped in one arm.
"Jimmy, are you all right?" he asked.
"I think so," Jimmy faltered. "What happened?"
"Come on," Clark said. "I'd better take you home."
By the time he dropped Jimmy off at his apartment, Clark was beginning to entertain hopes that whatever chemical it was that Jimmy and the others had been sprayed with was wearing off. The copy boy was rational and promised not to go anywhere for the rest of the night. Clark waited until he had gone inside and then left. He planned to wait until Luthor was in bed asleep to make his foray. In the meantime, he could take the time to peruse the remainder of the women's magazines waiting for him in his apartment in the faint hope that he would yet identify the woman who had done this to his friends.
"Belle" was the magazine where he finally hit the jackpot.
He'd seen "Miranda's Scents" advertised in many of the previous publications, but none of them had shown the woman, herself. Clark experienced a jolt of recognition at the smiling photograph of "Miranda", holding one of her famous perfumes. So, now he had a name, and her presence in the newsroom yesterday and with Luthor, today, argued that her homeport was probably Metropolis. Locating her shouldn't be too difficult, now.
Someone hammered on his door and he glanced toward it, checking automatically with his x-ray vision. Lois stood there, wrapped in a heavy trench coat. His heart sank, but he grabbed for his glasses and got them in place before he hurried up the steps to answer the knock.
He opened the door. "Lois, it's very late," he said.
She pushed her way into the apartment. "Not too late, I hope," she said. "For us. For happiness." She tugged at the belt of her trench coat and peeled it off her arms. Clark stared in dismay at the harem costume she wore underneath.
"Oh, no ..." He gulped. "Lois, please don't."
She shut the door behind her and flung her arms around his neck. "I love you, Clark Kent. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
It was tearing him apart, hearing these things from her, and knowing that it wasn't true. He tried once more, already knowing it was futile. "Lois, please go home."
Lois released him and skipped down the steps, whipping off one of her veils. "You're here. This is my home."
"Lois, you don't know how much I've thought about this -- dreamed about this ... Well," he amended, "something like this." He followed her down the steps, trying to get through to her with sheer desperation, if nothing else. "But, it's not real! What you're feeling isn't real! I don't know exactly how, but there was something in the perfume. It made everybody in the newsroom drunk on ... love."
She wasn't listening, he saw. Not that he'd really expected anything he said to work. Hopelessly, he tried one more time. "Lois, I cannot take advantage of you like this."
She moved to stand in front of him, looking into his eyes. "You're not taking advantage of me, Clark." She frowned, suddenly. "You know, it's remarkable. I never noticed it before."
"What?" Clark asked.
She ran a gentle finger across his cheekbone and he shivered reflexively. "You look a lot ..." She paused, looking closely at his face. " ... Like Superman."
"Lois ... "
She slid both arms around his neck. "Don't be jealous, Clark. It's you I want."
She giggled, her mood changing with mercurial quickness, and whirled away from him. Lifting one of the veils she wore, she began to dance. Clark sighed, moving dejectedly back toward the sofa. It was going to be a long evening.
Clark strode back and forth in the living room of his apartment. He ran a hand through his hair and glanced at his watch. Three A.M. Lois had finally fallen asleep, after completing the Dance of the Seven Veils, which, to put it mildly, had severely tried his self-control. He had restored her clothing and put her in his bed, then retired to the living room to pace. Again he glanced at his watch. Thankfully, it seemed as if Lois would sleep for some time yet, so maybe now would be the ideal opportunity to check out Luthor's office. Maybe it would focus his mind on something besides the vision of his partner wearing only a flimsy veil that left very little to the imagination. The memory left him feeling flushed, and not solely from embarrassment. Never before had Superman's resolve come so close to cracking.
Still, the evening hadn't been a total loss. Something that Lois had said at the onset, to which he hadn't paid much attention at the time, had been repeating itself over and over in his mind for the past half-hour. He knew that it was probably the chemical spray speaking, but he couldn't completely dismiss it. She'd noticed his resemblance to Superman and brushed it away with a casual, "Don't be jealous, Clark. It's you I want."
Was it even remotely possible that she actually preferred him, at least when in a state akin to intoxication, to his alter ego? Didn't they say "In vino veritas?" And there had been that remark about Luthor, too. "He means nothing, Clark. You're the only man for me."
He sighed heavily. Maybe it did mean something, but only when her defenses were stripped away. When she was in her right mind, she regarded him as a brother. Superman and Luthor, both men of influence and power, albeit very different kinds, were the ones that caught her interest. There were times when he wished that he'd never invented Superman.
But then, where would he be? Lois would still be infatuated with Lex Luthor, which was a thousand times worse. He had to find some kind of proof about the billionaire's real character, something that he could show Lois as evidence of the kind of man that Luthor really was. Or, if nothing else, something that would make her look twice at him and maybe realize that there was more there beyond the face that he presented to the public, every day.
A rapid, heavy pounding on his door yanked him away from his frustrated musings. Startled, he lowered his glasses and checked. His eyebrows flew up. What the dickens was Wally doing, beating on his door at three in the morning?
"Come on, Kent! I know you're in there!" His co-worker's angry voice came clearly to his ears through the wood and glass. "Open up!"
He started for the door and then hesitated. If Wally was still under the perfume's influence, which he probably was, then he was still fixated on Lois.
A quick glance through the wall of his apartment told him that Lois's brand new Jeep, which she had had less than a week and of which she was extremely proud, was parked prominently on the street, clearly advertising to the entire world, or that part of it which chose to pass by his apartment, that she was in here. With him.
He groaned softly. Was he going to have to deal with a jealous would-be boyfriend on top of everything else tonight? Well, why not? Just about everything else that could conceivably go wrong already had.
More banging on the door and a pane of glass shattered under one of the blows. Wally's voice said, "If you don't open up, Kent, I'm going to break it down! I know she's in there!"
With a sigh of resignation, he strode to the door and opened it. "Wally? What do you think you're doing, trying to destroy my door at three A.M.?"
Wally tried to push past him, but he stood his ground. "You haven't answered my question, Wally."
"I know she's here, Kent. Don't try to deny it. Her Jeep is parked right out front."
"Yes, she is. What business is it of yours?"
"I won't let you take advantage of her! You're luring her away from me, trying to seduce her with your --"
"My what?" Clark said, ironically. "My country boy charm? Lois is a grown woman and my partner. She's perfectly capable of taking care of herself, Wally. Besides, don't you have a fiancee?"
Wally tried again to push past him. "Lois! Come on out! I'm taking you home!"
Clark stood firm, conscious of a twinge of genuine anger. This was getting past the point of ridiculous into the borders of intolerable, even for Superman. "Wally, go home! Lois is fine and doesn't need your help."
"Where is she? What have you done with her? Lois!"
"Wally, if you don't go home, I'm calling the police!"
"Call them, Kent! I'm not letting you get away with this!" Without warning, he flung himself upon Clark.
Taken off guard, Clark stumbled backwards. His foot missed the top step and he let himself fall backwards into his living room, like any ordinary man would. How much of this that Wally would recall after he sobered up, Clark didn't know, but he couldn't take the chance of his remembering that Clark had behaved in any way out of the ordinary. He sprawled backward, half on the steps, half on the floor and endeavored to roll over and get to his feet, but the other man was instantly on him. Clark caught the fist that tried to hit him in the eye; Wally would probably have broken a few bones in his hand if the punch had connected. His co-worker straddled him, trying to hit him with the other fist. Clark caught that one, too.
"What's going on in here?" Lois's voice said.
The scene froze. Clark twisted his head, to see Lois standing in the opening that led to his bedroom, still clad in the harem outfit. Even from his position on the floor, he could see that her complexion had a greenish tinge to it, and she was rubbing her temples, gingerly. Wally stared at her, his mouth open in shock.
"Lois!" He glared down at Clark. "I suppose you're going to say that you weren't taking advantage of her, now! Pervert!" He looked back at Lois. "Get dressed, Lois. I'm taking you home."
"Clark, are you all right? What do you think you're doing, Wally? I've got a monster headache, and you're trying to play the protective boyfriend?" Lois glowered at her co-worker through squinted eyes. "Get off of him!"
Wally was trying to yank his wrists free of Clark's grip. Clark released them and shoved him away, starting to get to his feet. He couldn't deal with Wally the way he would as Superman, and that left him at a disadvantage. The other man wasn't a criminal; he simply wasn't in control of himself.
Wally staggered to his feet and swung at him again. Clark dodged, allowing the fist to miss him by a hair's breadth. The force of the punch swung Wally around, off balance, and at that second, Lois apparently decided to take a hand in the matter. Or rather, a foot.
Wally doubled over, clutching the target of Lois's kick and collapsed to the floor, groaning. Lois ignored Wally as if he didn't exist. She put a hand over her forehead and eyes, gripping the back of the armchair for balance with her free hand and squinted with one eye at Clark, through parted fingers. "Serves him right," she mumbled. "He was making too much noise and I feel like I have a hangover to beat all hangovers. Clark, are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Clark started to kneel beside his moaning colleague. "I hope he is. That was quite a kick."
"Clark, he cracked your glasses!" She reached forward with the hand that had been over her eyes and pulled them off. "Are you cut?"
Taken off guard, he froze for a split second. "No," he said, after a pause. "I've got another set in my dresser. I'll get them."
"Okay." She looked down at Wally, moving her head cautiously. "I guess I shouldn't have," she said, "but when I saw him try to punch you, he made me so mad ..."
Clark had ducked into his bedroom to retrieve his other glasses. Returning to the living room once more, he saw her waver slightly and raise a hand to cover her mouth. He stepped forward to grab her. "Lois, are you all right?"
"I think so ..." She massaged her forehead. "My stomach's upset and I have an awful headache. What am I ..." She looked down at herself. "Oh my God, what am I wearing?"
"Look, lie back down and shut your eyes," Clark said, helping her toward the bedroom. "I'll deal with Wally, and then explain, okay? It's not as bad as it looks."
"It can't possibly be as bad as it looks," she muttered, letting him guide her back to the bed. "How much did I have to drink? And what am I doing in your apartment, sleeping in your bed, anyway?"
By the time Clark returned from dropping Wally off at his apartment, in the guise of Superman, Lois was again asleep.
He'd given Wally a short, pithy lecture on the un-wisdom of breaking into colleagues' homes at three in the morning and picking fights over women, and, after ascertaining that the man wasn't seriously hurt but seemed to be developing a tremendous hangover, he'd left him to nurse his headache and various bruises in solitude.
The perfume, it seemed, might be wearing off at last, if Wally and Lois's experiences were typical. After checking on his partner, Clark debated the question of whether to waken her, but decided against it. If she was indeed suffering the equivalent of a hangover from the effects of the perfume, the longer she slept the better. He didn't want to have to explain the last two days to a hungover Lois. That was going to be bad enough, anyway. It was just fortunate for him that she'd been so preoccupied with her headache when she pulled off his glasses that she hadn't noticed just how close his resemblance to Superman really was.
Quietly, he found the aspirin bottle that he'd bought two months ago when Lois had strained a muscle on one of their more active investigations, and placed it, along with a thermos of cold water, on his bedside stand. Quickly, he scribbled a note to his partner, explaining that he had to go out for a short time, and put it on the table next to the thermos, setting a clean glass on it to hold it in place. With luck, he would be back before she woke up.
Lois Lane awoke slowly, blinking at the rosy light of dawn that filtered in the window. The pounding headache that had made her skull feel as if it were on the verge of exploding last night had subsided to a feeling of discomfort, and her stomach seemed to have settled. The light in the room no longer seemed too bright, and the muted sounds of a radio in the other room did not, any longer, give her the urge to destroy whatever was making the noise, although she was aware of a slight sensation of unreality about the scene. She'd had two or three hangovers before, and it felt as if she were on the tail end of one, now. The only thing was, she didn't recall drinking anything alcoholic. She didn't remember drinking anything at all.
Slowly, she blinked around at her surroundings. This wasn't her bedroom.
Vague, jumbled memories of last night's events filtered into her mind. Clark's face, and something about a harem outfit? She had danced for him, she recalled, and suddenly the memory of the Dance of the Seven Veils was mercilessly clear. Flashes of memory about the other events surfaced disjointedly and she felt her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She had thrown herself shamelessly at Clark, and he -- he had behaved like a complete gentleman. She remembered him patiently fending off her advances, saying something about caring too much about her to let her do something she'd hate him for, later. And there had been Wally. He'd shown up, shouting at her to get dressed. She'd only wanted to silence the voice that was making her head pound so agonizingly. He'd attacked Clark and broken his glasses, and she'd kicked him ...
Slowly, she turned her head. She was in Clark's bed, she recognized, finally. A bottle of aspirin, a thermos and a glass sat on the nightstand beside her. Trust her partner to be sure she had something for her headache. Carefully, she pushed herself upright. The discomfort in her skull increased slightly, and her surroundings swayed unsteadily. Her stomach lurched. She closed her eyes for a moment, willing things to settle down.
After a moment, she opened her eyes again. The aspirin was looking better and better to her, and after a few seconds' thought, she carefully twisted open the lid of the thermos, trying to keep her shaking hands steady as she did so. She had to work not to slosh water onto the floor as she filled the glass, suddenly aware of the fact that she was extremely thirsty. Chips of ice clinked against the sides of the glass as she set it and the thermos down on the nightstand. Slowly, she opened the bottle of aspirin and shook two tablets into her palm.
She almost choked on the tablets, but the water tasted better than she could ever remember water tasting, even the imported mineral water that she usually kept in her refrigerator. She drained the glass and was pouring herself another, when there was a light knock on the wall that separated Clark's bedroom from the living area, and her partner's voice said very softly, "Lois? Are you awake?"
"I guess so." Her voice sounded cracked and hoarse. What on Earth had she been thinking last night to allow herself to get so thoroughly drunk? And why didn't she remember any of it, especially since she seemed to remember what had happened afterwards, in fairly humiliating detail.
"May I come in?"
She looked down at her clothing to assure herself that she was decently clad and, to her horror, saw that she was still wearing the blue harem outfit. She looked like that woman in the show about the astronaut that had found a genie in a bottle, who proceeded to turn his life and the space program into chaos. Only, hadn't that outfit been pink?
It didn't matter. She pulled the sheet up to her chin. "Have I got anything to wear out there?"
"Your trench coat is still here," Clark's voice said. "If you'd like, I have some sweats in my dresser. Just stay under the covers. I'll get them for you."
She lifted the sheet and glanced down at herself once more. Oh, what did it matter? If her memories were anywhere near as accurate as she was afraid they were, he'd seen her in a lot less before he'd been able to coax her back into this thing. She was never going to live down the humiliation, anyway.
"Would you get them for me, please?" To her further embarrassment, her voice started to tremble, and she wiped away the moisture that had begun to fill her eyes. She wasn't going to let Clark see her cry! She lifted her chin. "I'd appreciate it."
Clark entered the room, crossed to the dresser and opened a drawer. "Here you go. I'll just go back into the kitchen and get you some ..." He broke off. "Um, how are you feeling? Are you up to some coffee?"
Surprisingly, the thought of coffee sounded good. "Not too awful, considering that I must have been so bad off last night that I don't even remember drinking. What happened, Clark? How did I get here?"
He laid the sweats on the foot of the bed. "Why don't you get dressed and we'll talk about it. If you'd like to shower, the bathroom is yours. Take your time."
"Clark, what *happened*?"
He smiled, not looking up at her. "Not what you're obviously afraid of. I'll explain everything, but it's really too complicated to cover in a few minutes. Go ahead. I'll get you some breakfast. Something ... light."
A shower definitely made her feel better. Lois combed her hair and surveyed herself in the mirror. She didn't have any makeup, and she hoped Clark wouldn't mind. She slipped on the sweats, pulling the drawstring around her waist as tight as she could and pushed the sleeves up her arms. She felt as if she were swimming in the huge garments, but she didn't care. After last night, Clark's opinion of her couldn't possibly sink any lower, anyway. What must he think of her after the way she had acted? She would never have admitted it to him, but his opinion of her mattered a good deal, and now he'd probably never want to work with her again. Unless there was a really good, and highly unlikely explanation for this whole situation.
Unable to delay any longer, she made her way out of the bathroom and toward the living area. She could smell the scent of fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls wafting from the cooking area, and her stomach growled. Clark had been as good as his word, but she hesitated, reluctant to face him.
"Lois?" he called. "Breakfast is ready. Will sweet rolls and fresh fruit be all right, or would you like something else?"
"Um ... " If she hadn't been desperate to know what had actually happened to cause this mess, her courage would have failed completely. Clark stepped around the partition that divided his kitchenette from the living area and smiled at her.
"How are you feeling?"
Appalled, she had to fight the lump that was trying to rise in her throat. He frowned and quickly closed the distance between them. "Are you all right, Lois? If the smells bother you, I can ..."
She shook her head carefully. "Actually, I feel a lot better," she said. "There's only a little bit of headache left. Thanks for the aspirin."
"Not a problem. Why don't you come on in and sit down. Getting something in your stomach should help."
"I don't think anything can help," she said, morosely. "What you must think of me ..."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, genuinely surprised. "None of it was your fault."
"Getting drunk wasn't my fault? I don't even remember drinking!"
"That's because you didn't." He was ushering her into the kitchenette as he spoke. "Here, sit down. Coffee?"
She nodded, trying to work out what he was saying. "Are you telling me I wasn't drunk? Clark I've had a few hangovers in my time; not many, thank heavens, but I know one when I have one."
"Technically you weren't drunk -- at least, not on alcohol," he said. Was she imagining things, or was her partner blushing? It wouldn't be a bit surprising, considering what she remembered about the way she had been throwing herself at him.
"Then, what was I drunk on?" she demanded.
He didn't answer at once and she waited while he poured her a cup of coffee. Clark drank coffee with real cream and sugar, she knew, and was slightly surprised when he set a small container of sugar substitute on the table, and another filled with the powdered creamer that she used at the office. "Will these be okay?"
"They're fine," she answered, automatically. "Clark ..."
He placed a bowl of cut fruit in front of her, and a platter bearing cinnamon rolls. "Here you go."
"Clark," she said, "you're stalling."
He smiled fractionally. "I'm still trying to figure out how to explain it," he said. "Most of what I 'know' are guesses, really. Superman helped me find out a little more, but I still don't know all of it." He sat down across from her and picked up his coffee cup. "The first thing you need to know, is that you and I didn't ..." He let his voice trail off. "You seemed a little worried. Nothing too serious happened to anyone, fortunately, but it could have."
"What do you mean?"
"It started two days ago at the Planet," he said. "That woman who sprayed us with the 'Eau de Sweat Socks' ..."
"Two days ago?" She stared at him in disbelief. "But ..."
"The show was two days ago," he confirmed, appearing a little uncomfortable. "Lois, there was something in that so-called perfume that affected almost everyone in the newsroom, you included, and I don't think it was an accident. It made everyone who was dosed with it drunk."
"Drunk? Clark, what did it do?"
He took another swallow of coffee, appearing to gather his courage. "Everyone seemed to fall madly in love," he explained. "I have no idea why. Pete and Wally decided to fixate on you as the love of their lives. You didn't appreciate it."
"No kidding! I think I remember some of it, sort of like you remember something when you're half-asleep. Was that why Wally showed up here in the middle of the night?" The frames of his glasses were slightly different from his usual style, she saw abruptly, and it triggered a sudden memory. "He broke your glasses, didn't he? I remember -- kind of."
"Yeah." Clark grimaced slightly. "He accused me of trying to lure you away from him with my wicked wiles."
Lois examined his face with the new glasses, aware of the odd impression that she was missing something. "Lure me away, huh? His fiancee would probably like to have a word with him about that," she said, dryly. "If he's lucky, she'll never hear about it. But what was I doing here instead of at my place?"
"Um ... "
"Clark, I hope I'm imagining things, but did I go after you?"
"Uh ..." He was looking down, and she was sure that she wasn't imagining the deep flush that was staining his cheeks. "Kind of."
She had to know. "Did I *really* do the Dance of the Seven Veils?"
At least he had the good sense not to try to hide the truth. "Yeah," he confirmed, reluctantly. "All seven."
She buried her face in her hands. "Aagh!"
"Lois, it wasn't your fault," he said, quickly. "It was the perfume, not you. Let's just forget about it, all right?"
"I'll never be able to live it down," she mumbled into her hands. "I'm surprised you even want to talk to me!"
"Well," he said slowly, "in a way it was kind of flattering, but I knew you'd be upset when the stuff wore off, so I wasn't happy about it. Lois, none of that stuff matters. We need to figure out why that woman picked the Planet to test her perfume, and what else she's got in mind. I don't think it was just a practical joke. One woman jumped off the Planet roof because the guy she thought she was in love with turned her down, and Jimmy nearly got himself hit by a truck. At least, that's what Superman said."
She lowered her hands, half-expecting him to be enjoying her humiliation, but, of course, he wasn't. "I'll never be able to show my face at the Planet again."
"I honestly don't think you need to worry too much," he said. "I think everyone else is going to be too embarrassed about their own behavior to think about yours, even if they noticed, and if Wally says anything, you have my word that I'll deny it ever happened." He ventured to reach across the table and rest a hand on one of her clenched fists. "Lois, it doesn't matter; I promise! I just need you to help me figure out what was behind it. I think we owe that woman something for what she did, don't you?"
Put that way, she had to agree. She should have realized that Clark, of all people, wouldn't blame her for something that she couldn't help, and gloating over her humiliation just wasn't in his nature. Her partner was a true gentleman, as hard as that was to believe. Claude, for all his Continental charm, had been a worse sleaze than ... than any other lowlife she could name, but the naive "hack from Nowheresville" was the kind of guy she hadn't believed existed anymore, and she found herself immensely grateful.
"You're right," she said. "We do owe her something."
The anxious expression on his face vanished and he smiled brilliantly. "It's good to have you back, partner," he said.
She found herself returning his smile. "I think I feel a lot better about it, now," she said. "Thanks, Clark."
He shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant, but she wasn't fooled. Clark had been almost as upset by her embarrassment as she was.
"The first thing I need is something to wear," she said, leaving the rest unsaid.
He smiled at her in obvious relief. "Let's finish eating and go over to your place so you can change," he suggested. "I'll fill you in on everything that I've figured out, and we can go from there."
Lois nodded briskly, glad to shove those embarrassing memories into the background. "Good idea." She reached for one of the cinnamon rolls and took a huge bite, amazed to find that her appetite had suddenly returned. "Mmm!" She chewed and swallowed the mouthful, washing it down with a swig of Clark's excellent coffee. "Where did you get these? They're fantastic! How do you always know the places that have such great food? You always seem to, and I can never find them."
"Actually, I didn't, this time. My mom made them and brought them with her the last time she and Dad were in Metropolis. I just defrosted them for you."
"She actually *made* these?" Lois stared at the two remaining cinnamon rolls with real respect. "Your mother is *some* cook! Um -- would you mind if I wrapped one up and took it along for later? I'm suddenly starved."
"Take them both," he suggested. "I can always get more."
Clark set the breakfast dishes in his sink. They could wait to be washed until later.
"Anyway," he concluded, "after I hunted over most of the city, I finally found her in an perfume advertisement. Her name is Miranda."
Lois's eyes widened. "'Miranda'? *The* Miranda of 'Miranda's Scents'?"
"That's the one." Clark handed the magazine in which he had found the woman's picture to his partner, along with the photo taken in the Planet. The image was slightly out of focus, but not so blurry that her identity was likely to be mistaken. "Check out the advertisement on page 31. It's her, all right. I looked her up. She runs a very exclusive little perfume shop in Old Town, over on Billing Street. Jimmy faxed me a bio on her this morning, while you were showering." He shook his head. "Superman said he thinks the close call that Jimmy had with the truck last night must have helped snap him out of the effects of the perfume. He sounded pretty much like his old self when I talked to him."
"Who was he in love with?" Lois asked, curiously.
"One of the models," Clark said. "I don't remember which one."
Lois was flipping through the magazine, looking for the advertisement. Clark was silent while she studied the picture, formulating what to say next. She was looking better, he thought, with relief. Her abject misery this morning had upset him more than he would have believed, and he had desperately wanted to reassure her that his respect and friendship for her remained solidly intact. At least, that seemed to have worked. He didn't particularly care for the strategy that he was now about to employ, but if he wanted her to even consider the possibility that there might be some kind of guilty connection between Miranda and Lex Luthor, the worst thing he could do was to suggest that Luthor might have any knowledge of the perfume's effects. He'd thought about it for hours last night after returning from Luthor's office. He'd found a contract drawn up but not yet signed, regarding a business partnership between them. It wasn't proof, but it pointed to some kind of connection and certainly suggested that there was a good deal more to this thing than met the eye. Subterfuge wasn't something he was comfortable with, especially with his partner, but for some reason, unfathomable to him, Lois had a large, blind spot with regard to the billionaire. As long as she thought that he, Clark, disliked Luthor without cause, she would discount any suggestions of unethical conduct that he made. The only possible solution was to lay all the relevant facts out in front of her and let her draw her own conclusions. It might be very difficult if not impossible to gather enough incriminating information, but maybe it didn't necessarily have to be incriminating. Maybe just knowledge of things he had said and ways he had acted in certain situations would throw enough doubt into Lois's mind that she might, just might, start to question his motives. In any case, it was worth a shot and this seemed like a good place to start.
He opened the folder he had been using to amass all his information on Miranda and removed a printout. "Miranda's a chemist. First in her class at MIT. Funding for her work comes from Luthor Industries."
"Why would Luthor Industries fund perfume research, or whatever it's called?" Lois asked.
"Maybe they're branching out into cosmetics," Clark said.
"I wonder what Lex would think of her latest invention," Lois said. "Perfume that makes people crazy. Maybe I ought to tell him about it."
"Maybe," Clark said. "You're having dinner with him this evening, aren't you?"
"How did you know that?" she asked, sharply.
"You told me, yesterday, after Luthor left," Clark said, careful to keep his voice neutral. "He dropped by the Planet, apparently to remind you about your dinner date, tonight."
"He did?" Lois frowned. "Did he say anything about what was going on?"
"Not to me," Clark said. "I passed him as he came in. By the time I got back, he was leaving. Do you remember if he said anything when he talked to you?"
"I ..." She scowled, trying to recall. "I kind of remember, now that you've mentioned it. I don't think he said a word about it. That's strange. From what you've told me, it must have been pretty obvious that something wasn't right in the newsroom."
"I'd think so," Clark said, carefully.
"Then, why would he just leave like that without doing anything to help -- or at least saying something?"
Clark set the folder down. "I don't know. Look, let's get over to your place so you can change. I have the address of 'Miranda's' here, too. Maybe we should pay her a visit."
"Good idea." Lois shoved the sleeves of his sweat suit back for the tenth time in five minutes. "If you don't mind, I'd like you to drive. My head still feels a little funny."
"Sure. Where are your keys?"
She looked blank. "I don't know. I must have had them, though. I drove over here."
"You didn't have them when you arrived, last night," Clark said. "At least, you weren't carrying your bag."
She stared at him, appalled. "You don't suppose I left them in the Jeep!"
"Maybe." Clark opened the door and they hurried out to the Cherokee, where it sat parked by the curb. One look through the window confirmed their suspicions. Her keys dangled conspicuously from the ignition.
"I'm surprised I didn't wreck it on the way over," she muttered, under her breath.
"It's lucky that no car thief spotted the keys," Clark said, cautiously. "At least that's one good thing." He opened the driver's door, retrieved them and walked around to the passenger side to unlock the door for Lois. His partner clambered into the Jeep without a word.
Billing Street in Metropolis' Old Town was one of those narrow, picturesque little strips filled with tiny coffee shops, health stores, small exotic boutiques and art shops, catering largely to the tourist market. Clark found a parking spot and they walked past outdoor cafes, and displays of pottery and hand-crafted jewelry and the occasional street performer. Miranda's was located halfway down the block. Chimes jingled as Clark opened the door for Lois and followed her inside.
It was a tiny but elegant establishment, with shelves displaying hundreds of antique perfume bottles, and cabinets full of incense, scented bath crystals and oils, soaps, and candles that nobody would dare actually burn, he thought. He saw a wax dragon fully three feet long, done in minute detail down to the crafting of each individual scale. Exotic scents filled the air.
Lois sniffed and Clark saw her wrinkle her nose. "Are you all right?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah. I guess my stomach isn't quite over last night. I'll be fine."
The sound of a bead curtain being pushed aside made Clark turn. The blond woman for whom he had been searching since the day before entered the room. He nudged Lois.
Miranda smiled at them. "Looking for something in particular?" she asked.
Lois glanced at her. "Uh, no. Not really."
"A gift?" the woman asked. "Something for a friend whose love has soured?" She picked up a small, crystal bottle. "Try my Jungle Passion. Pure, white petals picked from a flower grown only in Micronesia."
Clark regarded the bottle for an instant and shook his head. Miranda shrugged. "Oh well. I have a wide selection. A scent for every occasion."
Clark glanced sideways at an area of the shop that was obviously a small laboratory. "You make all your own perfumes?"
"Oh yes," she said. "I was trained as a chemist. Many perfumers are. In fact, the goal of a fine perfumer is to cause a little 'chemical reaction'." She regarded him closely. "Haven't we met before?"
Clark nodded. "I think we have. I'm Clark Kent. This is Lois Lane, from the Daily Planet."
"Oh yes," Miranda said. "I was there the other day, sampling the competition's new fragrance and trying out one of my new ones as well."
Behind Miranda, Clark saw Lois roll her eyes.
"Yours had an interesting odor," he said. "Animal based?"
She regarded him intently and he could hear her heart rate accelerate slightly. "You have a remarkable olfactory sense, Mr. Kent. Yes ... that particular perfume is ... quite rare."
"What do you call it?" he asked.
She shot him an enigmatic look. "I call it 'Revenge'."
"Can you tell us the ingredients?" Lois asked.
The chemist laughed softly. "Come now, Ms. Lane. Surely you don't expect me to give away all my secrets?"
Judging by Lois's heartbeat, his partner was genuinely angry; not a surprising circumstance, Clark thought. He wasn't too pleased with Miranda, himself. As Lois stepped forward to confront the other woman, he seized the opportunity to retreat into the background and lower his glasses slightly, looking around for the atomizer in the photograph of Miranda taken at the Planet.
"Look," Lois said. "Let's cut the niceties. Whatever witches' brew you sprayed us with made most of the newsroom looney tunes in love! People were hurt by what you did! My friend Jimmy almost got killed, and one woman tried to kill herself! If not for Superman you'd have two deaths on your conscience -- assuming you have one at all!"
Miranda raised her eyebrows. "You're not suggesting *I* could have had anything to do with something like that, are you?"
Lois glared at her. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting!"
Clark kept a fragment of his attention on the conversation, mostly to be certain that neither woman was paying attention to him. There were several of the atomizers sitting in an alcove beside the tiny work area. Moving quickly, he appropriated one and tucked it safely into the pocket of his trench coat. As silently and quickly as he had made his short foray, he returned, to stand innocently behind Lois as she concluded her rant.
Miranda was regarding Lois with both her eyebrows raised. "You know, Ms. Lane, animals are ruled by their sense of smell. We humans think we've evolved beyond that, but I'm not so sure. Even so, I have no idea what you're talking about."
The woman's heartbeat said differently, Clark observed. He could hear her pulse thundering like drums. Miranda turned casually away from her unwelcome customers. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do in the back."
Clark followed his infuriated partner out of the shop.
"She's lying," Lois said, as the door swung shut behind them.
"Of course she is," Clark said. "But did you expect anything else? She's not about to admit to what she did. Spraying mind-altering chemicals on unsuspecting people can't possibly be legal."
"So, we know she did it. How can we prove it?" Lois said.
Clark flashed her a grin. "Let's get back to the Jeep. I think we need to visit Jimmy's friend at STAR Labs."
"I'll show you when we get in the Jeep."
Lois cast him a puzzled look but remained silent until they were safely in the Cherokee. Before she could repeat her question, Clark withdrew the atomizer from his pocket. "This is the bottle in the picture. Let's see what the people at STAR Labs think of the ingredients."
Lois stared at it and her face broke into a smile. "I've had a better effect on you than I thought, Kent! How did you get that? I didn't even see you move!"
"In that case," he said, "she didn't either." He handed her the atomizer and started the engine. "The sooner we get this stuff analyzed the better. Let's drop it off and go back to the Planet. I suspect we're going to have to do some explaining when we get there."
As they passed through the newsroom toward Perry White's office, Lois glanced around at the masses of debris being carted away. Dozens of pink, red and white balloons, bundles of wilting flowers, heart shaped boxes that had contained chocolate candy -- gifts for light o' loves? she wondered. A huge banner proclaiming "Love Conquers All" was still looped across the newsroom, and a pair of workmen were adjusting a ladder preparatory to attempting to remove it. Yesterday's newspaper headline blared at her from a copy of the paper stuffed into a trashcan, and she reached down to retrieve it. "Perry let *this* go to press, yesterday?"
"Yep," Clark said. "He got sprayed, too, remember."
"Who did he ...?"
Clark shrugged. "You'll have to ask him," he said.
They passed the copy room, and faintly through the door, Lois heard the copy machine running fast and furiously. She stopped.
"What on Earth is going on in there? Whoever's running that thing is going to burn it out."
"Don't go in there," Clark said as she reached for the doorknob. Taking her elbow, he hustled her past.
Lois eyed him suspiciously. "What aren't you telling me, Clark Kent?"
He pushed open the door to the Editor's office without replying.
Perry was seated at his desk, his hands covering his face. At the sound of their entrance, he looked up, revealing a swollen, bandaged nose and two black eyes. Lois gasped.
"Chief, what happened?" Clark asked, looking genuinely appalled.
"Does it hurt?" Lois asked.
"Only when I laugh," Perry said. "Although there's very little danger of that happening in the near future." He thrust a sheaf of papers at them. Clark took them, holding them so Lois could see.
"Sexual harassment?" he said, obviously stunned.
"Rehalia?" Lois said. If her boss hadn't been so obviously miserable, she might have laughed, but the recollection of her own humiliation of this morning killed the impulse before it was fully developed.
"That's not the worst part," Perry said. "Alice kicked me out. Called me a no good hound dog. Now I'm down at the heartbreak hotel."
"Chief," Clark said, "I'm pretty sure you have a defense. A chemist sprayed us all with a perfume that had some kind of mind-altering substance in it. We're waiting for a call back from STAR Labs now. They said they should have the answers we need in a couple of hours."
Their editor looked hopeful. "I don't remember a lot," he admitted. "In my right mind, I'd never cheat on Alice. You let me know as soon as you get some answers, you hear? And I want the two of you on this until we dig up what really happened."
"Don't worry, Perry," Lois said. "I've got a personal stake in this one."
"I think most of the newsroom does," Clark said, unnecessarily.
"Well, get busy," Perry said. "My marriage depends on what you find out."
"On it, Chief," Clark said.
"Poor Perry," Lois said, as the door to the Editor's office closed behind them. "I hope they get that report to us pretty quick."
"Me, too." Her partner was looking unhappy. "I wish I'd realized what was happening with Perry. I might have been able to do something."
"Clark, you had your hands full as it was," she said. "You couldn't take care of everybody. I'm just grateful that it wasn't worse."
"I guess I am, too," he said. "I just wish I'd figured out what was happening a little faster."
Clark's phone rang at that moment, and he hurried across the office to answer it.
"Kent." He listened. "Yes, Dr. Friedman." Again, he listened. "You *did*? What would the effects be?"
Lois waited, drumming her fingers on one arm as he listened again. Finally, he nodded. "Thanks, Doctor," he said. "Could you fax it to me, here at the Planet? That report's going to be very helpful."
"What?" Lois asked, as he put down the phone.
"They're faxing us the information," Clark said. "Basically, the only unusual substance in the perfume was a pheromone."
"Pheromone," Clark said. "'A chemical substance secreted by animals which produces specific responses in other individuals of the same species'. Specifically, involving sexual attraction and mating behavior."
"What did you do?" Lois asked. "Memorize a dictionary?"
"I'm a speed reader," Clark said. He crossed to the fax machine as it began to receive a fax. "Here's the report. We were sprayed with a pheromone."
"Let me see."
He handed her the first page, and collected three more as they dropped into the tray. "Here's the rest."
Lois was reading. "It apparently wears off within 48 hours. Good thing, too."
"That's what he told me over the phone," Clark said. "Depending on a person's metabolic rate."
"But, according to this, the stuff shouldn't work unless you're already physically attracted to the person," Lois said. "Then, it just overrides our normal restraints."
"I guess there has to be some animal magnetism there to begin with," Clark said.
"But that would mean ..." She bit off the words. The fact was, she *did* find Clark attractive and always had. Her libido apparently knew it all too well. A dismaying thought hit her. "Clark, you got sprayed. Why didn't you fall for me?"
Clark shrugged. "I'm not sure. I should have," he admitted. "I was behind you, Jimmy and Perry, and I held my breath. I must have only got a little of it -- not enough to do whatever it did to the rest of you. It's a good thing that one of us was sober. Superman and I had our hands full figuring out what happened and trying to keep people out of trouble."
"I guess we were lucky," Lois said, slowly. Clark's explanation sounded a little thin, but it seemed reasonable. There was no question in her mind that he was attracted to her, even if he hadn't essentially admitted it just now. Something else was bugging her about last night, too, although she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Something, some little memory that seemed to be just beyond her grasp, was tickling maddeningly at her. Another picture, fuzzy and distorted, flashed suddenly through her mind, distracting her from the other. "Clark, did I break into your apartment or something? I sort of remember picking your lock, and ..."
"Um ... yeah, the first night, you did."
"What did I ... no, I don't want to know."
He shrugged, obviously uncomfortable. "Nothing happened."
But it probably would have, she thought, if Clark had gotten more of the spray. She was just fortunate that her partner was the honorable guy that he was. A lot of men wouldn't have questioned the good fortune of finding her in their bed. Clark had left. She remembered that, and the intense feeling of disappointment that accompanied it, but now she was grateful. The humiliating memories of her behavior seemed to be growing clearer as time went by, instead of fading. She hadn't paid much attention to her colleagues, though, so hopefully they hadn't paid much attention to her. She had been focussed almost entirely on Clark.
A thought crossed her mind, as it had a couple of times since breakfast. Why hadn't Lex said anything about what was going on in the newsroom? Judging by all the stuff they were hauling out of here, and some of the things that people must have been doing, he had to have seen that something was pretty weird. And why had he dropped by the Planet to remind her of their dinner date, anyway? Usually he called, or had Nigel call. Something wasn't right, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
"I'm going to show this report to Perry," Clark said. "I think he'll be relieved to see it."
"I'll say," Lois said. She glanced at the copy room door as a particularly loud clatter from the machine drew her attention. "*What* is going on in there?"
"Believe me," Clark said, seriously. "You *don't* want to know."
The edition of the Daily Planet that came out that evening was a little thin on local news, Lois thought. Clark ran out halfway through the afternoon and returned with a short account of a jewelry store holdup, foiled by Superman, and they attended a mayoral speech honoring the city's firefighters shortly thereafter, but nothing more emerged on the situation that had disrupted the newsroom for the past two days.
Wally showed up around one, and spent the rest of the day avoiding her, which wasn't a problem as far as Lois was concerned. Pete buried himself in his box scores, or whatever he did, and pretended that she didn't exist. As a matter of fact, now that she thought about it, conversation in the newsroom seemed to be sharply limited to short exchanges, exclusively related to work. Somewhere late in the day, a man in rumpled clothing and carrying a toolbox emerged from the copy room, and with elaborate casualness, strolled toward the ramp that led to the elevator. Lois watched without appearing to, and some five minutes later, Cat Grant opened the door and followed.
Lois raised her eyebrows and turned back to the article that she was proofreading. After the last forty-eight hours, she wasn't about to say a word.
But her mind was busy. What on Earth could have been the reason for Miranda's stunt? Was it simply that the newsroom had been the site for the publicity shoot, or had there been another, more sinister motive, and if so, what could it be? She picked up the bio on Miranda for the twentieth time, and studied it, hoping for some sort of inspiration, but nothing came to mind. What could possibly have been the woman's motive?
"Jimmy!" she called.
The junior photographer and copy boy appeared beside her desk some seconds later. "You called?"
"Could you do an in-depth background on this Miranda woman? And see what you can find out about her personal life as well as her professional one. Anything might be useful."
Jimmy shrugged. "Sure. I'll get on it as soon as I can."
Which might be a while, Lois thought. Jimmy was trying frantically to catch up on his own tasks, just like everyone else was.
Her phone rang, and she picked it up. "Lois Lane."
"Lois!" It was Lex's voice, sounding warm and charming as he always did when speaking to her. "I was just calling to confirm our dinner date tonight."
"I'm looking forward to it," she said.
"I'm looking forward to it as well. Nigel will pick you up at seven."
"I'll be ready," she said.
Someone spoke in the background and there was a pause. "Until tonight, then," Lex said. "In the meantime, duty calls."
"Of course," she said. "Goodbye, Lex."
"Goodbye, my dear." There was a click at the other end of the line.
Slowly, she hung up.
There was nothing wrong, she told herself. Nothing at all. Lex usually called before a date to be sure that they had their plans straight.
Only, he'd come by yesterday for the very same purpose, or so he'd apparently told her. At least, Clark had said she'd told him that, and it fit with the hazy memories of yesterday. So, why was he checking twice?
Her gaze drifted again to the paper that contained the information on Miranda, and the line of print that informed her that Miranda's work was funded by Luthor Industries.
No, that was silly! Lex funded half the scientists in the city. Chances were that he didn't even know who she was.
But Lex hadn't even seemed to notice how strangely everyone in the newsroom was acting, or if he had, he hadn't mentioned it to her. Of course, she hadn't exactly been acting normally, either, but that was another thing that needed to be explained. If it had been anyone but Lex, she might have thought he had come by for an entirely different purpose.
She frowned at nothing, not liking where her thoughts were taking her. She was aware that Clark didn't like Lex, and the few times he had voiced what she had believed were totally unwarranted suspicions, she had hotly defended the billionaire. But what had happened yesterday did seem a little hard to explain. Clark had wisely been careful not to imply anything, but she knew her partner was wondering. Of course, Clark's suspicions were silly. Lex was a philanthropist, as well as a businessman. He supplied jobs to an enormous work force, not only in Metropolis but around the world as well, and did a great deal of good. Such a man didn't deserve that kind of suspicion.
But, a little voice said, somewhere deep down, Clark is a good man, too, and not a stupid one. He wouldn't harbor such suspicions without some sort of cause.
Oh, pooh! she told herself. Clark is just jealous.
Jealous, maybe, but not petty. The little voice in the back of her mind prodded at her. She managed to ignore it most of the time, particularly when faced with Clark's disapproval of Lex. She always felt that it was a criticism of her, and as such her defensive instincts always kicked in at the slightest hint that he was judging her taste in men. How, after all, could her partner possibly know more about Lex Luthor than she did? It was just as well for Clark that he hadn't said anything.
But there remained, now, just a little tug of doubt. It was probably silly. What possible reason could Clark have other than jealousy to feel the way he did? He'd never explained his feelings to her. Didn't that show that he had nothing solid on which to base his suspicions?
On the other hand, she realized suddenly, she'd never really given him a chance, leaping as she had to Lex's defense. If she was honest with herself, she hadn't bothered to listen on the couple of occasions when he'd tried to speak to her about the subject. She'd cut him off, charged to the attack as always, and Clark had simply shut his mouth, looking stubborn and unconvinced. He hadn't tried to bring up the issue since. It remained the one major source of friction between them.
Lois scowled again, glancing at the elevator. Clark had taken off again a short time ago, and there was still no sign of him. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearly quitting time, and it looked as if she wasn't going to get the chance to talk to him again, today.
Well, tomorrow, she would ask him point blank why he didn't like Lex. Maybe, if she were just a little less defensive, he would tell her why he thought what he did. If there was something besides jealousy behind it, she wanted to know what it was, and if it was really worth worrying about. Maybe Clark didn't approve of Lex for some reason that she would find perfectly silly. His rural upbringing had given him a ridiculously rigid sense of right and wrong, moral and immoral. Maybe he didn't approve of Lex simply for his vast wealth. She'd suspected something of the sort from the beginning. Maybe that was the real reason, after all, but whatever it was, she wanted to know for sure.
And, in the meantime, she would see where things went this evening. If no explanation from Lex was forthcoming, she could casually mention the events in the newsroom, and no doubt he would straighten out the confusion. There was no real reason to suspect anything was less than straightforward. No reason at all, she assured herself. Everything that had happened over the last couple of days was probably making her unnecessarily paranoid. Lex probably had nothing to do with it.
Superman remained sitting on the top of LexTower, trying to make up his mind about a course of action. Judging by what he'd heard, the last two days at the Daily Planet might be the harbinger of much worse to come, and, at least so far, he couldn't prove any of it. Even Superman couldn't make allegations of this level of seriousness without something to back them up. Especially about Lex Luthor.
He had made a point during the day of periodically checking on the whereabouts of Miranda, and had therefore been able to track her when she had gone to see Lex Luthor that afternoon. She had just left, and he watched as she exited the front of the building. Even if he hadn't eavesdropped on the meeting between Luthor and the chemist, just her agitated stride would have told him that she was infuriated.
It had been an enlightening interview, to say the least. It was too bad he hadn't any way of proving what he had overheard. In ordinary circumstances, he'd have gone to Lois and together they would have worked out some way to prove what he now knew to be true, but in this case, it was impossible.
He'd listened as Luthor and Miranda had agreed on a partnership to produce the pheromone-laced perfume, and he'd heard the popping of a champagne cork. And then, the conversation had taken a turn that nearly made his hair stand on end.
"I'm a bit concerned about the temporary nature of the perfume," Luthor's voice had remarked. "Forty-eight hours isn't much time."
"I'm only using a one percent solution," Miranda's voice had replied. "In its purest form, 'Revenge' would cause a total and permanent breakdown of all inhibitions."
"Excellent," Luthor's voice had said. There was the sound of more carbonated liquid being poured.
He'd been so alarmed by the revelation that he'd missed part of the ensuing conversation, but he managed to pull himself together in time to hear the snippet of conversation between them when Miranda had alluded to a relationship they had once shared, and a wish to resume it. Luthor had turned her down, flatly. On some personal level, Clark wondered why some scorned woman hadn't murdered the man long before this, if his treatment of Miranda was any example, but the overriding concern in his mind was the conversation about the effects of the perfume.
Permanent? Why would Luthor want a substance that could have such an effect on people?
Unfortunately, he could think of a lot of reasons. A weapon like that in the hands of someone as amoral as Lex Luthor had the potential for a disaster of epic proportions. What was he going to do?
"It's a lovely dinner, Lex." Lois glanced out the huge picture window in Lex Luthor's study at the lights of Metropolis far below. From this high in the air, the city looked peaceful and serene. On the table between them, two candles burned, and the candlelight gleamed off the surfaces of the crystal and silver table settings.
"I never was one for crowded restaurants," Lex said. "I prefer to eat alone." He smiled at her. "Present company excepted, of course."
Lois smiled and took a bite of salad. So far, Lex hadn't brought up his visit to the newsroom the day before. She debated with herself how to introduce the subject. She couldn't just blurt it out, but perhaps she could bring the conversation around to it ...
Lex was staring at her, his expression curiously intense. She looked back at him, a little puzzled. "What is it, Lex? Are you feeling all right?"
He seemed to shake himself. "Yes, of course. I'm never sick. I just ..." He hesitated, gazing at her in a way that seemed somehow familiar. "Your eyes. I don't think I ever noticed your eyes before. How rich; how deep. Like pools of light. A man could drown in those pools."
Lois stared at him, an uneasy feeling creeping through her.
"Huh. Thank you," she said, a little warily.
Lex sat back, looking slightly confused. After a second he picked up the wine bottle and filled his glass.
Lois took a sip of her wine. She decided that she would converse with Lex and gradually steer the topic around to the events at the Planet as if it were ordinary dinner conversation. Lex seemed slightly distracted, frowning a little, as if puzzled at his own behavior.
"Things have been utterly crazy at the Planet," she began. "You wouldn't believe ..."
Lex abruptly set the wine bottle on the table and reached out, taking one of her hands in his. "Your hands."
Lois glanced quickly down at her hands. They looked fine to her, but Lex was regarding the one he held almost worshipfully.
"What's wrong with my hands?" Lois asked.
"They're so graceful," Lex said. "So delicate. Like fine porcelain."
There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Lex might have a different approach, but his attitude was eerily like Pete's ... and Wally's.
"'Imprison her soft hands and let her rave ... and feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes ...'," he quoted.
Lois swallowed, trying to quiet the butterflies that seemed to have suddenly inhabited her stomach. This wasn't Lex's normal, restrained behavior; that was sure. It was as if the same madness that had infected the newsroom had descended on him. But if it had, that meant he had somehow encountered the pheromone. And that meant he had probably come in contact with Miranda, since Lois doubted that the woman was going to willingly put her perfume under the control of anyone else.
"You're acting very strange tonight, Lex," she said. A faint hope that he had had enough alcohol to release his inhibitions crossed her mind. "How many glasses of wine did you have before I came?"
Lex blinked. "None. I never drink alone and I'm never drunk. I'm always in ..." he drew a deep breath, "... control." He leaned forward, his gaze intent on her face. "You ... are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen."
Lois stared at him in shock, trying desperately to rearrange her thoughts. Lex had almost certainly been sprayed with the perfume. He'd somehow personally met Miranda. Did he know about her perfume, or was he simply a victim? And why would the woman do such a thing? What did Miranda think she was doing?
What she needed was a few minutes to think without the distraction of Lex's adoring gaze, she thought.
"Um ... Lex, I'd like to powder my nose," she said, laying her napkin on the table. "I'll be back in just a minute."
He smiled at her, the entranced look on his face growing more intense. "Of course, my dear." He sat back, and she was aware of his eyes fastened on her as she made her way to the restroom.
Once there, she leaned back against the wall, trying to decide how to handle this unexpected development. The whole situation seemed to be spiraling completely off into the highly improbable. Research chemists didn't get in to speak with Lex Luthor without a very good reason, not even one as prominent as Miranda. Just because his company funded her work didn't mean she could see him any time she wanted, unless there was a very good reason. Could Lex know about the pheromone-spiked perfume? But then, why had he ended up sprayed with it? Surely he wouldn't knowingly allow himself to be dosed with it.
And, speaking of that, what should she do now? She couldn't just leave him without trying to help, but she was unsure what to do. If Lex was as obsessed with her as Wally and Pete had been, things could get dicey. She didn't think he'd be as crude as either other man, but she had no wish to fend off his advances for half the night. It would be embarrassing for both of them: for her both now and at her next meeting with him, and for Lex, after the stuff wore off. Besides, if she deserted him, now, what would happen? Clark had said that, under the influence of the pheromone, Amanda Nelson had tried to kill herself when the object of her affections rejected her. She didn't think that Lex was likely to do something like that, but the stuff did seem to promote irresponsible behavior. She couldn't be sure of anything where it was concerned.
A light knock on the door interrupted her thoughts and for a moment she was afraid that Lex had followed her.
"Miss Lane?" It was the voice of Nigel St. John. "Is everything all right?"
Slowly, she opened the door, pasting a smile on her face. "Yes, I'm fine. It's a wonderful dinner."
"I will convey your compliments to Andre, Miss Lane," Nigel said, at his most expressionless. "Is there anything that you need?"
"No," Lois said, unaccountably uncomfortable in the butler's presence. He seemed to be watching her closely. "I have a slight headache and I didn't want it to spoil the evening, so I needed to take a couple of aspirin."
"Ah, I see." The butler smiled slightly. "My apologies for intruding."
"No problem." She let him gesture her ahead of him back to the table and took her chair again. Lex was watching her with the same besotted expression she had seen on Pete's face, and that she very much feared that Clark had seen on hers as well. What had the report said? There had to be some physical attraction present for the pheromone to work, so Lex was obviously genuinely attracted to her. It was flattering; there was no question of that, but to her surprise, no great surge of happiness accompanied it. She liked Lex, of course, but the knowledge that the third wealthiest man in the world found her to his taste wasn't the thrill she might have expected it to be. The sensation she was most aware of was the desire to get out of here as quickly as possible.
Quickly, she grasped her fork and speared a chunk of lettuce. Lex picked up his wineglass and raised it to her. "To the loveliest woman I have ever known," he said, and drank. Lois lowered her eyes modestly, wondering frantically how to cut the evening short. For the moment, she decided, she would have to make the best of it, until she could make her excuses in a plausible manner. Besides, she didn't want him to think she was rejecting him. As much as she doubted that he would do anything drastic, she couldn't be sure, but telling Nigel the truth wasn't an option, either. Not yet. Not until she discovered how Lex had received his dose of the pheromone. It wasn't that she was really suspicious of him, but it was a question that needed answering. Once she knew what the connection was between Miranda and Lex, she could explain what had happened, and maybe Lex would be able to supply her information that would help to prove what the woman had done.
A slender, dark man appeared and removed the wineglasses and salad plates. A moment later, Nigel placed dishes bearing Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms in front of them. Another servant presented Lex with a bottle of some fine, white wine to go with the main dish and replaced the used wineglasses with fresh ones. Nigel poured a sample for Lex to taste, and he solemnly approved the selection, all the while regarding her with that enraptured expression.
The butler poured wine for both of them and then departed. Lois took a bite of the excellent food, glancing at the panorama of the lighted city below them. "Your chef is wonderful, Lex."
He nodded. "Andre has been with me for ten years." He swallowed half a glassful of wine without seeming to notice, his eyes still fixed on her face. "Why haven't I noticed before how incredibly beautiful you are? It's as if I've been blind, and now I really see you for the first time ..."
Lois sighed inaudibly. It was going to be a long evening.
Lois Lane unlocked the door of her apartment and let herself into the dimly lit room. It hadn't been as long an evening as she had expected, but only because Lex had become drowsy over his sixth glass of wine. Lois suspected the perfume's effect of lowering the inhibitions had contributed to the situation, and had been all too willing to leave when Nigel had suggested that he drive her home. Now, she closed and locked her door with a sigh of relief. Lex would undoubtedly be thoroughly embarrassed in the morning, assuming that the pheromone had worn off by then.
But her questions hadn't been answered this evening. If anything, they had grown more urgent. Where and why had Lex encountered the pheromone? And, what was his connection with Miranda?
She hesitated, looking at her watch, and made a reluctant decision. She was going to need Clark's help with this one, much as it went against the grain to admit that she needed anyone's help. There were just too many questions to let the subject lie. It was barely midnight. Hopefully, her partner wasn't in bed, yet. She knew he often stayed up late watching sports events that his VCR had recorded for him while he was out. Having made the decision, she picked up the phone and dialed Clark's number.
She had pulled off the elegant cocktail gown and the heeled shoes and was sliding into a pair of pajamas when he answered the phone.
"Clark, did I wake you up?" she asked, slightly dismayed at the sleepy tone of his voice.
"Lois?" He sounded surprised. "No, I was just getting ready for bed. Is something wrong?"
"Kind of." She hesitated for a long moment. She was handing Clark ammunition, but hadn't she already decided to talk to him about Lex, anyway? "Something pretty strange happened tonight."
"I think Lex has been sprayed with the perfume."
"*What*?" Clark's voice was sharp. "How could you tell?"
"Believe me, I could tell."
Briefly, she related the events of the evening that had led up to her concluding that Lex had received a dose of Miranda's perfume. Clark listened in silence until she had finished.
"Is Luthor all right?" he asked, when she had finished.
"I left him sleeping in his chair. Nigel St. John drove me home."
"This is an interesting development," he said. "Did he give you any idea at all what might have happened?"
There was silence at the other end of the phone for a good thirty seconds. "It probably happened this afternoon," he said, thoughtfully.
"Why do you think that?"
"I'm guessing, but I've been keeping an eye on Miranda. I followed her to LexTower around five-thirty today. She was in Luthor's penthouse for about twenty minutes or so and when she came back out she was pretty upset about something. She must have sprayed Luthor, then."
"Why would she have sprayed Lex?"
His voice became cautious. "How about we talk about it in the morning, Lois, after we've both had some sleep? I'm pretty tired, after spending all last night wide awake."
The memory of why he'd spent the entire night awake made her blush. Still, it served to remind her that Clark Kent was an honorable man, unlike a number of others with whom she had had relationships in the past. After she'd figured out his code of ethics, she'd doubted that it would survive the big city for more than a few months, but he'd surprised her. Although that same set of ethics might annoy her upon occasion, she had to admit that she could count the kind of men like him that she knew on the fingers of one hand and have one or two left over. Maybe it wasn't a bad idea, after all, to give him the benefit of the doubt and listen to what he had to say.
"Lois?" Clark's voice said, and she realized she'd been looking blankly at the wall for nearly a minute.
"Um, sure. We'll talk first thing in the morning, then. I'll pick you up at seven."
After he hung up the phone, Clark sat staring at the instrument for several minutes, trying to decide what to do. It didn't seem likely that anything would be going on at this hour, but taking a quick peek at Luthor and Miranda probably wouldn't hurt. An instant later, Superman was out the window and headed for LexTower.
Luthor was sleeping in an armchair in his study. After a startled moment, Clark concluded that his servants had decided not to disturb him after he'd fallen asleep in his chair. Lois, he recalled, with some amusement, had related the fact with apparent relief. Apparently Luthor in an amorous mood wasn't to her taste, at least when it was something like this pheromone that released his inhibitions. He wondered, somewhat grimly, what she thought of the obvious fact that the billionaire found her attractive. He hadn't quite dared to ask such an inflammatory question. Besides, it didn't fit with his new campaign to bring the inconsistencies of Luthor's actions quietly to her attention. It did seem to have her wondering, which wasn't surprising. Lois, when she wasn't in defensive mode, was a very intelligent woman. When she actually thought about Luthor's behavior, instead of simply trying to defend him against Clark's perceived criticism, she was bound to notice that something wasn't quite right. At least, he hoped so. Lex Luthor was a foe to be reckoned with, that was for certain, and he would never knowingly give Lois any reason to doubt the sterling character that he showed her at all times. However, he already had done so, unintentionally. The minor fact that he had visited the newsroom while everyone was under the effects of the pheromone and hadn't reacted to the unusual circumstances seemed to have set Lois to wondering. Hopefully, the tiny chink in his armor would in the end prove the man's undoing.
Making a sharp turn in the air, he headed for Miranda's shop. There was a light on in the show room, but there was no sign of the woman and he concluded that she was probably home asleep. Well, there was nothing he could do for the moment. Superman headed back to his apartment. Even he needed some sleep after the last forty-eight hours.
He was just tightening the knot on his latest tie when someone rapped sharply on his door. The clock on the table said 6:42. Lowering his glasses, he saw Lois as she raised her fist to knock again.
Quickly, he finished adjusting his tie and hurried up the steps to answer, opening it as she started to knock. She almost fell through the door and he caught her arm. "Oops! Are you all right?"
She regained her balance almost at once, and her composure with slightly more effort. "Yeah." She cleared her throat. "I wanted to talk to you before we go in to work. I already phoned Perry and told him we'd be a little late. I said we were working on the pheromone thing."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are we?"
"Yes. Kind of."
"Okay." He waved at the kitchenette. "There's some coffee left. Help yourself. I'll be finished dressing in a minute."
"Sure." She seemed to seize onto the suggestion with more enthusiasm than she usually displayed about coffee. He cast her an uncertain glance as he retreated to his bedroom to run a comb quickly through his hair and retrieve his wallet and the new pager he'd managed to find time to pick up, yesterday. When Lois got into one of these moods it meant that something was up, and usually foreshadowed some delicate verbal tap dancing for him.
A quick glance through the wall showed her pouring herself a cup of coffee and dumping in the remainder of the artificial sweetener and creamer that he'd acquired for her yesterday. She stirred so vigorously that some of the coffee slopped onto his sink board. Obviously agitated, she snatched a paper towel off the roll by the sink and accidentally jerked the roll from its holder. The roll promptly fell into the sink and Lois pulled it out, nearly knocking the plate and cup that he'd set in the drainer to the floor.
Deciding that he'd better make a reappearance before Lois destroyed his kitchen, he stepped out of his bedroom, whistling so as not to startle her and strolled into the kitchenette. Observing her mopping up the puddle of coffee, he picked up her coffee cup and set it on the small table out of the way of her clean-up attempts. "Is something wrong, Lois?"
She threw the wet paper towel into the trash and turned to face him. He could hear her pulse pounding hard and fast. Oh boy; this wasn't good.
Quickly, he pulled out one of the kitchen chairs. Best to get her sitting down before she broke something or launched into a rant that involved pacing and waving arms, to the imminent peril of his kitchen crockery, and where he wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise. "Here, Lois, why don't we sit down and you can tell me what the problem is."
After an instant's hesitation, she obeyed, nearly knocking over the coffee cup in her haste. He grabbed it, trying not to look apprehensive, moved it back a few more inches from the edge and took the seat across from her.
Lois picked up the cup of coffee and took a long drink. Clark folded his hands in his lap and fixed his eyes on her face. And waited.
Lois took a gulp of the coffee to steady her nerves. She'd nearly chickened out on her way here, not once but twice. The infuriating thing was, she couldn't even put her finger on why. It couldn't be that she was afraid of what Clark would say. She hadn't been at all hesitant about crushing his criticism of Lex before, which meant that she didn't really doubt Lex, didn't it?
Then, why was she so nervous?
"I need to ask you something," she blurted out.
He looked slightly wary. "Yes?"
"I know you don't like Lex," she said. "I need to know why."
He stared at her, and then his face lost all its expression. "I think I've already said enough on that subject, Lois."
She glared at him and then took a grip on herself. She could hardly blame the man. The last time they'd argued over Lex, they hadn't spoken to each other for two days except in the line of business. He obviously wasn't going to risk that again.
"No, Clark, I have a reason for asking. I know I got angry the last time, but I really need to know. Is there a specific reason, or is it that you just don't like him?"
"I have several reasons, but I don't have any proof to give you, Lois. I'm not going to make allegations I can't prove."
She had never believed the old adage of one's heart dropping into one's shoes until now. "What do you mean, proof? You know something about Lex that you haven't told me? Why not?"
He hesitated. "I tried to tell you a while back. You made it clear you didn't want to hear it. Look, I really don't want to fight with you over Luthor. Let's just drop it, okay?"
"No, Clark, I can't drop it. If you know something incriminating about him, I want to know what it is."
He hesitated, obviously thinking it over. "I think you should ask Superman," he said, finally. "He was there."
Lois stared at him in real shock. "You mean *Superman* told you?"
He didn't answer the question directly. "I think you should ask him, Lois. He can give you the whole story."
She stared at him, her mind whirling. "Why would he tell you and not me?"
He shrugged. "He knows that you're seeing Luthor. Superman doesn't want to put you in da ... in a bad position, any more than I do."
"Well, Superman's not here and you are." If what he was saying was true, he hadn't been passing judgement on her taste in men, after all. He'd been trying to tell her what Superman had told him. She looked him straight in the eyes. "Clark, I realize I might have been a little ... harsh with you last time, but I promise not to jump down your throat. I want to know what you know."
"I don't have any proof," he reminded her.
"I'll take that into account," she said. "Come on, Clark. Spill it."
He hesitated for long enough that she was beginning to think that he might be going to refuse after all, but finally he nodded. "All right, but remember, you asked. Lex Luthor has been Superman's enemy since the day he appeared in Metropolis." Lois opened her mouth, and he held up a hand. "There have been a number of attempts by Luthor to get rid of Superman, and at least one nearly succeeded. Do you remember the tests that someone subjected Superman to, not long after he arrived in Metropolis? There was the so-called double suicide attempts of Jules Johnson and Monique Kahn, and the bomb in the Carlin Building where someone waited until Superman went in and detonated it."
She nodded. "I remember."
"Superman had reason to suspect Luthor was behind it. He confronted him, and Luthor hinted that the tests would continue, thereby threatening the lives of Metropolis's ordinary citizens, as long as Superman was around. Superman called his bluff, but Luthor almost drove him out of Metropolis with that threat, Lois."
She felt her face whiten. "Did he tell you that?"
He didn't answer, but his expression said it all. Lois stared at him, appalled. He was still wearing the older set of glasses, she saw, and it made him look different. "What else?"
Clark shrugged. "There have been a number of other incidents that I won't go into. The one that worries me right now was the one that took place yesterday afternoon."
"What happened?" Lois whispered.
"I told you I followed Miranda to LexTower. Well, Superman did, too. He listened in on their meeting from the top of the penthouse. They sealed a partnership to produce the pheromone. Sixty-forty," he said, quietly.
"Lex *knew* about the pheromone?" she said. She didn't bother to wait for him to answer. "But then why did Miranda spray him, too?"
Clark hesitated. "I'm guessing, okay? Superman said that she and Luthor apparently had a ... relationship at one time, but he broke it off. She wanted to resume it and he refused."
"Superman overheard that, yesterday?"
He nodded. "Miranda was pretty angry when she left the meeting. I saw her leave."
Lois bit her lip, a little surprised that she didn't feel more upset. "It makes sense," she said, slowly. "She wanted him to fall in love with her again, so she must have sprayed him with the 'Revenge'. Only he didn't."
"Probably," Clark said.
"And then, I came in and he fell in love with me," she said, barely hearing him. "I guess I'm more to his taste than Miranda." She stared at her partner across the table, with an almost unreal sensation of calm. The nervousness had vanished, as if she'd half-expected what she had heard all along. Clark didn't look happy. "I'm sorry, Clark. I ought to have listened to you. I should have known you wouldn't dislike anyone that much without a good reason."
He shrugged again. "I'm sorry you took what I said the wrong way. I'm good at sticking my foot in my mouth."
"I guess I knew something wasn't right," Lois said, quietly. "Lex must have come to the Planet that day to see the effects of the perfume, not to talk to me. And he knew I'd been sprayed. He had to have."
"How do you know?"
She looked down, feeling the heat flooding her face. "It was strange. I didn't feel anything for him at all, and I told him you were the only man for me. He gave me the oddest look."
"Oh," Clark said. "I guess I should feel flattered that you liked me better than Luthor. I shouldn't have run off, but Hamm ..."
She managed a feeble smile. "I guess he liked you as much as I did, huh?"
"Lois!" He had gone beet red.
"Anyway," she said, trying not to smile at his expression, "I guess we'll have to figure out a way to prove what Lex and Miranda are up to. He probably won't be much trouble until the stuff wears off, anyway."
"There was one more thing," Clark said. His face was still red, but he had gone serious again. "Miranda told Luthor that up until now, she's been using a one percent solution. The one hundred percent stuff is permanent."
Lois stared at him in complete dismay. "Permanent?"
"That's what she said. I've been trying to decide what to do since I found out about it."
"We'll figure something out," Lois said. Suddenly Lex's perfidy had become of secondary importance. She didn't wonder until later why she had accepted what Clark had to say without question, and why she wasn't more upset at what he'd told her. Somehow, it all fit, and she had no doubt that he was telling the exact truth. Clark didn't like Lex, but he wouldn't make up something like this about anyone. They had a problem to deal with, now: how to prove to the satisfaction of the law that Lex Luthor and Miranda were conspiring to produce a mind-altering substance that had almost unlimited potential for disaster. She jumped to her feet, nearly knocking her coffee cup on the floor. Clark caught it as it teetered at the very edge of the table and stood up, setting it in the sink.
"Come on!" she ordered.
"To the Planet. We have to get to work on this right away!"
"You believe me?"
"Don't be silly; of course I believe you, Clark! Let's get on this now!"
Looking slightly stunned, he followed her from the apartment.
The Planet's staff meeting was just getting underway when they arrived. Evidently, things were not quite back to normal yet, Lois thought, taking the seat one chair down from Perry's. Wally shuffled in, avoiding her eye, and settled down at the end of the table as far as he could get from her. Pete stared grumpily into his styrofoam cup, the usual sour expression on his features. Lois recalled smugly the excellent coffee she'd had at Clark's this morning and figured she already had a jump-start on the day. It was amazing, she thought, that the revelations about Lex hadn't upset her more. It must mean something, and she would undoubtedly figure it out eventually. Maybe it was just her. She'd liked Lex, or thought she did. She should have at been at least sorry that he had turned out to have feet of clay, and maybe a lot more than his feet, if what Superman had told Clark was even halfway true and she had no doubt that it was.
Clark followed her into the room and quietly set a cup of coffee and a doughnut before her. Just as unobtrusively, he sank into the seat next to her and parked a cake doughnut and his own cup of coffee, probably loaded with whole milk and sugar, Lois thought, judging by its appearance, on the table in front of him. She sighed, envying him his metabolism. How he could swallow all that fat-filled, cholesterol-laden junk and still maintain a body designed to make any woman drool baffled her. He must burn calories almost as fast as Bobby Bigmouth. And when did he ever have time to work out enough to keep it?
Jimmy Olsen entered the room and handed her a folded note. Lois took it, glancing at the junior photographer. Jimmy looked slightly subdued, as if something were bothering him. Judging from her own behavior, she could imagine what it might have been.
"How are you doing?" she asked, with an uncharacteristic touch of concern.
"Back to normal," he said. "Just plain, old Jimmy."
Lois could sympathize.
She opened the note.
The handwriting was unfamiliar. "Dear Lois," she read, "if you want to know everything about 'Revenge', I will speak to you alone, woman to woman. Meet me at the Metro Private Airport, Hangar 4, at three o'clock ..."
She looked up to find Clark watching her.
"Anything?" he asked in a low voice.
"Tell you later," she whispered back.
The door opened. Perry White entered the conference room and sat down in his chair. Behind him, Rehalia hesitated in the doorway then walked to the nearest trashcan and dumped the contents into the plastic bag she carried. She glanced sideways at Perry, who nodded briefly to her and turned to the now-silent group of journalists at the conference table.
Clark cast a sidelong look at the cleaning woman and turned back to their boss. "I assume everything is ..."
"She dropped the lawsuit," Perry replied in a low tone.
"She let me back in ... on a trial basis."
"It'll be okay, Chief," Clark said. "We've got a lead on the pheromone thing."
"Good." The editor looked around at the table full of scowling, coffee-swilling staff members. "What is this, the Betty Crocker bake-off? Let's get started." He nodded at Lois. "Thanks for the re-write on the fruit fly thing. Now, on the ..."
Jimmy stood up suddenly. Beyond the window, Lois saw one of the models who had attended the fashion show three days before.
"I gotta go, Chief," Jimmy said, hastily, nearly tripping over Eduardo's foot as he scrambled for the door. "I gotta talk to her!"
"Not on my time, you don't!" Perry said. The closing door punctuated the sentence. "Jimmy! Blast that kid!"
Lois turned deliberately away from the scene beyond the conference room window. Cat, looking uncommonly pleased with herself, was doodling on a writing pad with her pencil. "How much of that stuff did you get sprayed with?" Lois asked. "You were pretty insatiable, even for ... well ... you."
Cat looked slightly puzzled. "What are you talking about? I didn't get sprayed."
Clark choked slightly and Lois stared at her, bemused.
Perry's lips twitched in a shadow of the first smile Lois had seen from him since the effects of the pheromone had worn off, then he sobered and rapped on the table for attention. "All right everybody, as you were. Friaz, I hope you're picking up where you left off on the bio-waste scandal at Metro General ..."
"I got hold of my source this morning, Chief. I'm meeting him in two hours ..."
Perry nodded, then Lois saw him look past her and turned to see what had caught his attention. Jimmy appeared to be in earnest conversation with the beautiful model who had entered the newsroom a short time before. As she watched, the girl looked past him at the watching staffers, smiled slightly, turned and kissed Jimmy full on the lips. A moment later, she was hurrying up the steps toward the elevator. Jimmy stood gazing after her, a stunned, but pleased expression on his face.
Perry gave a short bark of laughter and turned to Wally. "Now, about that interview with your witness at City Hall ..."
When the meeting broke up, Lois caught her partner's sleeve. "Take a look at this."
Clark read the note, frowned and looked back at her. "Why would she want to talk to anyone about this stuff, especially after yesterday?"
"The best way to find out is for me to meet her," Lois said.
Clark stared at her. "Don't tell me you're going out there to talk to her, alone!"
"Well, I can't take you along, or she won't talk," Lois said, reasonably. The argument sounded perfectly logical to her.
"Lois, the woman isn't exactly a pillar of the community! She dosed you with that pheromone once. She could do it again!"
"If she pulls the stuff out, I'll hold my breath. And, you know I'm going to be there. If something happens, you can call the police."
"That might be too late!"
"I can take care of myself," she said, aware that she was being stubborn, but not about to back down.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Okay, you're going to meet with her. What am *I* going to do?"
"You're going to wait outside in my Jeep."
"You don't think I can handle it?" she challenged.
"I think neither of us knows what this woman has planned!" Clark protested.
"Well, that's what we're going to find out," Lois said. "Maybe this will be our chance to prove what she's doing with her perfume."
Clark didn't answer, but Lois knew she hadn't convinced him. She didn't really care whether she had or not, as long as he was willing to go along with her -- or was at least cooperating. She glanced at her watch. It was a quarter after eleven.
By two o'clock, Lois had heard and disposed of every argument that Clark had managed to present. Under her irritation at his persistence, she felt a little sorry for her partner. He was obviously worried about her, and yet she knew he would do as she asked.
She glanced at her watch again and grabbed the shoulder bag from under her desk. "Come on."
"Lois, the meeting isn't until three," Clark observed.
"I know," she informed him. "I want to get there a little early, before she expects us. Maybe we can find out what she's got in mind."
"Did you let me stew about this for nearly three hours on purpose?" he inquired while they waited for the elevator.
"Who, me? Why would I do that?"
"Just to show me that I shouldn't underestimate you, maybe?"
Lois didn't answer, as the elevator doors opened at that instant and they stepped in.
The Metro Private Airport was, naturally, considerably smaller than the big, commercial one. This field was the one used by the private planes, including the cropdusters that sprayed the large, commercial fields and orchards belonging to Luthor Agricultural to the north and west of the city proper.
"Interesting," Clark said, as Lois pulled the Jeep into a parking spot at some distance from Hangar 4.
"What is?" she asked, glancing at him.
He pushed his glasses into place. "This is the hangar for the plane that's doing the local fruit fly spraying. See the big metal canisters stacked against the side of the hangar? Those are Malathion."
"What, you've got Superman's eyes all of a sudden?" Lois asked.
"I have a strong prescription," Clark said.
"Hmm." She set the hand brake and opened her door. "Come on, let's go see what we can see. Quietly."
"Okay." Clark pushed open his door and got out. With one hand he fiddled with his glasses. Lois figured that the older set that he was wearing now in place of the ones that Wally had broken must be a little uncomfortable. She certainly couldn't get used to them. Every time she looked at them, a vague memory seemed to prod at her, something that she had seen in the last day or two, to which she had paid no attention at the time. Something about the incident, whatever it had been, wouldn't let her alone, and the feeling of having forgotten something significant was maddening.
She shut the driver's door quietly instead of slamming it in her usual manner. "Are you getting your glasses fixed?" she asked.
"Huh?" He seemed surprised at the question. "Yeah, I dropped them at my optometrist's, yesterday afternoon. I'll be glad to get them back. I don't really care for these frames."
"Me either," Lois said. "They're too heavy for your face. I like the narrower frames better."
"So do I." He glanced around. "I don't see Miranda."
"She may be in the hanger. Let's go. Quietly. I don't want her to know we're here until we have a chance to look around."
He nodded and turned, surveying the area in a circle around the Jeep. Lois had parked to the rear of Hangar 4 by design, out of sight if Miranda should happen to be present and watching for her.
"Lois, look over there." He pointed suddenly.
"By the manager's office. Isn't that Luthor's limo?"
Lois turned to look. The white building some distance away from the hangars had a number of vehicles parked in front of it, but to its side, a long, black car sat in the shade. Only part of it was visible from their position, but it certainly looked a great deal like Luthor's limousine.
"I guess it could be. He hasn't got the only limo in Metropolis, you know."
"Maybe we should check."
Lois considered. "One person is less obvious than two. You take a look and I'll meet you over by the hangar. I have the feeling that we shouldn't waste time. She's going to be expecting me in a little while."
He looked as if he would like to argue, but decided against it. He jogged toward the office, and Lois headed toward Hangar 4.
Some distance away, a big fuel truck was servicing one of the planes that she assumed would be involved in the fruit fly spraying that began at four, but aside from two men in the soiled white coveralls of airport employees, she saw no one else. They paid her no attention as she approached the big airplane hangar.
She had taken the time before they left to change her smart, tailored suit and heels for more practical slacks and running shoes in anticipation of the necessity for sneaking around. At least initially, however, there appeared to be no other sign of life as she peeked through a small, somewhat dirty window into the hangar itself. Cautiously, she rounded the corner of the building and slipped inside.
No living thing met her eye. Big metal canisters, similar to the ones that Clark had noted against the outer wall of the hangar, met her gaze, although these were unmarked. Cautiously, not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed, she moved forward on nearly silent feet, mindful of the tendency of big buildings of this sort to magnify sounds. The rubber soles of her shoes kept echoes to a minimum as she slipped forward, hugging the wall.
She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but the fact that Miranda had wanted to meet with her here had to mean something. For the third time, she paused, listening as a sound echoed softly around the big hangar. Probably it was her own footsteps that she was hearing, but she wasn't going to take the chance of it being anything else. A glance at her watch told her that it was two-thirty. If Miranda hadn't arrived yet, she probably would soon.
She held her breath, listening. A voice echoed faintly around the big structure, and now she saw that a door at the back of the hangar was open a few inches, and that had to be the source of the sound.
She moved softly forward, trying to make no noise at all, and pressed her back to the wall next to the slightly open door.
"Lex, I have no idea what you're talking about." It was Miranda's voice.
"My dear, I know exactly what you did." Lex's voice was controlled and cool. "You sprayed me with your pheromone at our meeting, yesterday. I've been feeling and doing things since then, that make no sense. I still --" There was a hesitation in his voice. "I still am not sure which feelings are mine and which are pheromone-induced."
There was a brittle, crystal laugh from Miranda. You could almost see the ice crystals hanging from it, Lois thought. "And who are you having all these irrational thoughts about, Lex? Lois Lane?"
"That is irrelevant," Lex's voice said. "This is a business contract, Miranda. A joke is a joke, but if you try to carry it further, I might very will decide to terminate our partnership."
"You still don't understand, do you, Lex?" she said, and the laughter had vanished. "I did all of this for you. The perfume was my gift to you, my contribution to your business empire. With it, you can influence leaders and the masses all over the globe. I gave you all that, and now you're throwing me aside for Lois Lane!"
"Lois Lane isn't a part of this equation, Miranda. Don't bring her up again."
"No, she isn't," Miranda said. There was a soft hissing noise, and Lex began to cough. "You see, if I can't have you, no one will."
Clark jogged across the field toward the manager's office, consciously keeping his speed to that of a normal human being. After all the things that had happened in the last few days, he didn't want to give Lois any more reason to wonder about him. It was a minor miracle that she hadn't noticed his resemblance to Superman when she had seen him without his glasses two nights ago, but between the remaining effects of the pheromone and her headache, she simply hadn't been paying attention. He just hoped she wouldn't remember, later. As much as he trusted his partner, the thought of someone besides his parents being privy to his greatest secret was frightening. What would Lois do if she found out?
The truth was, he simply wasn't sure. True, they were friends, and the fact that she was attracted to him had been brutally revealed by the pheromone, but the thought of a Pulitzer was probably pretty attractive, too. Would she be willing to ruin his life and his parents' lives to win one? He didn't think she would, but there remained a small seed of doubt. Lois could be pretty rabid when in pursuit of a story.
It was indeed Lex Luthor's limousine, he saw, when he finally reached his destination. There was no sign of his driver, but the LEX on the license plate was a giveaway. He looked around, trying to determine where the billionaire might be. It was quite possible that he was in conference somewhere with Miranda. The question, of course, was what either of them was doing at the airport just at this time.
He lowered his glasses to check inside the manager's office. That butler and right hand man of Luthor's was seated in the small waiting room and perusing a magazine while sipping on a cup of coffee. From his appearance, he expected to be there for some time. Then where was Luthor?
Well, he certainly wasn't in the office. He glanced at his watch. It was two thirty-seven. Turning, Clark began to jog back toward Hangar 4.
Lois tried to peer through the narrow crack of the door, attempting to get a look at what was going on inside. Where the heck was Clark, anyway? A quick glance at her watch told her that it had been about five minutes since she had sent him to check on the limousine. It simply seemed considerably longer.
What she had overheard simply confirmed to her that what Clark had told her this morning was nothing more or less than the truth, not that she had really harbored any doubts. Lex was up to his carefully brushed eyebrows in a really dreadful scheme. However, he seemed to have forgotten one of the first rules of the game: there was no honor among thieves, and, almost as important, a woman scorned could be a very dangerous thing. Miranda certainly sounded as if she meant business.
The door was suddenly pulled wide, and Lois found herself confronting Miranda. The blond woman was smiling. "Lois! Why don't you come in! I'm sure Lex will be glad to see you." The little snub-nosed revolver in her hand underlined her request.
Slowly, Lois obeyed. Where was Clark? she wondered, frantically. On the other hand, if Clark showed up right now, Miranda would probably simply take him prisoner, too, so it was probably a good thing that he wasn't here.
The room beyond the door was a combination storeroom, and makeshift office, she saw. A battered desk, piled high with papers of some kind, together with a metal folding chair occupied one side of the room. Several metal canisters were shoved against one wall, and a metal file cabinet stood in one corner. Three or four more of the folding chairs were propped against the wall behind the door, scraps of packing material, and pieces of equipment, the purpose for which she couldn't begin to guess, were piled about the floor in no particular order that she could discern. Some type of large, metal tub occupied the space against the wall, near the right, rear corner, seeming somehow out of place amid all the other paraphernalia lying around. The layout, however, occupied her attention for only a few seconds.
Lex Luthor lay at full length on the floor so still that, except for the fact that she could see the slight rise and fall of his chest, she might have thought him dead.
Miranda smiled more widely. "It was so good of you to come," she said, gesturing at Lois to step away from the door. Cautiously, she moved around and pulled it shut. "I have everything ready for you."
"Of course, it was rather difficult replacing all the Malathion with my formula," Miranda said, conversationally, "but when they spray the city for fruit flies, they'll be spraying Revenge. Soon everyone in Metropolis will know the pain of love spurned."
"Why are you doing this?" Lois said, recognizing the inanity of the question as she asked it. Still, she wasn't trying for a scintillating conversation. She was simply stalling for time.
Miranda laughed, a harsh, brittle sound that made her skin crawl. "Do you really have to ask, Lois? I should think it would be obvious!"
"I have no romantic interest in Lex," Lois said, trying desperately to convince the woman of her sincerity.
Miranda tilted her head. "Really? I was under the impression you had dinner with him last night."
"I did. But I'm a reporter! I've been trying to get an interview with him for weeks!"
The woman laughed, bitterly. "That's not what he thinks -- and Lex usually gets his way. If he wants you, he'll win in the end."
"Don't be silly! You act like I have no say in the matter!"
"You don't," Miranda said. "Or, you wouldn't." She shrugged. "In any case, it doesn't matter."
Lois glanced right and left, looking for a way of escape. There was a shuttered window to her rear, right next to the huge metal tub, from which, she noticed now, curls of vapor were rising gently. She wrinkled her nose at the acrid odor that filled the air.
Miranda laughed again, and there was an edge to her laughter that raised the hair on Lois's head. "You took him away from me," she said. "It doesn't matter if you meant to or not, you took him. You're going to pay."
"I don't want him," Lois said. "He's yours. Keep him." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Miranda raise her free hand. In it was some kind of aerosol container: probably the stuff Lois had heard her spray Lex with barely a minute before. Miranda compressed the button and vapor sprayed into Lois's face as she turned back to face the woman, a woman that Lois was now quite sure had completely lost her mind. Maybe it was from playing with her pheromone-spiked perfume for all this time, she thought, irrelevantly.
But she had been expecting the move. She held her breath and staggered back as if overcome by the spray, letting herself collapse to the floor.
The chemist gave a short bark of laughter and Lois heard a click as she set the canister down, and then footsteps. A peek through her lashes showed Miranda as she knelt beside Lex, beginning to tie his wrists together with a coil of rope. She had shoved the revolver into one of the pockets of her designer jeans. Lois lay still, watching for her chance. She would only have one, she knew.
Miranda was dragging Lex's slack body across the floor, and Lois gathered herself. A hook hung nearly to floor level, attached by a rope to a pulley dangling above the tub. Miranda looped the bindings that tied Lex's wrists together to the hook and, as Lois watched, matter-of-factly took the other end of the rope that was looped over the pulley and threw her weight against it. Lex's arms, head and shoulders were hauled from the floor.
She must be going to suspend him above the tub, Lois decided. She sniffed softly, trying to identify the scent in the air. It had a definite acidic smell. Well, whatever the stuff was that was in it, she didn't want to find out the hard way. There was a second pulley hanging beside the first. It looked strongly to Lois as if Lex had been lured here, just as she had. Miranda evidently intended to kill them both.
Miranda tugged on the rope. The upper half of Lex's body was off the floor, now, and as Lois watched, his eyelids flickered open. He gazed blearily around for a second and then seemed to come suddenly to full consciousness.
"Miranda, what the devil are you doing?" he demanded. "Let me go!"
"I told you if I can't have you, no one will," Miranda replied. She dragged on the rope again, lifting Lex from the floor. He kicked and struggled as she hauled him higher. His body swung back and forth, propelled by his struggles, and bumped jarringly into the side of the metal tub with a dull thud. Miranda laughed chillingly again.
If she was going to do anything, Lois thought, it had probably better be now, while Miranda's attention was on Lex. Silently, she rolled to her feet and reached for the doorknob.
There was a crash behind her and a yell of combined pain and fury from Lex. She yanked the door open. From behind her came the unmistakable sound of a gunshot and a bullet went over her head as she dived through the opening.
She took her weight on her forearm, tucked her head and rolled over her shoulder, exactly as she had been taught in her martial arts classes. Miranda's voice shouted at her to stop, but Lois didn't obey. She came out of the roll onto her feet and ran for her life.
Clark jogged toward the hangar as quickly as he thought he could get away with. He didn't see Lois anywhere, which didn't surprise him. If he knew his partner, she was already in there, snooping around. He glanced at his watch. It was two forty-two. If Miranda hadn't arrived yet, she would soon.
A sharp report from the direction of the hangar startled him. That sounded like a gunshot! His jog became an all-out run. He passed the fuel truck and the plane that it was servicing at a speed faster than the human eye could follow, changing from a grey blur to a blue and red one in an instant, aware that the two men who were operating the fueling truck had turned to look in the direction of the sound.
Lois burst from the hangar as another shot sounded, and he reached out almost casually to intercept the bullet, never slowing his speed. At the back of the hangar, Miranda dropped her weapon and turned to flee. He scooped her up before she had gone two steps and an instant later had tied her securely in the rope that had bound Lex Luthor's hands. The billionaire rubbed his wrists and stared balefully at Miranda.
Clark came to a stop beside the man and glanced at the pulley arrangement and then at the contents of the big metal tub. He sniffed. "I'd say you're lucky she didn't have time to drop you in that, Luthor," he said.
Luthor met his gaze levelly. "Very," he said. "I trust that the police are on their way?"
Outside, in the main hangar, Clark heard the nearly silent footstep of a rubber-soled shoe. Luthor glanced through the doorway. "Lois, my dear!"
Lois entered the room, looking from Lex to Miranda to Superman. She smiled briefly. "I see you got her. Superman, you have to stop the fruit fly spraying. Miranda told me she replaced the Malathion with her pheromone formula."
Trust Lois to save the inevitable reaction for later, he thought. His partner had the coolest set of nerves of anyone he'd ever met. He nodded quickly. "Would you stay here with her while I call the police?"
Lois cast a quick look at Lex. "Sure."
He took one of the folding metal chairs that leaned against the wall, unfolded it and pushed Miranda onto it. "Thanks. See to it that she stays out of trouble."
As Superman vanished through the door, Lois leaned slowly back against the wall, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on Miranda. Lex dusted off his clothing, distastefully. "I see I'm going to have to replace this suit," he said. He turned back to Lois. "You were amazing, Lois, but I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. You're everything a man could want in a woman: lovely, courageous and intelligent. Who could ask for more?"
He seemed to hesitate for a puzzled instant, then his gaze returned to her face.
Lois shot him a quick, dismayed look. He sounded almost like he had last night. Hadn't he told Miranda earlier that he was still having trouble telling which feelings were real and which were caused by the pheromone?
"Lex, I think Miranda's pheromone is still affecting you," she said.
He seemed to shake himself and nodded. "I think you're right, my dear. No woman could be as perfect as you seem to me at this moment." He gazed at her in a way that made her want to squirm. "I can't seem to help myself, though."
"It will wear off," she assured him. "Just wait."
Again, he nodded. Deliberately, he turned away from her, glancing around the room. "I believe that tank contains sulfuric acid," he said, irrelevantly. He walked to the door and looked out. "You saved me from a very unpleasant end."
"I saved myself," Lois said. "Superman saved you."
"Only technically," Lex said, with a smile in her direction. "You delayed things long enough for him to arrive." He stooped to pick up something from the floor, his back to her. "I find you absolutely fascinating, my dear."
Lois wished he wouldn't call her his dear, especially now, knowing what she knew. Proving his connection to this whole miserable mess might be nearly impossible, considering the way things had turned out, so until she and Clark were able to unmask him for the person he really was, she would have to let him go on believing that he had fooled her, along with the rest of the world.
He re-entered the room, glancing indifferently at Miranda. "You should have known better, Miranda. I always get what I want, you know."
Silence. Lois counted the seconds, wondering how long it would be before the police arrived. And where was Clark? He should have been back by now.
"Lois!" Clark's voice called, on cue. Lex turned his head toward the sound, and Lois saw him scowl. He didn't say anything, however, but moved easily away from the door and after checking the surface of a wooden crate, leaned casually against it.
"In here, Clark!" she answered.
She heard footsteps approaching, and a few seconds later Clark entered the room. He too glanced at Miranda, sitting silently in the chair, and at Lex, propped against the crate, his arms folded tightly across his chest. "Superman told me what happened," he said. "He's calling the police from the manager's office. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Lois said, and she was, for now. Later, she would probably go home and eat a quart of chocolate ice cream. That was her usual way of coping with stress. "Not even a bruise." She added, "Superman is taking care of the fruit fly spraying, isn't he? I mean, not letting them spray?"
"He already alerted the authorities," Clark assured her. "The planes are grounded until further notice."
"Very efficient," Lex said. Lois glanced curiously at him. He sounded sarcastic, irritated. "And how about you, Mr. Kent? Why does Lois think you're the only man for her when my resources are so far beyond yours that there is no comparison?"
"Lex, it was just the effect of the pheromone," Lois said.
He smiled without humor. "But the pheromone only works if there is already attraction present," he said.
"True," Lois said. She pushed herself away from the wall. "But just because I'm a little attracted to Clark doesn't mean he's the love of my life." She glanced sideways at her partner, trying to catch his eye, trying to warn him. The look on Lex's face scared her. She had made a mistake, she thought, letting Clark in here, knowing that Lex was still under the influence of the pheromone. It made him unpredictable, and blurred his judgement. It made him dangerous.
Lex unfolded his arms. "You don't feel anything for me," he said. "I saw that the other day at the Planet. You said you loved him." He was glaring at Clark now, and in his hand Lois saw Miranda's little snub-nosed pistol. He leveled it at Clark and fired.
Clark dived sideways as Lex's finger contracted on the trigger and the bullet buried itself in the wall of the hangar. Lex took a couple of steps toward him and took aim again.
Lois moved forward almost instinctively, grabbing his arm. "Lex, no! If you kill Clark, that won't win you my love! We just need to get to know each other better!"
Lex didn't appear to hear her. He shook her hand free and lifted the weapon.
Reason wasn't going to get through to him, she knew, anymore than it had with Wally. In fact, only one thing had gotten through to Wally ...
Lois spun, grabbing one of the folding metal chairs that leaned against the wall, and as Lex started to squeeze the trigger a second time, she lifted it and brought it down hard on the back of his head. Lex folded to the floor, the revolver spinning away.
"What's going on in here?" a male voice asked. Lois turned to see a police officer standing in the doorway.
"Oh," she said. "Hi, Officer. I can explain ..."
Clark stood beside Lois as the police shepherded Miranda into a squad car, and Lex into a second one.
"I don't suppose the attempted murder charge against Lex will stick," Lois said, regretfully.
"I'm sure it won't," Clark said. "He was under the influence of Miranda's drug. Any first-year law student could get him off without half trying, and you can bet his lawyers are the slickest in the business."
"Yeah." Lois shrugged. "That's why I said what I did to the police."
"That he wasn't responsible for his behavior?" Clark said. He regarded her with a certain amount of apprehension. "What's cooking in that devious brain of yours, partner?"
"I'm not devious!" Lois protested, half-heartedly. Clark raised an eyebrow and she hedged. "Well, not most of the time."
She grinned. "Okay, so I'm devious. I didn't want him to realize I'd figured him out. He knows I tried to get him off the hook with the police, so he'll probably still want to see me." She watched the cars pull away. "He even forgave me for hitting him with the chair."
"Was that what the two of you were talking about?"
"Well, I apologized," Lois said, blandly. "I only wish I thought he really didn't know what he was doing."
"You think he did?" Clark regarded her quizzically. The workings of Lois Lane's mind never ceased to fascinate him.
"I do think it distorted his thinking," Lois said, "but he knew what he was doing, all the same. I think he figured he could kill you and then claim the pheromone was to blame. He thinks you're a serious rival, you know."
Clark regarded her thoughtfully. "I guess you told him that he's wrong."
"Well, sure," Lois said. "If we're going to prove that he's the criminal you say he is, he has to keep seeing me." She pulled his arm. "Let's head back to the Planet and get this thing written. Then you get to take me out for a hot fudge sundae."
Stress relief, Clark thought. Chocolate was always her tranquilizer of choice.
"Besides, he *was* wrong," Lois said, as they walked toward the Jeep. "You aren't a rival. Nobody could be his rival, since I wouldn't have him on a silver platter. If it comes to that, I wouldn't want him if he were the last man on the face of the Earth. I'm only surprised some girlfriend of his hasn't tried what Miranda tried a long time ago."
"Throwing him in a vat of sulfuric acid?" Clark said. "Actually, in a way I can't blame her, even if I don't approve of murder."
"Killing him," Lois specified. "Don't be deliberately dense, Clark."
"Maybe some of them have," Clark said idly, but his mind wasn't really on the what-ifs and maybes of Luthor's relationships with the female of the species. The previous conversation was working itself around in his brain. Maybe things weren't as hopeless as they'd begun to seem. He had no intention of rubbing it in, but if Lois was attracted to him (and that had been made gratifyingly if somewhat embarrassingly clear to him in the last few days) then maybe he had a chance with her after all -- if he didn't draw attention to the fact that he *knew*, and didn't make any other stupid mistakes that put her on the defensive ...
"Are you sure you're all right?" Lois asked. "You seem a little distracted."
"Yeah," he assured her. "I don't think I thanked you for stopping Luthor, though."
"Well, I sure wasn't going to let him kill you!" Lois said.
He grinned suddenly at her. "I'm glad you didn't; that's for sure. Can I at least take you out for a thank you dinner tonight? Not a date or anything," he assured her quickly, at the slightly wary expression that settled on her features. "Just my way of saying thanks and celebrating the end of this thing." Casually, he added a bribe. "I know this little place that serves some of the best chocolate desserts in the city, at least in my opinion. They have a 'Death by Chocolate' cake that's as good as my mom's, and that's saying something."
"Really? Then why don't I know about it?" she challenged.
"It's only been around a couple of months. How about it?"
She hesitated, and he held his breath. "Well ... okay," she agreed, finally. "But it better be as good as you say, Kent."
"I'll leave that for you to judge," he said. "Come on. Let's get back to the Planet. We have a story to write."
Lois checked her outfit carefully, craning her neck to see over her shoulder so that she could observe the effect from the back. Clark had assured her that it wasn't a date, and that the clothing should be casual, but even so, she wanted to look her best.
She *was* attracted to him, she admitted silently, not that she was going to say so, and he probably knew it anyway, but Clark, being who he was, wouldn't embarrass her by making an issue of it. This was simply two friends going out for a celebratory dinner. He wanted to thank her for saving his life, and it would have been rude to refuse, after all. After the gentlemanly way he had dealt with the last few days, she wasn't about to hurt his feelings. If her fancy had settled on any other man than Clark, she had a fairly accurate idea of what would have happened. If it had been Lex, now ...
The very idea made her shudder slightly. She had a pretty good notion of what his relationship with Miranda had been, and she wondered how many other women could tell a similar story. Apparently Clark hadn't been the only one worried about her relationship with Lex. Superman had been worried, too. She'd gotten the impression from Clark that the Man of Steel might have been keeping an eye on her while she had been dating the billionaire. Well, that wasn't such a bad thing, was it? It might mean that he was at least a little interested.
But if he was, he hadn't said so. In fact, he'd kept a discreet distance from the whole situation. Well, he certainly had more to keep an eye on than just her, Lois thought. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that he'd occasionally gone out of his way to give her exclusive quotes, she might have thought that he had no more interest in her than any of the other women that she had seen throw themselves shamelessly at him. A little uneasily, she wondered what she would have done if Superman had appeared in the newsroom while she was under the influence of the pheromone. It was just as well that he hadn't, she decided. She would never have been able to look him in the eye, again.
But Clark ... It was strange, but she was completely comfortable with him, even after everything that had happened. He was her friend, probably the best friend she had, in spite of the way she sometimes treated him. How many others could she ever have said that about?
Maybe, she thought, she should treat him a little better. After this last incident, he deserved that, if nothing else.
She considered putting on a dab of perfume and then rejected the idea. Considering what they had been through, she might never wear perfume again. A glance at the clock told her that it was nearly seven; Clark would be here any minute. It was funny, but she was actually looking forward to going to dinner with him, even though it wasn't technically a date. Maybe especially because it wasn't a date. There was no one that she enjoyed spending non-work-related time with more than Clark. With him, there was no pressure. Clark was a nice guy; fending off romantic advances was something she didn't have to worry about when she was with him so why should tonight be any different? She could just go out and have fun.
There was a knock on her door. She checked perfunctorily through the peephole to be sure that it was her partner and then unfastened the row of locks that secured it. Clark was dressed in a pair of slacks and a pullover shirt, and wearing a leather jacket against the chill in the autumn air. Somehow, he looked different, and it took her a second to identify the difference. He had his old glasses back.
Again she was assailed by that feeling that she had forgotten something important, but for the life of her, she couldn't dredge it up. Oh well, it probably wasn't that important. Besides, if she stopped trying it would most likely pop up on its own, eventually.
"Come on in," she invited. "I just have to get my coat."
He obeyed and stood waiting for her while she retrieved the short coat that she had selected for the evening. He was looking good, she thought, and again felt a tug of the attraction that she had become aware of ever since the disastrous two days when she had been under the influence of the Revenge. Maybe a real date with Clark Kent wouldn't be such a bad idea ... someday.
She slipped an arm through his. "Shall we go?"
He smiled at her, and the warmth in his expression drove away the last little traces of uneasiness. "Let's. I'm looking forward to hearing your opinion of this place."
"Oh, you'll get it," she promised. They stepped into the hall and Lois turned to lock her door. "I was thinking, though; after we eat, would you like to see a movie?"
"Sure," Clark said. "Which one would you like?"
"I'm sort of in the mood for a romantic comedy."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said. "We can pick up a paper on the way to dinner and see what's playing, and then you can decide where you want to go ..."
The End (... For now.)