Over the years, the denizens of the Daily Planet had learned that their own local legend, Lois Lane, had three levels of intensity. There was the tornado mode where she became a whirlwind of activity and enthusiasm, tackling anything and everything that displeased her and rearranging it to meet her approval. There was the ever famous Mad Dog Lane who tackled anything that displeased her and ripped it to shreds. And last, the most rare and most dreaded, was the transformation from great star reporter into deadly atom bomb who took everything in her line of sight, be it machinery or living being, and unceremoniously reduced it to ashes.

Since the entrance of Clark Kent into Lois' life, the frequency of the atom bomb days had dwindled into virtual nonexistence, although Lois would have to be strapped to an atom bomb herself to admit to that.

It would be safe to say Clark wasn't even aware such atom bomb days existed until one dreary winter morning when the pleasant sensation he got every time Lois stepped into the newsroom sputtered. He was greeted not by Lois' beautiful face, but by the sound of a trash can and its contents clattering across the floor. It had been in her path. Now it was not.

The sound of the abused trash can was followed by a shrill, "Clark!" Jimmy, who had been engaged in a one-sided conversation with Clark about Jimmy's latest love interest, cringed visibly. "Uh, I'll just go find, um, thing...Ralph...wanted about that, uh, thing. Yeah, well, see ya."

Traitor, Clark thought at the figure disappearing with his tail between his legs.

Taking a deep breath, Clark turned his attention to the figure now very rapidly approaching.

"Good morning, Lois," he greeted, tentatively holding out a cup of coffee.

Lois swatted the coffee out of the way, ignoring the dark brown splotches now seeping into the papers on Clark's desk.

"Don't you good morning me! Why didn't you move that?"

Clark stared, justifiably confused. "The coffee?"

"No! That- that thing!" she roared, motioning in the general direction of the dented trash can. "You knew I was coming. I always do, same time, same place, every day. And *someone* put that thing in my way. So why didn't you move it?"

"I-"

"And why aren't you working? Do you have any idea how many deadlines we have to meet today? Oh, I know. Good old Lois, always there to pick up your slack."

As Lois paused for a breath, Clark pounced at his chance of escape.

"Lois, I've gotta go ask Perry about a deadline. Be right back."

And with that, he followed Jimmy's example of retreat and made a beeline for Perry's office.

Once inside, he slammed the door shut and planted himself in front of it, as if Lois were going to try to break it down any minute.

"Chief," he gasped, unable to think of anything else to do, "Lois thinks there's a conspiracy to murder her with a trash can.

Perry briefly looked up, unfazed. "Well, son, I'd say she's upset."

"Upset?" Clark peered through the open blinds at this fire and nail spitting woman he'd left to simmer at his desk. "She tried to scald me to death with coffee!"

Perry set his reading down and looked Clark squarely in the eyes. "You know, not even the King was psychic."

Clark blinked a couple of times, trying to decipher this newest piece of advice. "Are you saying I should find out what's wrong?"

"Unless you've got some other ideas..."

Having none, Clark turned to leave his protection, only to be greeted by an enthusiastic, "Hey CK!"

Clark watched as Jimmy deserted him for the second time that morning, sticking around only long enough to call over his shoulder, "Ralph says to find a fallout shelter!"

Fallout shelters. And psychic Elvises. What next? His dad was right, Clark reflected with a weary sigh. Metropolis is nuts.

But then again, so was Smallville. Metropolis, for example, didn't have a jubilant festival every time a new crop was ready for harvest. What made Metropolis, rather than Smallville, or Nigeria, or anywhere else, a near necessity to survive was the woman-

-who was now inches from his face, looking anything but romantic.

"Clark, don't go run to Perry for protection! He won't save you. We're getting this work done. Now!"

Clark have her an exasperated sigh. "Can we talk?"

Lois rigidly folded her arms, not looking particularly open to conversation. "Fine. Talk."

"In there," Clark said pointedly, tipping his head toward the vacant conference room.

Lois considered this briefly and finally gave him a look which inplied she was making one the world's greatest sacrifices.

"Fine," she muttered, and stormed off to the conference room, leaving Clark to catch up if he could, close the door, and finally turn to ask the question he hoped would solve the mysterious problem. "What's wrong, Lois?"

"What wrong? What's wrong?" The exclamation, to Clark's ears, was alarmingly broken and tearful. "Well, let's see. The laundromat stole two of my best outfits; the toaster oven caught on fire; I got pulled over on the way here; and I've got an awful headache and no sleep at all last night, and Clark, there's *so* much to do.

By the end of her list, the strength in Lois' voice had evaporated into a tearful whisper.

"Hey, don't worry, it's all right," Clark murmured. His earlier irritation replaced by aching sympathy, he reached out to brush a stray hair off her cheek. "You can stay in here and take a nap if you want, and I'll-" He stopped abruptly, startled by the feel of the skin under his fingertips. "Lois, you're burning up!"

Lois shook her head violently, tossing Clark's hand aside. "I'm just fine!" The conviction of her statement was undermined by her ghostly pallor and the tremor in her voice.

Completely forgetting that Lois would kill him for this under normal circumstances, he sat in a nearby chair, gently lowering Lois into the one beside it. Lois went readily, all but collapsing into his arms.

"You're not fine," he said softly into her hair. "You shouldn't be here. You're miserable. Let me take you home."

Clark felt a small sob rack the body cradled against his chest. "But Clark, I've got so much to do, and- and I promised Perry, and everyone will laugh. But I'm so tired, and I promised and..." She trailed off into a series of disjointed, unintelligible phrases, leaving Clark with little to do but stroke her back and murmur assurances.

When she lapsed into silence, Clark cautiously leaned to whisper into her ear. "Can I take you home?"

Getting no response, he gathered Lois more firmly in his arms to take matters into his own hands. Lois stirred then and peered at him blearily through feverish eyes. "You leaving me, Clark?"

"Not if the earth opened beneath my feet," he promised softly.

Reassured, Lois sank back into sleep and let herself be carried out of the newsroom.

Those watching had learned to expect the unexpected with Lois Lane, but most agreed seeing the dreaded atom bomb be carried home in the arms of her "junior partner" was the topper. If it occurred to anyone to laugh, no one had the heart or the courage to try it.

Once Clark had safely gotten Lois out of the newsroom, he wasn't exactly sure what to do with her from there. He had a feeling she'd be furious when she realized he'd taken her keys and driven her Jeep, but standing in the busy street trying to hail a cab wasn't a pleasant option; and flying with Lois just wasn't an option at all, no matter what condition she was in. In the end, he risked Lois' wrath by taking her keys not once, but twice, to drive her home and lay her in her own bed in her own apartment.

There he'd had the nerve to stay for a good fifteen minutes, simply watching her from the edge of the bed. He knew he shouldn't, knew that fully awake, Lois would have thrown him out, literally, if she had to. But after watching the strongest woman he knew almost break down in his arms, Clark couldn't resist the temptation to assure himself that she was really and truly all right. Finally, he reluctantly admitted to himself that staying any longer would be intruding since she certainly wasn't going to die of the flu, and started to stand up. He was stopped by the soft brush of a hand against his and the sound of Lois' voice.

"Stay here, Clark."

He had to go. Perry would kill him if he didn't. For that matter, Lois would kill him later if he didn't.

"Please, Clark. Don't leave me."

Clark felt his heart, along with his noble resolve to do the right thing, breaking at the threat of tears in her plea. He laid beside the fragile person who was already drifting back into sleep and gently gathered her in his arms. Perry, along with the rest of the world, was just going to have to get along without him.

"Lois," he murmured, "I would *never* leave you. Never."